January 7, 2003 4:00 AM PST

Gadgets galore at CES

Manufacturers are heading to Las Vegas this week singing viva las gadgets.

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The annual Consumer Electronics Show kicks off late Wednesday with a keynote speech from Microsoft's co-founder and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates and runs through the weekend. Other industry luminaries appearing at the show include Sony Chief Operating Officer Kunitake Ando, Intel Chief Executive Craig Barrett and Texas Instruments Chief Executive Tom Engibous.

Analysts expect many of the companies demonstrating at the show to announce new products or technologies that will improve upon many of the current industry trends, such as wireless networking and accessing digital media, and set the tone for what to expect in 2003.

"Manufacturers will focus on new ways of consuming digital content so that it will really be ubiquitous," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with research firm Jupiter Research. "They've been talking about this for a while but they will work to mature their products so that consumers can more easily access digital content."

Gartenberg added that getting digital content into portable devices will be a key theme throughout the year and that there will be significant attention paid to Microsoft and its Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) as the software giant moves beyond PCs and handhelds to appliances.

SPOT is software that allows devices, such as alarm clocks, to run Microsoft's .Net Compact Framework and gain access to data stored on a central PC. During Comdex in November, Microsoft outlined SPOT, and said that it would present further technical details at CES.

Earlier this week, Microsoft's Mobility Group, which is responsible for handheld and smartphone operating systems, announced that new versions of its Pocket PC 2002 and Smartphone 2002 OS that can be used with phones running on code division multiple access (CDMA) wireless networks were available. The new software lets Microsoft press its battle against Nokia for the cell phone OS market by going after CDMA carriers. Nokia has largely focused on wireless networks based on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard.

Hitachi and Samsung announced that they are using Microsoft's Pocket PC Phone Edition software in cell phones that run on CDMA networks. The phones are meant for the North American market, which is home to the world's largest concentration of subscribers to CDMA networks.

Intel is expected to present details on its new mobile processor code named Banias, which is due later in the quarter. Sources say Intel CEO Craig Barrett will announce the processor's official name and details about the chips during his keynote address Thursday afternoon. Intel has registered the names Centrino and Iomir with the patent and trademark offices for notebook products.

Sony is expected to announce jointly with SanDisk a new version of the Memory Stick removable flash memory card format, called Memory Stick Pro. The two companies have worked to develop the format since 2001.

On the more consumer electronics-related side, Sony is expected to relaunch its Aiwa brand, along with a new logo, and is expected to announce new products due out in the spring. Sony will also detail plans, such as its redefined focus and retail distribution strategy, which will distinguish Aiwa- and Sony-branded products.

Hewlett-Packard will demonstrate a new home networking device, called the Digital Media Receiver, for distributing digital photos, music and other media through a wired or wireless home network.

HP announced Tuesday external and internal versions of its new 4x DVD+RW drives for PCs, which it will be demonstrating this week at CES. The new higher-speed drives will cut the time it takes to record a full-length DVD+RW disc to 15 minutes, according to HP representatives.

The $299 HP DVD 300i will be used inside PCs and began shipping to manufacturers this week. Computers using the drive should become available in about two weeks. The $399 HP DVD 300e will be connected externally to PCs via either a FireWire or USB 2.0 port and will be available starting Feb. 4.

Kim Burch, an HP product manager for DVD products, said that the improved speeds of the drives are consistent with the company's efforts to simplify the use of DVD+RW drives. In keeping with that strategy, the company is including with the drives ArcSoft's ShowBiz DVD software, which combines video authoring and editing capabilities. In previous generations of drives, HP included two separate applications for authoring and editing videos.

Japanese video-game giant Nintendo will also have news, after titillating gamers for a month with the promise of a "megaton" announcement. Nintendo won't give any clues, but the most informed forecasts have the company unveiling a new version of its Game Boy Advance portable game player, equipped with a backlit screen to address one of the most frequent complaints about the megaselling handheld game machine.

Publishing software giant Adobe Systems will show off Photoshop Album, a new consumer offshoot of its market-leading image-editing program that focuses on organizing images stored on a PC.

Targus, which specializes in mobile computing gadgets, will show off the Defcon MDP Key Card, an add-in security card for laptops and tablet PCs. The card includes motion detectors that sound an alarm and lock down the computer if an unauthorized person picks it up or makes "unfriendly gestures."

Several companies will be focusing on juicing up devices you already have, with Splashpower and MobileWise showing recharging pads that can power up a cell phone, PDA and other devices without wires and bulky power adapters. "If you're a person who carries multiple mobile devices and need to power them, this saves you a lot of weight and hassle," said MobileWise CEO Andy Goren. "All you need to do is drop the device on the pad...and it's smart enough to recognize the exact power needs of each device."

Satellite radio competitors Sirius and XM Satellite Radio will both be showing new car and home receivers, and Sirius mysteriously promises a demonstration of how it will use its network to distribute "other types of content."

Digital camera companies will have a host of new wares to show off, including a new 5-megapixel model from Konica that accepts both SecureDigital and Memory Stick media. Panasonic will reveal new models in its Lumix digicam line, along with the first 1GB SecureDigital memory cards.

News.com's David Becker, John Spooner and Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.

 

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