At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it's something of a rebuilding year. There have been no jaw-droppingly new consumer technologies unveiled, or obvious must-have new devices like in years past.
But that's not stopping near-record crowds from descending on Sin City, slurping up all its beer and bandwidth, and filling convention halls up and down The Strip.
The show's organizer, the Consumer Electronic Assn., has said that close to 150,000 attendants filled the city's hotel rooms this year, coming to check out exhibits from a record 3,100 companies.
The booths at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Tuesday, the show's official opening day, ranged from tiny stalls hung with bejeweled iPhone cases to city-block size mega-booths from global electronics makers, many paying millions to erect giant walls of high-definition screens that showcase their latest TV technology.
After attendants handed out 3D glasses at the booth of South Korea's LG Corp., a movie started on a massive IMAX-size screen showing a meteor shower shooting toward the audience. More than a few "whoas" where audible from the crowd below.
At the Samsung booth, representatives gave demonstrations of the company's new Smart TVs, showing onlookers how to change channels or search the Web with simple voice commands, or to "click" on-screen buttons and links with a hand gesture. A model of the company's latest ultra-high-def TV hung on another wall, with pictures of waterfalls and forests that were so clear that one visitor said, "Wow, is that in 3D?"
And more laughs were had Monday night at Microsoft Corp.'s final keynote (the software giant has said it will no longer give the show's main speech, or maintain a booth at CES.) The company did its best to mark the semi-somber occasion by hiring American Idol host Ryan Seacrest to be the master of ceremonies.
Seacrest and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer enjoyed some amusing back-and-forth banter, such as when Ballmer explained the new, tile-based look of Windows 8, which is called Metro and is an improvement on the company's earlier phone operating system.
"The Metro user interface -- you’ve seen it being pioneered in recent years, but now it’s all coming together."
"Why did you look at me funny when you said Metro?" Seacrest asked, feigning hurt feelings.
Ballmer laughed, and Seacrest said, "I guess I'm going to be your mascot now."
More stunts lay in store for the show, too -- on Thursday, ESPN will stage a live boxing match at the convention center that will be broadcast in 3D on the network.
-- David Sarno
Image: Ryan Seacrest and Steve Ballmer at the Microsoft keynote at CES. Credit: David Sarno / Los Angeles Times