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Auto show blues? Consumer electronics offer ray of hope.

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For four days in Las Vegas, the economic gloom lifted a little as the world's electronics companies introduced the latest gadgets for 2009.

The Consumer Electronics Show, which ended Sunday, showed off wireless battery chargers, a better Windows operating system, and Internet-ready TVs that blur the line between broadcast and broadband. Clearly, the world's inventors have not closed up shop because of plunging stock markets or the latest reading on economic output.

The mood at CES was reportedly somber: 10 percent fewer exhibitors and thousands fewer attendees. Still, the outlook was brighter – and perhaps more important as a barometer of the US consumer – than, say, the Detroit Auto Show, which was gearing up Sunday just as the CES was winding down.

Autos – so 20th century

Let's face it: Cars haven't been cutting-edge for decades. Cool, maybe. They could be high-tech again if they switch to new fuels. But what piques water-cooler interest these days is more likely to be a smart phone than a Smart car, a DTV (especially those half-inch-thick digital sets that debuted last week) rather than an SUV.

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