Comdex Fall 2001: Day Two Wrap-Up

After Bill Gates' keynote address Sunday evening, we attended a post-keynote reception for the Tablet PC. Representatives from several of the companies that are supporting this new PC form factor were on hand, including Acer, ATI Compaq, FIC, Fujitsu, Groove, Tatung, and ViewSonic. The Tablet PC is going to be huge, especially the "convertible" models that doubles as normal laptops and slabs. At Comdex, Microsoft usually hosts a reception where attendees can mingle with Gates, Steve Ballmer, and other upper-level executives, but this year the executives were nowhere to be found.

Yesterday morning, we headed to the Las Vegas Convention Center, which the owners have expanded to a dizzying size. When we heard that this year's Comdex show wouldn't include space at the Sands Hotel as well as the Las Vegas Convention Center, we thought that the Comdex organizers were expecting attendance to be much lower than in previous years. But because of the extra floor space at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the show didn't seem smaller at all.

The heightened show security might have added to the illusion of a crowded show, however, because it led to some of the longest lines we've ever seen. Thankfully, show organizers let the press enter through a separate entrance (they also let us bring in bags and other paraphernalia), but bomb-sniffing dogs, hyper-sensitive metal detectors, and a little up-close-and-personal exchange with the local security officer made the entire process laborious. After we got inside, the situation wasn't much better: The typical Comdex throng was bursting through the main doors right into Microsoft's massive booth area.

As with past shows, calling Microsoft's area a booth is a bit of a misnomer because the company grabbed a massive slice of show floor near the entrance. Large as it is, however, Microsoft's booth seems a bit smaller than usual, although its partner pavilion area seems larger. Microsoft is pushing Windows XP, of course, but the exhibit also features displays for .NET My Services (formerly code-named Hailstorm), Pocket PC 2002, Visual Studio.NET, Great Plains, and the Tablet PC.

In the first of many vendor meetings scheduled for this week, we talked to Belkin about the company's excellent wireless products, nicely designed surge protectors, and PDA accessories. Belkin's designs will set them apart from the competition. Microsoft is pushing Office XP, despite not having any recent news, and we got to see some exciting new third-party Smart Tags, the new educational edition of Office XP, and other products. After lunch, we attended a reception for the Recordable DVD Forum, which is touting the benefits of DVD multidrives, which will work with the DVD-RAM, DVD-R, and DVD-RW formats (but not DVD+RW). Then it was back to the show floor.

We checked out the popular Xbox play area, where several of the new consoles are set up for hands-on examination. NFL Fever 2002 is decent, on par graphically with Sega's NFL 2K2, but moves a bit faster. Halo looks good, although the game was set up for multiple players, which, on a console, results in a bizarre, horizontally split screen. Dead or Alive 3, as we noted yesterday, looks beautiful and plays well, but the fighting games aren't as impressive. And we got a look at Project Gotham Racing and Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding. Both games looked fine, but again, weren't earth-shattering.

The press-only Showstoppers event, an opportunity to meet with hardware and software companies, was as good as ever. Roxio has DVD movie-maker software coming down the pike, although the OEM version will ship first in early 2002; a retail release will follow in late 2002. This product looks like a winner. But Roxio told us that today's XP-compatible version of Easy CD Creator already supports DVD packet writing through Direct CD. This means you can use Direct CD to back up to DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, or DVD+RW disks; a more elegant version (a free update) is on the way. Compaq is showing off some amazing iPAQ Pocket PC hardware and a cool new EVO N200, a mini-notebook that weighs only 2.5 pounds that appears to give Toshiba's Japan-only Libretto a run for its money.

Intel is showing off prototype reference designs for future PCs and Tablet PCs. One design resembles the Apple 22" Cinema Display, except that the entire PC is built into the display, which results in a wonderful flat-panel design with major space savings. Other Intel designs included small, dockable tablets and some awe-inspiring handheld devices.

After Showstoppers, we headed over to the Bellagio to see Cirque du Soleil's O, a water-based acrobatic show that defies description. Tomorrow we have fewer meetings, so we hope to spend more time on the show floor.

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