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I was looking up, down, and around, while standing in the midst of a beautiful landscape filled with people moving…I heard their footsteps and could tell which direction they were coming from. On the far side of that pastoral setting was a jostling crowd…I could hear it, but not see it.

The unseen crowd was comprised of the thousands of gadget-watchers, of course, who’d converged on Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The close-at-hand, colorful landscape was a virtual reality environment in a video game, fed into my field of vision by the Z800 3D Visor from eMagin Corp. of Bellevue, WA. That device was one of the more arresting new products in the vast and hype-soaked world of CES.

[Click here for a slideshow of some of the gadgets on display at CES.]

Using organic LEDs, the Visor’s two tiny displays had a wide field of view. And tiny gyros and accelerometers tracked my head movements. According to eMagin’s director of marketing, R. Bruce Ridley, those innovations reduce eyestrain – a key problem in previous attempts to make a marketable head-mounted display. Sales of the device to the military have helped eMagin boost its production volumes, which, in turn, has allowed it to lower prices to a more affordable $900. (Units for movie-watching, without the head tracker, cost less.)

The sponsor of CES, Arlington, VA-based Consumer Electronics Association, estimated that 20,000 new or recently announced products were on display at the show. Some 2,500 exhibitors filled multiple convention halls, covering 16 hectares, with aisles that seemed to go on for kilometers, making it the biggest consumer products trade show in history. About 130,000 people were expected to take in the show – including a whopping 4,000 members of the press.

As always, manufacturers brought their spiffiest new devices – hoping to see them placed in millions of homes before the next round of technology improvements. iRobot showed off its headline-grabbing Scooba robot, which scrubs floors instead of just vacuuming (typically making four passes before it’s satisfied).

Logitech was promoting a computer accessory, the G5 Laser Mouse, with ballast that allows demanding gamers to adjust its weight and balance.

For the security-conscious, Fujitsu offered the PalmSecure, a biometric device that can authenticate one’s identity by recognizing the pattern of veins in a hand.

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