CES: Not Just for Early Adopters

vendors look over latest technology at CESIt's hard to avoid the Consumer Electronics Show. Talk of it is everywhere and you'll be hard pressed to access a news outlet this week without hearing some technology talk. CES is a monster of a show with upwards of 125,000 people attending and exhibiting.

It's the reason why you're suddenly seeing a lot of stories about mobile computing, smartphones and video games. For those of us inside the industry, it's a hectic and exciting time.

It's also a ton of hype.For the average consumer, it's fun to see the world's largest flat screen TV -- each year some new company claims that honor -- but the takeaways are a lot different for regular folks than early adopters.

Yesterday, January 5, was media day, when companies have hundreds of the press tramping from one conference room to the next the day before the show officially opens. But already it was clear: for anyone looking for good deals on home and portable electronics, 2011 should yield some bargains.

So far we're seeing loads of new tablet computers, literally dozens. Some priced hirer than Apple's iPad and some lower. The iPad is the gold standard though, and Apple doesn't come to CES, choosing to host Macworld the same month instead.

The takeaway for most consumers, is to expect lots of choices with a variety of features at more affordable prices than the iPad. Not unlike the early days of iPod's and MP3 players, when you could get one of the latter for a song compared to an Apple product.

TVs are performing more and more like computers, sporting internet connections and using apps on screen to access things like movies from Netflix and streaming content from Hulu and YouTube. These features will be integrated into new TVs, along with 3D, making the TV a more encompassing media center. Call these SmartTVs, bringing to the living room all the functionality of a smartphone with a bigger screen.

These won't come cheap: new technology rarely does. But given how eager the manufacturers are to move product -- it's been a bad year for electronics companies profit-wise -- it won't be priced at quite the premium we've seen in the past. Remember the cost of a plasma TV when it first came out? They were $8,000 and up. New model internet-enabled TVs will run about half that. Not exactly doorbuster territory, but prices come down fast so expect some attractive price points come next holiday season.

One of the bigger bargains could be one that offers a chance to belong to the Consumer Electronics Association itself. CEA has created a membership for tech enthusiasts and early adopters in partnership with its corporate members. Get discounts from many of the CEA member companies, a who's-who roster of electronics manufacturers, and get to participate in beta testing opportunities for new technologies.

This is a pilot program, but for the first 2,000 who sign up, the annual membership fee is just $29.99. As of Christmas, nearly 1,000 had signed up, so hurry if you want the opportunity to live like an early adopter without the price tag.
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