CES Report: Bits and Pieces

Michael Brown

Most of the big CES news has already broken, but now that I was able to walk the show floor all day yesterday and found a few new products that haven’t garnered quite as much attention—including a new refrigerator from Whirpool featuring a tablet PC built into the door.

Whirlpool’s CentralPark Connection

I dig the TouchSmart PC that HP gave us for long-term evaluation at Maximum PC Lab North—it’s become the household’s digital hub and host to my WiLife video surveillance camera system. Whirlpool has taken the concept of the kitchen PC in a different direction by building a plug-and-play docking station in the door of its CentralPark Connection refrigerator (model number GD5VVAXT, $1,999 MSRP).

Right now, the CEIVA digital picture frame (a Wi-Fi enabled model with an eight-inch LCD and a $249 MSRP) is the only product you can buy for the docking port, but Whirlpool was demonstrating several other concepts at CES. I found the Clio Vu tablet PC, bundled with Cozi organizational software, to be the most interesting.

Whirlpool is partnering with several companies to develop other products that can be docked to their fridge, including a tempered-glass dry-erase message board and—you guessed it—an iPod speaker dock.

Creative Xdock HD

While it’s cool to be able to download video to your iPod and watch it on your TV, no one would argue that the image quality is fabulous—especially when you connect the iPod to a high-definition TV. Creative aims to solve that problem with a new version of its Xdock wireless iPod docking station, which will be called the Xdock HD.

The Xdock HD features a built-in video scaler that will upscale the iPod’s video output stream to high definition. The demo Creative showed me was in 720p, but a spokesperson for the company told me they’ll support 1080i when the product ships later this spring. I asked several people in Creative’s booth which video-scaling chip they were using, but no one had an answer other than that it wasn’t Creative’s own part. I’ll follow up with Creative after the show to see if I can find that out. Digital video is output via HDMI (with a digital audio stream, of course), and analog video output is via component cables. Digital audio can also be output over a TOSLink jack.

The docking station will also support multiple wireless receivers—and ships with one—for streaming audio to other rooms in the home. Up to four receivers can be controlled independently; the system switches to broadcast mode when you add a fifth receiver. But since there’s only one source—your iPod—all the stations play the same audio. As with earlier versions of the Xdock, the Xdock HD will feature Creative’s X-Fi Crystalizer and X-Fi CMSS-3D signal-processing technology.

The Xdock HD will retail for $400 when it ships this spring; each additional receiver beyond the one shipped with base station will cost $100.

Creative inPerson Video Conferencing System

Creative is dipping its toe into the B2B market with a new video-conferencing system. The inPerson is a wireless VOIP speakerphone system (or you can plug in a headset) with an integrated video camera and a seven-inch display. The system operates on either AC or battery power, rendering it completely portable.

The $700 price tag (plus a $10 per month service fee for Creative’s hosting service) might seem spendy for a consumer audience—especially since you’d need one at each of the end of the call to be useful—but it’s actually quite inexpensive compared to existing videoconferencing solutions. Creative hinted that if the product does well in the business market, they might market it to consumers down the line.

Sennheiser PC 350 Gaming Headset

I’m looking forward to auditioning Sennheiser’s latest gaming headset, the PC 350. This is circumaural model, meaning the ear cups cover your entire ear to block outside noise, with a noise-rejecting boom-mounted microphone.

Sennheiser also showed me a new set of wireless earbuds that are much more discrete than the Etymotic Ety8 earbuds I reviewed several months ago.

Sennheiser’s MX W1 uses a new wireless technology called Kleer, which the company claims delivers much better audio fidelity than Bluetooth. The latter technology must compress the audio signal in order to stream it, which compromises audio quality.

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