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Tech geeks unite in Las Vegas for gadget fair

"Today" contributor Corey Greenberg gives a sneak preview of the hottest new gizmos at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show.
/ Source: TODAY

Every January, more than 100,000 techies from over 100 countries converge on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show, where the latest and greatest gadgets make their debut. Tech editor and “Today” contributor Corey Greenberg gives a sneak preview of the hottest new gizmos for 2005.

Why are home theaters the biggest trend at CES this year?
A lot of factors have peaked at the same time: DVD, the dominant media format for home theater, is now cheap, widely rentable, and commonplace, with an estimated 65 percent of U.S. households having at least one DVD player; prices on big-screen TVs have dropped significantly in the past two years to below the magic threshold of $1,000; and the growth of high-definition television (HDTV) has spurred many consumers, even in a shaky economy, to buy a home theater. What was a niche category five years ago is now the dominant force in consumer electronics, and the biggest news at this year's CES is all about new home-theater gear.

What’s the controversy over high-definition DVD?
Right now there are two rival camps of electronics manufacturers vying to deliver the next-generation version of the DVD disc, which will have HDTV-quality video, high-resolution multi-channel surround sound, and room for much more data storage than today's DVD. Toshiba, who led the engineering effort behind the original DVD format, has teamed with NEC in backing HD-DVD or High-Definition DVD. And pretty much everyone else in the CE world — Sony, Panasonic, HP, Pioneer, Philips, LG, and Samsung — has lined up behind the rival format: "Blu-Ray,” named for the shorter-wavelength blue lasers both of these next-generation formats use to pack more digital bits onto optical discs that are the same size and weight of a regular DVD.

In a controversial move, both camps have announced that they'll begin shipping players and recorders to dealers this year, letting the market ultimately decide whether Blu-Ray or HD-DVD will become the eventual replacement for the DVD. With both formats offering similar enough capabilities, the hope is that both camps are able to come together and agree on a single, unifying standard for the next-generation DVD before putting us all through another Betamax versus VHS battle. 

Are big-screen plasma TVs still hot this year?
Plasma was incredibly popular this holiday season, but the biggest buzzword for big-screen TVs at this year's show is "built-in," as in a built-in TiVo so you don't have to buy and hook up an external Digital Video Recorder to your TV. LG's new 60-inch TU-60PY2DR plasma has an integrated hard-drive-based recorder that records HDTV broadcasts in full definition. And HP takes the "built-in" concept a step further with a portable high-definition DLP video projector that has a built-in DVD player, built-in surround sound speakers, and a subwoofer. It's literally an entire home theater with a handle to carry it from room to room.

What's the latest buzz on gaming?
The most frantically anticipated video game player in years is Sony's PlayStation Portable, aka the PSP. Look for a spring launch of this handheld version of the PlayStation2, the most popular video game console in the world.

The new look for cell phones in 2005
It had to happen. Nokia will bring to the U.S. market a cell phone without any number keypad whatsoever. The new $600 Nokia 7280 looks like a very expensive lipstick case, and it's even got a small mirror on the front panel so you can check your hair. But power up the phone and the mirror suddenly becomes a video display with a list of names you can dial using voice-commands only. A circular iPod like scroll-wheel is also provided for approved manual dialing.

CES is a guy's paradise, but what about high-tech gadgets for women?
Actually, women bought more high-tech gadgets than men did in 2004, and companies are starting to cater to female gadget lovers. Circuit City is known as a national retailer, but this year the company is bringing out its own in-house line of laptop bags specifically designed to look like high-fashion bags — not the typical black, bulky, supremely unstylish nylon laptop bags women have been forced to lug alongside their Kate Spades. Even male fans of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" might be tempted to ditch their laptop bags for these mobile fashion statements — not that there's anything wrong with that.

Corey Greenberg is the host of “Home Theater Workshop” on the DIY Network.