Pondering CES

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posted 1/4/2008 by Dan Keener
other articles by Dan Keener
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As I sit here getting prepared for my appointments at CES, I realized there are quite a few questions I HOPE to get answered while in Vegas. How to play (let alone win) win at Pai Gow isn’t one of them. My focus this year will be primarily on the gaming experience as a whole, including the sights and sounds we experience while playing games. While games, consoles and peripherals will be on display, we probably won’t see anything earth-shattering or announced while there. This CES will be unique in that Bill Gates will be giving the keynote for the final time as the Head of Microsoft. I imagine he will have at least one ace up his sleeve, and I can only imagine what it is. Finally, the aura of the tradeshow and Vegas as a whole should provide some of those moments you remember for years to come (or want to forget.)

With that, I give you eight Questions I would like to get answered at CES 2008…

1. How good are the 120Hz refresh LCD TVs?
This one has been bugging me since the 120Hz refresh TVs were introduced earlier this year at retailers. Having spent the last seven years selling Home Theater products at a major big box retailer, I am always leery of the first generation of any new product. I have seen first hand how slick and smooth 120Hz images are displayed, and hope to secure one of these for review. I can’t help but wonder if the LCD panel life expectancy is getting shortened by manipulating the refresh speed. I am meeting with both Sharp and Samsung reps, so I should be able to get a pretty good idea of what the expectations are. If they smooth out gameplay as much as they do Blu-Ray and HD-DVDs, then owning one could provide a distinct advantage during multiplayer action.

2. What thunder will Microsoft bring during Bill Gates last keynote as head of Microsoft?
Microsoft has always used CES as a platform to announce new products or services and most recently for the gaming division announcements such as the original Xbox (2001) and IP TV for the Xbox 360 (2007). So far last year, Microsoft has released Vista, second gen Zune players and Microsoft Home Server. So what big announcement can we expect at CES? Obviously, the public unveiling of the Surface technology will be forthcoming as there is little info on the device since its announcement. Maybe some final plans for the IP TV and Xbox 360, which has been lurking in the shadows since last year. However, I would like to finally get the announcement of the long overdue Microsoft handheld gaming device that has been rumored to be in works. What we may end up with is a hybrid device of some sort, but I will take anything at this point. We will know for sure on Sunday night.

3. When will OLED become more than a developing technology?
I know many of you are going WTF is organic light-emitting diode (OLED)? Well, it is the latest flat-panel technology that doesn’t require backlighting like traditional LCD panels. While it has tons of advantages over the current flay-panel systems (less than .01ms response time, cheaper and easier to manufacture and greater range of colors, brightness and viewing angles, it has this nasty little side-effect of limited lifetime. Technology has currently upped it to a potential of 20,000 hours for blue POLEDs, but normal lifetime is around 5,000 hours (six times less than Plasma and LCD). Why does this matter to gamers? Well, OLED tech could make gaming displays, bigger, brighter and faster. It can also improve handheld and portable devices such as phones and MP3 players’ capabilities as a gaming device.

4. Next-generation gaming consoles are launched and mainstream, so what now?
For the last couple of years, the gaming industry has been able to count on the introduction of new devices and celebrate their first year in service. Now that the Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 are past their one-year anniversary, what is there to get excited about in 2008? Unless Microsoft pulls a handheld out of Gates pants, or a new player (Apple?) enters the gaming market, there will be no major game announcements at CES. Therefore, we have to rely on games, peripherals or add-on services for our news nuggets. While CES isn’t a traditional place for game announcements, I expect to have plenty of Xbox 360 service announcements (IP TV update, more DLC partners, licensing the technology?) and Playstation 3 and PSP and game dates (Home). Nintendo doesn’t attend CES, so they will miss out on all the coverage.

5. What game titles will be on display?
Each year, Sony and Microsoft dedicate sections of their booth to gaming, and have private meets around town to showcase the latest and greatest. Last year, we were able to play Guitar Hero II (360) with a rep from Red Octane, Crysis (PC), Halo 2 (PC), Crackdown (360) and Def Jam Icon (360) among others with Microsoft. At out meeting with Sony Online entertainment, we were able to demo multiple Playstation Network games, Vanguard (PC), Lair (PS3), Motorstorm (PS3) and Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom (PS3). This year we know we will see Age of Conan – Hyborian Adventures and Soul Calibur IV due to appointments. As for others, I’m hoping to play demos of Burnout Paradise, Devil May Cry 4,Metal Gear Solid 4, Little Big Planet, Kingdom Under Fire, Lost Odyssey and TUROK. However, it kind of underscores something Chuck has been saying, what are the breakout hits for 2008 for the Xbox 360? Hopefully, we can get some light shed on that in our appointments with Microsoft. As I mentioned before, Nintendo sits out CES and Majesco (Wii developer) wont be there, so don’t expect much about the Wii from the show.

6. Will gaming really be making a return to CES or is it just fluff?
The CES folks have really been playing up the presence of gaming at CES this year claiming that there will be 65% more space dedicated to video games this year. We weren’t that impressed with the stuff outside of Microsoft and Sony last year but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until we get there. Hopefully that 65% new stuff is new and cool stuff and not the stuff that you’d normally see at Kentia hall.

7. What one product will make me stop and say Wow!?
If you have never been to CES, it is very hard to describe. Lights, people, sounds for miles, and that’s just the Las Vegas Convention center. While walking the exhibits, there is always that one product that grabs your attention and makes you go into that exhibit area. Last year (being our first at CES), we all went through that several times. Chuck mentioned the OLED displays in the Sony booth, as well as the 103” Panasonic plasma located along a main artery. I remember seeing some incredible artistic computer cases and stopped dead in my tracks at the Runco booth, which was showing Project Gotham Racing 3 on one of their projectors. This year it might be the 150” TV that Panasonic is showing off, the 40” OLED TV, the new hybrid HD DVD/Blu Ray players, or even the weird multi-function toilets from Japan that we saw last year.

8. What will be the most bizarre thing I will see?
No matter when you go to Vegas you are guaranteed to see some crazy and bizarre things. Last year it started at McCarran International Airport in the baggage claim, as the morons working the ground crews got baggage mixed up from several inbound flights and had them on the wrong conveyors. It was a site to see about 45 people (including Chuck) climbing all over the moving conveyors picking and pulling bags for the other 400 crowding around until Las Vegas finest arrived. It was truly the definition of chaos. We also saw our share of “interesting people” walking around the show floor and of course the Leather and Bondage truck that turned in front of our Shuttle on its way to the Porn Convention. This year, I expect more of the same, with new stories and even more bizarre happenings.
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