It’s going to be big, really big, really.  I know I say that every year, but this time is special.  The upcoming CES in Las Vegas is going to be the biggest show in many, many years, and that is very exciting.

Imagine a tortuous schedule over four days, January 8 – 11, for the regular show, plus press events starting January 6.  I love every minute of the excitement.  My only problem is that there is no way to cover it all.  There is no way to see it all, and that makes me sad.  (I’m also sad that I have to miss visiting Macworld Expo to see all that’s new regarding Apple and Macintosh and related matters at the annual show in San Francisco going on starting January 6.) No one person could possibly visit all the CES areas at the massive Las Vegas Convention Center plus all the other venues and special meeting areas secreted away in hotels in the allotted time.

You can follow along to get some of the news by logging on to the official CES Website at www.cesweb.org and click on the link to Press Room, then the links to CES News, Exhibitor News, and New Products to find much of the news coming from the show and its participants.  If you’re into technology, you’ll see most of what you want right there.  Other reliable resources include frequent reports from CNET, TechTV live on DIRECTV and many cable providers, and Sundays on Into Tomorrow with Dave Graveline on the radio, on Sirius stream 146 and via the Internet (info is at www.graveline.com).

I have had the opportunity to take an advanced look at some of the products and technologies that will be introduced and exhibiting at this year’s CES and I am pleased to give you that preview here.  I have chosen to concentrate here on real products we can actually afford to buy.  To be sure, the show will be filled with dream products coming out much later and at prices few of us can actually afford.  So, please sit back and join me for a look at some of the new trends and products that will be at the show this year.

PDFs DELIVER ON THE PROMISE OF THE PAPERLESS OFFICE

Do you PDF?  Portable Document Format, that is.  Made possible years ago by Adobe, PDF enables computer users to VIEW any document exactly as intended regardless of whether the requisite fonts or graphics are on the computer.  Whether it’s a product brochure or instruction manual, a spreadsheet or more, regardless of computer platform, PDF is the equalizer.  You have probably already encountered a PDF in your normal day to day computing.  You probably have the only software you need or can get it through the link provided, the ubiquitous (and FREE) Adobe Reader, available for all computer platforms.

What you do not have is the Adobe Acrobat software package that allows you to simply and easily create your own PDFs.  Mac users can automatically, seamlessly create a PDF from ANY document by selecting Save as PDF from the Print dialogue box in OS X because this capability is built in without any extras needed, and since the PDF is platform independent, anyone on any other computer can see the document as originally intended.

Now that you know a bit more about PDFs, I hope you can begin to see how useful they can be, which brings me to the crux of the matter.  There is a new product that makes it soooooo easy to create and save your paper docs as a PDF.  Finally, the paperless office is becoming both easy and inexpensive.

Imagine, all those old invoices, magazine clippings, two-sided documents, just about anything sitting around collecting dust and taking up space can be scanned in ONE step with ONE button and saved to your computer as a PDF.  That is exactly what the Fujitsu ScanSnap! can do for you.  As a bonus, the little scanner can also make quick work of those business cards you receive by scanning and placing the information in a business card file.  The information is automatically placed in the correct field as if by magic.  Scan, save and get rid of the clutter!

About the size of a small fax machine, the ScanSnap! is magical and was very easy to set up and use.  I HATE complicated!  Whether for home or small office, it will protect your data, eliminate paper clutter and streamline workflow with this compact scanning solution.  It is truly a one-touch scanning solution that is fast for both color and monochrome scanning at up to 15ppm for simplex and 30ppm for duplex (both sides) scanning.  It even automatically detects color, paper size and blank pages and uses a simple USB 1.1 interface connected to your Windows PC.  The product comes with FULL versions of both Adobe Acrobat 6.0 and CardMinder business card software included in the box.  To make it all even better and a more valuable product, the unit features a 50-page automatic document feeder (ADF).  Just stack the papers, press the button and go.  I found it easy to create folders into which I could organize the scanned and saved materials after naming each scan as needed so I will know what the scanned doc is just by its name.  I am always concerned about consumables, and the ScanSnap! does not disappoint here, either.  The only “consumables” in this product are both inexpensive – the Pad Assembly, good for up to 10,000 sheets, and the Pick Roller, replaceable after 50,000 sheets, and both are USER installable.

List price is $500, but search the Internet through pricetool.com, pricegrabber.com and nextag.com for the best price, which I just found was under $400.

SMALL, PORTABLE, SIMPLE, ULTRA-RELIABLE BACKUP AND DATA TRANSPORT

Something new is about to be introduced in the area of magneto-optical storage.  In plain English, MO, as it is known, refers to small drive mechanisms using removable cartridges that are reliable and as fast as a hard disk drive.  The best of these mechanisms are from Fujitsu.  While I was learning about the fabulous ScanSnap! from Fujitsu, they also told me about their newest addition to the DynaMO family that will be introduced at CES, and I had to have a look.

I have been a fan of Fujitsu DynaMO for many years. CDs can get scratched and unreadable.  Even without mishandling, they can become useless over time unless of the highest quality and more expensive than the bulk product found on sale in spindles.  Fujitsu MO cartridges are much more durable with shelf life in excess of 20 years. They are the perfect revolving backup solution and data transfer method.  Great for storing and transferring digital photos, MP3s, and especially for long-term archiving of critical data.  When it has to be right, every time, every place, it has to be Fujitsu DynaMO.  Bulletproof, ultra-reliable, solid performance, and now, with the new bus-powered 1.3GB Fujitsu DynaMO 1300 Pocket, it’s smaller, more portable and totally uncomplicated.  Just a single USB connector for power and data, and hard disk drive FAST, fast enough for me to stream high-quality video with audio, such as a movie clip!  Lightning-fast transfers and performance with my USB 2-equipped PCs and the new USB 2-equipped G5 Macs.  Sweet!  I have NEVER had a failure with MO. What’s not to love?  Pricing will be $199 after a $30 rebate.  The durable 3.5-inch MO disks cost less than a penny per megabyte.  You’ve seen the new US version of this product here first!  More info is at www.MOstorage.com.

SMALL, HIGHER PERFORMANCE DIGITAL CAMERAS ON THE WAY

Just how small can they get?  Sure, there are really small digital cameras, but they all come with compromises, not unlike many of the larger cameras.  Chief among the MIA features on really small digitals is a high-quality optical zoom.  Then, there is the un-camera like feature on most models that makes them S-L-O-W when it comes to taking picture after picture in rapid succession.  Now, Kodak is about to up the ante with their smallest ever EasyShare digital cameras, the “twins” – the 4.0 megapixel (MP) LS743 ($349) and 5.0MP LS75 (Pricing TBD), both with high-quality German-made 3x optical zoom lenses plus generous digital zoom.

About the size of a small mobile phone, they are small enough to slip into a pocket, yet the large, super-bright display is perfect indoors as well as in the bright outdoor light, as my own experience revealed. Both models are compatible with Kodak’s popular EasyShare camera dock for one-touch transfer to a Mac or PC, and with the EasyShare Printer dock I previously reviewed and recommended for printing with or without the computer connection. I like the simple, guided menus that make certain you won’t make a mistake.  I also like the soft, blue indicator light in the power button.  I have long said that Kodak makes digital camera with everything you need and nothing you don’t, and these new models continue that tradition because they can simply take great pictures.  However, for the adventurous, there are also choices that allow manual adjustments for exposure compensation, white balance, ISO speed, and several other adjustments.  There is a setting for quality levels, rated in stars for the simplest consumer indication that also allows for 2:3 sizing which assures that standard 4×6 prints will have the entire picture with nothing cut off or distorted.  Then, there is the Burst Mode that disengages the flash while allowing fast shooting, click, click, click, and so on, just as one would expect when using a conventional film camera with motor drive.  I really like this feature, especially when shooting pictures at my daughter’s soccer or basketball games.

I enjoyed previewing the LS743 and have high praise for both extreme ease of use as well as picture quality.  With 4MP, I could print rich detail even as large as 20 x 30 inches.  Reaction from the others at daughter Rhonda’s basketball game was all positive when I took the camera to try it out.

Kodak’s LS743 is expected to be available in March, with the LS753 following to market by about June.  You’ve seen them here first!

I think this trend of small, higher-quality feature-rich cameras will be seen from the other popular camera makers throughout 2004 and beyond.  More information will be available at www.kodak.com.

MINI AUDIO PLAYERS TAKING OFF

In two years since its introduction, Apple’s iPod has distinguished itself as the pre-eminent device of its type, and one of MY all time favorite gadgets.  Time marches on, and, since its introduction, manufacturers have been taking aim at iPod.  Still the king, I believe, but competitors are vying for a piece of that big digital music player pie.  The technology many makers are relying upon comes from a company called Cornice, producer of a tiny1-inch, 1.5GB “storage element” otherwise known as a hard drive that is super-rugged, the size of a couple of stacked quarters, and with fewer moving parts.

Set for CES introduction is the Philips hdd060 (less than 3.4oz, thanks to its ultra-light magnesium body), a 1.5GB micro audio jukebox with a Cornice drive at its heart.  Look how small it is in my hand!  Capable of storing up to 375 MP3 songs or as many as 750 WMA-encoded songs, this little gem is truly wearable and will come with a neckstrap and colorful stickers to dress up and personalize the player’s side panels.  I found the interface simple and uncluttered and the menus intuitive.  Philips’ SuperPlay is one-touch playback, and SuperScroll offers fast and precise navigation.  It is designed to easily create and edit playlists on the go.  Of course, it is also a handy external hard disk to store and carry data files and features up to 10 hours of playback per battery charge, according to a Philips spokesperson. PC connectivity is via fast USB 2, and the unit will ship with high-quality earbud-type phones and software including Philips Digital Music Manager (DMM). Sounds great to me!  This is a fun and apparently durable product.  Pricing and availability will be announced very soon, but I expect the hdd060 to be sold in the sub-$200 range.  We’ll all soon see if I am correct.  More information will be at http://www.usa.philips.com.

MORE DISCS, MORE LABELS . . .

Just about a bazillion pieces of blank optical media were sold last year, with more guaranteed to be sold in ’04.  Taking advantage of this trend is the newest CD Stomper, only about $20, with new software that makes it even easier to create labels for any shiny optical disc.  It’s all in the software, and it works for Macs and Windows PCs.

With prices dropping on DVD recorders, this is the year that a major push will encourage consumers to get those old family VHS and even digital video tapes onto more stable and permanent DVD, that will last long enough for my great-grandchildren to have around to throw away.  I’ve been previewing this new product, which I find to be easier and more fun than previous versions.  Particularly impressive is the fact that the software automatically reads song play lists and transfers them to labels, so you can save yourself some time in typing.

For example, I made a personal copy of a favorite Frank Sinatra CD.  In creating the label, the software used the Song Identification Tool to load all the titles in the correct order.

CD Stomper is poised to be the product of choice for anyone burning CDs today, whether for music, DVD creation or transfer from older tape formats, data back-up or for archival of digital photos.

The new version includes a free version of the Click’N Design software that has an upgraded Quick Design Wizard that’s fast and intuitive to use, so it’s easier than ever to get great looking CD collections.  I promise you, it’s so easy, anybody can use it, even me!  I found literally thousands of graphics, editing tools and text features, even circular text, three-dimensional text and lots of cool fonts to use.

Of course, it also comes with the famous Stomper applicator for effortless label application without wrinkles or bubbles.

The continuing trend of not only transferring old family tapes to DVD, as well as the newer trend of organizing and archiving digital photos onto optical media (whether CD or the greater storage capacity of DVD) assures continuing growth in this product category.  Consumers show no sign of slowing down when it comes to Stomping their discs.

Included in this Professional Edition box are 600 labels – 150 CD/DVD Labels, 300 CD/DVD Center Labels, 150 Jewel Case Spine Labels, 10 Jewel Case Inserts.  Also included is the Click’N Design Software v 5.0 and Avery DesignPro software for business applications, labels, cards, dividers and more.

The complete nature of the CD Stomper product at its paltry $20 price and usability for Mac and Windows PC users makes this new CD Stomper version a standout. Information is at http://www.cdstomper.com/.  The product is available at office superstores, consumer electronics stores and other mass retail stores.

Introduction of the coolest audio/video baby monitor and more

CES marks the official nationwide introduction of what I think is the most innovative and effective wireless audio and video baby monitor, and more.  It’s the Mobi Cam from Beverly Hills, CA-based Mobi, Inc.  Retailing for $249, both the transmitter and receiver are transportable and can be moved and operated nearly anywhere within a range or up to 300 feet.  The camera can be mounted on the wall, with the head rotated up or down for the best viewing angle.  The lens provides a good, clear and sharp wide angle view.

A special night vision setting activates illuminating infrared LEDs (seen located around the lens in the photo below) which the camera sees, but not our eyes, effectively creating a night vision effect so the camera can operate in total darkness without disturbing or alerting the baby.

The product ships with AC power adapters for both the transmitter and receiver and both will also operate on four AA Alkaline cells.

Beyond operating as a high-tech baby monitor, the Mobi Cam can also be put to work for home or small office surveillance.

Three channels in the 2.4GHz range are available so users can find a channel without interference from other products in this frequency range.

Soon there will be available an optional software package allowing remote monitoring via the Internet as well as remote alert via email, pager or phone.  I have had the opportunity to see how it works.  I can see how this addition can be a very important option.  Imagine using the product to keep a remote eye on a business or an elderly relative literally anywhere in the world, and then being alerted to activity that can then be viewed instantly via the Internet.  Possibilities are mind boggling!  Those interested in this product would be well served to inquire about the software as an extension to how the Mobi Cam can work for you.

I wish this would have been available when my kids were babies.  I would have bought it instantly.  Grandparents are going to make this an important gift for new parents.

More info is at www.mobi-inc.com or by calling 1-866-MobiCam.

SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO GETS A BOOMBOX

Satellite radio is a wonderful thing. I have become a fan and use it both in my car, at home through my audio system and when on the computer.  Even now, as I write this, I am listening to music streaming through the computer speakers from my Sirius account that I logged on to through the Internet.  I’ll be tuned in to Sirius as I drive to Las Vegas for CES from the Los Angeles area, too.  If you haven’t considered satellite radio for yourself, you should, and not just if you spend a lot of time in your car.  Both XM and Sirius are very good services, but I think Sirius has the edge in two areas.  Sirius is the only service with 60 streams of commercial-free music and I also like their sports programming, currently with LIVE play by play of 40 NBA and NHL games per week and the only satellite service to offer NFL games. I also enjoy their other 40 streams of news, entertainment and information.  I am a solid fan of Sirius Satellite Radio and I welcome the opportunity to share their story.  So, I asked what is new from Sirius for CES, and they gave me the lowdown and a product preview.

Take it to the beach with you.  Take it to the ski lodge.  This new SIRIUS Satellite Radio boombox from Audiovox let’s you take satellite radio anywhere you go.  It works just great in my brief tests.

You need two things – the Audiovox SRS satellite radio receiver, which costs $100.  And the new Audiovox Portable Boombox Audio System, which costs $100.  The receiver is the central part in the photo.  It snaps into the boombox, powered either by 8 D cells or an AC adapter.  The satellite antenna connects in the rear and the long cable for this antenna wraps around built-in recessed posts.  The antenna itself rests in its own spot facing skyward and below the top edge in the rear.  It’s a neat, clever design.  Note the two small holes on the face just left of the knob (that is the On/Off and volume control).  The hole on the left is for headphones, while the one on the right is an auxiliary input to which you can plug in a CD player and pump the audio through the boombox amplifiers.  The pushbutton switch between the two holes engages or disengages the signal from the aux input.  Of course, the wireless remote control (not shown) functions fully.

Output is strong and clean.  It’s a clever new product you saw here first!

For $200.00, you can take the very best satellite audio entertainment service available – wherever you go.

The monthly subscription fee to SIRIUS is $13.  Info is at www.sirius.com.

HIGHER QUALITY SOUND IN YOUR EARS

With the trend toward portable audio devices and the high quality sound many are capable of delivering, it’s about time someone offered really stellar quality earbud earphones.  Someone has.  That someone is Shure, with their new $179 E3c Sound Isolating Earphones.  Countless numbers of professionals rely upon Shure microphones and earphones for their live performances. Now, we mere mortals can have that same technology in our ears, and I have had an opportunity to test them before their showing at CES.

I consider the Shure E3c product as the ultimate accessory for my prized Apple iPod.  As good as the supplied rare earth magnet earphones are that come with the iPod, there is simply no comparison with these E3c phones.  It’s a serious WOW experience.

Start with the sound isolating design that really, effectively cuts out outside sounds, almost as well as noise canceling headphones costing much more.  Then, Shure engineers include superb micro-speakers with extended frequency response even I can hear, and I am NOT an audiophile.  They are feather-light at only .9oz (28g for the non Metric system-challenged).

Shure also includes a hard, zippered carrying case and what they call a Fit Kit with different sized isolating plugs and a few yellow crush-type foam earplugs so every ear from cavernous to petite will be accommodated.

One thing is certain.  Cost aside, try them and you’ll be hooked.  These are quite remarkable and, I predict, will be a big hit.  They are worth the money.  When they become available in a few days, I will be placing my order.

SOMETHING REALLY NEW IN EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE DESIGN

Have you noticed that your computer’s hard drive fills up fast with music, photos and your digital videos for editing?  I have.  And what about backing up the hard drive?  To do that, you need another hard drive. So, I have a few external drives for all these purposes.

At CES, something new is set for introduction.  It will be an external hard drive of large capacity – 250MB, with both Hi-Speed USB (2.0) and Firewire interfaces on the rear, Mac and PC compatible.  It will also feature a front USB connection that acts as a USB hub for connecting still more USB devices through this convenient plug.  The drive is also fast and quiet – 7200 RPM with a generous 8MB cache.  It’s also very quiet, as quiet an external drive as I have heard, or, rather, not heard.  There’s a front-mounted power button, so, even though the drive is quiet, you still have a shut-off button to use if the drive is not in use, and that button is intelligent – for Safe Shutdown and data protection, the drive will not shut down during data transfer.

Now, we’re getting into the really good stuff.  This drive also has a front-mounted button designated for the purpose of set-once and forget Automatic Backup.  The button glows blue to let you know your data will be backed up automatically, using the supplied and specially tweaked version of Retrospect software for this purpose.  Another button on the front is designated as Manual Backup, so you always have the option of backing up NOW, such as when you have just finished a big project and want the added protection and comfort of knowing the backup is done and you are protected.  Pretty neat, huh?  This is not the first external hard drive with an automated backup feature.  We first saw it on excellent OneTouch drives from Maxtor, but it appears that this maker has improved upon the concept both in general functionality as well as with software tweaks that make it more user friendly.  I can’t wait to see what the others have in store at CES!

It gets better, though, with this drive.  As more of us get digital cameras, especially those with high-quality imaging and 256MB or higher capacity media cards, we have to get the photos from the camera to the computer.  Sure, we can connect the camera directly, but usually the transfer is slow, using only USB 1.1 speed.  And, the camera batteries have to be charged to do the transfer. This new drive has a better way to go.

It features a built-in 8-in-1 card reader so, except for the new XD memory and the newly-announced mini-SD memory cards, this drive can accommodate them all.  I have successfully tested XD card transfer using a CF card adapter, so that is another way to use the XD cards.

Here is the best part of all.  The drive is intelligent.  That is, it can be connected to both Firewire AND USB at the same time and have both connections functional.  With the drive powered ON it transfers photos using USB 2.0 and videos using Firewire if Firewire is connected to a camcorder.

If the drive is OFF, it still uses the USB hub connection, powered by the computer.

With the drive ON, and the dual connection, the hard drive is a fast Firewire drive.  If the Firewire connection is pulled, the drive reappears as a USB 2.0 hard drive, and still plenty fast.  USB connectivity is required for the media readers to operate, but, as mentioned, the drive does not need to be powered on for USB connectivity.  Three separate removable USB devices are indicated from this one drive when it is connected via USB.

This is the most versatile drive I have ever seen and so smartly conceived and designed, and it can be positioned either horizontally or in a space-saving vertical orientation.

I think this mystery company has done a fantastic job sure to be studied and copied by others.  I think we are witnessing the beginning of a new trend.

Now, it is time to reveal the rest of the story, as legendary radio commentator Paul Harvey says.  So, which company will be introducing this new wonder driveWestern Digital (a leader in the business) will introduce their new Media Center external hard drive with their Dual-option backup giving users the choice and options including set-it-and-forget-it backup.  The 8-in-1 memory car reader makes it fast and convenient to transfer photos or music from and to the cards.  The USB 2.0 hub design, with ports on the front and back make for the ultimate in speed and convenience in a streamlined design without extra wires or devices.

I have had the privilege of field previewing what I am told was the first one of these in final production trim and I am sold.  It IS quiet.  It IS fast.  It IS intelligently designed and works just great.  What a pleasure it was to transfer photos at such high speed and to NOT have to connect the camera.  In my photos below, note the media slots above the metal front panel.  In the photo at the right, note the gentle contour of the top as it slopes down to the rear past the media slots.  The drives are stackable on top of conventional external drives and, as mentioned, can be mounted with vertical orientation using the supplied “feet.”

Pricing and availability will be announced at CES, but I do not expect the price to be significantly above drives without this media center feature. Remember, you saw this outstanding new product from Western Digital here first!

NEW MOBILE PHONE DESIGNS SEE A TREND

Kyocera will be showcasing their newest Slider SE47 design, one of two makers with a similar concept, the other being Siemens with their cute little SL56.

The Kyocera Slider SE47 has the sleek compact feel and fashionable good looks of a clamshell phone with the functionality of a “bar” phone.  This wireless fashion phone is also long on technology and features.  The display is bright and large with 65,000 colors.  Despite its diminutive size, the Slider features an effective speaker phone which can be an alternative to using an ear piece.  In addition, the Slider has the rest of the key features so important today – Internet, text messaging with predictive text entry, polyphonic ringtones and voice-activated dialing.  While I have not had my sample long enough to cycle through several battery charges, it appears that it is not a power hog and that battery life per charge will not be an issue.

It’s fun and easy to use and definitely a conversation starter whenever I have taken it out in a crowd.  First introduced as an MTV-branded product with pre-paid service through Virgin Mobile, this new version will appeal to the rest of us, with a carrier to be announced at CES.  More information is at the link above and HERE.

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