Hot new gadgets unveiled this week
Intel, Microsoft and Sony are all making major announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show.
By Amanda Cantrell, staff writer

NEW YORK ( - While Apple won't be at the Consumer Electronics Show, which kicks off this week in Las Vegas, analysts and pundits expect the iPod to loom large.

Competitors will be looking to emulate the iPod's ease of use, not just for MP3 players, but other products as well. The show, which is expected to draw 130,000 conventioners and 2,500 exhibitors, is where major electronics makers unveil their hottest new products.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will deliver the opening keynote at CES.
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will deliver the opening keynote at CES.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with research firm Enderle Group, said companies have learned a major lesson from Apple (Research) and its iPod, and those lessons will show up in the products launched this year.

Enderle said one major focus of presenting companies will be the creation of an "iPod killer."

"You're going to see a broad cross-section of folks bring products out that do things similar to what the iPod video does and try to improve on the model that Apple has created with iTunes and iPod small, sexy devices that do music and video and do them very well," said Enderle.

Also, a quick glance at the CES roster of keynote speakers provides clues as to who will be making the biggest splashes this year. To that end, expect big announcements from Intel, Microsoft and Sony in particular.

The digital living room

A huge theme this year will revolve around the "digital living room" concept. Both Intel and Microsoft are expected to make major announcements in this space. While the phrase "digital living room" is oft-repeated, manufacturers haven't yet come up with the entertainment-focused PC that will have consumers ditching their cable boxes and VCRs.

"Media center PCs the size of suitcases haven't done that well," said Richard Doherty, an analyst with research firm Envisioneering Group.

Analysts think Intel (Research) will make the biggest splash at CES regarding entertainment PCs. Intel plans to demo its Viiv platform (pronounced "Vyve"), a major push in the consumer electronics space. Viiv-based PCs are meant to act as entertainment PCs in other words, the digital hub for consumers' homes, according to Intel.

Doherty said Viiv will be "a smaller platform, more lifestyle friendly" than previously released media PC platforms. "This is a huge change for Intel," he said.

Viiv-based PCs, which will not require keyboards for accessing home entertainment, will include features such as optional remote control operation and access to content on demand with Internet access to movies and music. They'll also be able to, like TiVo, record, pause and rewind live TV programs -- but they'll also be able to store them on a hard drive.

Doherty said Intel poured more time and money into consumer electronics in the last year than it has in the previous five years combined, and he expects Intel to unveil the fruits of those labors at CES.

Doherty said Intel's new products are tied to the company's re-branding campaign, unveiled last week. The company scrapped its "Intel Inside" slogan and dropped its e-logo in favor of a new design and new slogan: "Leap ahead."

The brains behind Intel's new moves? Eric Kim, recruited from Samsung Electronics over a year ago. Doherty said Kim was a major player in Samsung's rise in the consumer space and thinks Kim is trying to accomplish the same at Intel.

"He was the first to say, 'What does Intel Inside do for consumers? Not much'," said Doherty. "They're doing more to grab consumers, and especially young adults."

Enderle said he thinks one of the earliest major announcements to come out of the show will have to do with getting much more movie content over the Internet, which also plays into the digital living room concept.

Microsoft unveils Vista

Microsoft is also expected to make several announcements at CES, but will mainly use the show as the chance to talk about Vista, its first upgrade to its Windows operating system in five years. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will deliver the keynote speech Wednesday. Gates has used past keynotes at CES to announce new products, including the Xbox 360.

Doherty said that while he thinks Gates' main message will concern Vista, he also thinks Gates will talk about HD-DVD as part of Xbox 360. He said Microsoft will talk up its Media Center software and how it can be used on Viiv-based PCs.

One vendor that has not typically presented at CES but will be there this year is Cisco Systems (Research). Earlier this year, the company announced plans to acquire Scientific Atlanta, which makes cable boxes. Enderle said Cisco will announce an alternative to Viiv and Vista in a set-top box product "that may provide an awful lot of what those platforms do but is also subsidized by the cable companies," Enderle said.

Elsewhere on the PC front, Envision's Doherty said he does not expect huge announcements from Dell (Research) and Hewlett-Packard (Research) at CES.

"We expect they will be watching and listening" more than announcing, he said.

But he added that other computer makers namely Sony, Gateway, and Lenovo may have announcements regarding more consumer-friendly PCs and products.

Sony (Research), in particular, will be interesting to watch, given new CEO Howard Stringer's vested interest in catching up with Apple on the digital music front.

"Everyone is waiting to hear what Howard Stringer says is Sony going to compete with Apple better in 2006?" said Doherty. On the gaming front, analysts and pundits will also take interest in how Sony plans to compete with Microsoft's ultra-hot Xbox 360.

Other hot areas will be "media repositories," or storage devices that sit in the home, as well as "media everywhere," platforms that allow you to access stored movies and music in any room in your home.

Enderle said that last year's surprise hit vendor was Sonos, for its platform that enabled mobile music in the home, and he expects that this year, other vendors will try to do the same thing the video iPod has done adding video to the mix and allowing consumers to move both music and video around the home.


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