My road map for CES 2007

I'll be at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. In between waiting for cabs, I'll be talking with the companies who are planning to release an avalanche of gadgets and gizmos - oh, and Windows Vista will make its public debut here as well. I've narrowed down my meeting list by focusing on five technologies that are going to drive the consumer electronics market in 2007.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Next week I'll be at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Mostly, I'll be standing in line for a cab or the Monorail, or walking from one booth to another (and given that the exhibit halls cover several square miles, I expect to wear out a whole bunch of shoe leather). Seriously. CES is so spread out that I expect to lose five pounds and wear out my tradeshow shoes over the course of the week.

But for brief intervals, in between all that waiting and walking, I expect to meet with a lot of interesting people to learn what we can expect from the consumer electronics industry in 2007 and beyond. I'll be reporting on the details of those meetings here.

Now, as I've noted elsewhere, I've received hundreds of requests for appointments at CES and have winnowed the list down to 30 or so, plus a handful of mini-tradeshows (ShowStoppers and Digital Experience).

It was easy to reject some requests for meetings/briefings/appointments/booth visits. I don't cover receivers, speakers, and other home audio gear these days, and gadgets like mobile phones and iPod accessories are also outside of my beat. I'm not a gamer, so that cuts out a huge slice of the market as well. But other choices are lots tougher. If I had unlimited time, I could meet with 200 companies and learn things that would be interesting and useful and worth passing along to you. So how did I decide who to meet with and who to turn down? My strategy for CES is based around five technologies and trends I think are going to be important this year:

  • Windows Vista. This one's at the top of my list for obvious reasons. CES represents Microsoft's public unveiling of Windows Vista. I don't expect to learn much that I don't already know about the operating system itself. Instead, I'll be meeting with and talking to Microsoft partners - mostly PC makers like Dell and Toshiba, but also some manufacturers of peripheral devices and software - and trying to gauge their level of enthusiasm about Vista. I'll also be watching the reaction of everyday show attendees who are seeing Vista for the first time. I'm curious whether any of them will really be spontaneously saying "Wow."
  • High Definition. Americans are spending big bucks on digital TVs, and they want content for it. Last year at CES, the battle between the Blu-ray versus HD-DVD was still mostly in the trash-talking phase. This year, the first generation of hardware and HD-ready titles is released. I'm wondering whether either format will succeed, or whether consumers will do an end-around and get their HD from other places.
  • Digital media in the living room. Windows Vista Media Center is as slick and polished a PC program as Microsoft has ever created, but the idea of a PC in the living room is still alien to all but the most hard core techies and gadget junkies. So what are the alternatives? I'll be talking to TiVo, to cable and satellite companies, and to people who are designing gadgets designed to move music, TV, and pictures from place to place without requiring complex PC hardware.
  • Home automation. This is my choice for the sleeper technology of the show. Home automation systems have been common in very expensive homes for years. Their cost is coming down, and the widespread availability of reasonably reliable wireless networks makes it possible to retrofit a home so that you can manage lighting, security systems, and media using a variety of control points, including touchpads and remote controls. I'll also be interested to see whether and how Microsoft's rumored Windows Home Server fits into this scenario.
  • DRM and copy protection. Unfortunately, some of the most interesting new technologies at CES are designed to make it more difficult for some people to access the stuff they're selling in the booth next door. I expect to talk about DRM and copy protection with just about everyone I speak to, and I expect some of those conversations to be, shall we say, frank and energetic. I'll pass along whatever I learn.

Think I missed anything? I'm not leaving for another 48 hours, so click the Talkback button and give me your thoughts on what you'd like me to bring back from CES.

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