Rich Warren: You can now talk to your toilet

Rich Warren: You can now talk to your toilet

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) prevents participants in the electronics industry from relaxing after the holidays. Press day, reserved for press conferences the day before the official show opens, commenced the circus on Jan. 8 in Las Vegas. While not as crazed as between 1985 to 2005, most journalists and bloggers wear jogging shoes.

The biggest change has been in the rankings of the press events. Two decades ago, Sony and Panasonic ruled the roost. Today, it's Samsung and LG, with the Chinese coming up fast.

The importance of CES waned over the years as many companies, especially cellphone manufacturers, unveiled new models in the fall or in March at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The 2018 CES could also be dubbed the Las Vegas Auto Show. While not debuting many specific models, most automakers show off how much tech they can cram into a car or whole new revolutionary car platforms. For example, Toyota revealed its e-Palette, a boxy electric autonomous driving vehicle that can range in length from 13 to 23 feet. It transports people or delivers a lot of pizzas.

Byton, a Chinese startup car manufacturer, replaced the entire dashboard with a 49-inch video screen. The car is a prototype, but Byton claims the production model will sell for $45,000.

The Hyundai Nexo zoomed into Vegas powered by hydrogen fuel cells promising a 370-mile range, and it will be available in California later this year. It can refuel in as little as five minutes, but don't try filling up at the local Marathon here in Illinois.

President Donald Trump isn't the only one touting a wall. Samsung introduced The Wall, a 146-inch-screen 4K TV. At that size, you can truly appreciate 4K. It uses a new micro-LED technology that endows it with most of the same benefits as OLED panels. Samsung claims this technology displays fast motion better than OLED, while being more robust with a longer lifespan. It also describes The Wall as a "modular TV" that can be custom-configured. As usual, with new "statement" products, Samsung failed to attach a price to this monster TV. Meanwhile, you can start remodeling your home to accommodate it.

The best LG could do was an 88-inch 8K OLED TV. However, LG startled the crowd by literally rolling up a 65-inch, 4K OLED display. If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it. In any event, LG didn't announce a price for these TVs either.

CES also stages the battle of the voices with a plethora of digital assistants awaiting your every command: Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and Samsung's proprietary Bixby. Amazon's Alexa will take up residence in several brands of Windows 10 PCs this spring, cohabiting with Microsoft's Cortana. Maybe if you put your ear to the case, you can hear Alexa and Cortana gossiping.

Kohler introduced a toilet that you can ask Alexa to flush for you. If you'd rather not talk to your devices, the French company Netatmo introduced the Smart Home Bot app, allowing you to control all of your home devices via text.

Robots populated CES. LG's CLOi robot gave its human companion the silent treatment at its demo when it failed to respond. It's designed to interact with LG's CLOi artificial intelligence line of appliances. Where's R2D2 when we need it?

The wearable Garmin 645 Forerunner not only tracks your fitness, but also can store 500 of your favorite songs for $449, making it somewhat more versatile and expensive than the Apple Watch Series 3.

Acer claimed the thinnest laptop with the Swift 7 at 8.98-mm thick (around a third of an inch) for about $1,700, but HP debuted one of the most powerful and alluring new models with the revamped Spectre x360 for about $1,370. It offers a choice of video processors to power its 15-inch screen.

I'll have more from CES next week.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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