Future On Display At CES, Emerging Tech


For industry techies, the New Year again commenced with a week of sensory overload, followed by a half-week of sensory under-load, in the form of technical dissertations, delivered in a darkened room.

The sensory overload came from the annual International Consumer Electronics Show, which served up its usual dosage of the cool, the relevant and the just plain weird. From Vegas, many of us trekked to Los Angeles for the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' annual Conference on Emerging Technologies last week.

This week's translation will serve as the Cliffs Notes to both events.

Short list to the cool at this year's CES: The profusion of skinny, wall-mounted HDTVs, svelting in at less than an inch thick. The organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, magnificently rich in color, and about the size of a small laptop screen. (Three years ago, the biggest was matchbook-sized.)

Also cool: Casio's combo still/motion camera, the EXF-1. SanDisk's combo video memory stick/remote control, branded “Sansa” — sort of a video iPod without the screen.

As for just plain weird, nothing came close to the his/her toilet seat nightlight of the 2003 CES — green when the seat is in sitting position, red when it's not. But this year's robotic beer cooler turned a few thirsty heads, as did the Swarovski crystal pendant, which doubles as a 1 Gigabyte USB memory stick. (Just a gig, though, guys?)

Jason Gaedtke, newly named chief scientist at CableLabs, topped my list of tech presenters at last week's “E.T.” (Emerging Tech) conference. His paper: “Semantic Web: Cable Finds New Meaning.”

Gaedtke is a reliable guide through the brain-bending landscape of Web-video technologies, also known as “Web 3.0.” On his short list of things to start learning: AJAX, a programming technique for Web pages that allows an element on the page to be refreshed interactively, without having to reload the entire screen.

Other topics of interest at this year's E.T.: A look at emerging set-top trends, delivered by Scientific Atlanta/Cisco Systems's vice president of client architecture, Ken Morse. Among them: Silicon integration, for single-chips that pack in seven or more individual processors; DVRs with 250 Gigabytes of storage by next year; much better graphics.

E.T. wouldn't be E.T. without at least one example of impressively nerdy tech-speak. This year's candidate: Harmonic's “hecto-QAM,” which skipped many of us off to Wikipedia for a refresher on “hecto.” (Answer: 100.)

Similarly, CES wouldn't be CES without a bit of unintended geek humor — like when the demo guy at XStreamHD, a satellite-based HDTV download service starting later this year, was asked if the service is like Netflix, without the U.S. mail element. His reply: “That's exactly kind of what we are.”