And the winner is...
Although there were worthy competitors in the afternoon, the winner of the CEA i-stage event here in Las Vegas was Boxee, the "open, connected, social media center." (Though I did talk to a venture capital guy who said he was following my pick, Occipital.) I suspect that Boxee won through sheer slickness of interface, defined value proposition, and possibly presentation value. It's a good product, there's no doubt. Boxee walks away with the $50,000 and the coveted CES booth space, and we'll probably try to keep tabs on it on its road to CES. Keep an eye out for that!
I-stage also featured an official fan favorite vote, and said fan favorite will get a "pod" in the CEA TechZone at CES, so they don't make out too badly, either. In this case, the fan fave winner was the Minoru 3D Webcam. The Webcam itself is adorable, it takes images exclusively in 3D, and, best of all, the presentation required the audience in front of me to don 3D glasses en masse! It was like being in front of a 1960s movie audience! But judging from their responses, the experience was worth it. Judge Jeff Pulver noted that he was looking for a "wow" experience out of the last two presenters of the day (Minoru was second-to-last), and the audience was definitely murmuring "wow" as they watched a cute little girl blow bubbles in 3D.
The afternoon session included some interesting innovations as well, but also the show's one serious bloodbath: judges raked three presenters in a row over the coals for presenting products (a digital picture frame, a video-from-mobile-phones streaming service, and a people-powered search database) that couldn't be easily differentiated from others in the marketplace. But that's not to say that all the presenters didn't offer something innovative and valuable--it's just that some were a little too similar to products already on the market.
And thus endeth CEA's first venture into trying to create a Best of CES-worthy booth on the show floor. I can't wait to see what all of you think of Boxee when it has its big Las Vegas debut!