Convergence, Portability Dominate CES Messages

Microsoft, Dell, Sony, Intel and Google were among more than 2,000 vendors taking part in a cacophony of convergence at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where 200,000 attendees swarmed the city for the week-long event.

“The biggest area in convergence for us is going to be as the computer moves from the office to a home network,” said Doug Allen, marketing director for Evertek, an Oceanside, Calif.-based reseller. “Your database is going to house your videos, your music and your photographs. And it&'s also going to be storing your data for work.”



Amid last week's cacophony of convergence news, these milestones standout:


>> The move by television makers to create devices that look and act more like personal computers, complete with built-in storage and video-recording capabilities that could turn them into home servers
>> The introductions of myriad dual-core notebooks containing integrated, on-board support for emerging wide-area wireless networking technologies
>> Microsoft&'s demonstration of its forthcoming Vista operating system, which will continue to blur the lines between home and office applications, suggesting a future where one device plays a role in both locations

During the event, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates provided the clearest demonstration to date of the upcoming Vista operating system, Intel CEO Paul Otellini unveiled new dual-core processors for mobile PCs, and other executives pointed to dramatic gains in high-definition video performance and the rollout of integrated EV-DO connectivity in handheld devices and notebooks.

These factors converged to provide the foundation for three major milestones at the show:

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* TV makers&' declarations that they are developing products that not only will work like PCs but will take on full-blown server functionality in the home;

* Microsoft&'s vision for not only a new, feature-packed Vista but for total “cross-device” convergence between home, work and travel appliances based on Windows Live, its search technology and partnerships with content makers and system makers;

* The disclosure by notebook vendors that they are leveraging new technology from Microsoft and Intel to make new mobile PCs take on more consumer-friendly characteristics, even if they&'re positioned as commercial products.

Several vendors made announcements timed to coincide with Intel&'s dual-core, mobile processor launch. Among the highlights: Lenovo, Purchase, N.Y., rolled out new ThinkPads, the X60 and T60 lines, that sport redesigned keyboards, offer battery life of up to eight hours and contain an integrated EV-DO card for wide-area wireless networking, providing Internet connectivity wherever cellular signals exist.

Pricing for the new ThinkPads is expected to remain consistent with earlier versions, Lenovo said.

Todd Bradley, executive vice president of Hewlett-Packard&'s Personal Systems Group, Palo Alto, Calif., discussed how HP&'s new nc6140 notebook will enable workers to stay connected through integrated wide-area networking via EV-DO. “We&'ve begun to enable the seamless Web, which goes beyond just e-mail and enables corporate applications to be available all the time,” he said, adding that HP plans to unveil seven new notebook platforms this year.

A common theme at the show: With extended high bandwidth and technology that will enable always-on, always-accessible digital media, the once-clear definitions that delineated home technology and commercial technology are becoming outdated.

“When you think about the home server concept in the industry, it&'s always been somewhat of a misnomer. The [chance] that your mom will go out and buy a home server is highly unlikely,” said Bob Perry, vice president of sales and channels for LG Electronics, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. “But if your mom went out and bought a product that also had the ability to record and archive and keep all of those treasured family moments—photos, music, video, home videos—I think your mom will buy that product.”

One example: LG&'s new HD-TV with a built-in 160-Gbyte hard drive and digital video recorder.

One of LG&'s rivals, ViewSonic, also introduced new 40-inch, 37-inch and 32-inch HD-ready flat-panel TVs. And it has taken steps to expand its channel program as it extends its product line.

Jeff Volpe, a ViewSonic vice president, said the Walnut, Calif., company quietly reshuffled its channel sales organization over the past several months to put in place more solution-provider-facing personnel. Volpe said the changes included moving some corporate sales employees into regional roles working with ViewSonic channel partners.

The company also has boosted its support for IT solution providers and broadened its product line, Volpe said. And it has been working with distributors to make its TV and home-focused products available to home integrators and audio-visual solution providers.

KEVIN McLAUGHLIN and KRISTEN KENEDY contributed to this report.