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Show and Don't Tell at COMDEX 2000: The Projector Scene

WK Bohannon

December 1, 2020 | COMDEX on the eve of the new millennium (if you subscribe to the theory that 2001 really starts the next century) was a lot different from the first Comdex I attended, at the end of the 1980s. Back then, most exhibitors volleyed for space in the crammed Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) and those who didn't ended up whining in the basement at some sleazy hotel on the strip hugging their beige boxes for moral support. Now, most of the coolest stuff is kept off the floor of the LVCC and reserved for massive "restricted-attendance" suites instead. Everyone realizes that COMDEX is the place to bring out new products and to spy on the competition. But even more importantly, everyone realizes that it's tough to do one without allowing the other to happen.

Problem is, the coolest stuff from the show is so cool that I'm not allowed to write about it. But, in the interest of information, I'll try to find my way around the press embargoes and NDAs to give you an idea of what went on in those suites. In terms of projectors, the neatest finds were the ever-shrinking units, three pounds and lighter. Expect to see more three-pounders announced from the leading projector companies--and maybe they'll actually even ship some soon. As interesting as companies' claims are, I'm looking forward to actually holding one in my skeptical little hands.

When you line up a three-pound projector next to a huge 10-pound projector and then next to a 20 or 30-pound unit, it looks like a circle of life, the bigger projectors prepared to swallow the smaller ones. These days, however, smaller doesn't necessarily translate to lower on the food chain.

The three-pounders are alive and performing well enough for prime time. Forget about fears of loud cooling fans, red hot housings, and dim, low contrast images--these little units seem to hold their own against the big fish. What I think will be key, however is the price point manufacturers will attach to small units. I wouldn't pay $1000 to $2000 more for a projector that is only one or two pounds lighter than its bigger and better-equipped cousins, and doubt most consumers would either.

And then there are the "proposed" two-pound projectors: everything you ever wanted in a projector and less. Whether or these mini-projectors will materialize remains to be seen and I couldn't get anyone to explain to me what they planned on eliminating to lighten the load by another pound. On the demo unit, maybe they left out the lamp and power supply--the two-pound units on display at COMDEX weren't actually working models.

One related area that seemed to be promising however, was the concept of much more affordable projectors. When you can make little units, you can also make cheaper units and a lot of people think that the sub-$2000 projector is just around the corner. And I don't mean blow-out, el cheapo halogen lamp units. I'm hearing about decent-performing projectors getting down and dirty in price. Bring it on.

Other interesting talk was about improved networked units. I'm a big fan of projectors that are installed in conference rooms and project via nets--Inter or intra. Epson showed a new and much improved version of their network system. But besides Epson, many other manufacturers were stepping up to the networked, Ethernet style of projector control and networked presentations.

COMDEX 2000 was also awash with wireless. You name it, it was wireless. Actually, I think that they could have renamed this year's COMDEX "wireless world" and no one would have known the difference. However, amidst the wireless devices in all colors and flavors featured at COMDEX this year, one really intrigued me: Toshiba's "Bluetooth" wireless projector. I never considered Bluetooth to be fast enough for effectively transmitting images, but the one being demonstrated was a lot faster than that old, slow IR method some companies showed last COMDEX. Toshiba's Bluetooth unit had a good look and the projector's image changed almost as fast as the laptop that was driving it. Impressive. As with all things COMDEX, however, it will be vastly more impressive if and when they actually bring it to market.


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