Gadgets galore at CES in Las Vegas

Computers and the Internet invade your home, your car and your pocket.

LAS VEGAS -- The future used to mean Dick Tracy and his wrist phone. At the Consumer Electronics Show, the future may seem more like Inspector Gadget and his menagerie of gizmos.

More than 1,800 consumer electronics and computer companies on Thursday start showing far-out gadgets as well as down-to-earth devices at the annual event, held here.

The computer industry will be out in force. With computers selling at rock-bottom prices and PC technology appearing in everything from TV set-top boxes to microwaves, the computer bigwigs are looking to CES to clue them into how they should win over the majority of households, who don't have PCs.

The TV hard drive
Part of the answer is in turning PC technology into something that every consumer may want.

Two startups may have an answer. Interactive TV firm Replay Networks Inc. and TiVo Inc. both began testinga PC-inspired product last year that will enable viewers to watch shows at their convenience -- and even fast forward through commercials, rewind and play parts in slow motion. All thanks to the everyday hard drive -- albeit, a very big hard drive.

Both companies have concentrated on adding intelligence to their device. Each appliance can be programmed to, say, record every Friends, X-Files, or Star Trek episode. In addition, ReplayTV intends to add ReplayZones that collect together similar programming, while Tivo will keep track of what you watch and suggest other shows that might interest you.

A network in every home
Another major focus at this year's show will be on networking the home to connect not just multiple PCs, but also link the new digital devices that are arriving.

In fact, consumer electronics giant Sony Corp. (NYSE:SNE) and network hardware maker Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq:CSCO) are expected to announce new initiatives in the home networking arena during their keynotes on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

With over 17 million multiple-PC homes expected by the year 2000, network companies are already bringing out products that allow PCs in homes to share data, printers, and the Internet over phone lines, power lines or just the airwaves. The Home Phoneline Networking Alliance -- whose members include Compaq Computer Corp. (NYSE:CPQ), IBM Corp. (NYSE:IBM), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq:INTC), AT&T (NYSE:T) and others -- will have a strong presence at the show.

Information to go
They may not be go-go-gadget stock trackers, but devices that access the Internet while on the road may do just as much.

Microsoft has already launched its AutoPC initiative with Clarion climbing on board to make the first Windows CE-based computer for the car. Microsoft's plans call for Internet features to be added this year. At CES, Alpine will be introducing a car computer as well.

Of course, you won't need your car to connect to information providers. Expect clones of 3Com Corp.'s (Nasdaq:COMS) Palm VII connected organizer at the show. The new Palm has an antenna that connects to the Internet and can download information into pre-loaded forms. The company announced the device in December, and will test the handheld in the spring, with plans to release it later in the summer.


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