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Originally published January 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 10, 2006 at 2:14 PM

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Dispatches from the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show

Reporters Kim Peterson and Brier Dudley reported from the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. They provided live dispatches throughout the event, which ran through Sunday, Jan. 8.

Seattle Times business reporters

Seattle Times technology reporters Kim Peterson and Brier Dudley reported live from the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an industry conference highlighting latest developments in the consumer technology business. They also answered questions online about CES and the gadgets unveiled there.
Read the transcript of the discussion.

UPDATED 5:09 p.m. Saturday
Drilling down on eBay data

I met with Karl Wiley of eBay today to talk about Marketplace Research, a 3-month-old eBay subscription service that lets buyers and sellers get information on how items are selling on the online auction service.

The service is also a good way to gauge the most popular products right now on eBay. In the past week, the top five searches on eBay were for the Xbox 360 video game console, the PSP handheld gaming system, the iPod Nano digital music player, Louis Vuitton and Star Wars.

The service reports that Xbox 360s were selling for more than $500, on average, until Dec. 31. Since then the average price has dropped, and hit a low of about $425 on Jan. 4 before climbing toward $500 again.

In stores, the 360 sells for $300, or $400 with a bundle of accessories.

There are three tiers of pricing for the service. Those who pay $25 a month can access up to 13 weeks of historical sales data. For a $3 one-time usage fee, you can see 60 days of data.

Posted by Kim Peterson


UPDATED 5:09 p.m. Saturday
What's going on at that "other" convention?

I took a quick break from CES and checked out the Adult Entertainment Expo, which is sharing space with a portion of CES in the Sands Convention Center. I wasn't the only one. I saw dozens of people there wearing their CES name badges.

There was quite a bit of high technology at the expo as well — videos for iPod video players, pay-per-minute downloadable movies and 3-D movies that don't require glasses.

Both conferences were packed with people today, and trying to make my way through the exhibits was time-consuming and frustrating. Some people here are suggesting that CES expand to additional days, simply because it's too difficult to try and cram this conference into a four-day period.

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Posted by Kim Peterson


UPDATED 1:30 p.m. Saturday
The reviews are in

The blogs are busy with reviews today of the CES keynote speech by Google co-founder Larry Page. Engadget's Paul Boutin has a play-by-play with photos. A recording of the speech is available here.

Posted by Kim Peterson


UPDATED 5:09 p.m. Friday
The ubergeek speaks, then lectures

In his keynote speech, Google's Larry Page came on stage in ubergeek style, wearing a lab coat and jeans and riding on the back of Stanford University's robotic VW SUV, which won a recent desert race.

Page explained how the vehicle worked. Then he demonstrated a prototype VW dashboard display that uses Google's map service to provide directions.

Then, referring to a script, he delivered a detailed lecture on some ways the consumer electronics industry could improve the usability of devices. They should use open design standards to avoid duplication, for instance.

Page was later upstaged by a mysterious guest who appeared wearing a prototype Google brain implant — comedian and actor Robin Williams.

In a matching lab coat, Williams delivered an outrageous spiel on technology, Google, CES, gay marriage and the pornography show going on elsewhere in Vegas.

Posted by Brier Dudley


POSTED 4:21 p.m. Friday
Googling what Google's up to

Is Google co-founder Larry Page getting some special coaching?

One of the VIPs whisked past the crowd waiting to get into the theater before Page's keynote this afternoon was none other than Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker and infomercial star. A CES executive was so taken aback, he pulled back the velvet rope and let Robbins in without checking to see if he had a ticket.

Maybe Robbins was sneaking in for the Google swag. Each chair had a "Google Pack" mini messenger bag and a wooden pyramid puzzle for attendees.

The pack referred to the Google pack software bundle, a free collection of software Google is distributing. Also, the company joined the list of tech companies at CES that announced a video download service and partnerships with content providers such as CBS.

Posted by Brier Dudley


POSTED 12:57 p.m. Friday
Stars turn out at the Magic Geekdom

It's somewhat of a tradition for technology companies to import some star power at their keynote events.

This morning, Yahoo! brought out Tom Cruise and Ellen DeGeneres during CEO Terry Semel's keynote. Cruise showed a preview for his upcoming "Mission Impossible" sequel, and DeGeneres entertained the crowd with jokes about the adult film convention taking place at the Sands.

Unlike that conference, she said, CES displays gadgets that get smaller every year.

Sony got Tom Hanks to appear at Sir Howard Stringer's address. Microsoft mined the C-list for its offering, and came up with singer Justin Timberlake.

Posted by Kim Peterson


POSTED 11:01 a.m. Friday
The Borg gets the blame again

Among the announcements that Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel made in a keynote this morning was a new PC desktop interface based on Microsoft's Media Center.

The Yahoo! version runs on a standard Windows XP machine and the large buttons — designed to be controlled with a TV remote control — bring up Yahoo! services, including its video search and Flickr photo sharing service.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, Semel and Intel boss Paul Otellini — who came onstage to pitch Viiv entertainment PCs — blamed Windows when their demos failed because they couldn't connect to the Internet.

"I think it's a Windows problem," Otellini said when a prototype handheld PC running the Yahoo! media center failed to connect.

"I would tend to agree," Semel said.

Posted by Brier Dudley


POSTED 7:00 p.m. Thursday
Words from the top at Sony

Sony has announced plans to restructure, close some manufacturing sites and lay off 10,000 workers. With all that out in the open, Sir Howard Stringer had no qualms about discussing the company's internal problems in a question-and-answer session with reporters this morning.

Stringer, Sony's chairman and chief executive, described how difficult it has been to coordinate software development across all areas and products of the company. He brought together Sony engineers recently for a social gathering, he said, and as people talked to each other they began discovering how much duplicative work was going on.

"That's a waste of great resources," he said.

Stringer described Sony as an "electronic democracy where everything gets equal weight." That's led to an inability to make decisions, he said.

One big decision may be be reducing the number of Sony products. Apple Computer has far fewer products than Sony, yet its market capitalization is higher, Stringer said. "Isn't there a message there?" he asked. "Can we just keep it simpler?"

Late last month, Sony announced it had lured Tim Schaaff away from Apple to fill a new position, senior vice president of software development. Schaaff held several positions at Apple, including vice president of interactive media, and helped develop the QuickTime platform.

Stringer described Schaaff as a "software grownup" whot will help Sony get its collective act together. .

Stringer also took a few swipes at Microsoft, saying that in Japan, only five people lined up outside of a major department store to buy the Xbox 360 video game console when it launched. When Sony's PSP portable player launched, the lines went around the block.

The PlayStation group "doesn't seem terribly worried" about the competition from Microsoft, he said. "If there was a sense of anxiety I'd be aware of it."

Posted by Kim Peterson


POSTED 6:35 p.m. Thursday
Keeping an eye on the product channel

Among the potential buyers crowded around Panasonic's new high-speed home networking system was Mike Sievert, vice president for Windows product management.

Sievert came to the show partly to meet with ad agencies and retailers to prepare for the Windows Vista release later this year, but he found a little time to shop.

Panasonic's system uses a cigarette-pack-size unit to connect a broadband modem to a home wiring system. By plugging the unit into an outlet, products throughout the house can get superfast Internet access through power outlets.

Similar systems have been displayed in years past, but Panasonic claims its product the fastest -- fast enough to distribute high-definition video content around the home.

Perhaps the Xbox 360 that Panasonic used in its demonstration caught Sievert's eye.

Posted by Brier Dudley


POSTED 5:55 p.m. Thursday
Borg watch

Techies used to call Microsoft "The Borg," referring to an enormous, omnivorous and threatening life-form that appeared in "Star Trek."

It's an old joke, but it reappeared at CES when the monorail heading to Bill Gates' keynote speech Wednesday at the Las Vegas Hilton was plastered with ads for the "Borg Invasion 4D" now playing at the Hilton.

Posted by Brier Dudley


POSTED 5:45 p.m. Thursday
How to upstage the boss on stage

Sony Chairman and Chief Executive Howard Stringer was eloquent and self-deprecating in his keynote speech today, but he was still upstaged by one of his hired hands: actor Tom Hanks, who ad-libbed his way through a tech-heavy exchange on the stage with Stringer, poking fun at the user interface on a new Sony digital camera.

Hanks said the reason 2006 was a relatively slow year for the movie business was because he didn't appear in any new movies --- he was too busy trying to figure out how to use the camera.

"I'll be damned if I can turn this flash off, Howard,'' Hanks said.

That led to a discussion of how people are watching some movies in different formats, such as mobile devices and home theaters.

"I'll act anywhere, I don't care what the medium is," Hanks said. "I'll do podcasts''

Sony usually brings stars working on its movies to CES to jazz up its presentations. Hanks is starring in an upcoming Sony movie version of "The Da Vinci Code, so he appeared along with director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer.

After the speech, Stringer said Hanks missed Wednesday's rehearsal so they had to wing it on stage.

Posted by Brier Dudley


POSTED 2:45 p.m. Thursday
See for yourself

Microsoft has made a transcript and Web cast of Bill Gates' CES keynote speech available here. There's even a video clip of Gates and Chief Executive Steve Ballmer virtually boxing each other.

Posted by Kim Peterson


POSTED 1:42 p.m. Thursday
Getting an Internet fill-up

The way gas prices have risen over the past year, the last thing a company might want to do is show off a new gas pump. The Austin, Texas-based Dresser Wayne did just that, showing a model of a gas pump outside the convention center.

The pump has a screen that seems to be first and foremost an advertising mechanism. It will show you a commercial or other advertisement while you're standing there pumping gas. It could also connect to the Internet and show real-time weather or traffic conditions on an on-screen map, said Dan Harrell, senior marketing director at Dresser Wayne.

The average person will spend a full nine days out of their lifetime pumping gas, Harrell said. "We're trying to make that a more productive nine days," he said.

The pump features technology built on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system and uses the .NET framework.

Posted by Kim Peterson


POSTED 8:16 p.m. Wednesday
Getting a handle on the 360 spin

All those rumors about Japanese retailers massively discounting Xbox 360 systems to offload inventory are untrue, said Peter Moore, head of Microsoft's Xbox business, earlier today at a briefing with reporters. Moore acknowledged that the Japanese launch of the 360 did have some problems, and that the company didn't meet sales expectations after the highly anticipated game "Dead or Alive 4" missed the console's debut.

People worked "day and night" to get the game finished, Moore said, but in the end it didn't meet quality levels it needed to in order to ship on time and was 19 days late to shelves. Only six games debuted with the Xbox 360 in Japan.

Moore said the Xbox division would be watching Japan closely this week to see how sales go now that the holidays are over and the game is available.

Consoles are selling in Japan, Moore said, but the race to win the country is a marathon, not a sprint.

Microsoft is on track to sell the 4.5 million to 5.5 million consoles that it had forecast it would through the remainder of its fiscal year, which ends June 30. But Moore wouldn't say whether the company would meet its goal of selling 2.75 million to 3 million in the first 90 days after launch.

Microsoft is in a "quiet period" now and can't talk about its quarterly performance until the quarterly numbers are officially announced in a few weeks, he said.

An average of four games have been sold so far for each Xbox 360 console, a term known in the industry as the "attach rate." No other game console has had such a high attach rate so soon after launch, Moore said.

Some consumers were upset this holiday season after putting down money in stores to reserve an Xbox 360, only to find there weren't enough consoles in supply. Moore said that some retailers may have overpromised the console before finding out from Microsoft exactly how many systems they would get before Christmas.

"Every console has always had more demand than supply," he said. "It's just a question of what that degree is."

For the Xbox, the demand was strong before Christmas. More consoles will arrive in stores, and by the spring Microsoft's new challenge will be to try and continue to build 360 buzz, Moore said.

Is the Xbox 360 raising Microsoft's overall profile, especially among gamers in the 14- to 24-year-old group? That's what Microsoft is trying to find out, Moore said. The company is conducting numerous focus groups, exit interviews at retail stores and online surveys to try and find out if the Xbox's rising tide has lifted all of Microsoft in the eyes of consumers.

"I'd be stunned if we hadn't moved the bar," Moore said.

Moore also said a poker game would be free for Xbox 360 players over the Xbox Live Marketplace in late February or early March. The game is free because it was sponsored by Riverbelle, an online poker company. There won't be any actual gambling involved, Moore said, because that raises too many legal issues.

Posted by Kim Peterson


UPDATED 8:14 p.m. Wednesday
From the keynote speech

8:11 p.m. — A quick wrap-up from Gates and that's it. Keynote speech is over. My one question: Where was the funny video? A Gates speech at CES just wasn't the same without one.

8:05 p.m. — Gates and Ballmer, each armed with a wireless Xbox 360 controller, are boxing each other. Gates doesn't seem to be all that enthused, while Ballmer is hamming it up. Gates wins, and Ballmer throws his controller across the stage. At least it wasn't a chair. Moore says that a free demo of the game is available on the Xbox Live Marketplace.

8:01 p.m. — Nine out of 10 Xbox 360 owners have either purchased or intend to purchase an HD DVD television, Moore said. There will be 50 games for the console out by June, he added. Moore brings out boxing commentator Al Bernstein to talk about the upcoming Electronic Arts game "Fight Night Round 3." Bernstein calls out the two players that are going to go at each other in the game: Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer (the "Motor City Hit Man," Bernstein says).

7:55 p.m. — Peter Moore, who leads the Xbox business, comes out to give an update of the Xbox 360. Five years ago, Microsoft unveiled the Xbox at CES. Xbox 360 is on track to ship between 4.5 million and 5.5 million consoles by the end of June, he said. About four games and three accessories have sold for each console, he said. He isn't giving out specific sales numbers for the 2005 holiday period, however.

7:46 p.m. — On stage is a demo of Vista running a prototype of an HD-DVD movie: "The Bourne Supremacy." You can go to the features area of the movie to see a list of actors in the specific scene you're watching, along with their bios and previous movie acting experience. The prototype also shows the audio commentary that is common in DVDs, but with a video of the speaker, so that you can see a talking head floating on the screen with commentary as the movie plays.

7:42 p.m. — An employee with Microsoft's Windows Live division demonstrates a television show recommendation service. It can also show you what your friends are watching. I'm not sure I really want to know if a friend of mine likes "Joey." The service can also show trailers and other promotional material from shows and stream it to Windows Live directly.

7:30 p.m. — There were 1.5 million copies of the Windows Media Center PC out a year ago, now that's up to 6.5 million, Gates says. Oh, and he tells us all how to pronounce Intel's new Viiv technology. 'Viiv' rhymes with 'five' and 'live', he says.

7:24 p.m. — Music time is over and it's back to just Gates on stage. He's showing off a new Windows Mobile phone developed with Palm, which will go on sale Thursday, and a wireless phone for the home that has normal phone calling as well as Voice-over-IP technology through the MSN Messenger program.

7:19 p.m. — Well, whaddaya know. Timberlake walks out onstage in jeans and a black velour jacket. "This is not my usual stage," he says. Urge is going to "be it," he says. His new album this year, which, he says, features a duet with Bill Gates, will be released in partnership with Urge.

7:16 p.m. — We're getting a sneak preview of Urge. It's deeply integrated into the player, and has more than 100 CD-quality radio stations. There will be 2 million tracks available as part of a subscription or for individual purchase — a significant increase over what other digital music services have. The service also has editorial blogging and text about music and musical groups. Toffler says he's been listening to Justin Timberlake — his musical taste obviously hasn't changed. I wonder if Justin T. is going to make an appearance tonight?

7:12 p.m. — Bill Gates comes back out with an MTV Music Group President Van Toffler to announce MTV's new online music service called Urge. Toffler shows a photo of Gates next to Napoleon Dynamite and says, "Separated at birth." Lots of chuckles in the audience. Toffler also takes a jab at himself, saying the world had him to thank for introducing both Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice. Ouch! This guy still has a job?

7:08 p.m. — The product manager brings up a program called "Windows Photo Gallery," a digital photo management system. The program allows you to crop pictures, adjust color and fix red-eye. The OS saves an original version of the photo so if you wanted to go back and undo the adjustments you made.

7 p.m. — Gates introduces a group product manager to talk about Vista, the new operating system (previously code-named Longhorn) expected later this year. Here are some of the features in Vista:

  • There's a vertical bar on the right hand side of the screen. The bar can show photographs, news from an RSS reader, a timer and the score of the current football game. I can't help but think that the sidebar has a lot of similarities to the Google sidebar that's part of the Google desktop. It looks better than Google's, though.

  • In the start menu, there's a search bar that will begin retrieving files and folders as soon as the user types in the name. Apple has been doing this for years with its Spotlight technology, but this is a first for Windows.

  • There's a feature called "Quicktabs," which can show all the tabs in a browser on one screen. They're miniaturized so you can see thumbnails of each page. I haven't seen this feature on any browser so far.

6:55 p.m. — Broadband usage has overtaken dial-up, with more than 100 million broadband users in the United States, he says.

6:51 p.m. — Gates has moved to a chair that could be at an airport lounge, he says. He sets his Bluetooth-enabled cellphone down on a special table with a digital screen on it that asks him to identify himself with his fingerprint. He sets a business card on the table, and the table reads the text on the card and adds it to the contact list on his cellphone.

6:47 p.m. — Gates is showing off a scenario that he said would be real by the end of the digital decade. He's looking at a screen on the wall in front of him and can touch elements on it. He moves digital photos around on the screen with his finger. He points to a city map of Redmond with icons representing each member of the family moving around. He shows a video news stream from MSNBC.

Then he moves to a desk with a large, three-paneled screen in front of him. The screen lights up and shows different elements — a calendar, a news reader and a video conference.

6:46 p.m. — The photographers have given up and are now taking pictures of Gates' image on the giant screen in front of them.

6:44 p.m. — Bill Gates arrives on stage at the far, far right, no doubt aggravating all the photographers in the front and center who can only shoot him in the first 60 seconds. D'oh! He's wearing a grey striped dress shirt and dark grey pants.

6:42 p.m. — The first of what will be many Microsoft videos starts. It's focused on Microsoft at 30 years. Robbie Bach talks about how he almost didn't take a job at Microsoft, and was thinking about going to other companies that don't exist today. Another executive talks about how software is "the modern clay of our times." That's creative.

6:37 p.m. — Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, is now onstage to introduce Gates. CES is "our World Cup of technology," he said. He's also talking about how Microsoft has changed the world — how we work, play and communicate. Microsoft picked CES to introduce the Xbox, the Tablet PC, the Media Center PC and the Smartphone, he said.

"Bill Gates is living the American dream," he said.

6:33 p.m. — Kim Peterson here. I'll be blogging throughout Bill Gates' keynote speech, which was supposed to start three minutes ago. We're in the theater of the Hilton hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Moby is playing over the speakers and a slideshow of Microsoft success stories is showing on the big onstage screen. I'll update once the event begins.

Posted by Kim Peterson


POSTED 6:15 PM Wednesday
The incredible shrinking browser share

For Microsoft, it had to be some disappointing news to deal with in advance of CES. Use of the Firefox Web browser soared in December and ended the year with a 9.57 percent market share, compared with 4.64 percent at the end of 2004, according to data provided by NetApplications via Hitslink.com.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer ended the year with an 85.05 percent share, down from 90.31 percent at the end of 2004.

And Apple Computer's Safari browser is slowly creeping up, ending the year with a 3.07 percent share, up from 1.56 percent. Netscape fell from third to fourth over the year, dropping to 1.24 percent from 2.07 percent.

Posted by Kim Peterson


POSTED 4:10 PM Wednesday
A preview was the main course

Peter Moore, head of Microsoft's Xbox business, hosted an informal luncheon for a dozen or so reporters today at the House of Blues Foundation Room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

The meeting was designed to brief reporters on the Xbox-related news that would come out tonight in Bill Gates' speech, and so everything he said can't be relayed publicly until after the speech. Check back here later for the full scoop.

Microsoft is also participating in an industry press conference after the speech to promote the HD-DVD high definition format. Microsoft, and the Xbox division in particular, is embracing the format as the future of high-definition viewing.

Posted by Kim Peterson


POSTED 4:07 PM Wednesday
Does the "mono" mean one rider?

Las Vegas taxi drivers scoff at this city's monorail, saying it hasn't taken away from their business and has amounted to a giant flop. They seemed to have a point this morning, when dozens of people waited outside the Luxor for a cab while the desert winds whistled through the cavernous monorail station at the Sahara.

One monorail trip started with one passenger at the northernmost point, at the Sahara, and ended with a peak of nine people when the car stopped at the MGM Grand, the final destination on the line.

The car could have easily held 30. A trip costs $5 — which may be a deterrent to some visitors.

Still, expect the monorail to be hopping this week, if, as in past years, there's a 45-minute wait to catch a cab outside the Convention Center. The monorail conveniently stops right outside the center. Oh, and if you're thirsty, you can pay $2 for a small bottle of Las Vegas Monorail drinking water, sold in machines at the stations.

The monorail was not financed with taxes. Casinos were a major investor. This becomes evident to riders when they hear a recording of Barry Manilow advertising his new show at the Las Vegas Hilton. But, hey, that's a little better than listening to a Barry Manilow song.

Posted by Kim Peterson


POSTED 3:15 PM Wednesday
What happens in Vegas

It's a sunny day in Las Vegas and already the place is hopping in advance of the Consumer Electronics Show, which doesn't officially begin until tomorrow. CES attendees began showing up here on Monday, and there are so many of them now that when strangers make conversation with each other, an easy opening line is "Are you here for CES?"

The show's organizers are living up to their job titles this week, because so far the show does seem fairly organized. CES representatives set up booths at McCarran International Airport and at casino hotels along the strip to check in pre-registered attendees.

The show unofficially kicks off tonight with a keynote speech by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates at the Las Vegas Hilton.

CES attendance is estimated at around 125,000 this year, and 30,000 more are here for the Adult Entertainment Expo, the biggest annual convention for the adult entertainment industry.

In an unusual pairing, the two conferences will share the same space in the Sands Expo Center, near the Venetian Hotel. CES expanded to the Sands when space became too tight at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

It probably won't be hard to tell which attendees are here for which conference.

Posted by Kim Peterson


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