A look at some of the hottest entertainment tech sectors at this year's confab
MOBILE VIDEO DEVICESThe introduction of the video iPod has blown open interest in mobile video, with many competitors looking to take a bite out of Apple’s business. Leaving the living room is the key for devices such as EchoStar’s PocketDish, which allows users to transfer any show they’ve saved on their Dish Network DVR to the device for portable viewing. It handles up to 40 gigs of video, music, photos and games, and the high-end model has a 7-inch screen. That answers TiVo’s new TiVoToGo service, which allows the transfer of DVR-captured programs to PCs and mobile video devices. Though it was introduced at last year’s CES, few had been able to get their hands on Slingbox. The technology, which allows remote viewing of home TV and DVR content on any Internet-connected PC, has been one of the hottest innovations of the year, earning accolades from Business Week, Time, Popular Mechanics and dozens of tech experts. This year, SlingPlayer Mobile, which allows the technology to work with Windows Mobile devices, WiFi and 3G cellular networks, is a CES Innovations honoree in the design and engineering category. Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at research company NPD Group, says an additional announcement may be coming and that the Slingbox technology could expand into handling other kinds of digital content, including music and photos. NEW VIDGAME CONSOLES The gaming world may be mired in a slump, with sales down 20% across North America in October and November, according to NPD research. But the rollout of several next-generation consoles will still generate plenty of buzz at CES. Sony’s PlayStation 3 — set for a spring launch — will be a central focus of conglom topper Howard Stringer’s keynote. Able to store and play back digital media, and built for Sony’s next-gen Blu-ray Disc, the PS3 is far more than just a game console, encompassing the wide-ranging talents that span Sony’s myriad divisions. “Sony doesn’t want to go unanswered at CES,” says Brian Cooley, editor at large for Cnet.com. “They’re not going to let us go without something to chew on.” Of course, Xbox 360 — which had a solid debut, quickly selling out across North America — will undoubtedly be key to Microsoft topper Bill Gates’ keynote, as well. For its part, Nintendo will have a smaller presence, as it touts its upcoming Revolution console and its unusual two-part controller. In terms of actual content, few new game titles will vie for the spotlight. EA Sports — coming off weak holiday sales and a recent layoff announcement — will look to turn the page by announcing its cover athlete for the Xbox 360 and PSP editions of “Fight Night Round 3.” WIRELESS PHONES Wireless phonemakers will continue to present upgraded hardware to account for the burgeoning mobile content sector, with players such as Samsung and LG going for what Cnet’s Brian Cooley calls the current “sweet spot” of the market: enhanced-feature phones with a cutting-edge look along the lines of Motorola’s popular Razr. Most of the focus will be on delivering music, although video-capable devices will be presented in abundance at CES. For its part, ESPN Mobile will use the confab to generate some serious branding with its new line of phones that will deliver sports updates via video clips and scores with the touch of a button. Still, souped-up cars have long been the ultimate mobile devices. At CES this year, they’ll get wired up with more than just rims and amplifiers. Garmin’s StreetPilot 2730 provides real-time traffic information to go with basic GPS navigation and XM radio services. StreetPilot uses XM NavTraffic data to calculate and suggest alternate routes before the driver encounters backed-up traffic. Weather conditions and alerts are displayed in real time. The device also is an XM satellite radio receiver and MP3 player. It’s pricey, at $1,292, but its capabilities will give it an uncommon wow factor. SATELLITE RADIO RECEIVERS The buzz surrounding satellite radio recently has not been so much about technology but the aggressive acquisition of content by major players XM and Sirius. And this holiday season should be very good for the satellite radio biz, as more people buy the devices and subscribe to the services they want in order to receive such in-demand content as Howard Stern and Major League Baseball. In fact, with Stern set to join Gotham-based Sirius Jan. 9, subs for the satcaster exceeded 3 million for 2005 — 500,000 more than expected. While satellite radio manufacturers will show off a full line of in- and out-of-car gadgets at CES this year, HD radio looks poised to take some of its spotlight away. The digital technology developed by iBiquity Digital allows terrestrial broadcasters to offer higher-quality sound than conventional radio, as well as more channels. The broadcast radio industry sees this as its opportunity to compete with satellite radio, and it recently formed an umbrella group that includes such heavyweights as Infinity Broadcasting and Clear Channel to oversee the rollout of HD radio — which includes the upgrading of current analog stations. Germane to that subject is a CES conference titled “The Return of Radio,” which is set for 10:30 a.m. today in the North Hall. CES also will see HD radio receivers on the floor from makers such as Boston Acoustics, Kenwood and Panasonic. HOME NETWORKING TOOLS The search is still on for the holy grail — the easy-to-use, mass-market solution that lets consumers store all of their digital movies, music and images in one room while tapping into them from anywhere in the home. And undoubtedly one of the hotter technologies among vendors at CES this year will be wireless USB, which NPD analyst Ross Rubin describes as “like Bluetooth on steroids.” The innovation offers fast short-range networking that’s resistant to interference and will connect devices such as music receivers to wherever digital files are being stored. Servers that store digital entertainment in a central location also will be big news. The Russound SMS3-250 stores up to 250GB of music and offers three different music streams to remote devices. The server looks like a stylish stereo component; music can be loaded either through a built-in CD-ROM reader or transferred from a computer. Netgear offers a similar storage device that also stores video, games, photos and computer files in a central, wirelessly connected place.