Reporter’s Notebook: A Night (and Morning) in Vegas

Tech, booze and Bill Clinton

At the Tao restaurant in the Venetian, scores of buyers and entrepreneurs milled around, drinks in hand, as an aortal drumbeat pounded so hard it felt about to lift you right off the ground. After the first standing-room-only day on the showroom floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center and a few hours before Bill Clinton's rousing, seemingly impromptu speech about gun control (among other topics) to a rapt audience at the next morning's keynote address, most of CES 2013 was in that strange state where you're tired, but not too tired to have a good time.

Clinton's speech this morning was the highlight so far of a notably star-studded gathering; the Tao party, thrown by Techradar, had backing from Ludacris—one of any number of celebrities following the lead set by Dr. Dre's Beats headphone line (this year: Motorheadphones, Tim Tebow and Soul Headphones, etc.)—but the former president used the bully pulpit to advocate for poverty relief, education and gun control. "I grew up in this hunting culture, but this is nuts," Clinton told the audience. "Why does anybody need a 30-round clip for a gun?" Clinton praised the potential for technology to solve major problems, and while he wasn't the first politico to do so (Newark mayor Cory Booker was downright effusive in conversation with execs from Panasonic—who are moving the company's offices to the New Jersey city—on Tuesday morning), he was the only one yet to bring the audience to its feet.

The showroom floor was packed with folks aspiring to break any number of molds—if you can get someone to give you a nickel for every time the word "disruptive" gets used, you can play the slots here for the rest of the month. By and large, the bigger tech companies are focused on ever-larger televisions and playing well with others: Samsung's booth featured a huge and elaborate demonstration of its DLNA-based AllShare software, which connects every device to every other device. It's the promise of last year's connected TV bonanza finally realized—the protocols allow you to play video from your Samsung devices on anything in the house that's DLNA-enabled (which should be most products, at this point), not just other Samsung gear.

And Comcast is looking to get into the same game with a new box that combines a router and a cable modem, and complementary software that will allow you to stream video available on your cable package from any local device. It's the latest in the company's increasingly creative bids to keep consumers from cord-cutting; spokesman David de Andrade told Adweek that the service, called XG5 would stream 900 MBps.

Other companies were pioneering other technologies. Beyond the obvious—even higher-density TV screens and (finally) passive 3-D displays that don't require expensive goggles—there were some devices that looked like military-grade technology for consumers or law enforcement. Startup Robotex showed off robots with caterpillar treads that can climb stairs and include either high-tech cameras and bomb disposal arms (for the police) or an iPad attachment so consumers can check on the kids.

Gaming hardware firms were also in abundance, and a few execs told Adweek they suspected that cable companies expecting folks to watch TV all day in their multi-device-connected living rooms were in for a rude awakening when the game sector got involved. Razer, a gaming PC manufacturer, demoed a tablet with thumbstick attachments on either side for gaming, while startup Oculus showed off a duct-taped 3-D virtual reality headset that works with consumer-level video games (the company had higher-quality prototypes for examination to prove they were serious, but the jerry-rigged version worked fine).

The line between hardware manufacturer and software programmer is blurring; a Valve spokesman told Adweek that the company behind the Portal and Half-Life games was working on "something for the living room." Scuttlebutt is that it will be called the SteamBox (Valve's cloud-based game e-tailer is called Steam).