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Computing At Chaos Manor:
Special Report

CES 2007 at Random
Eric Pobirs,
Copyright 2007 Eric Pobirs

It's impossible for a single person to be at the Consumer Electronics Show for its duration and honestly claim to have seen everything with comprehension. There is just too much. Even limiting oneself to a single major product category could easily take all of a person's time during the show and beyond. For instance, the kind of person who approves of cars being equipped with a 100' radius auditory anti-personnel field might devote a good portion of his life to appreciating everything in the automotive section of the CES. This would be greatly to the benefit of civilization but nobody actually does this. They see a small fraction of the items on display and hope those were the best.

Here are a few of my choices.

Ultra Products (link) had a nifty item so new it didn't appear in the literature they had on hand nor even a name as yet. The company offers many high performance and high aesthetic appeal items for building high-end PCs; the sort of hot-rod PCs that frequently have large transparent panels to enable onlookers to peer inside. Having a power cable for every device strung inside the case only obscures the beauty, so the Ultra folks have created a power distribution post to stand alongside the drive cage. This allows a single power cable to run to the post and from there a very short cable can be run to the individual drives to maximize viewing of the machine's interior. On a practical note, it also makes it easier to get at the innards for the perpetual tuning and upgrading that impassions the owners of such PCs.

DriveRight

If you've been described as 'cannot leave well enough alone' and took this as a compliment, then DriveRight's (link) CarChip may help complete your life. It's like hiring a PI to tail your car and report on its activities. This module connects to the industry standard Second Generation On Board Diagnostics connector, called OBDII, found in nearly all US vehicles since 1996. (See this link for more details.) This module acts like a 'black box' to record data while the car is in operation and allows it to be downloaded for detailed scrutiny. How often does your kid exceed the speed limit or brake hard? Is your spouse making lengthy excursions when they're supposedly at home or work? With prices starting around $140, what control freak can resist?

Engineering New Products

Often, the best new products aren't new technology but rather technology packaged in a way that is less likely to offend the person who makes the interior design decisions for your home - unless that person is an engineer who had whatever aesthetic sense he may have ever owned carefully beaten out of them as part of their education. Belkin (link) has a new line of products to support the idea that products can be practical and attractive, or at least well hidden. The Concealed Surge Suppressor provides 11 electrical outlets plus protection for coax and phone lines, all within a white shell that organizes the cables and conceals the snakes' nest from sight and harm. The Clamp-On Surge Suppressor may sound like something intended for the garage workbench, and indeed Belkin's site shows it in that context in one image. But it isn't an ugly hunk for power tools and should work just as well attached to a freestanding desk where a power strip lying on the floor would be both ugly and a trip hazard. The new Compact Surge Suppressor provides 8 grounded outlets and 1-in/2-out phone-fax line protection in about a third less space than such device typically require. Another cool new power device from Belkin is the UPS with a detachable flashlight. When the power fails the light comes on automatically to aid the human operator and not just the equipment being powered. This unit does not appear on the Belkin site yet, so I'm not sure of the official model name.

Belkin has many more products beyond power protection. The CushTop is a wedge of soft material designed to allow prolonged use of a laptop computer on an actual human lap. Modern laptop computers get pretty hot and battery problem have presented a threat to valued bodily parts, so this is quite practical. It appears it might also be handy as a pillow for an office nap.

Belkin's latest USB hub design is, again, not new technology but a more practical way to use it. Targeting the users of flash drives and portable devices, these have top facing ports for easy insertion and removal, as well as cable guides to keep the connection for your portable device from becoming lost in desktop clutter.

Jerry has approved of Belkin since he first encountered them at a New York PC Expo years ago. He'd have been impressed by what they offer this year.

Here It Is Again

Some products are inevitable. At least one will put in an appearance at every CES. 3D display technologies, combination exercise equipment/video games, and headset video displays. The best version this year of the latter is the Myvu (www.myvu.com) Personal Media Viewer. This is a headset resembling a pair of band sunglasses with ear buds dangling from the limbs. The model being promoted is designed for use with iPod Video models and includes a supplemental battery integrated with a case. The combo provides eight hours of viewing time according to Myvu. At $300 a set this isn't a slam-dunk purchase choice but anyone who saw fit to buy a 60GB iPod will surely be sorely tempted. This illustrates that Sony made a dire mistake when they chose not to provide a video output connection on the PSP. Although it has a much larger screen than an existing iPod model, the lack of ability to support external displays has greatly reduced the PSP's viability as a multimedia playback device.

Divx

I'm a big user of the Divx (www.divx.com) codec for long term archiving of recorded material from TV, and by no small coincidence it's used widely on BitTorrents for this purpose. One thing I'd long been lacking was an editing application that did as good a job as the Divx Converter for outputting content or better yet, an NLE (Non-Linear Editing) application that understood existing Divx files. I'd found nothing satisfactory in my price range until Divx itself announced its new Divx Author package at the CES. My early experience is that it works really, really well. It not only reads and writes Divx files, it performs its NLE operations better than any other low priced package I've run under Windows. The trade-off is that it is a much less feature rich content creation package than most competing products. I'll have much more to say about this item later.

New Compaq TabletPC

I was recently given a first generation Compaq TabletPC and despite the sometimes severe limitations of the unit I've become quite fond of it and the form factor for many situations. So it was natural that after seeing the new HP Pavilion tx1000z notebook model I was impressed. Under 4 pounds, dual core AMD Turion 64x2 processor, on-board CD/DVD burner, WiFi, up to 200GB of hard drive capacity, optional fingerprint scanner, etc. The HP demonstrator I spoke to indicated this configuration would come in around $1300. Is it wrong for a man to feel this way about a TabletPC?

Snake Oil

There is a new product sub-category for high-end audio that lends further proof that this field is populated by hallucinating madmen. Demagnetizers for optical media. Think about that a moment. These devices, quite expensive devices, are intended to remove magnetic fields from objects whose potential magnetizable (yes, for the purposes of this article, that is a word) content can best be described as 'trace.' Impurities in the aluminum substrate and ferrous metals used in inks on the disc label, which could perhaps comprise a fraction of a percent of the disc. This minute amount of material will supposedly fall within the magnetic field of the player's power supply and electronics, and acquire its own field as a result. This field in turn is claimed to strong enough to interfere with the level rotation of the disc and its accurate reading by the laser assembly.

Really. This is what they claim and can cure for a mere $2,000. Worse, there are articles one can quickly find with a bit of googling that give positive reviews of these devices. But then there has never been a quack medical treatment that didn't have some who believed themselves genuinely improved by the consumption. I don't have the sharpest ears and can even admit to some hearing damage but I think I recognize the aroma of Snake Oil when I get a good whiff. Until such time as my home entertainment system doubles as a MRI scanner, I'm hard put to believe such intense magnetic fields are going to be an issue. I cannot rule it out entirely, though. After all, convergence is an ongoing process and the home autodoc may be the next big thing.