January 10, 2003 5:47 PM PST

CES: Tech gets cooking

LAS VEGAS--Make a new acquaintance at the Consumer Electronics Show, and inevitably the first question they ask is, "So what really exciting stuff have you seen this year?" Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of the funny looks I get when I respond, "Well there was this microwave oven..."

Maybe it's just a matter of bad caffeine management on my part, but it's hard for me to get worked up about a tech event where the stars are wristwatches and refrigerator magnets.

But where else can you stand in a 5-mile-long taxi line while watching burly guys with pliers compete for the title of the world's top car-stereo installer?

And if you wander long enough through the cavernous bowels of the Las Vegas Convention Center (now so huge it has rickshaw drivers to transport people between buildings), you'll find a few items worthy of at least a raised eyebrow.

• We're serious about the oven thing: Cleveland-based start-up TMIO was showing Tonight's Menu, a device that puts the "appliance" back in "Internet appliance." The device combines an oven, a refrigeration unit and an Ethernet port. Put dinner in it before you leave for work, and it will keep it cold until you connect to the oven via cell phone or Web browser and tell it to start cooking. No more interminable waiting for those Tater Tots to heat up!

On a related but slightly less revolutionary note, Sears had the Toast 'N Wave, a combination toaster and microwave oven.

• Salton, the folks behind the George Foreman grill, also has eyes on your kitchen. Two years after introducing and promptly withdrawing the ePod, one of umpteen Internet appliances that failed to set the world on fire, the company is giving the kitchen PC another try with the Icebox.


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The Windows CE-based device combines a TV, an FM radio, a DVD and CD player and PC functions such as Web browsing. Coolest of all, it has a sealed wireless keyboard you can run under the faucet when it gets dirty.

Salton spokesman Robert Lamson said the company applied a number of lessons from the ePod. "What we learned is it's very important to do a lot of consumer research before you start doing a design," he said. "If you listen to people, they'll tell you what kind of things they want to do in the kitchen. That's what we tried to build into the Icebox."

The Icebox will be the first of the Beyond line of kitchen appliances Salton will sell under the Westinghouse brand. Future items include networkable, programmable coffee makers, bread machines and--yes--microwave ovens.

• Networking gear maker D-Link is trying to bring videoconferencing to the masses with the i2Eye, a gadget that plugs into a TV set and broadband Internet connection. The device can connect with other popular Web-based video applications, allowing anyone with a PC or another i2Eye to chat live. It will sell for $299 in a package that includes a Wi-Fi Ethernet bridge for wirelessly connecting to your broadband line.

• You can get rid of your PC, help the environment and help convicts make their child support payments all at the same time. Federal Prison Industries, also known as Unicor, has entered the computer recycling business with an operation at the federal pen in Marianna, Fla. PC makers contract to send their old stuff to the hoosegow, and hard-working cons take them apart in environmentally responsible ways.

• Anyone who's sampled the tasty array of hot spots at the Convention Center will attest that Wi-Fi is the best thing to happen to Internet access since the obsolescence of telephone acoustic couplers. Idetect makes it easier to take advantage of the technology with the Wi-Fi Sniffer, a little gadget that tells you when there's a usable signal.

• Your cell phone isn't nearly as annoying as it could be--not without an illuminated, blinking faceplate, available from any one of some 17 million vendors representing the changing face of the People's Republic of China.

 

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