10 things seen and heard at CES

There's more to CES than gadgets

The latest TVs and tablets are only part of the fun that International CES has to offer. This is about the biggest tech trade show in the world, after all, with thousands of vendors falling over each other to get noticed. Live demos go wrong, marketing tricks backfire and the antics on the show floor can take your breath away. Here are 10 things that caught our eye at CES this week that didn't necessarily make the headlines.

Oh well, Sony a demo

It's painful to watch demos go wrong, but we love it anyway. Sony offered a spectacular example on Monday when it wheeled onto the stage the star of its press conference, a giant 4K OLED TV, only to have it immediately crash in front of the world's media and display the Windows blue screen of death. Sony President Kazuo Hirai did well continuing to present without skipping a beat, and even joked about it. "This revolutionary TV combines the world's largest OLED display with dazzling 4K resolution, including this beautiful ... interface screen." We wouldn't like to be the engineer who set that demo up.

Jesus loves gamers

Game Church is a Christian group from Ventura, California, that came to CES to spread the word that Jesus and video games don't have to be worlds apart. From a small booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center, they're giving out hip T-shirts that say Jesus Loves Gamers and the booklet "Jesus, For The Win!", which includes bits of gospel and advice about sex, death and love. It's hard to miss their booth as behind it hangs a giant picture of Jesus, wearing headphones and holding a game controller. The group has been to CES before but usually attends more focused gaming shows like E3. So why target gamers in particular? "Because we're gamers," one told us. Stupid question.

FCC that man out the door

Right after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced that his agency will act to make more spectrum available for Wi-Fi, a man stood up in the audience and interrupted him, shouting a question. Most of the audience had plenty of questions -- "How much spectrum?" "How soon?" -- but the man wasn't interested in that. "Mr. Chairman," he demanded, "is it wise to aggressively pursue a broadband policy knowing that we're exposing people to a known carcinogenic? We do not have safety guidelines in place!" he said. "People are suffering innocently, and you know it!" CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro, who was interviewing Genachowski, asked the audience to applaud the call for more Wi-Fi spectrum, which it did. After the man yelled a bit more, security guards ejected him.

Could it be? Really?

At the CES Unveiled product showcase on Sunday night, we were slightly amused to see a man with long, gray, curly hair who looked like an older version of the sledgehammer-wielding 1980s comedian Gallagher, a Vegas-type performer if ever there was one. Amused, that is, until we saw the man's conference badge, which read, simply ... "Gallagher."

Nail polish inside

Tech conferences are still largely male affairs so it was refreshing to look in the bag of swag that Intel gave attendees at its press conference Monday and find ... nail polish and an emery board. Apparently the theme was touch, as there was also some hand sanitizer and gloves with touchpad fingers. But whatever the reason, it was nice to see Intel getting in touch with its feminine side, and a refreshing change to mini-Maglites and crappy pens. Intel, we salute you.

Gangnam stop

There are nails on a chalk board, screeching violins and cats howling. Then there's "Gangnam Style." This fun-at-first-but-now-excruciating ditty has been played at every turn at CES, more to wake people up perhaps than to entertain. Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and the folks at Brands Matter all pulled it out of their hats to liven up their events, and it's assaulting the ears at more than one booth on the show floor. New Rickrolled, anyone?

Qualcomm's big night out

This one did make the headlines but is worth another look anyway. No one seemed sure what to make of Qualcomm's keynote Monday night. Reactions ranged from "cringeworthy" to "a good-time nerdfest." It began elegantly, with the crowd welcomed by some cool '60s jazz and artful fluorescent mobiles hanging from the ceiling. Then it exploded into "Gangnam Style" (of course), followed by some very pumped up youths bleating about their Born Mobile lifestyle, and it never let up after that. A parade of notables followed: Steve Ballmer, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Guillermo del Toro, a Star Trek actress, Big Bird and Maroon5. And somewhere in there, some new chips were announced. Our verdict? It wasn't boring.

DJ BabyChino

What can you say about a chubby-faced 10-year-old who's covered in bling, spins hip-hop and is billed as "the world's youngest DJ?" BabyChino may be a gimmick but he had the crowd captivated when he played a few sets on the CES show floor this week. And this isn't some pretend DJing; the Las Vegas local plays clubs and theaters and has opened for Kid Rock. Head down, hands on decks, he's all business when he's at work, in this case promoting a strange, laser-controlled electronic instrument from a company called Beamz.

Beauty and the geeks

It's easy to spot the techies here in Vegas. Perhaps its the lack of sleep, or that they walk around with their eyes fixed on computer screens. So glued are they to their devices that a number of them were oblivious when a couple of dozen young women, dressed up for a night on the town, arrived at Nvidia's news conference at a nightclub in the Palms last Sunday evening. Later, music started thumping out and more women, in skimpy outfits, started dancing on platforms. The press and analysts weren't dancing. Some didn't even seem to notice the spectacle, and continued staring at their screens.

Gangnam again?

In a transparent bid to give CES a hip vibe before Verizon's CEO took the stage for his keynote Tuesday, organizers showed a collection of video clips from the show strung together to the tune of "Gangnam Style" (no way!). Coming after more than a billion YouTube views of the video by South Korean rapper PSY, the presentation lacked a certain freshness. But it wasn't exactly inappropriate. One of the most closely watched vendors at CES this year has been South Korea's Samsung Electronics. And PSY grew up in Seoul's wealthy Gangnam district, the son of a semiconductor tycoon.

(Stephen Lawson, Martyn Williams and Kerry Davis contributed to this report)

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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