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Music gadgets, sleek TVs highlight Consumer Electronics Show
LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AFP) Jan 06, 2005
Sleeker, more powerful electronic gadgets ranging from cell phones, televisions and music players are the stars of the Consumer Electronics Show, which opened in Las Vegas this week.

The technology industry's largest trade fair is the showcase for new products including fuel cell cars, plasma and LCD televisions and new "wearable" digital music players.

Among the keywords for this years show is "convergence," or bringing several technologies into a single product. So mobile phones are being promoted as cameras and music players; new televisions are jukebox hubs and game consoles are devices for digital music and video.

Consumer electronics sales are on a tear, up 11 percent in 2004 in the United States to a record 113.5 billion dollars, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. CEA projects shipments rising to 125.7 billion in

"These numbers reflect that consumer electronics is a hot industry," said CEA president and chief executive Gary Shapiro.

"Consumer electronics sales continue to surpass our expectations and break existing records year after year, because this is an ever-changing industry that delivers innovative products that enhance consumers' lives. American consumers love consumer electronics products. That passion is reflected in the continued sales growth of our industry."

One of the big promoters of the "digital lifestyle" was Microsoft founder and president Bill Gates, who made the keynote speech late Wednesday after announcing a series of agreements for the digital entertainment world of television, music, photo and video games.

"We are at the forefront in making broad technology investments and delivering breakthroughs that bring the digital lifestyle into the mainstream," Gates said late Wednesday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"Our strategy is to deliver great software and a platform for partner innovation, so consumers can choose from a vast array of devices and services that work together seamlessly and suit the way they live."

Microsoft announced a collaboration with TiVo, the maker of digital TV set-top devices, deliver recorded television to portable media players, "smart" phones and pocket PCs.

The company also sealed a deal with music network MTV that would make TV shows and other video clips available to Windows Mobile-based portable devices.

Forrester Research vice president Ted Schadler said there is growing competition for the digital home as convergence allows companies to cross into new areas.

"Businesses in every industry must fight to protect their assets, retain customers, and stave off competitors," he said. "Ten years ago, cable companies owned television in the living room. Today they compete with satellite TV operators -- and they'll soon compete with telcos -- for customers. Companies that master skills like experience design and customized delivery will lead the way by creating applications that earn consumers' loyalty."

A strong push is being made at this show for plasma TV sets, whose costs has come down 10 percent to 15 percent, and LCD TV screens that can hang on the living room wall and may be sold for as little as 300 dollars now.

Digital music players are another red-hot item, and some of the new devices take this a step further by placing the music player in a ski jacket or helmet. Motorola's system uses Bluetooth wireless technology in a snowboard jacket sleeve and helmet "allowing seamless, unobtrusive wearability and playability."

CEA said portable music player category has shattered all expectations as unit sales more than doubled in 2004 to over 6.9 million units and dollar sales nearly tripled in revenue to 1.2 billion dollars. It projects 2005 unit sales of 10 million worth 1.7 billion dollars.

Sony's new PlayStation portable console adds digital music and video to its game capability, with built-in wireless capability. It goes on sale in the United States in March.

And among the hundreds of other products being unveiled here is a fuel cell vehicle designed for the US market from California company ZAP.

Elsewhere in automotive electronics, satellite radio and video navigation are big hits.

"Current 2004 figures show that satellite radio is helping boost autosound revenues up 10 percent for the year, said CEA analyst Sean Wargo.

"Mobile navigation devices also are helping the aftermarket category as dollar sales topped 782 million dollars in 2004, an increase of 35 percent compared to dollar sales in 2003."

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