Years ago, when Jim Barry traipsed across the country to show off the latest and greatest consumer electronics gadgets to the news media, he needed at least two large bags and sometimes a box or two to carry it all.
But during a recent visit to Salt Lake City, the spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association toted nine devices, including a pair of computers and two camcorders, all in one bag.
Digital technology has allowed Barry, and consumers worldwide, to do more with less.
"It's giving the capability of having smaller, lighter, more-mobile and less-expensive stuff," he said. "Notebook computers for under 400 bucks? I mean, come on."
In a goodie bag that would make even the Wizard of Oz feel inferior, Barry toted not just individual techno gizmos, but representatives of consumer electronics trends.
For example, the Digital Foci Pocket Album OLED 1.5, is a $50 keychain photo display with a 1.5-inch color LCD screen able to show 120 snapshots. It's just one way for folks to show off all their digital photos.
"The typical household now takes about 60 pictures a month with digital cameras and has about a thousand stored on computers, so you want to get those out print them, put them on photo frames to put on the desktop, and from keychains to desktop ones that you can update regularly hooked up to the Internet or wirelessly," Barry said. "You've got a million ways to do that."
Folks who like the Internet for snatching TV shows but hate watching them on a computer screen might consider the SanDisk Sansa TakeTV, a three-piece device that lets people download videos from the Internet with one unit and watch them on TV with a component that remains plugged to a TV. Control is with a small remote.
Five hours of video can be stored on a $99 version, 10 hours on a $149 model.
"What that represents is the merger of the Internet and television. And it's kind of a 'sneaker' way of doing it, carrying it from one place to the other," Barry said. "You take your TV from the computer. Say you want to download your favorite TV programs or YouTube clips. Instead of watching them on your small computer screen, you can watch it on your big-screen TV.
"An increasing number of people watch clips of 'American Idol' or old TV shows old shows on the Web now or this week's 'Desperate Housewives' and it's getting better all the time. It won't be long before they'll be indistinguishable. You'll be able to do high-definition over the Web, and there will be no real difference. Web sites are looking more like TV, and TV is looking more like Web sites. Look at CNN or ESPN, and they have stuff scrolling on the bottom and on the side. With this merger, they will be indistinct media sometime in the not-too-distant future."
Folks who like shooting their own video content have "small" options, meaning plenty of choices of diminutive camcorders small enough for one-hand operation. Among them are the Pure Digital Flip Video Mino and the Kodak Zi6. Both retail for about $179.
The Mino contains flash memory for about an hour of video and plugs directly to a computer via a flip-out USB arm or to a TV for instant viewing. It also can accommodate an SD card for more storage.
The Zi6, also using SD technology, is about the same size but offers high-definition recording.
"You know, when I was the editor of Video magazine 16 years ago, new camcorders were coming out that were 10 times the size of these but had a tenth the picture quality," Barry said.
"Camcorders have been around 25 years now, and they've gotten smaller and smaller and now high-def. But even the small ones are about the size of your fist. These new ones are so small and thin and easy to use that you will keep it in your pocket or your purse. Mom will have it in the pocket of her jeans when she takes the kids down to the park, and you'll get pictures of the kids on the swings and stuff that you wouldn't get otherwise."
The trend toward small is also seen in notebook computers, such as the Sylvania Meso and the MSi Wind. The $399 Meso weighs only 2.2 pounds and a keyboard about 80 percent of normal size, but it packs a 1.6-gigahertz Intel Atom processor, stereo speakers, built-in WiFi and a webcam really, just about anything a standard notebook would have, except for a DVD drive. The $499 Wind, also with a 1.6-gigahertz processor, sports a full-size keyboard. Both have screens smaller than 9 inches but come with 80 gigabytes of storage.
Another trend represented in Barry's bag o' fun is hands-free communication.
The BlueAnt Supertooth Light and the Funkwerk Ego Cup let a person chat while driving but without having a speakerphone cluttering up the car.
The $99 BlueAnt device clips to a car's sun visor. The Ego Cup, under $100, can be attached to a flat surface but an attachment lets the speakerphone rest in a standard-size cupholder. It gets power through a car cigarette-lighter adapter. Both work with any Bluetooth phone and adjust sound levels to compensate for a loud engine or external noise.
"Now, you shouldn't be talking while you're driving," Barry cautioned," but if it's an emergency or somebody calls, you definitely want your hands free. And a lot of people don't like to put things in their ears, so you can put these on the sun visor or in your cupholder."
Substance with style, another trend, is epitomized by the Vestalife Ladybug, a $125 iPod speaker dock with collapsible "wing" speakers reminiscent of a you guessed it ladybug. "You have a legion of speakers like this, then you have the iPort, which are designed to hook up to your existing stereo system," Barry said.
Small but powerful. That describes the new wave of consumer electronics, but the industry itself is anything but small. Americans love their tech gadgets, regardless of how big a bag they need for carrying them."This year, not withstanding the situation in the economy, it looks like sales will be up 6 percent this year, which is less than it was up last year. Last year, it was up 8 percent," Barry said. "But still, in this economy, for any category of products to be up is a testament to the value of these products and how they've become integral to the way we live."
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