The Biggest Moments in CES History

December 7, 2011
The annual Consumer Electronics Show might just seem like a collection of nerds and geeks eager to see new technical gadgets and electronic gizmos that only people who sleep with their motherboards could lust after, but you'd be wrong.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has brought the world some of the most influential and groundbreaking technologies and gadgets that we take for granted every single day. The only thing more astounding is the fact that most of these things are used for pornography. These are the moments that shaped the path of modern technology that all got their start at the CES.

The First Cheap Digital Wristwatch

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Wristwatches are so commonplace these days that it's hard to think of them having any kind of a start date. It's the age old question: which came first - the wrist or the watch? The technology that drove the digital wristwatch revolution, however, got its start at CES. Back in 1976, Texas Instruments unveiled the world's first affordable wristwatch at the rock bottom price of $20 at the CES gathering in Chicago. TI's watch paved the road for a revolution in digital technology, not just in low priced watches but other affordable technology that could harness twice the power for half the price.

Atari Unveils the First Home Video Game Console

Source: Atari

There was a time when the children of the world actually spent their summer days playing outside with a frisbee or chasing ping pong balls that bounced off tables into the nooks and crannies of their fathers' garage. These days, a Nintendo Wii does all that for them. The console that led the home video game revolution got its first public start at CES in 1977.

The Video Computer System (VCS) was unveiled by Atari as the first interchangeable console system in North America but it almost didn't make it to the show floor because of a dispute between Atari and Magnavox over the rights to publish the games. Atari simply let their agreement expire so they could release their own games and eventually the console. The event was such a milestone that the CES opened a new "video games" wing of their conference that lasted until 1995 when the E3 Convention became the premiere place to showcase new gaming technology. 

The World Meets the VCR

Photo: Dave King/Andy Crawford/Steve Gorton/Getty Images

The thought of any kind of home theater system was only possible for the ultra rich movie producer who can't be bothered to view his creation by driving himself to the studio or putting on pants. The first ever CES in 1977 held in New York City smashed this idea to bits with a pressure sensitive pneumatic press. JVC's Vidstar video player system hit the CES floor to wide acclaim, despite the fact it cost more than $1,280 per unit and $20 a tape. Despite the fact that Betamax had already beaten the machine to the game, the Vidstar provided the same capabilities but with an expanded recording time and a significant lower price tag.

Microsoft Unveils the First XBox

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Sony's Playstation and Nintendo's classic consoles had little competition in the video game markets of the 1990s and early 2000s. Many companies like Sega, Panasonic and even Apple tried to crack the market but went down in flames faster than a Pinto made out of straw. Microsoft had longed to move beyond the home PC market with their own console, which only stood as a rumor until 2001 when Bill Gates himself (literally) removed the veil hiding his game-changing XBox console at the CES convention. It not only introduced a new competitor in the video game market, but the console was designed to be a well-rounded entertainment console that could also be used as an HD movie player that raised the bar for future home consoles.

The World Meets the DVD

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Of course, it would be hard for Microsoft to give gamers a reason to stay in their gaming chairs for twice as long if it wasn't for the famous "Digital Video Disk" better known as the DVD.

The new standard in home entertainment hit the floor of the CES first in 1995 when Sony became the first company to show the new technology at the Winter convention. Sony's demonstration touched off a great DVD race among the major technology and media companies to get on the bandwagon prompting a final showdown with Toshiba and Time Warner. 


 Atari's Downfall Leads to Nintendo's Rise

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Atari made great strides in home video game consoles with its classic 2600 cartridge system. However, it's legal problems and the waining video game market in the early 1980s almost killed off home video games, replacing it with other entertainment that involved fresh air, sunshine and exercise.

Thankfully, Nintendo saved us all from that horrible scenario. Atari wanted to bring Nintendo's Famicom system to American gamers from Japan where sales reached into the millions. Unfortunately, legal problems with the home porting of the classic "Donkey Kong" game with ColecoVision prevented them from striking a solid deal. By the time the legal issue was solved, Atari was a financial mess and Nintendo plowed ahead with its own release by unveiling the first Nintendo Entertainment System at CES in 1983.

Bill Gates' Stuff Bugs Out

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Not all of the milestones in CES' history are triumphs of man over machine. Sometimes the machines fight back and even though laser swords and energy sucking weapons aren't involved, they don't make them any less sweeter. In 2005, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates tried to premiere his new Windows Media Center and a new game for his acclaimed XBox. Unfortunately, the entire presentation was filled with sluggish glitches and complete computer breakdowns that all but overshadowed the very things he and his team tried to promote.

The First Blu-Ray Disc

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The advent of high definition entertainment prompted a new wave of competitors looking to offer the clearest and most comprehensive technology for the home DVD market. Blu-Ray turned some serious heads when it hit the CES floor in 2004 that parts of the world could hear the snapping of necks all at once. The optical disc made a big impression on those in attendance because of the variety of technology it could offer not just to movies, but also to computers and video games.

Blu-Ray Winning the HD War

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Of course, Blu-Ray had some serious contenders fighting for its spot in the bid to replace the DVD and the results were just as bloody as any drunken neighborhood street fight. Toshiba's HD format had once been seen as the inevitable replacement for DVD but some market changes and failed retail deals dealt a serious blow to the Blu-Ray rival.

The final nail in the coffin came from Warner Bros. Entertainment who announced just before the start of the 2008 CES that their vast library of movies and TV shows would be printed solely in the Blu-Ray format. The win for Blu-Ray eventually shifted the rest of the major media conglomerates including Universal and Paramount to switch sides.

The World Gets its First Plasma TV

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Mankind's never-ending quest for the biggest and best looking television will never end as long as men have eyes and a reason to blow three-quarters of their annual salary.

The 2001 CES gave the world its newest reason to stay home with the first home plasma television, the wide angled successor to the LCD TV that produced more vibrant and deeper colors with fluorescent lighting and dramatically reduced "motion blur". The world would never "Baywatch" the same way again.