At CES: Stuff You Need & Stuff You Don’t — Lady Gaga, Tablets & Smart TVs

Walking the floors of the three-day tsunami of 130,000 tech and retail professionals

We went to CES so you don’t have to. This event amounts to a three-day tsunami of 130,000 tech and retail professionals jamed into three buildings in Las Vegas — and even longtime attendees will tell you that this year it’s a logistical nightmare.

What’s new and exciting in the world of consumer electronic goods?

She's not new, but Lady Gaga, who Polaroid announced as a Creative Director for the company at last year's CES, drew a lot of attention in Vegas.

On Thursday, the pop superstar, who was dressed much more conservatively than usual, and Polaroid launched a new line of products designed by Gaga called Grey Label. The line's debuted with the GL 10 Instant Mobile Printer, GL20 Camera Glasses and the GL30 Instant Digital Camera. 

And on Friday, directors Baz Luhrmann, Oliver Stone and Michael Mann touted the wonders of Blu-Ray quality DVDs (see photo below).

As you walk the floor of the show, themes do begin to emerge from the cacophony of music, sound effects, announcers and a notable number of Hasidim. (Go figure.)

See slideshow: What's New at CES

Two products are in the must-have, must-compete category: "smart" television sets that can interface with the internet, play movies, create social groups and do other kinds of exciting new things, and tablets of every stripe — for reading, writing and even drawing.

So much of what is new in tablets feels like a follow-on to what Steve Jobs has already done, or at least the template for what consumers want: strong graphics, cool design, easy interface.

And by the way, Apple is notable in its absence, except as the inspiration for a lot of these products. (Yes, they’re not here. Apparently they don’t need this place anymore.)

Some represent a further leap forward in areas where Apple has led the way.

The Blackberry seven-inch tablet, which its billing as the first professional-grade tablet for work, supports Flash, which Apple has decided the consumer world doesn’t need.

The Samsung tablet (see video) is light and has an eight-hour battery. Damn good looking.

 

Sony has a 3D multimedia laptop, which can play movies in 3D.

The LG television has a set of more than a thousand "apps," and another smart television which is thin as a wafer. (See video with demonstration below.)

3D is here in force, but some of us just don’t get the point. How many kinds of 3D glasses can anyone use? I mean I like the "Sound Egg," which lets me enjoy a TV show in surround sound, but is it a must-have?

Sony and others are introducing TV screens that are 3D but don't require glasses. That’s cool, but there’s still not enough content to make this a compelling purchase for most consumers.

And some of this stuff feels like they’re making it just because they can. This category of voice-activated technology — telling your television or Xbox what movie to watch — seems like a waste of time. Are people ever going to really talk to their TV?  

“A lot of this stuff is just going to fall away because it will never hit critical mass,” said David Larkin, a new media and entertainment entrepreneurand founder of MRQE.com, who walked the floor with me.

Despite all the high-tech flash, that's always going to be the real story from CES — what is likely to stick and what won't, and only time and real consumer use will tell.