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CES flops: A brief history of high hopes and bad guesses

Colin Neagle | Jan. 10, 2014
Remember the Palm Pre? Anybody watching 3D TV these days, running Windows Vista or watching a movie on Blu-ray?

With this year's Consumer Electronics Show winding down, and a deluge of recap articles and slideshows flooding the Internet, it's always important to remember that what may be exciting at CES is not always an indication of what will transform the consumer technology market.

Often at CES, one or two technologies seem to dominate headlines, while other times standout products receive a lot of attention for their specifications. As these exciting technologies enter a market full of consumers who don't spend all their time talking about technology, they have trouble fulfilling their potential. This is a look back at those products and technologies, what made them so popular at CES, and why they didn't pan out in the market.

This look back at CES starts in 2006, which attracted about 150,000 attendees and made it the largest technology event in the country. Some CES events, particularly those the past few years, were dominated by one technology that established a theme. Others loaned attention to products that, while technologically impressive, were bound to fail in the market.

Every year since 2006 is represented here except for 2011, which was, judging by Google search results, mostly dominated by tablets and laptops. While the "death of the PC" debate could be raised here, it doesn't really apply to CES specifically.

CES 2006: The beginning of the Blu-ray/HD DVD battle, and sad hope for MP3 players that weren't the iPod
The 2006 CES was where HD DVD formally challenged Blu-ray for dominance of the home entertainment market. Just as DVD had unseated VHS with its higher-quality playback, one of these formats was expected to displace DVD.However, eight years later, it's clear the "battle" was short-lived, and neither side won. Although Blu-ray sales grew 5% in 2013, which the Digital Entertainment Group called "consistent," that growth was far outpaced by Electronic Sell-Through's 50% growth over the year [PDF]. Streaming also poses a significant threat, and with the growing presence of smart TVs, Internet TV devices like Apple TV or Google Chromecast, and media consoles like Microsoft's Xbox One or Sony's PlayStation 4, the future does not look good for Blu-ray and DVD sales.

Also notable at CES 2006 were MP3 players that aimed to unseat the iPod. Manufacturers employed a handful of new features to try to differentiate these devices from Apple's market-leading MP3 player.

Engadget praised Toshiba's Gigabeat S Series portable media player, claiming "it'll have the skills to take on the iPod." The Gigabeat's secret weapon was integration with Vongo, a video download service offered by the cable network Starz that allowed users to download movies and watch them on the go. CBS News suggested that the 2 or 4-gig Samsung YPZ5 could compete with the iPod Nano, while CNET got excited about the SanDisk Sansa Connect's built-in Wi-Fi for adding and sharing media.


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