CES: A bit about 'computing'

DQW Bureau
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This is about a trade show that might make you think of COMDEX, or perhaps of PC Expo. But this story is about the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which is becoming quite a bit about "computing." 


For example, Bill Gates provided a keynote speech focused around two major elements of computing -- Microsoft's forthcoming X-box video game console (sporting a 733 MHz CPU, a hard drive, and a blistering fast graphics processor), which promises to bring Toy Story levels of photorealism to gaming before the end of this year. He also discussed his vision of the PC becoming the cornerstone of a home full of consumer electronics melded into one "system" through a wireless Network.

(,11415,2671755,00.html) One offshoot of this direction is that he expects that new "peripherals," such as computer-driven alarm clocks that automatically adjust their wake-up time based on your schedule, will be significantly less expensive, because they will leverage the power of the home's "PC Server." (You can watch Bill's keynote through a link at,11415,2671755,00.html#).

Another interesting example of "Convergence" (the coming together of computing, communications, content, and consumer electronics), comes from Intel CEO Craig Barrett's keynote; he demonstrated an Intel pocket MP3 player with 128 megabytes of storage (about four hours of audio). He also made a statement, printed in the Jan 7, ZDNet News,

(,11415,2671747,00.html) that I think helps us understand why we continue to consume the fantastic amount of computing cycles that Intel and its competitors continue to bring us, even though we already word process quite fast enough:

"The Pentium 4 was not created to run (Microsoft) Word faster or do Excel was created to run rich, multimedia content faster. Whether that comes over the Internet, through editing digital video, through interaction with a peripheral device like want to...have a high-performance processor to handle those kind of demands.


Obviously, our intent is to move the whole computer business forward. All of these things translate into processing power."

In concert with Microsoft's directions, Intel also demonstrated a wireless, Internet-connected "Chatpad" for use around the home for doing things like "Instant Messaging" on the go, as well as a larger pad for Web browsing. (Given Microsoft's COMDEX introduction of their WebPad, do we see a trend here?) Intel also demonstrated a prototype "media center," where today's stereo rack might be replaced with a computer-based device that does audio, video, still pictures, and more, all in an integrated fashion. And all of these "peripherals," he says, will leverage the PC: "The message we're trying to get across here is that the personal computer is really at the center of all these advances. We're really trying to put more processing power into these PCs for a purpose. The value of the PC increases exponentially as we have more functionality attached to it."

I think he is right.


Intel was not the only "computer" manufacturer touting "untraditional" uses for computing, by far. Compaq, for example, announced its "stereo jukebox," a "very intelligent CD changer" stereo component for handling MP3 music for the household; it stores about 5,000 songs and allows you to mix and match them in an unlimited number of "play lists"

(,11415,2671748,00.html). This device will also play the thousands of "Internet Radio" stations that are accessible over the Net. 

And Nokia gave us an indication of how "communications" companies are getting into the Convergence act; they announced a "home infotainment center" that "combines the Internet and digital TV," and may be like a Tivo or Replay VCR-replacement on steroids

( Other CES digital media announcements are at .

One place where I think we're destined to really appreciate the fruits of Convergence is in the car, and CES provided more than a little focus on the "digital car." The industry is beginning to call this digitizing of our cars' entertainment and communication systems "telematics," a word that I find hard to associate with automotive computing (I guess I'll get over it). But by whatever name, it's already begun, as evidenced by GM's OnStar, which expects 16.8 million users by 2004 according to the Jan 8 Take Two -

(,10738,2671994,00.html). Of course, that's just the beginning, with computerized safety and security and communications and entertainment systems getting set to explode on the scene. (This is an area where today's imperfect level of voice-recognition software, along with active noise canceling, beam-steering microphones, may help mitigate the significant safety issues of a driver interacting with this digital universe; an issue that we certainly have to address.)


Palm computing demonstrated how PDA users can now "beam" their credit card information to a cashier, to make easy in-person electronic payments


And what about storage? DataPlay was demonstrating a 500 megabyte non-erasable optical disk the size of a U.S. quarter

( Also, TDK has announced plans to bring "MultiLevel Recording, or "ML," to writable CD-ROMs

( This means that on special media costing $ 2 per disk, the system can record data using "eight shades of gray-scale" to encode 3 bits of data in each "spot" that used to contain but one bit. This will yield 2 gigabytes of data per disk, which can be written at "36X" speed. And TDK expects the technology to improve to hold up to 3.2 gigabytes in a short time. 

But wait -- why come up with a new CD-ROM format, when rewritable DVD drives are just coming into their own? It's because, TDK says, that current CD-ROM drive designs will be able to use this new format if they're updated with a new chip, without changing the optics, which can provide an inexpensive intermediate upgrade path! They also foresee this technology dramatically extending DVD storage in the future...


Home networking seems destined to grow in several interesting directions (, with companies such as Be At Home

( offering a turnkey wireless home security and control system that can access light switches, thermostats, door and window sensors, and a whole lot more. This system can be configured and remotely accessed via the Internet. 

There was much more demonstrated, and talked about, (and hoped for) at CES ( and and But beyond all the pizzazz and the hype, this very "computerized" CES demonstrates to me an important signpost of how "computing" is changing. In a way, this "computing" invasion of CES reminded me of watching the PCs invade COMDEX, so many years ago. 

This "Convergence" is not the "death of the PC" at all, but it certainly portends a rapidly changing face of computing.

Jeffrey Harrow

Senior Consulting Engineer

(Technology and Corporate Development Group), Compaq

Note: This is an article from the `Rapidly Changing Face of Computing', a free

weekly multimedia technology journal written by Jeffrey Harrow. More discussions

around the innovations and trends of contemporary computing and the technologies

that drive them are available at

The writer's opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Compaq. The

RCFoC is copyright 2000, Compaq.