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."

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
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

    IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

    £55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

    SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

    IT Portfolio Analyst - Prince2

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a glob...

    Project Co-ordinator - Birmingham - Permanant

    £20000 - £25000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week