This year's International Consumer Electronics Show seemed to suffer a short circuit.
Attendance at the world's largest display of the latest techno-gear, which ended Sunday in Las Vegas, was down 22 percent from last year. This came amid feedback from syndicated AV columnist Don Lindich and others that the products being shown were largely "a snooze." On top of that, the Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on CES, announced that U.S. electronics spending is expected to drop six-tenths of 1 percent this year after being up 5.4 percent in 2008.
But there were still many new gadgets to savor.
Based on reports, here are five cool things that intrigued me. Get blow-by-blow details on all the gear at sites such as CNET (ces.cnet.com), Yahoo! Tech (tech.yahoo.com/ces) and Lindich's Sound Advice Blog (www.soundadviceblog.com).
Capitalizing on the trend toward video downloading, several manufacturers announced deals with providers that will allow programming to stream directly to a TV set without needing a separate box. Models coming soon from LG, Vizio, Sony and Panasonic will be able to get movies and other programs straight from Netflix and Amazon. Some TVs, including those from Samsung and Toshiba, will offer direct access to online media from sites such as YouTube and Flickr. Being able to adapt to changes in downloading technology will be a key component of such sets, but a move toward an all-in-one living-room device for obtaining and watching on-demand content is exciting.
Could toys that kids (and parents) control with their minds be the next big thing? Mattel showed the Mind Flex, an $80 gizmo due in the fall with which players maneuver a ball using a headset that scans brain waves. The Force Trainer (not shown at CES), also due in the fall for $90 to $100 from Uncle Milton and Lucas Licensing, lets would-be Jedis do the same thing. "Sorry, Mom, I can't do my chores now. I'm busy thinking." Sweet!
LG's Watch Phone -- surely, that won't be the actual name when it debuts in Europe later this year -- generated loads of buzz. How could it not? Besides being a watch and a phone, the tiny device also puts a music player and a camera on your wrist. But here's the best part: Accessing all of its features is done largely through a touch-screen interface. It will be hard to tell whether slobbering geeks are using their heaven-sent Watch Phone or simply caressing it.
GPS is quickly changing our lives, and the innovations keep coming. In February, Garmin will offer a free update for some of its models called EcoRoute, an option that allows users to find the most fuel-efficient way to reach a destination. Sony's Handycam HDR-XR500 camcorder, coming in March for $1,300 to $1,500, automatically embeds location info on video clips using built-in GPS technology. And Dual's XNAV43HD GPS unit, due in the spring for $280, offers the most comprehensive real-time traffic updates yet via built-in HD Radio. Need more? Get lost.
The CES murmur for the Petters-less Polaroid is unlikely to change the techno-landscape, but its latest gadget is a nifty example of using today's technology to recall the click-and-clunk days of yore. The PoGo instant camera, due in March for $199, can take a digital photo and print it out in about a minute, right from the same device -- the modern equivalent of the defunct Polaroid film-based cameras, which instantly ejected the picture and then required the user to wait a minute for the photo to develop. PoGo prints ($13 for a 30-pack) are said to look little better than old Polaroid snapshots, but I don't think image quality is really the point.
Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542