Best and worst of CES 2009

Best and worst of CES 2009 (iStock)When exploring a huge show like CES, it’s inevitable that you will discover that not all manufacturers give equal thought to their products.  Some will shine with obvious innovation. A great many will barely register above a yawn.  And some will leave you shaking your head in disbelief.

Here are just a few that fall into these categories…

On Target
Internet-connected TVs.  This year several brands are releasing HDTV sets that extend your viewing experience by delivering Internet video directly to your screen through your home network.  And although the basic approach is the same, the media services available through this emerging distribution channel vary greatly by manufacturer.

Leading the pack in terms of content is Sony Bravia’s Internet Video Link.  This option, once only available as an add-on box to your DMeX-capable Bravia, is now fully integrated into both the XBR9 and Z-Series Bravia lines.  Sony’s deep content well contains a variety of premium television as well as a huge amount of hyper-syndicated internet-only content.

LG’s Netflix-enabled sets allow Netflix subscribers to directly access and view movies available in their ‘Instant Queue’.  While this feature is also available on the XBOX360 and TiVo, the process feels cumbersome as you are required to add the videos to your account’s Instant Queue via the Netflix website.   Essentially a 2-step process that forces you to use a PC to browse and select the available content before you can view it on your TV.  This was the same poor user experience that the AppleTV was lambasted for when it first released.  And although Apple quickly realized their mistake and remedied the situation, it appears that the lesson has been lost on Netflix.

Panasonic’s VieraCast though lagging in premium content, provides a few choice applets such as YouTube and Picassa.  However, the UI is a little tough to navigate and could stand a little refinement of it’s visuals.

Near Miss
Real DVD.  Real’s system allows you to archive your entire DVD collection to your PC.  Once archived, you are presented with a thumbnailed view of your library similar to iTunes.  The archived copy is a complete image of your original DVD (containing some DRM encryption to prevent unauthorized sharing of the image) so there is no loss of quality.  And while this is costly in terms of disk space, external drives are becoming cheap enough to make the issue irrelevant.  Real estimates that up to 380 titles can be stored on a single 1TB drive.

As attractive as it appears, it misses in two areas: One is the lack of support for any digitally downloaded video.  If you are a regular Amazon or iTunes customer, you won’t be able to access your complete library through any single interface. And two, you must have a PC connected to your TV to view the videos.  No remote extender.  However, according to the Real reps at the show, there are ‘things planned’ to remedy both issues.  I hope so.  I like the product.

Entirely off the mark
Samsung Appliances. Once my favorite with it’s built-in HomePad tablet PC/TV (and subsequently IcePad) the new Samsung Refrigerator has been reduced to merely a box to cool your food.  Gone is the multi-media functionality.  No more list-keeping or note-leaving.  What dregs are left, is a small screen devoted only to monitoring internal fridge functions.  Oh, yeah.  It also contains a lame picture viewing applet.  Woo hoo.  Hey guys, fire your R&D team and go talk to Chumby.

Honorable Mention
IDC Ecco Personal Pocket GPS Locator.  This key-fob is used to save locations where you have been and, with the press of a button, return to those locations when ready.  The small lcd screen on the device displays an arrow pointing in the direction you need to go.  Great for saving (and later finding) the location of your car in those stadium parking lots.