2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with George Benson & Al Jarreau in concert

I just returned from Las Vegas, where I attended one of the most wonderful trade shows I’ve ever been to.

No doubt you have heard of the world famous Consumer Electronics Show, which just celebrated its 40th year. Every year it is all over the news and always features new products that we long to have.

In the past I’ve never seriously considered going there because I mistakenly thought that this show did not include many automotive products. Boy was I wrong! There were many automotive products here that I had never seen at an auto industry event before. Suffice to say that in my time at the show I gathered enough automotive material for more columns than I will probably have the time and the space to write – but I’ll try.

In this column I’ll try to at least touch on the full range of what I saw and experienced, including some world-class Las Vegas entertainment.

I got up early on Saturday and drove straight to Las Vegas. It’s about a five hour drive from where I live in San Diego.

I got there just in time to check in to my hotel and attend the very popular “CES Unveiled: The Official Press Event of CES” at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. A variety of the CES Show’s exhibitors gave us a “sneak peek at the International CES Innovations 2007 Design & Engineering Showcase network, with today’s hottest tech companies and exclusive table top demonstrations, while enjoying cocktails and hors d’ouevres.” I spent several hours there.

Automotive offerings included car audio equipment and a variety of products from Cobra Electronics (CB radios, radar detectors and GPS navigation systems).

Another evening I attended a private, invitation-only event called “Show Stoppers®” (www.showstoppers.com) at The Wynn. It was billed as “hot companies, cool products, meet the press.” However they chose to describe it, attending this event was probably the single most productive use of my time at the entire show. Unlike when I navigated the seemingly endless exhibit halls along with tens of thousands of other show-goers, walking the wide, uncrowded aisles of “Show Stoppers®” enabled me and a much, much more limited number of people to spend some quality time interviewing and learning from a broad cross section of exhibitors. A few of those exhibitors told me that they were not even exhibiting at the convention centers, just here, because this provides for such a productive use of their time and resources. I agree whole heartedly. Much of what you’ll see and read about here and in the coming weeks will have come from my time spent at “Show Stoppers®.” A broad variety of automotive-related products were represented. I’ll tell you about a few of them now.

As you know, blind spots can be a serious problem in automobiles. My Toyota Prius has a terrible blind spot on the right side, towards the rear, so I paid particularly close attention to learning about the MAGNA “Total BlindZoneManagement™ System.”

This multi-faceted system incorporates a “small convex mirror integrated into the reflective surface of (a) mirror,” a rear-mounted camera with graphic overlays, camera technology that lets drivers virtually “see around corners” and adaptive headlights to make backing up, pulling out of parking spaces and driving in general easier and safer. Look for this technology to start appearing on new vehicles soon. You can learn more at www.magnadon.com.

You never know who you might see there. At the Delphi exhibit, which featured a portable XM® satellite radio receiver, I did a major double-take. I was looking around when suddenly I recognized the person who was standing directly in front of me as a NASCAR NEXTEL CUP driver.

For some inexplicable reason I had a major deer-in-the-headlights reaction and I struggled to speak. Like a star-struck race fan, I blurted out “you’re, you’re…” but for some reason I couldn’t remember his first name. Instead, all I could think of was Kurt Busch, the name of his famous racing brother. It seemed like an eternity but finally he helped me by telling me his name: Kyle Busch. I have rarely been so thoroughly embarrassed by one of my senior’s moments.

One of my CES show favorites is a game simulator which, when it is in its car configuration with pedals, realistically simulates driving a car. Unlike most of today’s video driving games, whose vehicles I cannot seem to control, the Gamescapers “Dream Machine” utilizes the suspended player’s body english for a real seat-of-the-pants driving experience – and exercise, too!

Thanks to this more realistic feel, I was able to “drive” it almost immediately. It was great fun and I did not want to leave. I want one of these and I suspect that many other people will too – especially after comparing the projected price to what other companies are charging for their driving simulators. The “Dream Machine” should be available later this year. See and read all about it at www.thedreammachine.com.au.

The day before the show opened I took the opportunity to join a few thousand other people and listen to Bill Gates, who has been a regular Keynote speaker at several CES Shows. He and several of his associates took the opportunity to tempt us with some of the cool new features of the upcoming new Windows Vista operating system. I think that you’re really going to like it, but you’d better have a pretty powerful computer to run it.

The four-day CES Show was absolutely incredible. All that I really have to compare it to are major auto shows (New York and Los Angeles) and the SEMA Show.

Spread out over two large convention centers and beyond, CES is huge. Beyond that, many of the exhibits were elaborate and entertaining. They had to be, to stand out from the rest.

For example, Toshiba staged a version of the popular T.V. show “DEAL or NO DEAL,” complete with valuable prizes.

Exhibitors staged everything from short plays and musical performances, to magic shows, autograph signings and more. The car shows would do well to take a lesson from CES in how to attract and entertain visitors.

Of course while it was one thing for exhibitors to attract people to their exhibits, the important thing was informing them about their products and services once they got there. For their automotive electronics exhibit, MONSTER used an exotic Lamborghini Murcielago to attract attention to their exhibit.

Once there, visitors could speak with knowledgeable product experts and use several interactive, educational, point-of-sale product displays to learn about the quality and correct applications of MONSTER products.

Alpine had an amazing show car built in time for the CES. Their IMPRINT began life as a Mercedes. To enter the vehicle, you’d first need to sit on a seat that rotated 90 degrees sideways and presented itself outside of the car. Then you’d need to hold down a button to get the seat to rotate back into the car and close the door. Of course as mind-blowing as this car looked, the sound was so good that it just seemed to seamlessly blend into the total experience. Rather than shout out “hey, listen to me,” it almost took people by surprise. The sound was just right. I don’t know how better to describe it.

At the Visteon Press Conference we were introduced to their transportable HD Jump™ radio. Docking kits let you use it at home or in your car. If you are not yet aware of what HD radio is, think digital sound quality, fee-free – as in no subscription fee. Imagine your favorite radio stations but with significantly better sound quality and two additional channels with alternate content, in addition to the one you now enjoy. FM radio is transformed into CD quality sound and AM radio sounds like FM. That is the promise of HD Radio, and if you drive a BMW chances are you already know what I mean. For more information, go to www.evisteon.com and www.hdradio.com.

Visteon also introduced us to wireless charging technology. No longer will you need to make sure that you have dedicated chargers and power cords in your vehicles for each of your electronic devices. Instead, you will be able to conveniently charge your cell phone, MP3 player and more in-car using one, easy-to-use new charger. It will recognize if a device is in close proximity and if it can be charged.

Visteon also had some pretty amazing, customizable, vehicle instrument cluster displays for us to see and look forward to.

Probably the absolute high point of the CES show experience for me was the incredible MONSTER Retailer Awards concert. It starred not one but two musical greats: George Benson and Al Jarreau.

I was fortunate to get Press and Photo Credentials for the concert, but that turned out to be just the beginning of my good fortune. After I took some photos of guests on the Red Carpet, I left to join my fellow journalists for the start of the concert in the Venetian Ballroom of the Venetian Hotel.

Press photographers gather for photos at the start of the George Benson & Al Jarreau MONSTER concert

Whereas most of the other photographers crowded the very front of the stage, I chose a central location that was one row of banquet tables back from the stage. So as to not block the view of the people in the table directly behind me or bother those seated in front of me, I sat down on the carpet and poked my camera up over the top of the table.

I became caught up in the emotion of the concert, swaying to the music and having the time of my life. I decided that since I wasn’t bothering anyone, I would see if I could stay there instead of returning to my seat near the rear of the ballroom. After many songs the fellow sitting directly in front of me got up to leave the table (which left me a great view for taking pictures). I guess I really had done a good job of not bothering anyone because he expressed his surprise to see me down there, a grown adult sitting on the carpet like a wide-eyed kid. Soon he returned and we both continued to enjoy an absolutely wonderful performance.

Afterwards there was an after-party, complete with food and more entertainment. Partway through that, George Benson joined us and performed again. I didn’t want the evening to ever end, it was that good.

At the after-party I learned from another guest about other famous musical artists who had performed at these MONSTER concerts in years past. It was a who’s who of people who I love to listen to.

I helped shut the place down at 2:30 in the morning. My photo count for the evening exceeded 350! After the music ended, the guest who’d told me about the other concerts introduced me to “The Head Monster” himself, Mr. Noel Lee, who was riding his gold-colored Segway.

What a perfect evening. I hope that I can somehow get an invitation to go again to next year’s MONSTER Retailer Awards concert.

At this point I’d like to change gears and acknowledge a great debt of gratitude that I owe to many people behind the scenes. Some of them – and you know who you are, continually help me by suggesting events that I should cover, and by steering me in good directions when I get there. Without their help AutoMatters would be much less interesting for you and me both.

Others help in sometimes totally unexpected ways. I’d like to thank one such person in particular – someone who was a total stranger to me a week ago, but someone who I will hopefully never forget. Without her help many of the photos that I took on this trip would never be seen by you.

Kristina Crosby, with the support of her husband, reaffirmed my belief in the basic goodness and honesty of people. When I first met Kristina she was working in the AMD lounge in the CES Concierge Center. I was exhausted – a price I had willingly paid for working the CES Show day and night since I’d arrived four days earlier.

At the Concierge Center, the friendly, helpful staff offered me an opportunity to relax and send E-mails back home to my kids, so I put down my expensive camera beside a computer and prepared to write some messages. However, when I learned that I would need to first establish a new email account, I decided instead to see if my brand-new laptop computer, which I had been lugging around the entire show, actually worked. I got up and moved to a couch on the other end of the Center, where I worked for an hour until it was time for the Center – and the CES Show, to close for the day. Then I packed up my laptop, made sure my camera case was in my wheeled luggage and left for my hotel.

About an hour or so later I got an uneasy feeling. You know, the kind of feeling when you’re sometimes not quite sure that you did something that you were supposed to do? Then it dawned on me. I did not have a clear recollection of putting my camera in its bag back at the show. I had a bad feeling about this. Reluctantly I opened my camera bag to check. It was empty!

I was in a state of shock. Together, my Nikon camera, lens and flash are worth a small fortune. Even just the 4 GB professional memory card and filter for the lens had cost me several hundred dollars. Since I am a freelancer, I had paid for all of this equipment myself. Furthermore, the memory card in the camera contained many of my photos from the show. Worse yet, I knew that I had not placed my name or any other identifying information on any of this missing equipment. Even if an honest person found it, they would have no way of knowing who it belonged to unless they contacted Nikon with the serial numbers that I had registered.

In a panic I searched my papers for the phone number of the Security Office at the Las Vegas Convention Center. I found it and called, but they told me that my camera had not been turned in. The suggested that I give them my cell phone number, just in case. Then I decided to get my car and drive to the now-closed CES Show, to look for my camera.

As I walked to my car the phone rang. It was LVCC Security. They had called to tell me that someone had found my camera and was holding it for safekeeping. Kindly they gave me the person’s phone number so that I could contact them immediately, which I did.

I phoned and spoke with Kristina. She remembered me from the Concierge Center, where I had left my camera. She generously offered to drive back with her husband and bring it to me, but I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting and doing nothing. I needed to do something to get my mind off of what I’d done. Never in all my years had I ever been so careless before. So, I arranged to meet Kristina and her husband at their home.

The map set on my GPS is old, so Kristina’s new street was not on it. She gave me a few directions to get me started, and then I called her when I got closer for the remainder. After giving me those directions she told me that they had ordered Chinese food, and asked me if I’d like to join their family for dinner. I could not get over them showing such kindness to a total stranger.

Soon I found their home and was reunited with my camera, which was safe and sound.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Kristina. Mere words cannot describe how much I appreciate what she did for me. Thanks to her, I enjoyed my last day at the Consumer Electronics Show – and I took more photos to share with you.

I also spent some time off-site, including a visit to check out the Ferrari Store at The Wynn.

For my final evening in Las Vegas I celebrated a successful week by going to see a performance of the BLUE MAN GROUP at the Venetian. My ticket was for a seat in the back three rows of the top balcony, but when I got to the theater I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that they had upgraded me to a seat on the main floor, quite close to the stage. The show proved that wholesome family entertainment can also be great fun. I heartily recommend it to you. My only regret is that I cannot show you any of what I saw. In the best interests of cast and audience members alike, photos are not allowed until after the performance is over.

So long from Las Vegas. Drive safely and do join me again next time.

Copyright © 2007 & 2021 by Jan Wagner — AutoMatters & More #223

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