I have survived another Consumer Electronics Show. No small achievement. But it has taken me nearly a week to recover and tell the tale. The Consumer Electronics Show has gotten so large -- so out of control -- that it will undoubtedly break apart under the weight of its own mass. Conference organizers were predicting that 140,000 people would come to Las Vegas for CES this year. But I'm betting they missed by a couple tens of thousands. Quick trips from the convention center to any hotel on the strip took 45 minutes when they should have taken 15. And the line for free ice cream at the Yahoo tent was backed up all day, every day. I heard one blogger at the airport say to a friend that he spent the day at PodTech's BlogHaus rather than contend with the crowds (I myself took refuge at the BlogHaus on a daily basis -- they had the winning combination of copious drinks, snacks and bandwidth).
All the whining aside, CES was jam packed with gadgets, technologists and big giant TV's. That's right. Once again, CES was absolutely dominated by Televisions. LCD TV's. Plasma TV's. Home Theater projectors. My partners Andy, Vivek and I wandered the conference floor obsessively comparing TV's. We got right up close and looked at the consistency of color. We stood back and looked at motion blur. We debated the extent to which differences in displays were the results of actual technical superiority or merely better tuning. We checked out Sharp's 108 inch LCD TV (for those keeping score at home, last year's colossal TV king was a 103 inch plasma but this year LCD claims the bragging rights). We enjoyed Panasonic's use of plasmas in their booth for window panes, picture frames and a blazing fire.
And the winners are? None of the above. There weren't any clear winners in TV land this year. I suppose if there were any winners, it was the consumers. There were a panoply of stunning televisions on display. Technology is getting better. Prices are going down. That's undoubtedly a winning combination for TV buyers. That said, there were three TVs that I left the CES floor excited about. First, Sony was showing the thinest, most beautiful little OLED (Organic LED) displays you've ever seen. Sadly, they aren't yet in production. But when they are, they're going to be big sellers. They had extremely vibrant colors, a stunningly precise picture (with a 1,000,000 to 1 contrast ratio), and a form factor that can not be beat. I really want one. Second, as beautiful as some of these flat panel TVs are, the best pictures on the show room floor came out of a high end projector. Optoma was running the perfect scene from "Phantom of the Opera" to show off their amazing HD81 projector. The quality of the picture was unrivaled by anything I saw on the showroom floor. Sure, at ten thousand dollars or so, it isn't cheap. But for those of you with an empty basement and an old car to sell, this projector is the way to go. And Third, my partners and I were thrilled to see beautiful TV's on display using the single panel LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) technology from our own portfolio company MicroDisplay. Both Akai and Memorex will soon be manufacturing MicroDisplay enabled Full HD TVs that will be priced hundreds of dollars cheaper than the next closest 52" and 62" Full HD TVs.
It was not, however, the fancy new televisions that I found most compelling at this year's CES. It was the amazing disappearance of TV wires. Several companies were demonstrating wireless systems for high definition televisions. It reminded me of the initial hints of wireless audio several years ago at CES. The first year there was a single dedicated Yamaha system demonstrating wireless audio. The next year wireless audio was scattered throughout the convention center. And the following year it was everywhere. I imagine we'll see the same trajectory for wireless video. This year there were a few manufacturers demonstrating wireless televisions (several of which were powered by our own ultra wideband portfolio company Tzero). Next year I anticipate that it will be everywhere -- built directly into TVs, in stand alone systems, as part of set top boxes. Wireless video is a no brainer. Imagine the ease of installing a flat panel on the wall if you don't have to worry about burying the wires in the wall. (Now if only someone could come up with a system that safely and efficiently delivers wireless power.) I guess I'll go back to CES next year. If nothing else, to see the proliferation of wireless video -- and party like its 1999.