Apple Ends Up Dominating Consumer Electronics Show

As this week's International Consumer Electronics Show prepared to close here, much of the buzz on the convention floor focused on products introduced 600 miles away by Apple Inc. (APPL)

In fact, Yoshi Yamada, chief executive of Panasonic Corp. of North America, ditched CES for part of Tuesday to fly to the Macworld Expo in San Francisco just so he could sit in the audience to see CEO Steve Jobs introduce Apple's new products — the iPhone and the Apple TV set-top box — in person.

"I really wanted to be there and I was very impressed with the iPhone," Yamada said Wednesday after returning to CES.

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Panasonic is the brand of Japanese electronics maker Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (MC)

At every CES, the world's largest tech trade show with more than 2,700 exhibitors competing for attention, usually only a handful of gizmos manage to rise above the din.

After Apple announced its cell phone, it hogged the limelight — even though it had no official presence at the Las Vegas show.

"Apple's just one company. They need CES as much as CES needs them," said Christopher Null, a columnist and analyst for Yahoo Inc.'s (YHOO) technology Web site. "But it is unfortunate that people are trying to get the word out about their products, and they're one-upped by Steve Jobs."

Still, many CES gizmos managed to find a spotlight.

Guaranteed attention goes to the biggest TV — this year's went to Sharp's 108-inch LCD behemoth. Other ooh-and-aah candidates included a new portable music player from SanDisk Corp. (SNDK) and a sleek, double-sided, combination cell phone-music player from Samsung Electronics Co.

Several tech companies here unveiled products designed to bring Internet content to televisions — similar to the newly unveiled Apple TV.

Netgear Inc. (NTGR), for instance, unveiled its Digital Entertainer HD, a $349 media receiver that accesses high-definition videos, photos, TV shows and music stored across multiple computers on a home network and streams the content to televisions in the home.

A "Follow Me" function, using separate wireless stations, allows users to pause video in one room and resume it in another.

Sony Corp. (SNE) showed a module that will hook onto its upcoming line of televisions to grab video and photos from its Internet-content partners for playback on the TV. (The partners so far include Yahoo Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) AOL.)

A growing number of gadgets meant to deliver entertainment anywhere, anytime were also on display.

LG Electronics Co. showcased the LG9400, a cell phone that will let users watch TV simulcasts from a variety of networks including NBC, CBS and Fox, ESPN and Comedy Central.

The LG phone, as well as another by Samsung Electronics Co., will be the first to support Verizon Wireless' V Cast Mobile TV service, powered by Qualcomm Inc.'s (QCOM) MediaFlo technology. The Verizon TV service will be available in March.

SanDisk, the world's largest supplier of flash data storage products, pushed further into the media player space with its Sansa Connect, a Wi-Fi enabled MP3 player that does not require connecting to a computer to download music or stream Internet radio. It begins sales in the U.S. for $249.99 in March.

"A lot of different types of companies are all competing with each other at a higher level," said Gartner Inc. (IT) analyst Jon Erensen. "Stand-alone portable players are adding wireless capability and other networking capabilities in order to compete with mobile phones."

Big TVs were not to be outdone, however, by its tiny-screen cousins. Technology giants such as Toshiba Corp., Panasonic, Samsung and Sony again dazzled attendees with the biggest and best in televisions.

Every major manufacturer improved its LCDs by doubling frames per second to 120, thereby cutting down on blurring during fast-motion scenes. Technologies to make plasma TVs display even deeper blacks and richer colors were also demonstrated.

Several companies took a stab at resolving the war over competing high-definition DVD formats. LG rolled out its "Super Multi Blue" player that can play Blu-ray and HD DVD discs on a single tray. The player, and similar PC drive, will sell for $1,199 in early February.

Warner Bros. announced a high definition DVD disc that can hold films and TV shows in both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats. The new disc is called Total HD.

LG's North American president, Michael Ahn, described its newest development as an attempt to end consumer "confusion" over which format would win out and end hesitation slowing uptake of the machines.

Erensen said the products were designed to focus on consumer needs rather than engineering prowess in handling a wide array of media content and formats.

"People are really trying to set up end-to-end solutions so the consumer can get it out of the box and get it working," he said.