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COMDEX 2002--The Last Hurrah?
Posted Jan 1, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Digital convergence hardware and software were the highlight of COMDEX 2002, making it seem like a preview of CES in January. With COMDEX' future in doubt, everyone may end up at CES next year anyway. But just because this may have been COMDEX' swan song doesn't mean there wasn't plenty to ogle at the conference, held in Las Vegas in November.

There was plenty of activity in the digital studio arena. Perhaps the longest-term impact may come from Nvidia's debut of their GeForce FX graphics processing unit (GPU). Nvidia went on the offensive to promote their chips and continually lured a large crowd to dazzle them with the "Cinematic PC Experience" of the world's first 128-bit color processing in the chip's CineFX engine. The improvement is in some cases dramatic, with high-definition CGI coming across much more realistically using the new GPU.

VoodooPC is one of the first vendors using Nvidia's chip, which wasn't surprising. What Porsche or Ferrari is to cars, VoodooPC's F-Class workstations are to computing. Not only are the F-Class machines high-performance, but they are stylish and truly colorful as well. (For those interested in power on the portable side, PC Laptops displayed their ultra-high-performance E-Pro Max 585 with a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 for under $3000.)

Recordable DVD remains a hot topic. The two sides of DVD recording—the -RW and the +RW—were well represented. The Recordable DVD Council (-R/-RW) booth was in a prime location up front, while HP and the +RW crowd shared a location in the middle of the show floor. Both were busy throughout the show.

Both Panasonic and Hitachi had DVD-R/RW/ RAM combo drives on display. Panasonic had their DVD Burner II multi-drive (LF-D521) while Hitachi showed off the what they called "the world's first" DVD multi-drive, the GMA-4020B. (Sony, with their Dual RW combo drive that handles both -R/RW and +R/RW, was not in attendance.)

The +RW camp had several new vendors offering drives including Kano Technologies and Freecom. Kano, run by industry veteran Richard Young (formerly with JVC), showed off an IT-grade backup solution called the DVD+ K2xtreme using NTI's Backup NOW! software. Freecom, a major European player now making its stateside launch, showed off an external +RW drive. The neat trick here is that the drive is both Firewire and USB 2.0 capable by moving the connection electronics to the cable.

The technical war between the two formats apparently shrunk for the duration of COMDEX. Instead, the DVD-R/RW side pointed to a lot of product and media shipping as their compelling story. On the +R/RW side, they count winning Microsoft's support in the future Mount Rainier release of its Windows OS to make it the defacto standard with consumers. While the -RW side points to continually increasing market share, abundant media, and low cost as in their favor; they should not underestimate the impact of Microsoft on consumer choice.

Speaking of which, Microsoft continued to tout its now-long-in-the-tooth tablet approach to computing as the next big thing. Much more interesting was HP's new Media Center PC. Equipped with the Windows XP Media software, the HP box tries to be the convergence device—TV receiver, stereo, DVD player, and PC all wrapped into one. (There were a variety of vendors with similar devices.) It actually played remarkably well, but begs for a large display monitor.

Viewsonic had a prototype display with something like 3000x2000 pixels (about double the current high end) that was absolutely stunning. If such a product can reach artists at an affordable price, it would be a big step closer to film quality on the PC. Not to be outdone, display vendor BenQ debuted their FP591 with an impressive 16ms response time. Compared with most LCD monitors at 25ms, this faster signal response means that the FP591 can smoothly handle Progressive Scan 60fps without flicker. Certainly this monitor is a must-have in the near term.

Philips demonstrated their new LC6231 multimedia projector for the home market. The projector delivers all the bells and whistles along with a great picture, but what makes this another must-have is its 6000-hour lamp. Philips believes consumers might only have to buy one bulb for the working life of the product! With an MSRP of under $2500, this should do very well in the home or studio environment.

On the production side, Plasmon debuted their UDO format for high capacity archiving and true WORM recording. Aimed as a migration path for existing MO applications, UDO offers 30GB per cartridge and 8MB/sec transfer speeds—a big improvement over MO or DVD. While UDO is very similar in concept to Blu-Ray technology, UDO will instead be available by August of 2003. (Current forecasts project Blu-Ray may only debut in 2005 or later.)

But MO was still alive and kicking at Fujitsu, which touts its DynaMO 2.3GB drives as a Zip drive replacement for under $400. One neat trick with the DynaMO is its ability to do recording and playback simultaneously, sort of like a removable hard drive.

Speaking of hard drives, Asaca debuted their new, all-hard-drive jukebox—the FireFly. Using up to 192 Maxtor 320GB drives, the FireFly could hold 48TBs of data. This marks quite a change for Asaca, which primarily offers robotic optical libraries. One key advantage to the FireFly over conventional RAID systems is that each drive can be powered down. This reduces power consumption and extends drive lifetime. An advantage over optical is the large reduction in latency, both with single and multiple requests due to the hard drives.

Finally, Powerfile continues as the price/performance leader for departmental and studio recording and backup with their R200 series. Now rack-mountable, their $5000 units can hold up to 1.68TB of data using 4.7GB RAM media.
—David Doering

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