CES 2008: Who soared, who crashed & burned?

So, Blu-ray was the biggest winner at this year's CES. Toshiba and HD DVD, the biggest losers. But there was more happening on the show floor than the high-def disc battle.

Panasonic is a company which will be able to look back on CES 2008 and say, "you know what, that was a great show". Its profile was rocketed sky-high on the back of its eye-catching 150-inch plasma and futuristic Life Wall prototype. Admittedly, the technology is not particularly revolutionary and hardly anyone in their right mind is going to buy either product. But that's not the point.

Hype and self-indulgence

Panasonic's rapturous press conference was a sell-out and it got miles of column inches as a result. If CES is a place for hype, excess, self-indulgence on the part of manufacturers (and it should be), a place where technologies get pushed beyond their theoretical limits, then the week definitely belongs to Panasonic.

Pioneer also had a great show. But unlike Panasonic's big screen attractions, its 9mm-thick Kuro plasma and Super-Black concept display were more hardcore home cinema achievements. They may well be the best televisions in the world, but they certainly fall into the 'you've got to see them to really appreciate them' category.

As far as computing is concerned, Intel and Linux have come out of CES on a high, if only because no one else had the balls to do anything truly exciting. Intel announced 16 new processors, spread across server, mobile and desktop chips. It's also actively promoting WiMAX, while its low-voltage chips are powering the new breed of Mobile Internet Devices from the likes of Toshiba and Aigo.

And then there's Linux. With little Windows Vista flag-waving to be had from Microsoft this year, the Linux OS is proving ideal for small form-factor laptops and handhelds. The Asus Eee is almost single-handedly making Linux look cool, while Linux is also appearing on UMPCs, Wi-Fi PDAs (like Sony's Mylo) and mobile phones.

3/10 for innovation

So, following Toshiba in first place for the demise of HD DVD, the award for Second Best Loser of CES 2008 goes to... drum-role please:

Philips. No, really. Don't get us wrong. We like Philips. We like their products. We like the people. But it's a brand that's dangerously close to becoming the Paris Hilton of CE: i.e. more about style than substance. OK, that's a bit harsh. But for its uncharacteristic lack of technological innovations at CES - of all places - the company ranks on this year's naughty list. See for yourself; here's an extract from a Philips press release:

"At the core of the Design Collection are the innovative and state-of-the art designs taking once-familiar objects and giving them a new sense of intimacy. The design language has moved away from a `masculine technology box' to a smoother, more feminine approach that integrates seamlessly into the home environment."

Farewell Mr Gates

Microsoft was also a big disappointment this year. Vista is failing to inspire, the Tablet PC isn't going anywhere, and while the Microsoft Surface prototypes demonstrated compelling and imaginative use of touch-screen technology, we're still not exactly begging the PR company to give us one. Surface is one of those brilliant - simply, brilliant - technologies that unfortunately doesn't resolve a problem or serve a consumer 'want'.

As this was Bill Gates' last keynote appearance at CES, we undoubtedly expected a big finish - Zunes on sale in Europe, a Zune phone, an Xbox handheld to rival the DS and PSP, a new (and prettier) version of Windows Mobile... But there was no big-bang announcement, no dramatic CES goodbye.

Like many companies exhibiting at CES, Microsoft has settled into a period of consolidation rather than innovation. So CES 2008 was mostly a show of incremental product improvements and hearty back-catalogue re-selling. When what we really wanted was more outlandish product concepts with the promise of affordable life-improving technology to come...