CES: Down but not out

January 9, 2009: 10:33 AM ET

mark-iiI guess the 3D television in the LG booth was the best thing I saw. It was very, very cool. I forget what programming they had on it. It might have been 3D football. It's not enough that the 1080P HD pigskin is as clear as a marble before your very eyes, now it has to come flying at you out of the screen. If the purpose of marketing is to sell you something you never knew you needed, then this place is a marketers dream. Around the corner at the LG booth, a group of penguins was frolicking across an iceberg on a screen that was less than a millimeter thick, I think. Is that possible? Less than a millimeter? I believe so. Like, .85 of a millimeter. That's thin. And the penguins were amazingly clear and compelling. 

For some reason, by the way, most of the programming on these amazing LCDs and Plasmas and other gigundo display units seemed to center around fruit, insects and fish cavorting. Plums so juicy and compelling you felt like reaching out and picking one from the screen. Tiny clownfish darting amid the coral. And sports, of course. If I didn't know better, I would come to the conclusion that those who slaver over this hardware were interested in nothing but fruit, fish and football. 

Panasonic (PC) featured a booth showing a 3D movie, which was huge, filling an entire screening room. Stuff was flying out at us all over the place -- helicopter blades and aircraft wings and confetti and a lot of other objects small and large. I have to admit that I might not be a candidate for genuine 3D motion pictures. I felt like the experience was resonating in a part of my brain that had yet to be accessed by other human experience so far, and didn't appreciate the intrusion. My head hurt afterwards. It was technologically impressive beyond belief, though. One day I suppose everything will be in 3D like this, and people will have surgically altered corneas to make the clunky gray/blue glasses unnecessary.

Microsoft's (MSFT) booth was very impressive, with exploding demonstrations of its new Windows 7 platform, and the camera makers were there, too, showing off enormous ranks of digital toys with more megapixels than you can shake a memory stick at. I wanted one. Honestly, I think it's kind of churlish of these guys. They show you all this cool stuff and they don't give you one for free? I would have been happy to take a Canon 50D Mark II off their hands. 

I won't make you guess which displays were the best attended. I will simply tell you that if you want to collect a group of men in one place and have them fight over the best seat, simply put out a gaming demo. Chairs that immerse you in a battle zone. Full body armor that responds as a second skin to protect you during an all-out space war. Steering wheels more sensitive than a stressed out CEO. The rest of the sector could go screaming down in flames, but games will rule forever. This is perhaps why the gaming convention, which is called E3, is now on the upswing, while this one is showing a little softness around the edges, like a fine cheese. 

There were also, as always, the inexplicable products and services that transcend the "Hey that's awesome even though I have no idea why anybody would want or need one" category and enter the "what the frig is it?" dimension. Like, who needs a watch that is also a phone? I don't. And how many iterations of a personal music or video player are we going to require? As far as I'm concerned, what this society needs at this point are more experiences that are social, that bring us together in large places to feel the same things, not new ways to go into our closets and pleasure ourselves on tiny screens. 

Speaking of which, I misinformed you. The porno convention starts Monday and is not running concurrently with this one this year. I suppose this makes it possible for the 100,000 people who are here, 90 percent of which appear to be somewhat needy men, to stay an extra couple of days to see if they can experience the ultimate social experience. I'm not sure what I think of this development, which is a change over prior years. Perhaps it explains why that number of attendees, as impressive as it is, is rumored to be down between 15 and 25% over prior installments of CES. 

I will say one thing. The mood here breaks down into two camps, like the rest of the country at this point. Group 1 says it's over, the party has ended, CES will soon be no more, the sky has fallen, the good times are done, this is a permanent crimp in our shorts. Group 2 says wow, look at all this cool gear, all this great programming, this plethora of invention and desire and magnificent tropical fish dancing across screens the size of your living room, it's a great world, our potential is limitless, we will be back. In the meantime, let's gamble. 

I'm with Group 2. I've won more than $400 this week, incidentally, mostly at craps, and I intend to keep all of it. Which is why I'm taking off this morning for the left coast. I can't wait to get home and fondle my cameras. Viva Las Vegas and all that, but this is more than a great place to be. It's also a great place to get out of.

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