With a Flurry of Flashy Gadgets, CES Comes Back - Monday 6th of February 2006

Bit by bit, the expanding universe of digital entertainment will soon reconverge in Southern Nevada.

And this year, that universe promises to be bigger than ever even if the products driving its popularity have become smaller and smaller.

This week's return of the International Consumer Electronics Show will bring together more than 2,500 exhibiting companies and 140,000 attendees from 100-plus countries.

Each is interested in an industry that generates $122 billion in annual sales, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, the show's Arlington, Va.-based organizer.

Las Vegas' largest annual trade show runs Thursday through Sunday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Sands Expo and Convention Center, Las Vegas Hilton, Alexis Park and Renaissance Hotel.

The show floor will again feature a wide array of techno-goodies. Some will catch on, while others are no doubt destined for the scrap heap.

Market-specific "TechZones" will focus on high-definition televisions and portable audio players to telematics, or products that make traveling more enjoyable.

Time will tell whether shoppers will clamor for eMagin Corp.'s Z800 3DVisor, which gives movie fans or video game players a three-dimensional view of the action, or D-Box Technology's Quest X3ME, a recliner that provides realistic motion perfectly synchronized with onscreen action and sound. But those and other new gizmos will soon be put to the test in Las Vegas.

Kate Carcelen, a consumer strategy team program manager with Microsoft Corp., said the Redmond, Wash.-based company will introduce a new 16,000-square-foot exhibition space at CES this week.

The space will highlight Microsoft's increasing involvement in digital technologies related to music, movies and television, video games, communication and photography, she said.

Microsoft spent the past three years examining where consumers spend their time, Carcelen said, "Right down to how many hours they sleep each day."

The company then studied where technology is most used, and how Microsoft can play a role in those activities.

"In past years at our booth, you'd just walk from product area to product area," Carcelen said. "Now people will have an easier way of getting to what they want (and) those areas that are meaningful to them.

"We're looking at how to make those experiences more rich and immersive."

Microsoft will also have areas dedicated to its Windows software line, the new Xbox 360 video game console and a live interactive area hosted by Becky Worley of "Good Morning America." She'll interview Microsoft leaders about new products and applications.

"We wanted to have someone there who really speaks through the voice of the consumer," Carcelen said. "People are in the digital lifestyle."

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will again deliver a preshow keynote Wednesday evening at the Las Vegas Hilton. Other industry leaders scheduled to speak this week include Howard Stringer, chairman and chief executive officer of Sony Corp.; Intel Corp. CEO Paul Otellini; Google co-founder Larry Page; Dell Chairman Michael Dell; and Terry Semel, chairman and CEO of Yahoo!

CES will also pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy whenever visiting conventioneers set down their iPods to patronize a local hotel, casino, restaurant or nightclub.

This year's projected attendance is near last year's 142,000 estimate, said John Piet, senior research analyst for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

But because conventioneers' average spending has increased in recent months, the authority estimates CES attendees will spend $203.6 million on nongaming goods and services, up 2.4 percent from last year's $198.9 million.

CES is closed to the public.

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