Gadgets Galore on Display as CES Kicks Off

The Consumer Electronics Show opens Monday in Las Vegas. Andrea Seabrook gets a preview from Laura Sydell.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Now from old tech to new tech. If you're an audiophile with a surround sound setup and a library of Stravinsky mp3s, or a mega gamer with a souped-up Xbox 360 and virtual multiplayer connectivity, geek heaven this week is in Las Vegas. It's the Consumer Electronic Show, the biggest yearly convention of new gadgets and computing.

Parker Brugge is with the Consumer Electronics Association.

Mr. PARKER BRUGGE (Senior Director & Environmental Counsel, Consumer Electronics Association): There are 2,700 exhibitors and, what, 20,000 products that will out on the show floor. This is the place to see, new technologies and new products that the industry is bringing to consumers.

SEABROOK: Our own NPR's Laura Sydell is on the convention floor right now.

And Laura, it sounds pretty busy down there.

LAURA SYDELL: It sure is. Everyone if setting up for tomorrow's opening.

SEABROOK: So you got a sneak peak this weekend. What do you see?

SYDELL: Well, I would say I don't see so much. What's new is that everything is smaller, faster, more connected. And increasingly, this show is becoming central to a lot more industries. So this year, for the first time, there's a keynote speaker from the automobile industry. You have Rick Wagner who's the CEO of GM. And he's here because cars are increasingly computerized, so the have GPS, they have the ability for voice control of your music collection, built-in hands free cell phones.

SEABROOK: What you're getting at, Laura, is that this convention is sort of an important glimpse at what's going on in this vibrant park of our culture, technology. And you've covered the Consumer Electronic Show for years, how has it changed?

SYDELL: Well, again, I would say there's that convergence of many different industries coming together. This year, what I would say is really the newest thing is that wireless is getting better. So you're seeing more and more gadgets that enable you, for example, to move the Internet to your television. I think we're finally beginning to see affordable and workable technology that can really do that. And you're starting to see gadgets, like, for example I saw a picture frame that has wireless connection. And ultimately what they're working for here is that your picture frame will be able to connect to you Flickr account, so you'll be able to, you know, show your photos that way or you'll have GPS devices that will be able to tell you what restaurants are around you and it will give you reviews of the restaurants.

SEABROOK: And I know there's a lot of buzz this year about green technology.

SYDELL: There is a lot of talk about green technology and people are going to be showing off their new green technology, but I have to say I'm not so sure about those big 100-inch flat screen TV's right in front of me.

SEABROOK: Laura, one last question. With all the indications these days that the economy is slowing down, are you hearing any concern from electronics makers about whether people will actually buy a 100-inch flat screen TV or any other gadgets there?

SYDELL: I think there is concern here when you're seeing oil in your $100 a barrel and you're seeing unemployment figures rise, there are some concern that people are not going to have the kind of expendable income to pay for all these gadgets. However, I think that there is still a lot of optimism, because I think the march towards smaller, faster, cheaper wireless is pretty much inevitable. Our society is changing and this is the place where you see the gadgets that are making a change.

SEABROOK: NPR's Laura Sydell, speaking to us from the floor of the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas.

Thanks, Laura, very much.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

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