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CES, Day Zero

LAS VEGAS--Technically, the Consumer Electronics Show hasn't even started yet. When I took a shortcut through the convention center late yesterday afternoon, workers were still finishing off the massive booths set up for each company, applying some extra paint here and placing an exhibit into position there.

So, of course, I spent a good chunk of the afternoon and evening running around, trying to get from one event to another.

Once I'd made my way to the CES press-registration desk to pick up my credentials (for some reason, trade shows never let journalists take care of this business at the same place as other attendees), Sony's press conference led off my schedule. Aside from a demo of a wireless photo-transfer system that didn't work, the most memorable fare were two marvelous examples of technological excess. One was a flat-panel set with an OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) screen only a tenth of an inch thick--but which, despite measuring just 11 inches across, sells for $2,500. The other was an experimental display with 8 million pixels of resolution, enough to show four simultaneous HD pictures at once.

After that came the opening keynote address by Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates. Kim Hart already outlined the main points of that at Post I.T., but I would add a few other observations.

One, it was amazing how little of this presentation focused on Microsoft's traditional strength, P.C.-based software--its Windows Live Web services got far more attention than Windows Vista. Two, many of the newer products spotlighted during this keynote compete against far more established competitors: Windows Live is to Google as the Zune is to the iPod as the Zune Social site is to Facebook.

And three, Bill Gates seems as happy as ever to poke fun at himself. His CES keynotes normally feature some sort of parody video clip (regrettably, Microsoft doesn't seem to archive them), but this year's effort, a cameo-filled mock news report on Gates's last full day at Microsoft, was better than most. In it, Gates whiled away his final hours on the job with attempts to pick up a new hobby (Jay-Z humored his attempts at rapping, Matthew McConaughey tried to teach him yoga) or a new job (Bono, John Stewart, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all blew off his offers to work for them).

A Gates keynote can be pretty dry material--then again, have you sat through some of the other CES keynotes over the years?--but these little moments of self-parody have always made them memorable. I'll miss that next year.

After the keynote, I spent a couple of hours at a crowded exhibition, checking out various genre-blending gadgets--cameras from Kodak that also record high-definition video, a digital picture frame from Smartparts that crops your pictures automatically, a Garmin GPS receiver that displays news headlines and so on. Somewhere in this hotel ballroom, there was a Whirlpool refrigerator that integrated a set of recharging cradles for MP3 players and cell phones, but by the time I'd made my way over to there the exhibit was closing down and the fridge had been boxed up until tomorrow.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  January 7, 2008; 2:41 AM ET
Categories:  CES 2008  
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