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February 2003
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
CES Show Coverage – 2003
What The Other Guys Didn't Tell You... Part I
Article By Chris Boylan


  As a CES newbie, I admit, I attempted the impossible – to visit each and every booth at CES so I’d be totally up to date in all the latest technological advancements.  And, at first, this seemed quite attainable.  I walked into the South Exhibit Hall, looked around at the hundreds of exhibitors in this airplane hangar-sized space, and began diligently checking out the wares.  Unfortunately, I was later to learn that this room was only one of six immense spaces packed to the brim with gizmos, gadgets, big screens, projectors, speakers, amplifiers, car stereos (and cars), camcorders, digital cameras, tube amps, DVD-Audio players, plasma screens, storage media and more.  

And then there was the High End exhibit across town at the Alexis Park Hotel – another few hundred exhibitors specializing in two-channel stereo and high end home theater, plus the T.H.E. Show in yet another hotel with a few dozen more high end audio exhibits.   

CES 2003
I guess this must be the place...

With over 2200 exhibitors and more than 115,000 attendees, there is only one word for CES… BIG!  I decided I’d need to be a bit more selective, but even still, I managed to see only a portion of this immense technological smorgasbord.  My show coverage is far from comprehensive, but I will mention those items that stood out, in audio, video, home theater and anything else that caught my attention.


Some Sirius Inhabitants

Even before entering the hallowed halls of the 2003 CES in the Las Vegas Convention Center, I was accosted by some Sirius Nazis.  Yes, that’s not a typo, the reps from Sirius - www.sirius.com - the other digital satellite music radio provider - came at me on the street armed with pamphlets, and would not take no for an answer.  A comely young Sirius staffer physically assaulted me with literature, inserting it skillfully into an unguarded orifice (hey, at least it was a cheaper thrill than the $20 lap dances at The Crazy Horse Too, more on that later...).      

Sirius offers some serious satellite music, beamed into your car or home.  Hip hop, classical, jazz, funk, rock, pop… but no polka.  They don’t do polka.  60 high quality streams of digital music and 40 streams of news and sports for only $12.95/month (plus the cost of the Sirius tuner and antenna).  I suppose this is a good option for some, who spend a lot of time in their cars, but frankly, I prefer my radio free.


And On Into The Bowels Of CES

Several years ago, my crazy Irish friend Graham had a really good idea – one that he never followed up on.  LoJack®… for kids!  You know, those little tracers they bolt to your vehicle’s chassis so that if it ever gets stolen, the local police can track it down right into the local chop shop.  With all the recent kidnappings and missing children, wouldn’t it be great if parents were so armed with a device to track their kids?   Well it’s now available, and it’s called Wherify (www.wherify.com).  

Wherify - about the size of a watch

Wherify - it's a pager, it's a tracking device... it's both!

The Wherify GPS tracking device and pager is about the size of a wristwatch.  In fact, it looks like a cheesy kids sports watch.  The service is currently available in North America only. Wherify users can visit www.wherify.com to track the location of their Wherify-enabled children anywhere in the United States.  Wherify has invested in terabytes worth of actual satellite imaging photos so when you drill down on the location of your child (or grandparent, for that matter), you can even see exactly what kind of neighborhood they’re in!  Very cool.  When they can make it small enough to implant surgically, it will be even cooler…  

“Jonny, are you sure you went to the library after school?”
“Yes, mom.”
“Hmmmm… Is that your final answer??”

Some parents (or caretakers of older folks) could really use this kind of peace of mind.  Of course, it may eventually evolve into some huge infringement of civil liberties with mandatory implants and constant tracking by a big brother-esque government.  But for now, it’s a nifty little use of technology.


More Than Just Electronics... That's Entertainment!

In the “main tent,” you were sure to see exciting stage shows every hour on the hour introducing some new technology... 

For Casio, it was Geisha girls and karate chopping dudes showing off a teeny tiny credit card sized digital camera.

Casio introduced its new slim credit card sized digital cameras
For Sharp, it was acrobats in rappelling gear and
scantily clad dancers espousing the virtues of
Sharp's new Aquos 37” LCD TV. 

The Lovely Sharp Aquos Dancers!

The once popular Debbie Gibson (sorry, she's known as "Deborah Gibson" now) was even on hand singing her own pop songs through a nifty little one-piece karaoke microphone called The Leadsinger (www.leadsinger.com). 

Deborah (not Debbie) Gibson
Just back from a sell-out performance on
QVC, Deborah Gibson appears at CES

But the most enthusiastic crowds came out for Gen X extreme sports legends Tony Hawk (skateboarding) and Dave Mirra (BMX).  These guys were on hand at the Case Logic booth in celebration of the launch of the Action Sports Signature Series of cases - 33 storage products focused on music, gaming, cameras, notebook computers and wireless technology.  It was fun for the whole family as these fearless dudes shredded up the half-pipe to the delight of their wildly appreciative fans.

World-class skateboarders and BMX riders shredded things up

World-class skateboarders and BMX riders shredded things up

World-class skateboarders and BMX riders shredded things up...

while the fans cheered!
...while the wildly appreciative fans cheered!

How Low Can You Go?  Bandwidth That Is...

Not to be outdone by Microsoft, who recently introduced their multi-channel audio/video codec, the other streaming media giant Real Networks announced their Real Player 9 codec and player.  They claim all the quality of MPEG2 (the video compression format used for DVD) but at 25% of the bandwidth.  This could definitely come in handy if we ever want to see and hear decent quality multi-media content streamed directly over our current broadband (or even narrowband) internet connections.  They also demo'ed that they look at least as good if not better than MPEG4 at 1/2 the bandwidth.  Real-time multi-channel streamed high quality audio and video... here we come!  They served up some pretty impressive looking demos on a 42" plasma screen.  I saw really minimal artifacts considering how skinny a pipe this could fit down.  Watch out Microsoft... 

Real Video 9 demo
RealNetworks displayed clips from "Minority Report" side-by-side in
MPEG2 (5 MBPS), MPEG4  (2.5 MBPS) and RealVideo9 (1.25 MBPS).  

And speaking of Microsoft, they aren't exactly standing still in this race.  As part of their enormous, multi-faceted 2000 SF+ display with everything from video games to portable computers to online service, Microsoft touted their own multi-channel audio/video codec and player - Windows Media 9.   Also boasting multiple channels of audio and high quality video in a low bandwidth package, Windows Media 9 is already available on over 200 devices, including cell phones, CD players and DVD players.  I listened to a short demo of multi-channel jazz music encoded at a mere 384 KBPS and I have to admit, it sounded pretty good.  The battle has begun for the streaming media and embedded device market.  May the better format win!

 Windows Media 9 demo
Windows Media 9 boasts support in over 200 devices .  

And Speaking of Format Wars...

One thing was clear at CES 2003, the format wars aren't getting any better.  DVD-Audio vs. SACD.  DVD-R vs. DVD-RW vs. DVD+RW vs. DVD-RAM.  SmartMedia vs. SecureDigital vs. MemoryStick vs. xD vs. CompactFlash.  Everywhere you look is a manufacturer touting its format as the best as they each vie to establish their own invention as the standard, guaranteeing them licensing royalties into the foreseeable future.

You would think Sony would have learned their lesson with the whole Beta/VHS debacle, but no, they're going their merry way with SACD, MemorySticks and DVD+RW.  Panasonic had their new Hard Drive/DVD recorder, the DMR-HS2 on display at the show.  It's like Tivo in that it can pause and resume live TV, but without having to pay for the Tivo service, plus it has the ability to burn your keeper shows and movies to DVD.  But the recordable DVD formats they use - DVD-RAM and DVD-R are not compatible in playback with many current DVD players.   

Fortunately, there are many manufacturers who are committed to bridging the format gap, specifically the DVD-Audio/SACD format gap, which is near and dear to us audio/videophiles. Combined DVD-Audio/SACD/DVD-Video players were on hand starting at just $500 for Pioneer's DV-45a and going all the way up to $7,999 for a beautiful universal transport from MSB.   

Pioneer DV-45A Universal DVD/DVD-A/SACD player
Pioneer's Elite model DV-45A plays SACD, DVD, and DVD-Audio - all for only $500

Pioneer DV-47Ai Universal DVD/DVD-A/SACD player
Pioneer's DV-47Ai plays everything the 45A plays,
with an upgraded video section -$999.

Denon universal player - DVD-2900 - $999
Denon's new DVD-2900 universal player supports DVD,
DVD-Audio and SACD - available in May, 2003 for $999.

McCormack UDP1 - $2999 includes built-in processing
McCormack's UDP1 plays DVD, DVD-Audio and SACD.  It will ship in the spring for $2999.
It includes a built-in multi-channel processor for DVDs.
Its multi-channel analog preamp mate, the MAP-1 will sell for $2395.  

MSB Platinum Super DVD Audio Player
Like the McCormack player, MSB's Super DVD Audio player plays DVD,
DVD-A and SACD, and includes built-in Dolby Digital and DTS processing.
It includes level controls via stepped attenuators
and is designed to plug and play into any existing two channel system.
Price tag?  A mere $7,999.    

And Now Back To Enjoying The Music

As a welcome break to wandering the halls, Gibson offered a place to kick back and Enjoy the Music, live music that is, coming from Gibson's on-site "Juke Joint."  Gibson was dispensing free liquid refreshment as well - name your poison as long as it's Jim Beam and Pepsi.  Plus they had listening stations so you could pick out a few tunes on their latest guitars and rock out (on the headphones) without bothering the other attendees.  

Gibson's Juke Joint

And after show hours,  The High End folks sponsored a free show at the Alexis Park hotel with folk/pop/disco legend Janis Ian.  "Who?" was my reaction... shows how much I know about music.  Janis Ian exploded onto the music scene in 1966 when she was 15 with her hit "Society's Child" - a song that dealt with racial issues with a level of insight that belied her years.  More popular, perhaps (and still heard in the occasional film and on the radio) was her very personal "At Seventeen" ("I learned the truth at seventeen that love was meant for beauty queens...").  Very powerful song.  Apparently she sang it with her eyes closed for the first year after writing it, for fear that people would laugh at her.  But no one's laughing now.  In fact, she showed us all a rocking good time with her masterful guitar and soulful heartfelt lyrics, not to mention her witty on-stage banter. A good time was had by all.

Click here for Part II of this CES show coverage.


Items covered in the above article: ces 2003 , show report audio, ces coverage , consumer electronics show , dvd-audio, sacd, janis ian, wherify, sirius, sharp aquos, lcd tv, lcd television, flat screen tv, dvd-2900, denon, dv-47ai, dv-45a, pioneer, udp-1, udp1, msb, super audio dvd player, dvd players, mccormack












































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