It's a given that in the giant-size cornucopia of technology that is the annual Consumer Electronics Show, a few gadgets or products will truly stand out. But the show isn't just a big pile of electronics gear — it also points the way toward emerging trends in the tech world. Some products, like Blu-ray player, are merely evolutionary items, slightly improved year after year. But others can represent an entirely new product category, or inspire a paradigm shift in existing ones. Follow the Continue jump for the products that each DVICE writer found most impressive — and our hopes for the kinds of things they'll inspire.
UPDATED: List now supersized to nine items!
Trevor Curwin: My favorite product was the Kinesis K2 handheld solar and wind charger. Handheld green chargers aren't new, but these are often high on style and short on utility, unless conditions are just right. The Kinesis team built the K2 with some field-testing that seems to have gone beyond using the charger to power your iPod for a picnic on a perfect summer day. It's a hardy, functional design in a green product that really works, and it's cheaper than its competition.
What I Wish I Saw: The product I'd like to see is a control device to take smart-grid technology to your entire household. There were a number of gadgets at this year's CES tackling phantom power usage, and there are homewide remote controllers available for your home entertainment systems, lighting and so on. But what would be a great next step is incorporating two-way communication protocols, like Green Plug, into every wall socket — or every electronic device, appliance or plug-wielding piece of furniture — and have a central control hub for ultimate energy efficiency.
Kevin Hall: This year, I'd say the Anybots QA struck me as the most impressive thing I saw. Don't get me wrong, I love me some shiny new TVs and phones, but the QA is the most attractive telepresence robot I've seen. It's also nice to see a consumer-ready embodiment of all the research Anybots has done. The group nailed exactly what you want in a 'bot that'll be your proxy: the ability to clearly see the surrounding environment and to be able to move around it proficiently. The QA is the right height to interact with others, turns on a dime, won't tip over and, as a nice little touch, even comes equipped with a laser pointer so you can indicate what you're talking about — which is simply another layer of interaction that adds some depth.
What I Wish I Saw: I would have liked for there to have been more robotics on display. It's a fast growing field, but very few robotics exhibitors showed up to CES at all. iRobot showed, but didn't have anything new save for small upgrades to existing models. There were robotic lawnmowers, roaming webcams, robo-toys and kits — even the famous Keepon showed — but the spirit of progress that normally goes hand-in-hand with robotics just wasn't there.
Peter Pachal: I really liked Netgear's Internet TV Player. Not only is it a reasonably priced way to get tons of Internet video onto your TV, it promises to open up more paths to content that was previously only accessible by geeks. Torrents right to my TV? Dude, sign me up.
What I Wish I Saw: I want a box like this to directly access full episodes of TV shows that are readily available on network websites and Hulu (not just those site's YouTube channels, which is only what this box appears to do). How about one that is also location agnostic, so I could watch videos from BBC.com, too? While we're at it, let's throw in an automatic UnRar program for those pesky split-up torrents. Of course, all this assumes things could be worked out with content providers. That probably won't happen by CES 2020, let alone CES 2010.
Leslie Shapiro: Blaupunkt introduced an Internet radio device for the car this year, it's partnered with a provider, miRoamer. It's a great concept, offering over 16,000 Internet radio stations. Granted, they have a lot of stations available, but how often will I want to listen to the top polka music out of Lichtenstein? Okay, that might not be what they're offering, but it's still limited to the stations that miRoamer chooses to air.
What I Wish I Saw: While Internet radio in the car is a nice step forward, when will Slacker and Pandora be available, with the custom stations I created, right from the head unit in a car? As satellite radio dies a slow, painful death, Internet radio should be poised to jump in. Without sufficient cellphone coverage, a new way of getting that bandwidth to the car needs to become available, so when driving across the country, my Slacker favorites are with me, no WiFi hotspots needed, no cellphone coverage required. Maybe next year.
Peter Suciu: The product that I saw that most impressed me was the ION Audio Drum Rocker Rock Band 2 Drum Set. Not only is this compatible with the video game Rock Band (1 and 2), but it can be used with Activision's Guitar Hero: World Tour title. And more impressively it can also be used as a real electronic drum kit and is compatible with drum machines and can be connected to a PC. This is nice because if the musical fakery gets old, you can also step up and use this $299 system as a real electronic drum kit.
What I Wish I Saw: The product I'd like to see is a guitar or keyboard that can do something on par with the drum kit. But alas, guitarists are showmen and drummers are traditionally not — sorry Phil Collins fans. So until someone comes up with a guitar game controller that can teach you to play it is just a step above air guitar.
Michael Trei: For me the hit of the show was all of the ultra-slim LCD and plasma TVs being introduced by most of the major manufacturers. These sexy TVs are great but don't look so hot if the mount or stand keeps them several inches off the wall, so it was good to see that many companies also introduced wall-hugging mounts to match.
What I Wish I Saw: After Sony teased us last year with the tiny XEL-1, I was expecting a
flood of larger OLED TVs to make their debut this time around with
stunning contrast and incredible color rendition. No such luck. Sony and
Samsung both had prototypes of new larger OLEDs, but don't expect any of
them to make it to market this year.
Curtis Walker: My single most drool-worthy item at the show was the new Samsung Luxia 8000 flat-panel TV. As a fan of the company's TVs already, the newest top of the line from them has nice styling and solid technology behind it. LED backlighting enhances the picture and uses less juice, internet content through Yahoo Widgets adds to the experience of watching TV and the wall-hugging design approaches perfection.
What I Wish I Saw: One day, I'd like to see entertainment move beyond passively staring at a screen and have direct sensory experience through some sort of wireless implant plugged into the requisite cortexes of my brain. In-eye HUD, direct speech cortex cellphones, memory and skill implants and so on. The brain is the gadget of the future and the ultimate pinnacle of convergence and UI.
Charlie White: My fave product is actually an emerging standard: WHDI, letting you broadcast and control HDTV all over your house. Soon it'll be in every TV and will only add a few bucks to the price of the set. The standard is now 99% complete, and WHDI is already available on TVs from LG, Sony, Samsung and others.
What I Wish I Saw: What I'd like to see: this wireless HD tech strapped onto a 84-inch OLED HDTV!
Stewart Wolpin: My favorite product — or more precisely, technology — at CES is ATSC-M/ H, aka Mobile DTV. By this time next year, we'll be seeing dozens of new Mobile DTV products such as portable DTVs, cellphones, MP3 players and laptop tuner dongles to turn your laptop into a DTV and your hard drive into a DVR. This technology will be a boon to anyone who always want a TV with them, for a larger variety in back seat entertainment for the kids, for sports fans (especially those who like to watch the broadcast of the game they're attending) and for emergencies when the main power goes out.
What I Wish I Saw: What I'd like to see is these products include a MediaFLO option so I can bring portable cable TV channels such as CNN, ESPN and HBO with me as well as local "free" channels. Just add Slingbox on my laptop and I'll never have to order porn in a hotel room again!