January 4, 2005 4:00 AM PST

CES to spotlight digital evolution

Gadget lovers hitting Vegas for this week's Consumer Electronics Show will find an oasis with high-definition technology, new notebook chips and a peek at the PlayStation Portable.

"Last year, nearly everyone had a plasma television, but this year we'll see high-definition technology moving beyond the living room," said Jenny Miller, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, the trade organization that produces CES.

Sony, for example, will demonstrate a number of high-definition products, including a camcorder that can record in high definition and a new Memory Stick technology that streams HD video. Other companies will debut high-definition products as well.

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What's new:
The 2005 annual Consumer Electronics Show will feature high-definition technology, a look at the PlayStation Portable, celebrities and a possible peek at an Xbox successor.

Bottom line:
With the decline of the Comdex trade show, CES is essentially the only game in town for major technology shows. Seeds of major trends are often planted at the show; this year, the transition to digital is expected to be a major focus.

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Making digital video services available over broadband networks will also be on the agenda. SBC Communications CEO Edward Whitacre Jr. is expected to reveal details about plans to deliver video over a broadband Internet connection.

"There's an evolution to all things digital," Miller said. "It's digital everywhere in everything."

With the decline of the Comdex trade show, CES is now essentially the only game in town for major tech shows. The 120,000 to 140,000 people expected to attend this year reflects the show's potential influence--not only in consumer electronics, but in industries such as computing, entertainment, networking and broadband.

During the show, which this year officially runs Thursday through Sunday, executives talk about trends and how their companies are jumping on hot opportunities. At CES--which first took place in New York City in 1967 with 200 exhibitors and 17,500 attendees--seeds of major products have often been planted, including the VCR, CD and DVD.

Stephen Baker, an analyst with retail tracker NPD Techworld, agrees that high definition is the wave of the future but stresses that the last two years' talk of a digital transition must be translated into action in 2005 if manufacturers want consumers to bite.

"If you've got a digital-entertainment strategy, this year has to be the year you execute on it," Baker said. "So many of these advanced products will be coming down in the affordable range by the holidays of 2005, and consumers are going to need a reason to buy new products."

Sony, with a broad business portfolio including movies, music, games and electronics, has lots to gain from the digital transition, but it's been hard for the company to get all of its businesses to commit to the same plan. That situation may be changing, though. Sony recently said its digital-audio players will natively support the MP3 audio format--something it previously refused to do because of copyright concerns. That's the first sign that its music business has relented on an issue that would benefit the electronics business and is perhaps a hint of things to come.

In addition to showing a camcorder that can record in high definition and a new Memory Stick technology that streams HD video, Sony will showcase video products such as the Qualia 006, a 70-inch rear-projection TV powered by a liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) chip coming in January. Other liquid-crystal display TVs that use panels from Sony's joint venture manufacturing plant with Samsung will be shown. Sony will also offer a first glimpse of Blu-ray Disc products, which will be available in 2005.

More PSP details likely
Game enthusiasts, meanwhile, will be awaiting the Wednesday press conference, where Sony will show off its PlayStation Portable, the handheld game player and multimedia gadget the company launched in Japan in mid-December. Sony has said the PSP will arrive in North America and Europe in the first quarter, making CES a likely opportunity to release exact dates and pricing information.

Meanwhile, video game wags have been speculating that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will use his traditional CES opening keynote address on Wednesday night to unveil the successor to the current version of Microsoft's Xbox game console. But most analysts, including Matt Rosoff, who works for research company Directions on Microsoft, say that such an announcement is more likely to come at the

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