RealTime IT News

From Vista to Viiv in Vegas

Reporter's Notebook: LAS VEGAS -- NFL playoffs aside, the usual game of pick-the-winner didn't play in Las Vegas last week.

No single product or announcement dominated the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, aside from Microsoft beating the drum for Windows Vista, days before the operating system's official retail release. Instead, PC and peripheral vendors' exhibits were more evolutionary, with technologies hyped in past years -- from multimedia home networks to terabyte-class storage -- moving from vaporware to polished products.

Of course no one ignored Vista. Microsoft's ad slogan -- "The 'Wow' Starts Now" -- topped dozens of Vegas taxis. Monitor makers were quick to tout their wares as Vista-certified, while home and office PC sellers vowed to preload Windows Vista Home Premium and Vista Business, respectively. (Bill Gates' keynote contained a couple of plugs for features restricted to the top-priced Vista Ultimate.)

OQO dubbed its 1-pound Model 02 portable the world's smallest Vista PC. The 5.6 by 3.3 by 1-inch subnotebook replaces the Model 01's 1GHz Transmeta CPU with a 1.5GHz VIA C7-M chip, while adding features such as 802.11a/b/g plus Bluetooth plus optional Sprint EV-DO wireless; backlighting for its smartphone-style thumb keyboard; a shock-mounted 60GB hard drive; and HDMI, as well as VGA output for its 5-inch display.

A Win XP Professional configuration with 1GB of memory is $1,849 plus $399 for a DVD±RW docking station.

Speaking of Vista portables, Asus and Fujitsu showed notebook designs that showed off the OS's Sideshow function -- secondary LCD screens on the outside of the case that can show e-mails or appointment-calendar updates even while the laptop is closed in suspend mode.

Toshiba's Portege R400 ($2,599 and up) is a 3.8-pound, 12.1-inch-screened Tablet PC convertible that puts the Sideshow function, called Active Notifications, on a spiffy LCD marquee on its front edge.

The company boasts that the R400 is also the first portable to offer a wireless port replicator, a desktop monitor-and-peripherals dock with Ultra Wide Band (UWB) technology supporting digital video and automatic hookup when the Portege's in proximity.

If Active Notifications aren't impressive enough, Microsoft showed the latest generation of the Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT), which powers gadget geeks' MSN Direct wristwatches. The Melitta Smart Mill & Brew coffeemaker displays animated weather info and four-day forecasts.

A possible but bulky neighbor on the kitchen counter is HP's new TouchSmart PC, an AMD Turion 64 X2-powered Media Center PC/TV with a hide-away wireless keyboard and remote control.

Tapping the 19-inch widescreen display lets users watch TV, visit a Web site, or access a family calendar with refrigerator-magnet-style notes, reminders, or shopping lists plus voice recordings. Digital camera buffs can place one of HP's 4 by 6-inch photo printers behind the TouchSmart so photos emerge beneath the screen.

Here, there, and everywhere

Another HP home appliance is due in the second half of this year. The MediaSmart Server uses the also-announced-at-CES Windows Home Server operating system -- based on Windows Server 2003, with a friendly interface resembling Win XP Media Center Edition -- to manage content in what Gates described as "homes where you've got multiple PCs and Xboxes, where you want to have all your storage available at all times, to all devices."

Providing snap-in cradles and bays for up to four Serial ATA hard drives, the MediaSmart Server handles the routine job of backing up every PC in a home network while centralizing and streaming audio, video, and other content to PCs, TVs, and other connected platforms. If they've left the house without bringing some favorite files, owners can access them via a secured Web browser or even tunnel through the server to run applications remotely via Citrix's GoToMyPC.

Indeed, sharing content among PCs, TVs, mobile phones and other devices was a ubiquitous theme at the show -- even without looking forward to a not-too-distant future when music and video are commonly transmitted as IP streams. (Microsoft says it'll bring IPTV to the Xbox 360 in time for the 2007 holiday season.)

In March, Sony will ship its Vaio WA1 Wireless Digital Music Streamer, a tabletop clock radio that plays music in several popular formats (ATRAC, WMA, MP3, unprotected AAC, and Internet radio) streamed from a PC. The $350 gadget can also store the contents of an audio CD in memory for computer-free tunes.

Sling Media, whose Slingbox and software client show TV programming on a PC, not only added Palm's Treo 700 as an eligible receiver but announced SlingCatcher, a "reverse Slingbox" that will relocate the likes of MP3 songs and YouTube videos to the living-room TV.

Netgear's $349 Digital Entertainer HD will discover or detect movies, TV shows, music, and images on multiple connected PCs and route them to an HDTV set via an HDMI output. Second-generation 42- and 47-inch models of HP's MediaSmart HDTV sets will add speedy 802.11n to 802.11a/b/g wireless for streaming everything from recorded TV and DivX videos to Rhapsody music and Internet radio.

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