CES 2006: CES Unveiled Opens Pre-Show Activties at the Annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

CES 2006: With the arrival of the first week of January, it is once again time for the annual Consumer Electronics Show, better known in the industry as “CES”. While the actual show doesn’t officially open until Thursday (it runs from Thursday through Sunday at the Convention Center, Hilton, Alexis Park and Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas), members of the media are encouraged to arrive two days early to participate in a host of pre-show events.

The first of these events was held earlier today at the Venetian Hotel which is located adjacent to the Sands Convention Center. Titled “CES Unveiled” it offers a glimpse of what 80 some vendors plan to show to the industry later this week. Each vendor has a table to show their items during an evening event that includes food and entertainment.

Verizon Presents Dana Carvey
This year’s CES Unveiled event was notable by the addition of a monologue by comedian Dana Carvey that was sponsored by Verizon. Verizon is at CES this year touting their new “FIOS” fiber to the neighborhood service that offers Cable TV, Internet and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) to consumers in competition with traditional Cable company offerings.

While there was interest among media members at the Verizon FIOS table, I must say that it seemed the several hundred reporters at tonight’s event appeared more interested in talking to the 80 vendors at CES Unveiled than listening to Carvey’s comedy act. Oh well, perhaps they’ll try music or something else to different to open the event next year.

I will say that the vendors present did offer an interesting array of consumer electronics items. The products shown included new chip sets from DS2 and Pulse-Link to improve the speeds of wireless and powerline data networking in one’s home to 200Mbps (DS2) to 400 to 600 Mbps (Pulse-Link), a wide range of cell phones – including several that promise to play music and even video and TV signals, products by a company named M-Fuel that will bring 12 hour extended battery life to a laptop and a number of other computer related products.

Audistry by Dolby
Turning to the world of audio, a new start-up named Audistry by Dolby was in attendance and is launching their first products at the show. Audistry is a spin-off of Australia-based Lake Technologies, the folks behind the DSP sound technologies that brought Dolby Headphone and Dolby Virtual Speaker into the market.

According to Audistry’s David McGrath, the firm will deliver DSP based “personal sound technology” audio enhancement tool kits, chip sets (via partners including Analog Devices, Freescale Semiconductor, Micronas, NJRC, Sanyo Semiconductor and Texas Instruments) and technologies to manufacturers of so called “mid-fi” market products. McGrath says that today these products, like TVs with low end built-in speakers often have some relatively basic audio enhancement processing that converts stereo to wider sounding stereo. He thinks Audistry can bring much better sounding enhancements of this type to the consumer through Lake’s technology applied on products at this level. That appears to be a very likely scenario to me given the experience that Lake and Dolby can bring to the table.

Some of the features that Audistry plans to bring to this market include Sound Space Expander (“a stereo widening system that expands the perceived sound field without making it sound unnatural or artifical”), Sound Space for Headphones (“takes sound ‘out of the head’ in a natural way, making it sound as though the sound was produced from real speakers positioned three-dimensionally in front of the listener”), Natural Bass (“enhances the natural characteristics and performance, making it possible for speakers to produce a deeper, richer bass response”), Intelligent Volume Control (“a peak limiter and expander, making it possible for listeners to comfortably enjoy a large dynamic range without needing to make regular volume adjustments”) and Mono to Stereo Creator (“automatically translates original mono content to a strong stereo signal”).

Later in the week, Audistry plans to provide members of the media with some previews of what they have in store later this year in this area. This will include one of Sharp’s upcoming products with 2.1 audio sound featuring the Audistry chip set and DSP technologies.

Avega’s Oyster Wi-Fi Wireless Speaker System
Another interesting audio product at CES Unveiled was from Avega Systems. Avega is an Australian based company that is working on a 4 way speaker system called the “Oyster” that would be sold to speaker companies through an OEM arrangement. The speakers are said to play back audio from laptop and desktop computers as well as CD and DVD players over a WiFi wireless network. While that doesn’t sound very high end in concept, the company’s principals say that their work will bring to market a speaker system that delivers both wireless connections and good sound.

They also say that while the first generation speakers are limited to CD and DVD support, along with Dolby Digital and DTS encoded DVD Video tracks, they are exploring how support for Super Audio CD and DVD-A discs could be added. We’ll keep an eye out to see if their technology makes it to market in the months ahead.

Audio Developments Later This Week
The good news from Las Vegas is that several companies are planning interesting announcements of Super Audio CD and DVD-A players and discs later this week at the show. I’ll have more on that in the days ahead.