CES: Day 1


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CES 2014 opened to huge crowds and packed display halls. I spent 12 hours visiting component companies such as MSI and NVIDIA and visiting booths while listening to an almost endless number of headphones, wireless speakers, and some very good high-end audio components. CES 2014 is a gadget show--wearable gadgets that do everything from monitor you heart rate to keeping you informed of what is happening at home and much of it on a smart watch or handheld device. There were drones and more drones and, as I noted in my last column, they aren't toys anymore. These drones carry very good remote controlled camera’s and who knows what else once they get in the hands of their new owners.

I had the chance to have a private meeting with the MSI component staff. MSI makes higher-end notebooks and all-in-one computers, but my interest was in their components--specifically, their graphics cards. I use EVGA NVIDIA-based graphics so looking at the MSI cards--some of them NVIDIA, but many of them AMD-based--was interesting for me. The performance was impressive and the build quality seemed to be exceptional. One feature new to me is that on their higher-end cards the fan runs backward on startup to clear heat-trapping dust from the unit.

On the show floor I politely declined to listen to most of the ear buds offered to me to try. I mentioned a few that sounded good in yesterday’s article. I did accept a trial of a new set of wired earbuds from audio-technica complete with microphone for music and cell use and I must say they are outstanding with regard to sound and perhaps the most comfortable I've ever used.

NVIDIA was showing a surround gaming setup using three large UHD 4K monitors. Rendering the graphics requires the graphics cards to render 1.5 billion pixels/second. The computer they were using incorporated four GTX Titans in quad SLI. (For those of you who are not computer teckies, nothing to see here, move along). The 4K resolution is amazing and hard to accurately describe. Do you remember when you first saw HD TV and were amazed at the clarity? Well, this is a similar experience making standard HD look like 20-year-old, over-the-air TV.

In addition to UHD, NVIDA has introduced G sync, a way for your computer to very accurately sync very high-resolution pictures with a new generation of so-equipped monitors totally eliminating any stutter or tearing--even at extreme resolution and speed. Phillips has introduced a G Sync-enabled monitor and others are on the way.

Speaking of gaming, there were twenty-first century versions of old-school pinball machines. Playing one took me back 55 years or so, but with modern graphics and sensory feel.

Of course there's much more at CES than just games. Wearable fitness and health monitoring devices abound. Fitbit seems to me the most senior in the fitness category, but there are many newcomers. These devices track your exercise levels, your weight and body fat levels, and track and chart them for you. They're truly part of the Internet of Things--devices that all communicate with each other and either take necessary action or prepare needed reports. In fact, my Fitbit just send me a message that I walked over nine miles today. Covering CES is great exercise.

Speaking of wearable devices, there were eight new smartwatch offerings that I saw and I'm sure I missed a few. These are wearable extensions of your smartphone. In addition to telling time, they tell you when you get a call, a text, an e-mail, a notification from your home alarm system, and much more. And this is only just the beginning. Wearable devices are made possible by ever shrinking components and the constant race for the next" big thing" assure us of amazing things to come. I have to wonder which of these companies will be the next Microsoft or Apple and which will disappear--never to be heard from again.

One device that I feel is destined to fail is the Chromebook. The Chromebook is basically the Google version of the failed netbook of a few years ago. This notebook-appearing computer is selling, but mostly because of its low price. It's really not much more than a dumb terminal requiring an Internet connection to do much at all and, even then, it's limited. The only real evidence of significant investment I've seen at CES so far is from Toshiba. They had a few units on display, but were getting very little attention. I asked one Toshiba booth worker after another the simple question, “Why in the world, except for price, would anyone who knows what these are buy a Chromebook?” I asked five different Toshiba folks and I never got an answer. Finally, one of them said something like, "Because people want to be connected." Hmm, I thought that is what real computers and smart phones have been doing for years.

There's still much more to see: Robotics, advances in automotive electronics, mainstream 4K HD TVs from many suppliers, and what seems to be a resurgence of interesting products from American and European companies, as well as the emergence of Samsung into a mega and almost show-dominating company.

More tomorrow…stay tuned.

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