Another year, another CES -- and another mountain of new gear put to the test of rapidfire media production for 20+ hours a day. CES 2011 was Engadget's biggest and best ever, and while we didn't use that many new tools from CES 2010, we did try some interesting new things -- and a lot of updated old reliables. Head past the break for our full rundown!

Laptops:

As many of you have noticed from our trailer pictures, our standard workhorse laptop is the 15-inch unibody MacBook Pro, which offers a solid mix of battery life, power, and size for long days liveblogging or on the show floor. That said, we let editors bring whatever they want to get the job done: Richard Lawler upgraded from a netbook to an Asus UL20, Tim Stevens kicked it with a ThinkPad T400s, Drita, RIchard Lai, and Vlad Savov used 13-inch unibody MacBook Airs while Carlos Martinez and Myriam Joire braved the 11-inch Air, Sean Hollister had an ASUS UL80VT, and Jose Andrade from Engadget Spanish had a Dell Latitude E6500.

Tablets:

Since none of the interesting tablets from CES like the PlayBook or Motorola Xoom are actually for sale yet, the iPad dominated our ranks, although we did have a couple Galaxy Tabs wandering about. We didn't really use our tablets for any major work -- they came in handy on the podcast for keeping track of topics and quick post lookups, but mostly we all just played games. And hey -- that's just fine.

Cameras:

This is the big one -- CES is all about the visuals, and everyone is required to have a solid camera, although we don't set any requirements. That said, in recent years we've slowly become a very Nikon DSLR-centric operation: Paul Miller, Darren Murph, Ross Miller, Richard Lai, Donald Melanson, and Joanna Stern all shot the show with a D90, Chris Ziegler and I both used D3Ss, Thomas Ricker used a D300, and Vlad Savov used a D5000.

That's not to say we didn't have quite a few Canon bodies as well: Sean Hollister and Sam Sheffer used a T2i, Sean Cooper had a T1i, Carlos Martinez had a 50D, Tim Stevens had a Rebel XT, and Chad Mumm and Jason Miller both had 7Ds.

We also had several editors who kicked it with high-end compacts: Josh Topolsky brought both a Panasonic GF1 and LX5, Myriam Joire exclusively used a Canon S95, Jose Andrade used a PowerShot S5 IS, Trent Wolbe had a Sony NEX-3, Josh Fruhlinger brought a Panasonic GF1, and Chris Ziegler and I both backed up our D3Ss with an S95 and S90, respectively.

In terms of lenses, well, we brought quite a few. In addition to everyone's standard set, lens rental needs this year were handled by BorrowLenses.com, which hooked us up with quite a spread:
  • 5 Nikon AF-S FX 60mm f/2.8 Micro (for hands-on)
  • 3 Nikon AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II (for the show floor)
  • 2 Nikon AF-S FX 70-200mm VR II f/2.8 (for liveblogs)
  • 3 Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8 (general)
  • 1 Nikon AF-S DX 17-55mm f/2.8 (for the show floor)
  • 3 Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (for the show floor)
  • 3 Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 macro (for hands-on)
As you can see, we weren't hurting in case we needed anything!

Connectivity:

We took the big leap to WiMAX as our default wireless connectivity this year -- almost everyone had either a Sprint 3G / 4G USB modem or a Clear 4G USB modem with a backup 3G stick. As usual, WiMAX was great when we got a signal, but as soon as we got deep inside a building things took a turn for the worse.

In term of wireless service, it felt like AT&T had installed some seriously beefy repeaters on the show floor -- likely because Motorola didn't want the Atrix to look bad. Verizon probably did similar -- on the single LG VL600 LTE modem we brought to Vegas, we were pulling down a ridiculous (and ridiculously awesome) 33 megabits per second. Either way, using an iPhone inside the Las Vegas Convention Center was actually a usable proposition for the first time in recent memory, but having another device on another carrier was critical anywhere else in Vegas. Which is great, because our phone selection ran the gamut as usual -- several editors carried two if not three handsets, and it's hard to think of a recent high-end device that wasn't represented in some way.

Video:

Most of our show floor video was shot using DSLRs or compacts, but we also brought Engadget Show producer Chad Mumm and his assistant Jason Miller along to do the Podcast Show and additional video production. Here's Chad's take:

Our greenscreen production room was powered by a NewTek Tricaster TCXD300, a custom Windows PC with some serious GPUs, a bunch of pro broadcast inputs (HD-SDI, XLR, 1/4-inch), a video switcher controller, and a suite of locked-down apps for editing, titling, media management, and, finally, live broadcast switching. The system can push high quality Flash video streams (to Ustream, in our case) while recording 32-bit video to its internal hard drive. With the Tricaster, we could ingest h.264 video as editors came back from the show floor and use the system's single DDR (Direct to Disk Recorder) to play it back during the live broadcasts. There's also a network input that allows you to capture the input on the screens of computers on your network (via a locally hosted app), which allowed us to throw up web videos on the fly.

We brought three Panasonic HMC-150 cameras for the broadcast and converted their HDMI output to HD-SDI using AJA converter boxes in order to play nice with the Tricaster. Audio was split by Trent, our podcast producer, sending one signal to his ProTools rig and the other to our Tricaster.

All in all, the Tricaster allowed us to do something for a reasonable budget that would have been prohibitively expensive in years before -- namely, shoot and cut live video with active chroma keying, color correction, real-time digital video playback, titling, and screen capture all while streaming to the web and recording to a local disk. The fact that we could do all this with a single box is astonishing, considering it previously would have taken a full production truck or at least a big, bulky fly-pack full of recorders, switchers, engineering racks, audio units, graphics systems, and more.

The Tricaster pretty much handled everything we asked of it, although it did give us some minor headaches with preference caching and some long wait times when ingesting into the basic editor (for trimming purposes). Once, we lost an entire hours-long live recording due to bad file wrapping, but that was when the power went out during the show and the computer had no chance to "end" the record process, which definitely wasn't the Tricaster's fault.

Speakers:

Actually, we totally forgot to bring any speakers, so we had to resort to having everyone play the same song at the same time from their laptops to get any volume. We're not making this up -- witness:


Obviously that's only a small taste of all the gear we had on-hand this year, but that's the stuff we're really into -- and we're always looking for new ways to speed up our workflow and get news to you faster, so let us know if you have any ideas, okay?