What We Learned at CES

by Foundry

Foundry Group attended the latest incarnation of CES this past week and thought we’d give some of our thoughts on the show. In no particular order, here is “What We Learned at CES.”

  1. Don’t buy a television for the next 6 months. This is certainly counter to what retailers and producers would want us to say, especially given the current state of the economy, but all the major brands are introducing exciting technologies in the first half of 2009. The TVs are thinner (some less than 1mm!), brighter (LED backlighting rocks), faster (240mhz refresh rate) and offer superior contrast ratios (1,000,000 to 1 and even higher). Next to the best of today’s generation of panels, there is no comparison. Having been to CES a few years in a row, this year seemed to demonstrate the biggest improvements on imaging. If you don’t buy a TV in this generation, hold on a couple of years until OLED TVs are commonplace and then sit a back and look at the best displays we’ve ever seen. For now, we’ll geek out on LED backlit generation two screens.
  2. Everyone is trying to make things easier on consumers. It only took 20 years or so, but consumer device manufactures, both large and small are finally focusing on the consumer experience. Maybe this is the effect of Apple’s entrance into the consumer device ecosystem, but this year, in particular, showed many instances of deep thinking about usability. What was of particular interest to us were some of the startups that attended the show and instead of presenting groundbreaking technology, rather have executed on current technologies to bring the consumer a needed digital solution with the ease of use never seen before at an unexpectedly low price.
  3. 3D on TV. Full HD TVs and projectors that have incredible 3D-images (glasses needed) are now consumer available. Clearly the amount of content available will drive how popular these devices become, but the technology is really impressive to experience. We played a VW racing game in 3D and would have been happy to sit there all afternoon, or at least until the inevitable headaches set in. There was also a prototype of a 3D TV that didn’t require the viewer to wear glasses. It was pretty rough, but cool at the same time. We have our doubts that the entire universe of content will ever go 3D, given how different the production tools and processes are for live-action movies and television. However, for media like video games and CG animated content which are largely “3D native” already, there should be less of a hurdle to create appropriate 3D content, and probably better justification from a user-experience perspective as well.
  4. SanDisk has a power marketing department. SanDisk had their usual large presence and this year the big announcement was a 2GB Rockband-branded SD card. All for the low price of 13 bucks. Yes, you can buy a regular SD card for about 4 bucks, but why not pay an extra $9 for a cool sticker? Well done, SanDisk. Also, similarly, one can now purchase a cool looking Godfather-branded USB thumb drive, (not from SanDisk) but it does contain some Godfather content, at least. Speaking of content, SanDisk also brought out a new MP3 player for lazy people called the slotRadio. The MP3 player comes with 1000 preloaded songs based on standardized genre playlists chosen by the company, not the user. Over time, a user can order new cards to put into the MP3 player’s slot, each card having a different genre of music pre installed. The only controls on the device are play and skip (i.e. no “back”). Call this the MP3 player for people who really don’t like music.
  5. It was virtually empty at the show. Okay, that is a gross overstatement, but the hotel rooms were half the price of last year and it was definitely easier to navigate on the convention floor. The folks at CES claimed there was only an 8% drop in attendance, but it felt like a lot more. Our bet is that folks who registered beforehand didn’t buy plane tickets and hotel rooms and didn’t show up. CES probably included these folks in their numbers. After all, they have booths to sell based on attendance. Some reports have the attendance at 22% down.
  6. Nobu is still excellent. Enough said. Guy Savoy was also scrumptious.
  7. Human Computer Interaction. We were excited to see the continual refinement and presence of next generation human computer interactions. Frequent readers to our blog will note that we are huge fans of HCI. We wouldn’t say there was anything earth shattering, but it was nice to see multi-touch and other similar technologies progress.
  8. Connectivity matters. Connecting more devices to more content in more places was a big theme. On the wireless front, there was a wealth of smart phones, LG’s new Dick Tracy-esque watch cell phone, lots of in-car connectivity (satellite TV, in-dash computers with mobile Internet, etc.), and a push to deliver more relevant content (traffic, weather, sports, etc.) via traditional GPS devices. And while the idea of accessing the Internet on a TV seems a bit passé (WebTV pioneered the idea about 14 years too early), 2009 just might go down in history as the year that this idea truly came to fruition. TV manufacturers seem to have embraced the idea—we think having this built into TVs is a big step forward when it comes to the average consumer—and the wealth of newly available content like NetFlix streaming movies and Yahoo’s widgets should make for a more compelling experience than WebTV’s original email-on-your-TV proposition.