Consumer Electronics Show Abuzz About Mobility
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On Mondays we focus on technology. Today consumer electronics. More than 140,000 people have descended on Las Vegas for the 40th Annual Consumers Electronics Show, also known as CES. It begins today. Multinational giants and small startups are there to display gadgets, most of which have not yet been released to the market.
NPR's Laura Sydell joins us from Las Vegas where she's already gotten a peek at what will be on display. Good morning, Laura.
LAURA SYDELL: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: So what's the big news. What's everybody talking about so far this year?
SYDELL: Mobility, that's the big news this year. All the major manufacturers are hawking devices and technologies that allow consumers to access whatever they want where they want it. And one of the most talked about technologies was announced at an event by Samsung yesterday that was so packed that people were turned away.
Samsung introduced what's called AVSB, which one executive said would liberate the couch potato. And what it is, it's a combination of a chip in various devices and an extra signal that can be sent out by television stations. And it will allow viewers to watch TV from a laptop, maybe on their cell phone or even in a moving car or train. And it's completely new. It's not connected to cell technology or the Internet. It's what Samsung hopes will be a new standard for broadcast digital TV.
MONTAGNE: Now that sounds pretty cool. But was there any one piece of technology that really caught your eye?
SYDELL: Well, there were a few things that caught my eye. It's hard to walk around here without continually saying to yourself, wow, cool. I saw a demonstration of a bit of really interesting software. It requires a laptop, but it will translate spoken English into one of 12 languages. Here's Sean Lanahan from SpeechGear demonstrating the software.
Mr. SEAN LANAHAN (SpeechGear): I am demonstrating a language translation device at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas.
Unidentified Woman (Computer Voice): (Spanish spoken)
SYDELL: Pretty cool. I should add…
SYDELL: Yeah. I should add it translates English to Arabic and it's actually already being used by U.S. troops in Iraq.
MONTAGNE: Now some people may be aware that there's a video format war going on right now between two different high definition technologies. There's Blu-Ray, and that's backed by Sony. There's HD DVD, and that's backed by Toshiba. I gather that at least one manufacturer there has introduced a third way.
SYDELL: Well, the big problem for the device manufacturers is that consumers don't want to buy a player that only plays Blu-Ray or that only plays HD DVD. Most people want to wait it out and see which format wins. So LG Electronics decided why not give consumers the device that can play either format?
So now they have a player - that I might add sells for $1,200 - that works with both Blu-Ray and HD DVD. At least one of the companies pushing Blu-Ray - Phillips - called the introduction of this hybrid product divisive, giving consumers yet another option in an already confusing market.
MONTAGNE: And I understand Bill Gates, who happens to be backing HD DVD, gave a keynote address last night. Did he weigh in on the format war.
SYDELL: No. He talked about the new Windows Vista operating system and all its snazzy features that's due out in less than three weeks. His big announcement taps right into the whole mobility theme I talked about earlier. Microsoft has made a deal with Ford Motor Company to put its software into the dashboard with a system called Synch(ph).
And several new Ford models will allow drivers to control music players, such s the iPod, through the dashboard, and it will also allow voice dialing with cell phones and it will read text messages out loud, including such Internet slang as LOL, for laughing out loud.
MONTAGNE: And how long are you going to be there, Laura?
SYDELL: I am going to be here through Wednesday and I'll be checking back in with you.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Laura Sydell at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.