The toy store will open January 8 through the 11th!  That’s when CES is held in Las Vegas, and I’ll be there doing my usual thing – cruising all around the expanded Las Vegas Convention Center looking for all that is new and fun.

CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) has grown dramatically since the first CES that took place in New York City in June of 1967 with 200 exhibitors and 17,500 attendees. It is the largest show of its kind in the US, filling more than 1.2 million net square feet of exhibit space, with 126,730 attendees at the 2001 International CES.

According the show officials, among the products that made their debut were:

*            Videocassette Recorder (VCR) 1970

*            Laserdisc Player 1974

*            Camcorder 1981

*            Compact Disc Player 1981

*            Digital Audio Technology 1990

*            Compact Disc – Interactive 1991

*            Mini Disc 1993

*            Radio Data System 1993

*            Digital Satellite System 1994

*            Digital Versatile Disk (DVD) 1996

*            High Definition Television (HDTV) 1998

*            Hard-disc VCR (PVR) 1999

*            Digital Audio Radio (DAR) 2000

*            Microsoft Xbox 2001

This year, expect some surprises.  There are always surprises, but the general feeling among those with whom I spoke is that there will be no major new technologies or products announced.  Sure, there will be evolutionary changes, but not revolutionary.  Look for the newest camcorder, DVD player, digital audio thingamabob, big screen TV and loads of gadgets, just not the next big thing, whatever that may be.

Check into all the latest show news by visiting the official CES Website now and over the course of the show.

I already have some idea of what will be on display there, and I’ve chosen a few to showcase here.

• One of the trends I expect to see more from is in the area of small and mobile computing,

Handhelds are great because of their small size.  Some people prefer a larger screen and the convenience of a keyboard.  But if you travel a lot, a full-size desktop replacement notebook can get pretty heavy.  I think the Compaq Evo N200 notebook that will be on display at CES strikes a great balance of weight, size and functionality at just two and a half pounds and less than one inch thin!

The Evo N200 is the smallest, lightest mini-notebook with all day battery life, a 90 percent-size keyboard and 10.4-inch screen for maximum usability in a mini-notebook.  It comes with a 20 GB hard drive, 192 MB memory and a 700 MHz Intel Mobile Pentium III for quick processing of large applications like PowerPoint.

Add to this an integrated mini-PCI modem and NIC (network interface card with Ethernet) for easy online access and a PC card slot to support 802.11b or Bluetooth wireless connectivity.  All this comes in at under $2000 (Evo N200 Notebook, without supplemental battery, starts at $1799).

In addition, there are two USB ports for instant, no-hassle connection to USB devices such as a mouse, Blackberry email device or Pocket PC; as well as ports for printer and monitor.

The 90 percent keyboard has programmable easy-access Internet buttons

the all-important all-day battery life is there with the addition of a secondary battery.  Remember, the battery and notebook together can be purchased direct from Compaq for less than $2,000.

Add a Mobile Expansion unit (MEU), which features an additional hard drive, hot-swappable multi-bay to support floppy, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD or ZIP drive, and a full set of ports.  Loaded, the notebook, extra battery and MEU can be purchased for under $2500.

More information is HERE or call 1-800-AT-COMPAQ.

• Another trend will come from companies showing mini-size portable CD players.  These new devices will be smaller because they are designed to play only the mini-size CDs – the 8cm discs.  For many years these discs have floundered lacking widespread consumer acceptance.  You may have seen them sold in pre-recorded form as CD singles or used for promotional purposes.  If you have a tray-loading CD player, you may have noticed a “well’ into which these smaller CDs will fit.

The problem has been that these little CDs hold only enough data to play a song or two in standard CD audio format.  And who would want to buy them to store data from a computer when their capacity is limited and regular size CDs are so cheap?

Well, times have changed and with the popularity of two things – burn-your-own CDs and MP3 music – someone got the bright idea that FINALLY these little CDs have some real usefulness.

As you may know, MP3 audio is highly compressed and not quite as good as standard CD quality.  The public has spoken said that they would forego the quality for the ease of use and capacity.  That’s why those solid-state digital audio products – MP3 players – are so popular.

Watch for the major and minor players in the industry to introduce these mini-CD players that are capable of playing standard CD-audio and lots more.

Philips will be showing their new Pocket eXpanium EXP401, an 8cm MP3-CD tour de force with an MSRP of $179.99.

Play more than 3 hours of music on one little 8cm MP3 CD!  The EXP401 supports MP3 and AAC (another of the compressed music formats consumers need to be prepared for). It also supports the CD-ROM, CD-Recordable and CD-Rewritable in ISO-9660, Joliet format & UDF. That covers just about anything!  There is what Philips calls 100 second Magic electronic skip protection for MP3 CDs.

Store up to 50 of your favorite tracks for playing back in your order of preference, as well as a shuffle play setting for either an album or the entire disc, plus repeat track, album or the entire CD.

A bookmark function resumes the CD where you left off.

Battery life is said to average about 6 hours of playtime on one AAA alkaline cell.

Sound is enhanced through a two-step digital dynamic bass boost for deep, rich sounds and sounds great through the supplied in-ear earphones.

As you might expect, it comes with an easy-to-use, in-line clip-on remote that also connects the earbuds.

The LCD display indicates track information and other operational status.

An AC adapter is included.

More information is HERE.

• I love phone gadgets.  Here is one that is set for introduction at CES that I think is pretty clever. By Spectrum Research in Florida, it’s called the Screen Machine.  Who wouldn’t like to get rid of telemarketers BEFORE answering the phone!

Here are the essentials:

Plug in Screen Machine into ANY phone jack and plug in the power supply and a phone to the back of the device.  Set the MODE switch to SCREEN.

Now when a call comes in, the caller hears either the included pre-recorded message or one of your own up to 20 seconds in length.  The pre-recorded message is, “You have reached our Screen Machine and not an answering machine.  Notice to all phone solicitors; place this name and number on your do not call list.  It is now a federal offense to make this telephone ring.  Now personal and invited callers press 5 on your telephone.”  Invited callers may press 4, 5 or 6 as soon as the message starts.

In the “SCREEN” position, the Screen Machine will answer the call immediately.  The phone will not ring until the invited caller presses 4, 5 or 6.  If the caller is a telemarketer they will hang up and you will not be disturbed.

If the product is set to “Screen with your Caller ID,” the Screen Machine will let the phone ring once so Caller ID can send the info to the connected phone, and then will only ring again when the invited caller presses 4, 5 or 6 as described in the outgoing message.

If the caller does nothing, the message is replayed a total of three times, just in case the caller may be intimidated or surprised by the message.  This should not pose a problem for regular callers!

If the caller hangs up without pressing any keys, the Screen Machine will also hang up and will go into stand-by mode, ready to accept another call.

Simple and effective, just the way I like it!

Since the Screen Machine will ring ONLY the phone that is plugged into it, some consumers may wish to purchase one or more ring extenders which are simply electronic ringers that plug into any phone jack and ring when an incoming call is detected. Some users may find this a real blessing – having only one phone ring.  Radio Shack sells their ring extender, cataolg number 43-175, for $14.99.  Here’s a better deal.  With each Screen Machine is included on the manual’s back page a form to complete for one free ring extender (except for a $5.95 fee to cover shipping and handling).  Additional ring extenders are available for $10 each.

Then, when the caller enters either 4, 5 or 6, a distinctive ring pattern for each for those numbers is sent to the connected phone and any of the other ringers.  In this way, your callers can tell YOU if, for example, it is a call for mom and dad (whose callers may be instructed to enter “4” which generates three short rings and a pause), Billy (whose callers might be told to enter “5” which generates a normal long ring) or Sally (whose friends may be instructed to enter “6” which generates one long ring, one short ring and then a pause).  In this way, household residents will always know who is the intended recipient of the incoming call.

Small businesses may find Screen Machine useful as a call screener and call director.

And, yes, Screen Machine works with your answering machine just fine.  Calls to phone company voice mail go through as normal, but few telemarketers leave messages anyway.

If you are expecting a call or for any reason you do not want calls screened, simply switch Screen Machine to the OFF position.  Consumers may wish to activate call screening only during the dinner or evening hours.  It’s totally up to the user, which is why I like this product.

I think the Screen Machine is one of the most innovative phone gadgets I’ve encountered in a long time, and, to date, the most effective call-screening device of which I am aware.  Retail price will be about $50 when the product is available to the public, which is expected to be within about 90 days.  I think this is going to be a big hit with consumers.  Why?  Because, unlike some of the other solutions being marketed today, this one looks like it will actually work!

More information is HERE or call1-877-857-3484.

GPS, the Global Positioning System, has revolutionized the way we get around.  Through a constellation of US-launched and maintained satellites, the US government offers access to the satellite tracking information FREE to the world.  Until recently, the average consumer did not find it easy to use this remarkable system.

Hobbyists, boaters, pilots, hikers and others use the system, and drivers in cars equipped with relatively expensive systems could use GPS to NEVER get lost.

Relatively inexpensive access is available through computer interfaces and through other handheld device add-ons, plus through stand-alone handheld products.  Until fairly recently, though, the availability of user-friendly products with what I call the missing link have not been available.  What is this missing link?  Voice prompting.

It’s unsafe at the very least to try to read a screen with directions on it while driving.

At this year’s CES, Pharos will show their new newest kits for Compaq, Casio and HP handheld PCs, as well as Palm III, V and VII, plus Handspring Visor.

Of particular interest to me are the kits for handheld PCs.  These are capable of all the directions consumers could want, plus they include voice prompting, with automatic re-routing if the driver goes off course!  All this power, with the needed maps, comes in kits for as little as $249, with excellent mapping.

I’ve begun testing the Compaq iPAQ Pocket GPS Navigator Kit from Pharos and I’m finally, personally excited about GPS that makes sense to ME which I can use in the car or anywhere!

Follow the link above for more information, or call 310-212-7088.

•  DVD players have matured but that does not mean there isn’t room for innovation.  Sampo will be showing a DVD player that makes sense to me.  Is the company name unfamiliar to you?

The company is a respected Taiwan-based consumer electronics manufacturer with diversified interests.  They are known for quality without the high product cost of many other manufacturers. It is a name I have known for many years.

Their DVE-631CF is a full-featured DVD player that is also a digital photo playback system.  On the face of the player is a slot that accepts popular CF (Compact Flash) cards found in many digital cameras.  Before I go further, it is important to understand that not all digital cameras use CF cards.  This is simply the most common type of removable media in cameras.  So, be sure your camera is compatible with CF cards if you would consider the purchase of this DVD player for use with your digital photos.

With that admonishment aside, I can tell you more about this DVD player.  Other standard features include component output for better picture quality on TVs equipped with component inputs, optical and coaxial digital outputs for high performance audio playback, Dolby Digital and DTS compatibility, and standard S-Video as well as composite video outputs for nearly universal compatibility with all TVs. The smart resolution converter can convert digital photos from basic VGA to multi-mega pixel resolutions to match the display capability of your television.

So, this DVD player makes it so very convenient to see your digital photos on your TV with no additional connection.  It’s also compatible with DVD, CD, Video CD, SVCD, and MP3 encoded discs.

The best part is that all this capability does not come with a price penalty.  The retail price is only $249!  I found it for even less at buy.com.

More information on the DVE-631CF is HERE.

•  In the useful gadget department is something from a company I’ve known for many years, Arkon Resources.  They always have fun goodies ‘n gadgets.

One of their latest products that will be shown at CES (but not yet on their Website) is a battery-operated motion activated soap dispenser retailing for $39.95. Think about it; in the kitchen, hospitals, the bathroom, in the workshop and elsewhere, dispense soap hands free.  It is NOT suitable for use in the shower.

Kids may begin on their own, because it’s FUN, to wash their hands after using the bathroom, for example.  In the kitchen where busy homemakers may wash hands countless number of times daily, this soap dispenser makes the chore much easier and more sanitary.

Wherever it is used, there will be no more messy soap or messy soap dish.  Use nearly any liquid soap that is not terribly thick in consistency.

The dispenser mounts easily on the wall with supplied screws or with supplied mounting adhesive tape.

It can be set to deliver from one to four drops of soap and is powered by four AA Alkaline batteries.

The infrared sensor on the front of the unit detects when a hand is nearby beneath it and delivers the soap. No matter how dirty the hands, they never touch the dispenser so there will be less mess and less germs with one of these.

In my house, I want to put one in the kids’ bathrooms, in the kitchen and in the guest bathroom.

Visit Arkon Resources on the Web at the above link or call them at 1-800-841-0884.  I’m sure they would like to hear from you and take your order for this product that will become available soon.

That’s all for now.  I’m leaving for CES in a couple of days and I know I’ll find lots more to report on throughout the year.

Until next time . . . I hope each of you have a rewarding, fulfilling and healthy 2002!

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