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Looking Back, Looking Ahead

1/25/2010 12:56:00 PM

A couple members of the media mentioned to me during CES that they thought about how long they have been attending the show. Maybe it was the dawn of the new decade that spawned the thought process, but I began to think about it and I realized that the first time I edited a daily for CES was in June 1990 in Chicago, 20 years ago.
That was when Summer CES was held along with the existing Winter CES in Las Vegas, a long, long time ago. I worked at Home Furnishings Daily (HFD) back in those days, a weekly newspaper that covered the home furnishings business, including CE. There was no “official daily” back in those days; TWICE had “TWICE Today,” and there were two other dailies that specialized in going to conventions and writing dailies with staffs that didn’t know the industries.
It was so long ago that we were editing copy that was written on typewriters, mainframe terminals and Tandy laptops from Radio Shack (two words back then, not one) that ran MS-DOS. There was no digital photography involved; in fact, few color pictures in the four issues, and no Web for fact-checking. The reporters had to get the info on each story correctly on the first take.
That being said, there were a few memorable things said at the Summer CES 1990 showing that some things in this business don’t change.
For instance, there was a format war shaping up in the compact camcorder video market between 8mm tape and VHS-C, the “Mini Me” version of VHS. Coverage was by our own Greg Tarr, who was covering one of his first CES extravaganzas.
Speaking of formats, the digital audio tape category was supposed to have a “price war,” another never-ending trend, during 1990. Sony was supposed to introduce units that fall that were at $900 or $950, $50 to $300 less than products from competing suppliers. (There was no mention of recordable CDs or MP3 players in that daily’s coverage of the 1990 Summer CES.)
A company named Bondwell introduced a “notebook-size PC” that was 5 pounds, had a 10.5-inch LCD, ran off of size-C batteries, 2MB RAM, didn’t have a Web connection, and had a suggested retail of $999.
The fledgling Custom Electronics Designers and Installers Association (CEDIA) held a meeting at CES drawing more than 400 people to discuss the “hottest segment” of CE, custom installation.
Sony founder Akio Morita, in a CES keynote, predicted a merging of audio and video digital technologies and said that HDTV, or as Morita called it, “HDVS” - high definition video system - “will be the heart of new generation of all audio/visual software.” (I guess that prediction is why he is a member of the CE Hall of Fame.)
The first car CD unit was supposed to be delivered by Sherwood in August of that year, and Go-Video planned its introduction of the VCR-2 dual deck for $999. And check this headline: “Experts see Caller ID Units a Hit With Phone Companies.” You think?
Best Buy, just like it has in the past 20 years, seemed to cause controversy with the opening of “self-sell outlets” that made such brands as Hitachi, Harman Kardon and Kenwood be “uncomfortable” with the new format.
The economy was mixed, although not as bad as the last 18 months, but there were still complaints about format wars, changes at retail and profit margins, and a few hints about the future and real innovation.
That’s what CES has always been about - Winter or Summer - and the innovation and change reflected there is the character, the lifeblood of the CE industry. In 2030 someone will probably make the same observations about this year’s CES.

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