It's a thousand-to-one shot to make our list, but these gadgets did it. Our Best of CES doesn't try to comprehensively span the breadth of product categories at the show, but is perhaps something we think is more representative of CES 2006 as a whole. A CES Zeitgeist, if you will. So don't send us a huffy email for ignoring the edible memory stick industry -- this is the short list of things we're still talking about now that CES is over:
1. Toshiba Gigabeat S Series
The one gadget that grabbed everyone at Engadget's attention right at the beginning of the show was Toshiba's new Gigabeat S Series Portable Media Center. Portable video players are a dime-a-dozen these days, but the new Gigabeat looks like it'll have the skills to take on the iPod: a sleek, thin, light brushed aluminum casing, a crisp, bright QVGA display, and -- and here's the really important part -- it offers full integration with Vongo, that new online video download subscription service from Starz that'll let you download as many movies as you want from their catalog and watch them on your portable device.
2. Sony BDP-S1 vs Toshiba HD-XA1
Planning to buy a DVD player? Don't. But be prepared to wait it out. HD DVD players are already available but won't soon see the sweeter side of 30 GB. Blu-ray will rock 50 gigs (or more) out of the box, but that box will be a few more months in coming, and may set your bankbook back even further. The BDP-S1 and the HD-XA1 are the flagship next-gen optical devices from the figurehead next-gen optical companies, and while they may not necessarily be any better than the other first generation Blu-ray or HD DVD drives, they're certainly representative of the very large, ominous battle about to be fought.
3. Dell 3007WFP 30-inch LCD monitor
Dell's overdue entry into the oversize lane is three hundred bucks cheaper than Apple's 30-incher for the same my-god-its-full-of-stars 2560 x 1600 resolution. Michael Dell stressed that this isn't a living room television (they already sell those). It's a supersize PC monitor for IT admins, graphic designers, and multitasking gadget bloggers who surf, post, email, IM, watch Galactica and submit CES expense reports all at the very same time. Instead of upgrading your clock speed, try spreading out with more screen space. As those moronic Jaguar ads say, gorgeous pays for itself.
4. Panasonic 103-inch 1080p PDP
Bigger is always better in the fast-expanding universe of flat panels. Matsushita proved it by shutting down the buzz on Samsung's and LG's 102-inch plasma screen with a display whose slightly bigger pixels make its face 0.9 percent lager. 1920 x 1080 progressive-scan resolution and a 3,000:1 contrast ratio mean you won't be able to see more of Call of Duty 2 than you do on a 23-inch screen, but you'll be able to see it from much, much further away.
5. Pioneer Inno & Samsung Helix
Satellite radio devices finally got it right, finally touched all the crucial features this year: what either XM or Sirius really needed was to be truly portable, have a feel similar to any regular MP3 player (and play pre-loaded user selected content), while having live satellite reception. And XM got there first --- while their new twins, the Pioneer Inno and the Samsung Helix, are a mite bit unwieldy compared to their straight MP3-audio playing cousins, the second generation of XM portable devices finally shed the wired external antennae in favor of a stubby aerial for live audio reception, as well as pre-recorded time-shifting of sat radio content, MP3 and WMA playback, an FM transmitter, and even the ability to dynamically "bookmark" songs and get them online from XM Napster once you sync up back at home.
6. Robosapien RS2 Media
Soon our robot army will be complete. Wowwee's latest model starts with the version two Robosapien and tacks on an LCD screen for watching videos or viewing images from Robo's headcam, an SD slot for capturing that data and storing scripts and media files, and a USB 1.0 port for connecting to an MP3 player. Speakers in the hands and a subwoofer in it's shiny metal, well, you know, deliver nice sound, and the preview function in the editing software is so fun that you might forget to play with the RS2 itself.
7. Intel Viiv
This is Intel's first attempt to market a platform rather than a PC part, and they haven't quite figured out how to explain to us what it is. But we do know it's a bundle of hardware, software, standards and Intel add-on specs that enable PCs and possibly non-PCs (there was no Microsoft exec at the launch, which made CES oldsters crazy with pundit fever) to download, show, serve and share multiple feeds of super-fat video by doing a lot of it right on the chip. Intel's marketing pixie dust still smarts our eyes, but Viiv underscored for us that this year's CES was more about platforms, standards, and formats than specific devices.
Best Keynote: Google
Don't call it an "unkeynote." Google still trotted out the requisite joke product announcement, unconvincing celebrity endorser (Kenny Smith), and scripted partner CEO statement required for every CES presentation. But the surprise comedy team of Larry Page (who seems to have Attention Surplus Syndrome) and Robin Williams dwarfed the show's previous superstar cameos. We hope Larry and Robin play the Venetian next year. Another break from tradition: All their demos worked.
Best Booth: Sharp
Nah, Sharp didn't have the biggest booth at CES, or even one of the signature products of the show, but what they did bring to the floor was a beautiful, eerily serene oasis in the midst of all the chaos. Not that they didn't have some amazing stuff on-hand, most notably their new Dual-View display and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio LCD, but what Sharp proved at CES was that less was more. They let the products speak for themselves in a modern, minimalist booth that stood apart from the crass showmanship found elsewhere.