Rory Cellan-Jones

CES - smiling through the gloom

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 8 Jan 09, 19:59 GMT

I knew something was wrong when I walked onto the vast plaza in front of the Las Vegas Convention Centre as I arrived at CES. In past years this area has been a tented city packed with the marquees of some of the major brands who have overflowed from the cavernous halls. This year the place was half deserted - Microsoft, of course had a giant tent, showing off their in-car software ventures, but other top names seemed to have retreated inside the hall. "A few weeks ago quite a few decided they could stay away this year," a passing CES employee told us.

It is clear that the global recession has taken its toll on this show - but the many who have still come don't appear to have trimmed their spending. In fact, as the show opens, the stands inside the hall look more lavish, more packed with shiny new gadgets than ever before. At a preview event the night before the show opened, there was a seething throng getting a glimpse of everything from toy robots to laser television, while scoffing free hamburgers and knocking back cocktails. You'll be glad to know that I'm on a New Year detox, and abstained.

Sony had the most arresting product to be unveiled on the first day - an 8" netbook, with every kind of connectivity from 3g to wifi to GPS. It also has a startling $900 price-tag which certainly differentiates it from the more pared-down cheap and cheerful netbooks on the market.

Sony has a huge piece of CES real estate, where journalists packed into a pre-show press conference. To the bemusement of those not from the US, the presser began in the style of the popular quiz show Jeopardy, which is being broadcast from the Sony stand this week - it's a product of the firm's television division.

But Sony's US boss Stan Glasgow seemed to be aware that it was his industry that was in jeopardy - the words "global recession" fell from his lips within minutes. Of course, like every other big player here, Mr Glasgow is insisting that his business is better placed than its rivals to weather these stormy times. There are hordes of happy clappy electronics executives with fixed smiles, trying to keep cheerful.

But this is a city where house prices have fallen by a third over the last year, and where even the upscale hotels on the Strip are offering big discounts on rooms - at least once CES leaves town.

This is not a great time to be persuading consumers that they really need the latest laser television or top-of-the-range laptop. So while Sony's 8 inch Vaio looks very pretty, it may well be the rather less shiny but much cheaper netbooks we are seeing here that catch the eye of cautious consumers.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Can someone tell me a brief summary about the specifications and features of SONY Viao 8-INCH NOTEBOOK. And if what country are this available?

  • Comment number 3.

    Any ideas why the Vaio P is priced at $900 in the US, but comes up at £849 (base model) on the UK SonyStyle store?

    Surely some sort of mistake as that's around £250 difference. Nobody will pay nearly £900 for what is essentially a Netbook, even if they say it isn't.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    One of the effects of Amazon's Wish List function is it let's you track prices in the same way eBay does. Perhaps I'm just unlucky; but most of the consumer electronics on my Wish Lists have risen in price before, during and after Christmas and new year.

    My tracked items; Digital camera equipment, LCD TVs and even reliably decliners; hard drives and RAM have stayed the same or increased. For example the Hitachi 500GB SATA drive which was available for around £40 in September is now averaging £54.

    Where are the bargains?

    And this is not just in the UK, Las Vegas is also home to the enormous Fry's Electronics store; it makes a branch of Ikea look like a corner shop. But prices there are pretty much in line with Best Buy, Circuit City and all the other major retailers across the US. If somebody is cutting prices of electronics the reductions haven't reached Joe Public yet.


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