LAS VEGAS: Another day, another trip through the CES meat grinder. To be sure, everyone at the show (at least the cable and telecom contingent) has been buzzing about Brian Roberts’ keynote in which he showed off lots of gadgetry and promised to jibe more with that whole next-generation consumer thing. It felt like he was really saying, “Hey, we’re not your father’s clunky cable company… We’re cool now. We don’t say ‘OCAP’ while fiddling with our pocket protectors. No, we’re ‘tru2way,’ dude. Boo-yah!!” I mean, he even got up on stage with the uber-hip Flight of the Conchords guys. What could be better than that? Will Roberts’ pitch of 100 Mbps broadband and nearly limitless content choices work with a skeptical crowd of tech junkies who worship at the alter of Sony, Samsung and Panasonic? Who knows? But it probably helps that Panasonic is Comcast’s main partner on some of this stuff, including the impressive AnyPlay portable DVD/DVR doodad. It’s a bit cumbersome right now, resembling something out of the late 1980s… but my Comcast peeps tell me future models will get sleeker and sleeker. That’s a good thing, as we’ve all been spoiled by gorgeous devices like the iPhone. But even I have to admit that Comcast’s new tru2way navigation system that will roll out in ’08 is quite the sweet interface. A vast improvement over any EPG/ITV system I have ever seen in the cable arena. Nice work, guys. The big takeaway here is that Comcast has leaped headfirst into ’08 with a purpose, and for that Roberts and his crew deserve a lot of credit.
Shapiro Baits Martin: Just as Roberts was finishing up his speech, FCC chairman Kevin Martin was sitting down for a nice, cable-bashing conversation with CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro across town at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Well, to be fair, Martin didn’t exactly bash cable (although Shapiro tried his best to rile him up). Just the same, the beloved chairman did reiterate his various anti-cable stances, including mandated a la carte programming that he somehow managed to frame as a “marketplace solution” even though it involves heavy government regulation. Oh, the Orwellian beauty of it all. Double-plus-good, mate! The interesting thing about Martin is that he comes off so polite and calm—no matter what the subject matter. It really never feels like he’s bashing anyone, even as he gently twists the knife into the cable industry’s chest at every opportunity. Kind of creepy, eh?
For the TV Junkie Who Has Everything: On the show floor, it’s a lot of the same craziness that always accompanies CES. Lots of HD tomfoolery to digest, including Panasonic’s new 150-inch plasma HDTV display. I have to admit, it looks great. As I stood gawking at the screen, I asked a senior cable programming exec standing nearby if he had put in his order yet (Panasonic has yet to set a price on the monstrosity, although its 103-inch model that debuted last year goes for around $70,000). The exec smiled and noted that he doesn’t have a wall big enough anywhere in his house for such a behemoth. Then I thought to myself, yeah… does anyone have an unencumbered wall that big? At least not among us mortals… but I’ll bet the Panasonic sales team has Mark Cuban on speed dial.
Wacky WiMAX Races: I have yet to traverse much of the multiple show floors, limiting myself so far to the LVCC (there’s also lots of stuff at the Sands Convention Center). But one LVCC highlight was the Intel booth where a WiMAX demo featured race car mockups with NASCAR-wannabes remotely controlling two model race cars on a track nearly a mile away—all over a WiMAX network. Video from cameras mounted in the front of the real cars got transmitted back to laptops mounted on the fake cars—along with the steering data. Perhaps a cute and entertaining way to make the point that WiMAX is a wireless broadband alternative to DSL and cable. Of course, cable’s partnership with WiMAX proponent Sprint means the technology could be an additive product for the cable industry—that is, as long as grumpy Sprint investors don’t force Sprint to get off the WiMAX bus. My suggestion: If cable does any WiMAX work with Sprint, include race cars as a key component. Makes it a lot more fun.
Shout Out: Thanks to my buds at G4 and the whole Comcast Entertainment cabal for holding quite the swanky event at the Four Seasons Tues. night to highlight G4’s “Best of the Best” selections of CES gadgetry. Great food. Great wine (really, it was incredible wine… and I mean it). And great gadgets. Attack of the Show co-host Kevin Pereira kept things moving nicely. Now if only G4 could hook me up with some of those gadgets. C’mon Neal… Do you need my address? CES Journal: Day One Ruminations