Tech gadget awards offer CES 2005 sneak peek

Electronic "Innovations Awards" set the stage for upcoming consumer electronics show

NEW YORK - Sonos Inc.'s long-delayed digital music system, a device that combines video gaming controls with a workout machine, and the latest version of iRobot Corp.'s Roomba vacuuming disc are among the "Innovations Awards" winners that will be in the spotlight this January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) introduced its 27 award winners Wednesday at a press conference in New York, previewing CEA's plans for CES 2005. The popular gadget show has avoided the "shrinking trade show" curse that has felled other industry gatherings, including Comdex. This year, CES expects 2,400 exhibitors to fill a show floor organizers say will be three times as spacious as London's Buckingham Palace.

Karen Chupka, CEA's vice president of conferences and events, said CES has seen little additional growth from Comdex's demise because most vendors CEA works with were already exhibiting at both shows. Still, with one less event on the vendors' calendars, CES 2005 may see a rise in product launches and previews.

CEA's Innovations Awards are intended to spotlight products showing off design and engineering advances. Some of this year's winners, chosen from among 800 entries, meld style and technology in one sleek form, like Motorola Inc.'s ultra-slim Razr V3 camera-and-video-equipped mobile phone. Others aren't as sleek, but could become indispensable, such as XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc.'s NavTraffic system for streaming traffic updates.

One likely crowd pleaser is Sonos' system for easily creating a household digital music system. Sonos relies on PC software, a handheld controller, and several "ZonePlayers" that can be dotted around a dwelling to set digital music free, eliminating the need for a wireless network. The fledgling company announced its system in June and set geek hearts aflame, but has since delayed the product so long that it will miss the holiday shopping season.

Dance Dance Revolution became an international craze with the novel idea of combining video gaming with a full-body workout. Another Innovations award winner, start-up "intensity gaming" designer Powergrid Fitness Inc., hopes to grab its own share of the new fitness-craving gamer market with the Kilowatt Sport. Compatible with the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube, the Kilowatt incorporates a console-games controller into an exercise machine.

Other CES honorees bring new technology to familiar products, like iRobot's now remote-controllable Roomba Discovery and Motorola's Ojo video phone, which uses a broadband Internet connection to carry data. Companies have experimented before with video phones, but the poor data transmission quality of traditional phone lines doomed early efforts.

CES opens Jan. 6 in Las Vegas.