Consumer electronics show kicks off in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS - The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicked off here with exhibitors displaying gadgetry ranging from snazzy new smartphones to envelope-sized computers to 3D high-definition television sets.
Despite the recession, some 2,700 manufacturers of high-tech products, about the same number as last year, turned up for this year's edition of the world's largest consumer technology trade show.
The show floor of the Sands Expo and Convention Center morphed into a giant electronic amusement park as visitors, buyers, vendors and journalists shuffled from booth to booth checking out the latest in hardware and software.
Gary Shapiro, president of CES sponsor the Consumer Electronics Association, acknowledged the economic malaise which has taken some of the buzz out of the show this year but said he hoped his industry could help turn things around.
"Innovation is the best medicine to end economic stagnation," he said in a keynote speech. "We are the industry that will breathe life into the economy."
Lending glamour to the affair was movie star Tom Hanks, who helped pitch Sony's new products, which include quirky items such as video bifocals and an "alarm clock" that wakes users with pictures, music or video of their choosing and then serves up news, weather or sports from the Internet.
With laptop sales now surpassing desktop sales, providing one of the rare bright spots for the industry, Sony released a P Series Vaio notebook computer small enough to fit in a suit jacket.
Singer Stevie Wonder was on hand to lend support to a line of "vision-free" products for the blind. "Me, I'd like a car I can use to get around," he said, while acknowledging "that may be a long way off."
Palm, the US company which has been struggling to regain market share from rivals such as Apple and Research in Motion, made a comeback of sorts with a new operating system and well-received new smartphone, the Pre.
It sent Palm's share price soaring by more than 35 percent on Wall Street.
Television manufacturers are displaying their latest efforts to develop Internet-enabled TVs which will allow users to be online while watching the tube.
Sony, LG Electronics, Toshiba, Samsung and Vizio all have new flat-screen television models embedded with Yahoo! "TV widget" software offering links to popular websites such as YouTube or MySpace.
Thin is still in when it comes to TV, with LG Electronics making a 55-inch high-definition LHX flat-screen television that may be less than an inch thick in its final design.
"This may be the thinnest LCD television on the market when it comes out," said LG's US marketing head Marc Sorkin. "We are trying to achieve this piece of art that really blends on a wall."
Panasonic Corp. for its part is bringing 3D high-definition television into homes and enlisted "Titanic" director James Cameron to make the case for its 3D home theater system.
Panasonic's 3D Full HD Plasma (3D FHD) system made its debut at October's CEATEC exhibition in Japan and is being displayed in the United States for the first time at CES.
Panasonic also unveiled the first portable Blu-ray disc player.
On the software front, Microsoft chose CES as the venue to announce that a test version of its Windows 7 operating system will be available worldwide on Friday.
"We are on track to deliver the best version of Windows ever," Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said. "We are putting in all the right ingredients: simplicity, reliability and speed."
Besides the major consumer items, hundreds of other products are on display here tailored to people such as seniors or those with disabilities.
Others are simply fun, such as a Minoru 3D webcam or sunglasses from TriSpecs with ear buds and Bluetooth circuitry that can relay music or conversations wirelessly from MP3 players.
Environmentally friendly products are also popular and consumer electronics titans Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba announced an initiative to recycle the TVs and other gadgets they sell in the United States.
Motorola, also seeking to capitalize on the green trend, unveiled the first mobile phone made from recycled water bottles, the MOTO W233 Renew.