Here are some stories and photos from CES 2006, the biggest trade show I've ever encountered.

CES 2006 news stories

These articles originally appeared in WinInfo Daily Update.

CES 2006 Offers Nerdvana to Largest Crowd Ever

This week, North America's largest trade show, 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), kicks off in Las Vegas with over 200,000 attendees. Yes, CES is a mess, and it's getting busier every year. And once again, I'll be there, covering the show live each day, Wednesday through Friday. I'm not sure whether to be excited or scared.

Did I mention that CES is huge? It encompasses a space equal to more than 28 football fields with room for over 2500 exhibitors. Computer companies such as Intel and Microsoft have always had a big presence at CES. But this year's show will be notable because of the new presence of Internet giants such as Yahoo! and Google, both of which will present their services alongside the eclectic array of car stereo, home theatre, video game, and consumer electronics companies that have always plied their wares at CES.

Intel will use CES to unveil its new consumer-oriented marketing scheme, which will see the launch of its new corporate logo, a "Leap Ahead" marketing slogan that will replace "Intel Inside," new single-core and dual-core microprocessors, and the Viiv Media Center PC platform. Sony will push Blu-ray. Microsoft will push its Media Center PCs and Windows Vista. Video and flat-panel TVs will be everywhere. And companies such as Dell, Intel, Sony, Google, and Microsoft will provide executives for keynote addresses, including the CES kickoff keynote from Bill Gates.

For me, CES is the culmination of months of phone calls and email messages from PR firms eager to get exposure for their clients. For the past few weeks, I've weathered a blistering attack of dozens of phone calls each day, and as CES gets closer and closer, I've marveled that these people are still trying. Even though CES is busy, loud, and huge, it will be a relief to get away from that ringing phone.

Stay tuned. My live reports begin tomorrow afternoon.

CES 2006 Blog, Day 1: Wednesday

9:00 pm. I had expected to get this up earlier, but it's been a busy day. Here's the short version of what happened today.

To the airport by 8:00 a.m., which was surprisingly painless, given the way Boston traffic usually goes. An uneventful flight, which was appreciated, and I arrived in Las Vegas at about 1:00 pm or so. After neatly bypassing an hour-long-wait in the taxi line by hooking up with a sky cab, I headed to the Las Vegas Convention Center to pick up my press credentials. That done, I hopped on the suddenly handy monorail and headed over to my hotel, the Sahara, which is just a single stop away on the monorail line.

It seemed like things were running too smoothly, but my good luck persisted. After grabbing lunch in the Sahara buffet (which is lousy and far away from the guest elevators), I grabbed a quick shower, and headed out for my first meeting, with Lenovo's ThinkPad group, at 4:00pm at the Bellagio. This required a bit of work, as the Bellagio isn't on the monorail line, and is instead on the other side of the Strip. But because the monorail runs along the rear side of the hotels on one side of the Strip, you have to walk through an entire casino/hotel just to get the street, then cross the Strip, and then make your way into the Bellagio. Long story short, I got there eventually (and, curiously, on time).

After a few meetings, I had dinner with Brian Livingston and skipped out on the Gates keynote, which I was pretty much already up on, and, as I later discovered, didn't really miss anything. We headed over to the Pepcom Digital Experience event after that, which was fantastic as always. I'll have a bunch of pictures (on the SuperSite) and a write-up about that in the morning, but I've got work to do now, and then some sleep if I'm lucky.

Regular updates tomorrow.

CES 2006: Intel Launches New Branding, New Platforms

In a bid to win the hearts and minds of consumers as well as business users, Intel is dropping its 15-year-old "Intel inside" marketing slogan and changing its corporate logo. The microprocessor giant will also announce a new line of microprocessors at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2006, which gets underway Wednesday in Las Vegas.

For a company as conservative as Intel, the changes are somewhat shocking. But the company has watched its brand lose its luster over the past few years as PC sales have slowed and consumers have shown little interest in minor speed bumps to its microprocessors. With the new branding and logo, Intel hopes to present itself as not just a chip maker, but as a technology platform provider.

"This evolution will allow Intel to be better recognized for our contributions, establish a stronger emotional connection with our audiences, and strengthen our overall position in the marketplace," says Intel chief marketing officer Eric Kim.

At CES, we'll see the first of these changes. Intel's new logo drops the dangling lowercase "e" that typified its previous logo and adopts a more modern font. "Intel Inside" has been dropped in favor of the new "Leap ahead" slogan, which the company describes as a "call to action." In a recent press release, Intel described its new slogan as "two words [that] capture what drives us, inspires us, galvanizes us into action, and unites us in purpose and practice. It is the simple embodiment of what we make possible for people everywhere."

But Intel's evolution isn't just about marketing. The company will also launch a new line of Core microprocessors, which will replace the Pentium M. Core processors will ship in both single-core versions, called Core Solo, and dual-core versions, called Core Duo. Unlike the Pentium M, Intel will push the Core chips at both notebook computers and desktops. Several major PC makers will announce Core-based PCs at CES. Additionally, Intel will launch its Viiv (pronounced "vive") platform for media center PCs and similar home entertainment products, and you can expect some Viiv-related announcements as well.

Finally, Apple will soon begin its transition to Intel chips. While Apple isn't scheduled to appear at CES, the company is holding its annual MacWorld conference a week after CES in San Francisco. There, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will reportedly announce the first generation of Intel-based Macs, which could be some combination of notebook and desktop machines. Intel is rumored to be working with Apple to develop the motherboards for some of Apple's upcoming computers as well.

CES 2006: Gates Pushes Consumer Wares

During the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2006 opening keynote address on Wednesday, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates touted a number of his company's new consumer-oriented products and services, such as the Windows Vista OS and the Windows Mobile-based Portable Media Centers. Gates has provided a keynote address at CES for the past 10 years. As usual, he mixed a bit of retrospection with a look to the future.

"Technology has revolutionized how we listen to music, watch TV, play games, communicate, and manage and share personal information," Gates noted. "In the years ahead, further exciting innovations will unify the software, hardware, and services in people's lives, offering them richer, more engaging, and deeply connected experiences."

Gates touched on the successful launch of Xbox 360, which is still in short supply, and noted that Microsoft Media Center PCs experienced their best year ever in 2005--more than 6.5 million Media Center PCs have been sold worldwide--and Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 is now the default choice for many consumer-oriented PC models. Gates said that Media Center PCs will include CableCARD support for HDTV signals beginning this year.

Looking ahead, Gates showed off various consumer-friendly features in Windows Vista, which is due late this year. These features include the Media Center Software that will be found in various Vista product editions, a new photo management feature called Windows Photo Gallery, and a new version of Windows Media Player. Gates also demonstrated Microsoft Flight Simulator X, an upcoming revision to Microsoft's popular flight simulation software; new Xbox 360 titles such as "Fight Night Round 3"; and the upcoming Windows Mobile-based Palm Treo, a smart phone from Palm that will ship for Verizon customers beginning today.

Gates also provided a preview of second-generation Windows Mobile-based Portable Media Center (PMC) devices, which will become available sometime in the first half of 2006. These new PMCs offer support for subscription video content, such as that offered by Vongo, as well as better resolution and video quality, widescreen displays, and other features. Additionally, he demonstrated upcoming Windows Live features, including the VoIP functionality in Windows Live Messenger.

CES 2006 Blog, Day 2: Thursday

7:05 am. About last night: If you're not familiar with Digital Experience, it's basically a giant ballroom that's rented out by an increasingly large number of companies who bring the press in for one-on-one discussions about their products. At a huge show like CES, Digital Experience--and a similar event called Showstoppers, which is tonight--is even better than the show itself, because it's so much more manageable. Plus they have free food and drink. And it's really good.

The number and quality of the companies at Digital Experience was better than ever. I still don't have time to adequately describe everything I saw, but here's a few notes:

Lenovo was showing off its widescreen ThinkPad Z-series, notebooks, but it also had new Core-based X60 and T60 models on display. Very cool.

Microsoft's Embedded guys were showing new Portable Media Center v2 designs from Toshiba, LG and Tatung. The new version looks interesting. It supports 16:9 widescreen displays, better resolutions, and direct recording from TVs. Some models include integrated camera connections and SD slots as well. I'll be reviewing one of these as soon as possible, but the LG version looks like a Sony PSP, but with a 30 or 60 GB hard drive. Sweet.

Microsoft also had the Windows Mobile-based Treo 700w on hand, which I'll also be getting soon. There were a number of other nice Windows Powered smartphones and Pocket PC phones too, I'll have pictures up today.

A lot of traditional computer companies were on hand, including HP, Gateway, Toshiba (with a new Tablet PC), Alienware, and Fujitsu. HP, however, was showing off consumer electronics gear, not notebooks. They get it.

A company called Universal Laser Systems is offering a way to etch digital photos onto surfaces such as wood and metal using lasers. I'll be looking into this, but it's a neat effect. It kind of reminds me of those photo birthday cakes, but you can't eat the results.

Microsoft's SPOT team was on hand with new watch designs (some sporting eagerly-awaited leather bands) and the new Oregon Scientific Personal Weather Station, which was announced at the last CES. The SPOT watches are still too big, but I was told to wait until next year for significant improvements.

Sony and its partners were showing off a number of consumer electronics devices, but the big draw, naturally, was Blu-Ray. Panasonic had a Blu-Ray (BD) player on hand for demonstrations. Very sleek. Very expensive (like $1000).

Sonos has provided a significant upgrade to its cool but expensive Digital Music System. Now, the company is offering a smaller and less expensive Zone Player that doesn't include an integrated amplifier, which is perfect for people who already have a stereo receiver.

I ran into a number of old friends last night, Jerry Pournelle, Robert Scoble, Howard Sobel, and Joel Diamond among them. That kind of thing makes the mess of CES worth the effort.

7:47pm. A few other blurbs from last night:

Gates said that Microsoft will make an HD-DVD drive available as an accessory for the Xbox 360 this year. This suggests to me that Microsoft will revise the Xbox 360 to include an integrated HD-DVD drive, leaving early adopters with an optional add-on. Gates also promised to ship over 5 million Xbox 360's before Nintendo or Sony shipped their competing products.

Microsoft significantly updated its Windows Vista Web site after the CES keynote.

Off to breakfast...

11:33am

Just finished up with my first Microsoft meeting and it's time to hit the show floor. After breakfast, I basically just headed into the show, which is very easy this year thanks to the conveniently located monorail (which, by the way, is horribly expensive). That said, I obviously picked a great hotel this year, as the commute to the show is minimal and painless. From my hotel room to the Microsoft press tent took less than 30 minutes.

2:04pm

As always, CES is overwhelming. The crowds are intense, and the show floors stretches on for miles, it seems. Just getting through the people is painful. I did a quick tour of the Las Vegas Convention Center's Central Hall today.

Microsoft is no longer in their usual space right inside the main entry-way. Instead, the company has commandeered a new location across from its press tent that gives people direct access to their booth from the outside and lets them put up a Windows Vista awning. Microsoft's booth, if this is even possible, is bigger than ever.

This year, Texas Instruments is taking up Microsoft's old bit of prime real estate. They're showing off DLP, of course, but now available in 1080p.

Both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray have their own massive booths, and both camps are well represented in various other booths around the show floor. It occurs to me that there's no reason both standards can't coexist. The emergence of both DVD-R and DVD+R, for example, didn't particularly retard recordable DVD usage from what I can tell, and maybe HD-DVD and Blu-Ray will eventually both be supported in multi-format drives.

One shocker is that HD-DVD drives will cost just $499. But that's for the standalone player. The Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive and drives aimed at PCs will no doubt cost much less. This is unheard-of pricing for a new consumer electronics optical format.

Apple isn't at CES per se, but I did spy an Apple contingent in the HD-DVD booth, and of course Apple is supporting Blu-Ray as well. And if I can make a small prediction: Despite the size and scope of CES, expect Apple to generate more news and excitement next week with MacWorld than the entire CES show does this week. They're just on top of the world right now, so deal with it.

The Xbox 360 portion of Microsoft's booth was letting showgoers play yet-to-be released games such as Dead Rising and Fight Night Round 3, as well as Dead or Alive 4, which shipped last week. None of these are particularly excellent looking.

Roku has a cool new Soundbridge Radio product that takes their excellent audio remoting capabilities and puts them into a standalone box complete with speakers. Their stuff is great, and this looks like a find addition to the product line.

Toshiba was showing off HD-DVD media in 15 GB and 45 GB versions, the latter being a triple layer design. There's also a twin format disk that can be formatted as a 15 GB HD-DVD disk or a 5 GB DVD.

The Windows Vista Sidebar does support translucency, by the way.

The Intel booth was massive, showing off Core processors and ViiV systems, the latter of which are disappointingly set for release in late 2006, far later than I had hoped. ViiV systems are going to revolutionize the use of PCs in the living room--think Media Center PCs.

1080p television sets were everywhere. 2006 is the year of 1080p.

There were a variety of Blu-Ray (BD) disk formats shown at the show, including BD-R (25 GB recordable), BD-RE (25 GB, rerecordable), as well as 50 GB prototypes of each.

Looking ahead, I've got more Microsoft meetings, a VIP Windows Vista get-together, and then Showstoppers, an even that's similar to last night's Digital Experience.

CES 2006 Blog, Day 3: Friday

7:16 am. I've actually been up for over an hour, and breakfast has been taken care of. Last night, I attended a Microsoft VIP reception at the Windows Vista Lounge, essentially a tent that was set up next to the Microsoft press room in the LVCC parking lot. The reception was great, because I was able to hang out with some people I hadn't seen in a while. Inside, Microsoft was showing off three consumer-oriented Vista scenarios. I only looked at them fleetingly, since I'm pretty much up on all that of course, but I believe they were all related to digital memories (photos and movies). Nothing new there, but they were showing off Vista build 5276 in the Microsoft booth, which is slightly newer than the December CTP testers got.

After the reception, I had to head over to the Wynn for Showstoppers. This represented a logistical issue, since I wasn't exactly sure where the Wynn was, and the monorail only goes to about half the strip. However, while standing in line at the monorail, I figured out the Wynn was actually right across the street, so it was a short walk and then a shuttle bus to get into the hotel, which is beautiful looking if you haven't seen it. As with most hotel-based events at CES, Showstoppers was deep in the bowels of the building, and it felt like I walked a mile before I got there. As with Digital Experience, Showstoppers was bigger than ever, and it's starting to lose its small company focus, though it's still a valuable way to spend valuable one-on-one time with companies you really care about.

I ended up getting back to the hotel room far more quickly than I had imagined would be possible, but then I crashed immediately. Thus the early morning, I guess.

My first meeting isn't until 11:00, but I still need to write Short Takes and get caught up with work, so I'll get going on that now.

12:15 pm.

Just finished up with the Windows Media folks at Microsoft. It's another busy day: After lunch, I have meetings with HP, AMD, and then Dell, and between those I'll be walking the South Hall at the LVCC.

Windows Media Player 11 (WMP 11) and MTV's integrated URGE service are looking great. It seems that Microsoft may have finally found a strategy that will help its digital music offerings compete with Apple. First, WMP 11 is far more visual than previous versions (and iTunes), with copious use of album art and stacked album views. It makes iTunes look like dBASE III by comparison. Second, MTV is, perhaps, the one brand that has bigger pull with young music buyers than Apple. And the way that MTV's URGE service integrates into WMP 11 is simply amazing. I'll have a write-up about this on the SuperSite at some point, though it will be a month or two before the near-final beta appears publicly for Windows XP.

Microsoft also gave me a Verizon phone to test (it's an LG VX8100). The phone supports the new VCAST music service, which looks incredible. Yes, it supports over the air song downloads, and it's about time. But it also integrates back with Windows Media Player: When you download a song directly to the phone, your WMP will download a second copy to the player on your PC as well. If you buy songs the traditional way, they can sync right up with the phone using USB, just like any other music player.

Anyway. On to the show...

5:13 pm

Quite a busy day, but no surprise there. After lunch, I headed over to the South Hall to check out the expansive show floor there. It was as busy as ever. HP's humongous booth is all over the map, with amazing DLP, LCD and Plasma displays, printers, PCs, and so on. I met with HP's television folks. They have a number of exciting things going on, including 9 new TV models. The big boy is a 65-inch DLP unit with a feature called "Wobulation" that eliminates the shadows and grid effect that characterizes those types of displays. The most interesting display they had, however, was a 37-inch LCD that includes a small embedded OS for working with PC- and device-based digital media. It has both wired and wireless networking connections, and the OS interface is pretty slick. Look for it in mid-2006.

Creative's new Zen Vision:M is surprisingly nice. Like all Zen devices, it comes in a variety of pleasant colors and bests the iPod with video in just about every way imaginable: The display is nicer, the battery life is way better (4 hours of video vs. 2.5 for the iPod), it includes an FM radio and a voice recorder, and sports a high-resolution video out. Good stuff.

Google has a booth. I'm not sure why. But as I write this, the company is announcing its video service. I'll have a full article on that soon.

Ceiva is showing off their digital photo frames. I bought one for my wife for Christmas; they're not half bad.

AMD is talking up their microprocessors, of course, but while their PC-based products might be getting all the press these days, their embedded CPUs are interesting too. Their called Alchemy, and they're low power but high performance and will be turning up in a number of portable media players in the US soon (they're already available in Korea).

My last meeting of the day, and of the show, was with Dell. Dell's transformation over the past few years is nothing short of miraculous. Once known only as a conservative maker of business PCs, Dell has launched hugely successful lines of gaming and entertainment PCs and HDTV displays, and the company announced new versions of each at the show. They're all amazing. On the PC side, Dell now offers a gorgeous 30-inch LCD for just $2199 (take that Apple; it's only $1999 with a new PC). It runs at 2560 x 1600, and it just makes my 24-inch Sony look silly by comparison. For gaming PC enthusiasts, Dell will soon offer a high-end XPS 600 Renegade that features a hand-painted case, an overclocked (and warranted) 4.26 GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processor, quad processor SLI graphics and 10,000 RPM Raptor hard drives. Insane? Yes. Desirable? You have no idea. There's more, including some cool notebooks, but I'll save that for a future article. Amazing stuff all around.

Now I've got dinner with Brian Livingston and then possibly a Stevie Wonder concert at some sort of Monster Cable event. I'll try to post a final update late tonight.

CES 2006 Photo Gallery

Here are some pictures from the show.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas monorail
View from my hotel room
View from my hotel room (dawn)

Digital Experience

Lenovo ThinkPad
Toshiba Gigabeat Portable Media Center (PMC)
Various v2 Portable Media Centers
LG's 16:9 Portable Media Center
i-mate Windows Powered device
Motorola reference design
Cool VR headset
Slingbox
HP widescreen TV
Universal Laser Systems
Oregon Scientific Weather Station (SPOT)
New SPOT watches
iriver mini-Portable Media Centers
Panasonic Blu-Ray (BD) Player
Panasonic Blu-Ray (BD) Player
Sonos Digital Music System
Alienware PCs

Microsoft meetings

Microsoft press tent
Windows Vista Lounge
New VoIP phones for Windows Live Messenger
Kevin Unangst models a Verizon VCAST music service phone
Windows Media Player 11 with Geoff Harris

Showstoppers

OQO ultra-portable computer
OQO
XtremeMac Iconz iPod covers
JAKKS Pacific classic TV games

Las Vegas Convention Center - exterior

Outside entrance to Microsoft's booth
Yahoo! Yodelimo ride

Las Vegas Convention Center - show floor

Crowds amass inside the LVCC
HD-DVD booth
Apple presence in HD-DVD booth
Microsoft's sprawling booth
Xbox 360 playable displays
Windows Vista in Microsoft booth
Roku Soundbridge Radio
Oodles of Windows Media-compatible portable devices
Toshiba HD-DVD player
Windows Sidebar in Windows Vista
Intel's massive booth
Intel ViiV display
Blu-Ray booth
The Las Vegas Convention Center Central Hall
1080i vs. 1080p
Booth babes
Toshiba booth
Blu-Ray disk formats
Panasonic booth
Kodak booth
HP booth
Nokia booth
Verizon's Palm Treo 700w
Booth babes
Creative Zen Vision:M
Creative Zen Vision:M
Vonage booth
HP booth
HP Advanced Digital Media Series 37" LCD
HP slimline PC
NVIDIA booth
Google booth
J-MAT fitness game
ATI booth
STAR WARS PC (Light Side of the Force)
STAR WARS PC (Dark Side of the Force)
Samsung Digital Photo Frame
Humax portable media player

Dell meeting

Dell's new 30-inch LCD display (2560 x 1600)
Dell XPS 600 Renegade (interior)
Dell XPS 600 Renegade (interior)
Dell XPS 600 Renegade paint job
Dell Inspiron E1705 entertainment notebook
Dell 20" XPS notebook prototype (open)
Dell 20" XPS notebook prototype (closed)