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Comdex sets sights on standards

Vendors will debut new gadgets at the trade show, but the real action will come from standards groups and industry consortiums.

Vendors will show off new gadgets and home devices at Comdex this year, although the real action may likely come from standards groups and industry consortiums which plan to hammer out reference designs for future products.

"Comdex is the place where people will muster support for standards," said Sean Kaldor, vice president of consumer systems research for IDC, noting that standards groups for technologies such as set-top boxes and screen phones will be at Comdex. "CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is where the actual products will be brought out."

Nonetheless, a number of exhibitors plan to flaunt the latest in electronic doo-dads. Such devices will run the gamut from set-top boxes, digital cameras and camcorders, to gadgets like Concept Kitchen's Fingertip Stylus. Additionally expected are MP3 portable players, and plug-n-play USB devices and multimedia products using the IEEE 1394 high-speed multimedia bus.

USB, or Universal Serial Bus, offers plug-and-play connectivity for peripherals, but actual devices based on the standard have been slow to appear. At Comdex, Lexmark will present USB printers and digital camera solutions. The USB Implementers Forum, a trade group aimed at furthering USB adoption, will also man a booth.

Among digital camera vendors, Epson, Minolta, Nikon, and Sony will all exhibit new products.

Home networking is also expected to get a big boost at Comdex, with the HomeRF Working Group (HRFWG) in attendance. HomeRF is an industry group aimed at open standards for wireless digital communication between PCs and consumer electronic devices.

"There will be hints of home networking this year," Kaldor said, "Like core level solutions and chipsets." Compaq plans to show its Device Bay system for the home office.

Diamond Multimedia, will display its Rio PMP300 portable player, which allows users to play back audio files transferred from a computer hard drive. "Diamond is the biggest name in MP3," Kaldor said. Last month, a federal court in Los Angeles denied an injunction request from a recording industry association that would have prohibited the Rio from shipping.

Set-top box makers will also exhibit intelligent TV devices powered by chips from Intel clone maker Rise Technology.

Rise wants to take advantage of set-top makers' desire to deliver products that will be compatible with PC software, but at a reasonable cost, said Joe Salvador, senior product manager at Rise. Rise's processors, introduced earlier this year, are compatible with Intel's chips--but cost much less. In addition, the Rise chips are compatible with new chipsets that include a 3D graphics unit.

The processors are also fast enough to permit set-top makers to rely on soft modems and soft DVDs, which further cuts silicon costs. "People see that as a big plus for set-top boxes," he said.

Panasonic will display its DVD-ROM and DVD-RAM drives, along with its partners in video, graphics, storage and delivery, the company said.