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Cool New Products

Now that we've run down the hottest product categories from the show, what are the coolest devices, regardless of what category they fit into? Well, the show wasn't full of groundbreaking developments, and frankly there wasn't even one stand-out product that everyone was buzzing about. But that doesn't mean there weren't some great gadgets that I'd like to have in my house. Let's run through my favorites.

Orb

Orb Networks had the most intriguing new product in my opinion. Their service will let you take your audio, video, and photos from home anywhere you go. Not by dumping it to CD or a portable media player, but through the internet. You start with a Media Center PC and a broadband connection. Then you subscribe to Orb's service and they let you transmit that content to any device you register: laptop, cell phone, or PDA.

Want to watch the last episode of Lost on your laptop in your hotel room (I could have used that last week since I missed Wednesday's episode packing for the show)? Just hook up to the hotel's high-speed internet connection (wired or wireless) and serve it live from your home media server. How about watching the big game when you have to work late? No problem. Anywhere you have a PC and a broadband connection you can watch live and recorded shows and movies or listen to your digital music. You can even send music, video, and photos to your cell phone if it's capable. The Orb network will automatically scale the quality of the audio/video to whatever connection you've registered your device with. Imagine watching TV on your phone while you wait for your plane. And you can do it all while your family is at home using the media server for their own watching/listening needs.

MobiTV

Sort of a scaled-back version of Orb, MobiTV allows you to watch live television on your phone. You don't need to have any connection to your home system; you just need to have a video capable phone and their software. Not quite as flexible as Orb, but this still could provide a great way to keep up with your favorite shows when you can't be at home to watch them. They had best tagline at the show: "It's like having a satellite dish in your pants!"

Samsung

Samsung had some incredible TVs on display. The most breathtaking was a prototype 102" plasma display. It was simply amazing, and the picture quality didn't suffer even though it was a prototype. They have no plans to produce such a large plasma screen unless dealers show demand for it, but it was a cool demonstration of their technical abilities. Also on display were the largest production plasma TV (80"), DLP TV (67"), and LCD TV (57"), which were no slouches themselves.

Delphi/XM

MyFi XM2Go is a portable XM satellite radio receiver made by Delphi that's about the size of a walkman. It will allow you to listen to XM anywhere you want and even record several hours of music for later listening. A great device that will give more people reason to go with XM over Sirius.

CarChip

CarChip is a piece of silicone that mounts under your dashboard. It records up to 300 hours of events in your car. Events? That means things like top speed, average speed, throttle position, braking, acceleration, etc. Not sure if your teenager is following the posted speed limits? Pull out the CarChip, plug it into your PC, and download the data it collected. It will tell you exactly what was happening when you weren't in the car.

CarChip will also decipher your car's error codes. Why is your check engine light on? You could take it to the dealer only to find that it was simply lighting up to remind you to get routine service, or you could have a real problem. Why pay the dealer (and waste your time) to tell you what's wrong? Plug the CarChip into your PC and it will tell you if your light is telling you something important (say, your oxygen sensor is malfunctioning) or if you can ignore it. After you've gotten the information you need from it, wipe the memory clean and reinstall it for more monitoring. The advanced version also maintains an accident log, compiling key metrics for 20 seconds before the crash.

Phillips

There were several intriguing products at the Phillips booth. First up is their "Wireless Music Center" which includes a base station for storing music and wireless satellite stations for playing the music in other rooms. This might be a good intermediate step for those not willing or able to go with a full media server setup. The base station has it's own hard drive for storing music (either ripped from CDs or ported over from your PC) that can be sent to any room with a satellite receiver. No other stereo equipment is needed, as the base station and satellites include built-in speakers. Or, if you have other stereo equipment, there's a scaled down version that doesn't include the speakers.

A cool feature lets you move from room to room and have you music "follow" you to another room with a satellite station. Up to 5 satellites can be used at once, and each one can play different music – or they can by synchronized to play exactly the same songs.

Another cool Phillips product is the MiraVision LCD TV. When it's turned on it is a regular LCD TV, but when it's turned off the screen is a mirror. Mount it on your wall with a decorative frame and no one will know it's a TV until you switch it on.

Olympus

The m:robe is a cool handheld combo device that allows you to listen to your music, view your photos, and even take pictures. Think of it like a Photo iPod with a bigger screen and a 1 megapixel digital camera built-in. I'll like it more when it has more storage capacity and a 3 or 4 mp camera, but it's a pretty cool device already. A smaller version is like an iPod mini (with 5GB of storage) with a cool touch-sensitive control panel.

DirecTV/Tivo

DirecTV announced their own DVR, leaving those of us who own the DirecTV Tivo DVR confused about that product's future. What's likely to happen is that no new capabilities will be added to our DirecTivos as soon as the DirecTV DVR is released. The new DVR will record up to 100 hours of programming, store 90 minutes of live TV in its cache, and perform many of the same functions that the Tivo units offer such as Season Passes and Wishlists. The new unit will have USB outputs (like the current Tivo unit), but it's likely that they will be activated to allow DirecTV subscribers to actually do something with their recorded programs (like the new Tivo-to-Go program announced for standalone Tivo units).

I suppose I'll be happy to have that functionality no matter what software is running the box, but I really like my Tivo and would probably prefer it if DirecTV stayed with proven technology instead of going with a startup company to develop this new unit. What will this do to Tivo? The vast majority of it's new subscribers come on board through DirecTV, so when DirecTV starts selling their own DVR later this year, will they have enough customers to survive? They have some interesting plans for home media servers and other technology (code named "Tahiti") as well as cablecard-ready boxes that will eliminate the need to have both a Tivo and a cable box (for cable subscribers, not satellite TV subscribers), but will these new products be enough to keep them afloat?

Monster Cable

What's better than plugging listening to your iPod over your car speakers via an FM transmitter? Plugging your iPod into the auxiliary jack of your car stereo. But you still have to keep your iPod handy and look at its tiny screen to switch tracks. Monster, known for the best cables in the business, offers a pretty good FM transmitter, but now they're also offering a solution, the iCruze, that will eliminate the need for a CD changer by allowing you to control the iPod through your car stereo. A small box mounted under the dash (or in the trunk) plugs into the CD changer input of your car stereo. Your iPod plugs into a cradle that sends all of the music to your stereo (while charging the iPod). All of the tracks and song info are displayed on your car stereo display, or you can buy a Monster display if your stereo's capability is limited in the display area.

Professional installation is recommended for this product, but it gives you a lot more control over your music and sounds a ton better than an FM transmitter. And once your entire music collection is on your iPod, you'll never need a CD in your car again.

Yamaha

Yamaha displayed their new YSP-1 "digital sound projector." Essentially it's a 5.1 surround sound system coming from a single component. How does it work? It's a wide (maybe 3 feet) rectangle that looks like a long center channel speaker. It's about as deep as an LCD or plasma TV, so it looks good mounted underneath one of those. And it's crammed full of little speakers pointed in all sorts of directions. It sends sound in several key directions, using the walls of the room to bounce the signals where you'd expect them to be in a standard 5.1 setup. The results are impressive and realistic, however I'm concerned that if your room isn't perfectly proportioned, you'll lose some of the effect.

Power Line Networking

This has been around for a while now. The existing copper wiring in your house can be used as a pretty good home network. And since most people have electrical outlets all over their house, finding a connection point is easy. But what's new this year is a standard for connecting audio/video equipment.

Wireless networks just can't handle the bandwidth for video except under the best conditions, but many people don't want to run more cables through their how to get their media server extenders hooked up in the bedroom. Now you can plug the devices into your wall sockets and send your music and movies anywhere in your house. Brilliant! If they make an adapter for satellite speakers in a surround sound setting, I'll sign up right away.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Everybody and their brother offered their own flat panel televisions and portable MP3 players. Seriously, there were so many companies I had never heard of offering these products that I wondered how many were actually manufactured by other companies and sent out with different labels. Are there really that many production facilities in the world that can make plasma displays and flash RAM? I suppose many of these were never meant for sale in the U.S. (this was an international show, after all), but the sheer number of companies offering these things amazed me.

One other product category that was over-represented? iPod accessories. Many, many companies had ways to hook your iPod into your car stereo or broadcast it over FM, so there are sure to be many, many confused consumers trying to pick the best one. Personally I liked the Monster Cable iCruze solution, but that won't be for everyone.

More Info

Still can't get enough of the CES? Then check out the weblogs I entered during the show for more tidbits on new products and trends:

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