Comdex Fall 2001: Day Three Wrap-Up

We invested some time yesterday on the Las Vegas Convention Center show floor at Comdex checking out some of the new products and technology. We weren't disappointed. From the new Archos hard-disk-based digital-music players to ArcSoft's amazing digital-media applications, Comdex Fall 2001 held many pleasant surprises.

Samsung displayed some impressive plasma screens for both home entertainment and PC use. These screens, along with the company's LCD displays, are among the best we've seen. Now if only the prices of plasma displays would come down.

Sony had an enormous, shiny booth where the company showed off its slimline Palm-based Clie handheld, new MX series PCs with DVD-writing capabilities (DVD+RW, unfortunately), Aibo dog robot, and imaging hardware. Sony's been successful at plying its "Sony lifestyle" marketing mantra, and it looks as if the company has taken it up a notch this year with these product introductions.

TechSmith touted its excellent SnagIt screen-capture software, which the company has bumped up to version 6 with new features such as Web capture, DirectX capture, and layered text capture for snagging icon images. The company has also updated Camtasia to version 3.0; this product captures screen motions as video so you can create training videos, demonstrations, or other types of documentation. Looks like good stuff.

We visited Archos, makers of the hard-disk-based Jukebox 6000 MP3 player. This industrious little company has many exciting new products on tap, including the Jukebox Multimedia, a new hard-disk-based digital-media player with 10GB capacity, support for MP3 and Windows Media Audio (WMA) audio formats and MPEG-4 video, and a small LCD screen; it connects to a PC or Macintosh through USB 1.1, USB 2, or PC Card interfaces. The company also has several miniature hard disks and CD-RW and DVD drives based on FireWire and USB 2.

We swung through the Palm booth and asked about Mac OS X support, the lack of which is holding up the works for the 18 Mac users who have moved to the new OS full time. Palm said a developer preview will be available in a month or so, with the final release due in early 2002.

Handspring sold its PDA products at the show at a decent discount (e.g., the $300 Handspring Visor Edge was selling for $220) and showed off its upcoming Treo, which combines a Palm-type PDA with a Blackberry-style keyboard and cellular-phone capabilities. The device looks pretty sweet; Handspring pre-announced it months ago, and it won't be ready until early next year.

Toshiba had an unbelievable 5GB hard disk that fits into a PC Card form factor. To us, it looked like an MP3 player waiting to happen, but the disk would also be an excellent solution for PC-to-PC file transfer and Pocket PC devices. The company also showed its newly redesigned Portege laptops, which are small but expandable. They also look a lot like the Japan-only Libretto. Toshiba now has no plans to bring the excellent half-height system to the United States. Too bad.

ArcSoft, a company that most people have probably never heard of (including, sadly, us) offered some amazing digital-media solutions for surprisingly low prices. Most exciting was its ShowBiz movie-maker software, which brings the full functionality of Apple's iMovie software--and then some--to the PC. ShowBiz includes amazing transitions, special effects, titling, and powerful features, and is, at $90, the company's most expensive product. We'll cover this software more extensively in Connected Home EXPRESS.

Iomega finally dispensed with the annoying Clik drive snappers the company handed out at previous shows--probably because the company renamed its products HipZIP. But Iomega has some compelling solutions for several scenarios, including a new-generation USB 2.0/FireWire Predator CD-RW, a removable Peerless drive system, and a new line of rack-mounted Network Attached Storage (NAS) products.

We checked out Microsoft Producer at Microsoft's press room atop the Marriott. This building was covered, top to bottom, in 16-story-tall Windows XP banners (we'll have photos of the building up on the SuperSite by the end of the week). Producer is an amazing tool for combining PowerPoint presentations with video, audio, and still images through a standard Web page.

This morning, we're headed back to the East Coast. This year's show, although clearly smaller than previous versions, was more manageable. The crowd, which show organizers said was about 150,000 strong, was probably closer to 80,000 attendees. But it's hard to complain about a show that was so easy to navigate.

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