Top gadget show brought down to earth by recession

US Electronics sales rebounded in the just-ended holiday season, but the industry's biggest event will still have the recession hanging over it.

The International Consumer Electronics Show, which opens Wednesday, will be smaller than usual, with key products unveiled at prices that are far from extravagant.



Manufacturers will use the show in Las Vegas to trot out the devices they hope will keep consumers opening their wallets, despite high unemployment. TVs with 3-D displays, svelte laptops and e-book readers will be the hottest categories.



Gadget makers are in a much better mood than they were a year ago, when they were shocked by a 27 per cent decline in holiday sales of electronics and appliances. In the month leading up to the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, exhibitors were canceling because they were concerned about the economy, said Jason Oxman, senior vice president at the Consumer Electronics Association, the trade association that organizes CES.



In contrast, in the just-ended shopping season, revenue from electronics sales in the US between 1 November and 24 December rose 5.9 per cent from the same period of 2008, according to an estimate by MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks all forms of payment, including cash. The analysts don't give a dollar figure.



And this time CES exhibitors were adding themselves to the lineup in the week before the show, Oxman said.

"There's a great deal of enthusiasm leading into 2010 that just wasn't there in the 2009 show," he said.



The association expects 2,500 exhibitors and 110,000 attendees, roughly flat with last year but still down considerably from 2007, when 144,000 people came.



CES, which began in 1967, was originally focused on home entertainment gear. But with the demise of large computer trade shows in the US, CES is now the main venue not just for audio and video giants like Panasonic, but also such pillars of the computing world as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Cisco. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will kick off the show with a keynote speech Wednesday night, an annual role he took over from Chairman Bill Gates last year.



Missing from the show, as usual, will be one of the biggest trendsetters in electronics: Apple, which reveals its products at its own events.



For TV makers, CES is the opportunity to demonstrate sets that will hit stores by summer, and to preview technologies that will be available next holiday season.



The manufacturers have been fortunate that the U.S. is still in what is considered a TV upgrade cycle, with households replacing their old tube sets with flat panels. That trend hasn't even slowed in the recession. Research firm iSuppli estimates that 33.8 million flat-panel sets were shipped in the US in 2009, up 17 per cent from 2008.



A major reason is that prices keep declining - a 32-inch flat panel can now be had for just over $300 (£185), which is about what old tube TVs used to cost. But new technologies that yield better picture quality and thinner sets have also enticed buyers, according to iSuppli analyst Riddhi Patel.



The challenge for manufacturers is to keep flat panels hot. In 2010, technologies already available now are likely to be enough to drive sales, Patel believes. But to keep the excitement going, manufacturers will be rolling out 3-D TV sets later in the year, and that will be a major topic at CES.



Bulky rear-projection sets with 3-D capabilities have been available for a few years, but now flat panels will get the 3-D treatment, and there finally will be a way for consumers to bring 3-D movies into the home. In December, the industry group behind the Blu-ray disc format said it had united on a standard for a 3-D version of the disc, and players are expected to be available this year (You would still need special glasses.)



In keeping with the times, 3-D TVs won't be much more expensive than today's high-end sets. The difference between 3-D sets and comparable 2-D TVs will likely be less than $200 (£123). A 3-D capable Blu-ray player, however, would then add a few hundred dollars to the setup.



"The reason this is a blockbuster for TV manufacturers is that for a relatively small incremental hardware cost, they're able to deliver a phenomenally unique and higher-quality experience," said Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, which has made several 3-D movies.



Laptops have also continued to sell well during the recession, though some of the most popular ones have been small "netbooks" that cost about $300 (£185). At CES, there will be plenty of slightly larger laptops featuring new, power-thrifty chips and higher prices. Computer makers hope that consumers who have gotten an appreciation for light laptops from netbooks will want to pay a few hundred dollars more for a bigger screen and keyboard, and better video-playing performance.



For the first time, e-book readers will have their own section of the show floor, with 23 exhibitors hoping to follow Amazon.com's Kindle to the cusp of the mainstream. Though a reading device like Barnes & Noble Inc.'s Nook costs $259 (£159), a lot more than a single book, it provides access to e-books that are cheaper than the printed versions, largely thanks to Amazon's aggressive pricing policies.



With a strong new product category like e-book readers and a gee-whiz feature like 3-D for the home, coupled with an economic recovery, the show promises to be brighter than last year, if not larger.



"Certainly, at this time last year nobody knew what to expect with the state of the economy and what would be happening," said Tim Alessi, director of product development at LG Electronics USA, which is one of the bigger CES exhibitors. "We're looking forward to going to the show with a lot less uncertainty."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Infrastructure Engineer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking to find a...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Engineer

    £21000 - £23600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing