In a glitch-free hour-long tech tour de force, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Wednesday night.

Ballmer and three employees spent most of the evening on the Xbox 360 Kinect gaming system and the Windows 7 telephone, leaving PCs for last — and while the new models look very cool, they did seem like almost an afterthought.

New product announcements include Surface 2.0, a less-clunky version of the software that allows highly detailed touch-screen computing, and AvatarKinect, technology that will let avatars of Xbox Live users interact in a virtual environment — say, avatars of users sitting around a virtual living room watching a TV show or sporting event.

Also, the next version of Windows — that’s how Ballmer referred to it, not as Windows 8 — will support system-on-a-chip architectures, which will lead to smaller computers that use less power.

Version 2.0 of the Surface is thinner, more accurate to touch, and can be put in places the previous one couldn’t. And unlike the first one, this one might actually end up inside the homes of consumers instead of being relegated to retailers, hotel lobbies, and museums.

However, still unknown is the price, the release data and how well it will play with software developers.

Ballmer also announced new Internet TV deals with Netflix and Hulu through the Xbox.

While the iPad rules the tablet world, Microsoft and its partners will be behind dozens of potential competitors to be released at CES this week.

And as for Internet TV, while Google and Apple are generating a lot of buzz, Ballmer said that “Xbox today is going where no gaming system has ever gone. It is the focus of your living room. It is your movies, it is your TV shows, it is your sporting events and it is your social interactions, all delivered to the biggest screen in your house.”

As for Windows Phone 7, Ballmer said Microsoft delivered nine phones across 60 operators in 30 countries last year, and plans to add Sprint and Verizon network versions of the Microsoft phone by June.

Microsoft vice president Mike Angiulo demonstrated several new PCs offering high-performance data capabilities and impressive battery life of up to nine hours. (The coolest I saw was one with two screens — a screen where the keyboard usually goes that reverts to a touch sensitive keyboard when you put all 10 fingers on the screen.) A Samsung PC offers a sliding screen that makes it like a PC and a tablet, depending on the configuration you like.

“Only the imagination limits what can be done with Windows 7 PCs today,” Ballmer said in summing up.


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