In the car tech space, CES is more about the in-vehicle technology rather than the cars themselves (the Detroit Auto Show, just days later, is the better venue for concept cars and new models). We liked AT&T's Cruisecast and version 3.0 of Ford Sync, but we were most excited by CarStars, an upcoming car-based digital audio solution from Gracenote and Voxonic that uses advanced waveform analysis to recommend new music that you might like--with the twist that it's introduced by your favorite recording artist.
The verdict, one year later: CarStars was slated for vehicles in the 2011 model year, so we never expected it to appear in '09. Don't be surprised to see it making an encore appearance at the 2010 show, however.
The verdict, one year later: When we reviewed the Vaio VGN-P588E, it merited a 3.5-star "very good" rating (though CNET users were less charitable). The near-$1,000 price tag remains a sticking point as the market increasingly moves towards cheaper Netbooks--though you'll be hard-pressed to find a Netbook smaller than this svelte Sony.
The verdict, one year later: When she reviewed the final version in March, Senior Editor Lori Grunin was ultimately disappointed: "[D]espite what seems like a good effort on Sony's part, the G3's wireless experience is [...] opaque, frustrating, and slow, and turns an otherwise decent touch-screen operated, 4x zoom, and 10-megapixel compact into an overpriced novelty."
We already know that 3D will be a huge trend in TV and gaming in 2010. But Nvidia's GeForce 3D Vision was actually introduced at 2009's show (though we had mixed feelings about the final product). We also thought that the Psyko 5.1 surround-sound gaming headset had promise--but that product has yet to be released. Instead, we went with a more down-to-earth pick: the Nyko Wand, a third-party alternative to the mega-popular Nintendo Wii Remote.
The verdict, one year later: When Associate Editor Jeff Bakalar reviewed the Wand in May, the response was only marginally positive: "The absence of products that support Trans-Port and the uncertainty of MotionPlus compatibility may have you waiting to pull the trigger on a Nyko Wand."
Standalone GPS had its own category at CES 2009--something that's in doubt in the future, as the category becomes even more commoditized (Google Navigation is a free feature in the Motorola Droid, for instance). We liked the Dual XNAV43HD and Garmin's ecoRoute feature. But TomTom's GO 740 Live was the belle of the GPS ball, thanks to its real-time traffic and info services, courtesy of its built-in GPRS cellular modem.
The verdict, one year later: Associate Editor Antuan Goodwin awarded the GO 740 Live 4 stars and an Editors' Choice award when he reviewed it in May--though CNET users have been less enthused.
In the home audio realm at CES 2009, we were enticed by Panasonic's SCZ-T1 4-point wireless surround system and Pioneer's affordable but feature-packed VSX-819H AV receiver. (The step-up model to the latter, the VSX-1019AH, was our highest-rated AV receiver of 2009, and an Editors' Choice winner.) But we felt the Samsung HT-BD7200 was the best encapsulation of the home theater innovations at the show. It boasted a unique design, 2.1 virtual surround speakers, built-in Blu-ray, and Netflix streaming.
The verdict, one year later: The HT-BD7200 is currently available for $600. We haven't reviewed it yet, opting instead for Samsung's HT-BD1250 (which offers many of the same features in a more traditional 5.1 configuration).
In the home video realm at CES 2009, it was all about Blu-ray and home streaming. We saw our first portable Blu-ray player, the Panasonic DMP-B15 (a better product in theory than in practice, though it's now available at closer to $550 than its original $800 price). The LG BD390 fared much better. We thought the supercharged home Blu-ray player--with streaming Netflix and YouTube, built-in Wi-Fi, and onboard memory--looked promising at CES, and the product exceeded our expectations when we reviewed it in May. (High demand has made it hard to find this holiday season.) But we were seduced by the EchoStar SlingLoaded HD DVR 922, which promised to incorporate full-on Slingbox functionality into a Dish Network DVR. (The second tuner programming could be watched elsewhere in the house--or anywhere you had an Internet connection--without disrupting the viewer's program on the primary TV, as the standard Slingbox does.)
The verdict, one year later: Ouch--a year later, and the SlingLoaded DVR is pure vaporware. (We should have know: its predecessor, the SlingCatcher, was also endlessly delayed.)
The portable media player category is being squeezed by the iPod on one end and increasingly sophisticated smartphones on the other. Still, we found some promising models at CES 2009, including the Sony W-Series Walkman and the Iriver P7. But the Samsung P3 player rose above the pack by offering a fully realized feature set, including FM radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and a haptic touch screen.
The verdict, one year later: The P3 certainly looks less impressive in the afterglow of the latest iPods and the Zune HD (both released in September). But if you rewind the clock back to April--when Senior Associate Editor Jasmine France first reviewed it--you'll note that we found our enthusiasm at CES to be more than justified: "The Samsung P3 is an excellent multimedia device that packs a grand amount of features into an impressively compact package with one of the best screens available. Plus, it sounds superb, making this a top contender for audio enthusiasts."
Televisions are the bread and butter of the Consumer Electronics Show, but we're past the point where another superthin flat panel impresses. Rather than overhyped specs (such as 240Hz refresh rate and unrealistically high contrast ratios), we largely focused on basic TVs that were potentially delivering an amazing bang for the buck. LG's PS80 plasmas boasted both THX certification and built-in Netflix streaming at a good price, and Vizio smashed pricing expectations with its VF551XVT, a 55-inch LED-backlit LCD TV that it promised--and delivered--by year's end for under $2,200. But we opted for the Panasonic G10 series of plasma TVs, which raised the bar yet again, aiming for Kuro-like performance at sub-$2,000 prices.
The verdict, one year later: When Senior Editor David Katzmaier reviewed the Panasonic TC-P50G10 in April, he was enthusiastic: "With excellent picture quality marred by only a couple of flaws, the Panasonic TC-PG10 series sits near the head of the class of 2009." This product was also the most popular TV (as determined by user pageviews) on CNET this year. Step up to its big brother, the V10 series, if you want some extra bells and whistles, and picture quality that's arguably a bit better.
Cell phones and smartphones: Palm Pre (Best of Show, 2009)
CES isn't known as a "cell phone show"--most manufacturers hold back for the GSM World Congress in February or the CTIA shows later in the year. But CES 2009 hosted the debut of the Motorola Surf A3100 and the LG "Watch Phone" (the latter straight out of Dick Tracy). But the biggest mobile news of the show--and arguably the biggest story, period--was Palm's Hail Mary product, the Pre. In addition to winning the cell phone category, CNET editors named it the best product of CES.
The verdict, one year later: When the Palm Pre hit the public in June, Senior Editor Bonnie Cha was suitably impressed--though she did highlight some notable drawbacks, including its lack of expansion options and love-it-or-hate-it keyboard. Since then, the phone has struggled against the revitalized iPhone 3GS (released just 2 weeks later) and the rise of phones running Google's increasingly impressive Android OS--both offer app stores that are far better stocked than Palm's. Still, multitaskers will find Palm's WebOS to be a great choice.