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Notes From The Front: 2001 Consumer Electronics Show In Review

As a veteran showgoer, I can safely say that the 2001 International CES was one for the books on a number of fronts.

First-and I say this without any implied criticism-it was probably the most uncoverable CES I have ever attended. You know, there was a time in the earlier history of CES that I, as an individual reporter, could cover the major aspects and activities single-handed.

At this one, with the delivery of a host of keynote addresses at all hours of the day and night; the expanded number of venues (including all those housed in the temporary structures in front of the Convention Center); the record number of conferences and seminars; and the almost bewildering array of old and new technologies being described, discussed and demonstrated, even the full staff of TWICE reporters could not do the show total journalistic justice. And just to further confuse things, it was the first time the CES used the Riviera Hotel for exhibit space.

Just focusing on the highlights proved to be a daunting task that generated more than enough material to fill the pages of TWICE’s Official CES Daily and the subsequent issues of the national editions of TWICE itself.

For me personally, the 2001 CES goes into memory as the one at which innovative video displays came of age. And it’s been a long time coming. At Samsung’s exhibit, its entrance-spanning arch of color LCD screens made clear that the future of that technology is now. The array of brand names on compact projectors utilizing micromirror technology showed that the Texas Instruments system is now on the move, though I was as bit disappointed that after three years pricing was still much too high.

JVC’s light-valve projector, promised as a consumer product last year, was on display and going strong, while Thomson pulled off a coup with the demo of a projector using its own Liquid Crystal On Silicon technology-a three-panel reflective rear-screen challenger to the TI system.

Perhaps more importantly, there were promises of new widescreen tubes in new sizes for direct-view high-definition TVs, and it’s clear that conventional analog color sets with flat-faced screens will be a lot more than novelties on retail floors this year.

As for plasma displays, from what I saw and heard, their future will continue to be that of ultra high-priced novelties for as far as we can safely look ahead. Those supposedly in the know tell me there are no production shortcuts on the horizon that hold the promise of making them affordable.

As for the show itself, the atmosphere was something of a surprise. Dealers left at home any feelings of disappointment with the less-than-sterling 2000 holiday selling season, and brought to the show floor a mood of enthusiasm and high hopes for this year.

Showgoers got, as it turned out, an unanticipated look at the future during the presentation by FCC commissioner Michael Powell. After the show, President George Bush appointed him FCC chairman, and his comments during his CES presentation make it clear that he will be taking a “let the marketplace rule” approach to the rollout of digital and high-definition TV.

Powell told his audience that he considers the goal of obsoleting analog color TV broadcasting by the now-fuzzy 2006 target date to be unrealistic. He indicated he could see no reason to rush things, and that he wasn’t taking sides in the rules and standards issues involving set makers, broadcasters and cable operators. Powell did say that he felt the conversion to digital was eventually going to be completed, but stopped short of endorsing high-definition as a necessity.

So what about next year? Well, aside from new technologies and products, it will be the first-ever CES to run without a weekend date. Thanks to a bad New Year’s break, the show is slated for January 8-11, which is Tuesday-Friday, and we understand the airlines won’t force a low-fare Saturday night stay.

What effect that scheduling will have on attendance is uncertain, but I’ll bet tens of thousands of households will be happy to have dad and/or mom home for the weekend.

Bob Gerson, TWICE editor-at-large, has covered the CE industry for more than 30 years. He is the founding editor of the publication and its longtime editor-in-chief. In recognition of his work, Gerson was presented with one of the first Consumer Electronics Association Lifetime Achievement Awards at CES last year.