As always, the offerings at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, just completed in Las Vegas, ran the gamut in size, serviceability and silliness. Here's a look at the most impressive products, people and punch lines at CES 2005:
Best new big product: The new big-screen plasma televisions. They have new features and falling prices. You can get a 42-inch, high-definition plasma now for less than $4,000. Next year it will be $3,000. That's almost affordable for something that will make you drool.
Best new small product: From SanDisk, a combination secure digital storage card and Universal Serial Bus drive. It's hinged, so after plugging it into the SD slot of a digital camera or personal digital assistant, you can pop it into a USB port on a computer to easily transfer data without a card reader. It won't be available until spring at the earliest. Pricing hasn't been set.
Best personal tech product at the show: From Delphi, the new MyFi portable satellite radio. It's like a Sony Walkman, except it receives XM Satellite Radio broadcasts. Delphi introduced it just before the holidays, but this was its first mass showing and it generated quite a buzz. You can even record up to five hours of satellite streams for playback. It costs $349 plus a monthly subscription fee.
Best promise of the show: From TiVo chief executive officer Mike Ramsey, who says upgrades to the TiVo system will be sent free to existing customers, meaning TiVo boxes will never be obsolete. Ramsey also predicted that the Web will replace broadcast television as the leading supplier of video services.
Best new tech term: "Liquid media," from Motorola boss Ron Garriques, to describe how media will automatically morph into the format of whatever device the media will be played on.
Best new mobile phone: The Motorola V3 RAZR. Of the dozens of new models introduced at the show, this one has the brightest screen, slimmest body and coolest look and feel. It's available only from Cingular Wireless right now.
Best use of a digital camera: Ohio PR guy Martin Winston, whose wife laid out every outfit he was to wear before he left, put a sign next to each and snapped a digital picture. Winston just consulted that day's picture each morning and literally followed suit.
Best resurgence of an old trend: Karaoke. You might have thought this had died. But we counted at least 20 different versions of new high-tech karaoke machines, and all had lots of spectators checking them out. The most interesting was the On-Key Karaoke System from VL Technologies Ltd. It uses a wireless microphone that wraps around the ear and promises to help off-key singers get in tune.
Biggest nonappearing star of the show: Apple Computer, which wasn't one of the 2,500 exhibitors because its own Macworld show was scheduled shortly after in San Francisco. But the Apple iPod was everywhere. Dozens of products and accessories were on display. There were iPod skins and socks to dress up its appearance, iPod speakers, iPod holders for the car and even a gizmo from a company called Nyko that can turn the iPod into a video player.
Best line of the show: From a taxi driver named Charley, who was grousing about what lousy tippers CES attendees are: "They come to town with one suit and one $20 bill, and they don't change either one in four days."