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San Jose Mercury News Troy Wolverton column
[January 09, 2013]

San Jose Mercury News Troy Wolverton column

LAS VEGAS, Jan 09, 2013 (San Jose Mercury News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Here at the Consumer Electronics Show, 3-D televisions have gone from the Most Hyped Thing Ever to the Technology That Shall Not Be Named.

At their news conferences here, the major television makers touted the new and updated "smart" features of their sets. Many hyped 4K televisions, the new ultrahigh-definition -- and ultraexpensive -- sets that are starting to hit the market. And some touted new technologies to improve the picture on the screen or the way consumers interact with their TVs.

But almost no one talked about 3-D. Considering that the TV industry has been using the past four annual CES exhibitions to tout 3-D viewing as the next big thing in home entertainment, the manufacturers silence is striking.


The contrast was perhaps most notable with Sony, which was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic backers of 3-D. Back in 2009, then-CEO Howard Stringer threaded 3-D throughout his keynote presentation, brought Tom Hanks and Jeffrey Katzenberg on stage to tout the new wave of 3-D films heading into theaters, and outlined his expectation that 3-D entertainment would soon make its way into the home.

Two years ago, after the first 3-D televisions hit the market with a thud, Stringer and Sony doubled down, touting not just a new round of 3-D TVs, but also 3-D video and still cameras, both to get people interested in 3-D and to offer them something to watch on it.

Even last year, when it was clear that 3-D wasn't catching on with consumers, Sony flogged the technology again, bringing Will Smith on stage to tout the 3-D version of his new "Men in Black" movie. It promoted its new 3-D camcorders and experimental "glasses free" 3-D TVs.

When it came to 3-D this year, all you heard from Sony was crickets.

Sony wasn't the only manufacturer that ignored 3-D. Panasonic spent its presentation talking about smart TVs. Sharp focused on new screen technology that promises more energy-efficient sets. Samsung and LG touted their 4K and OLED TVs.

Samsung mentioned 3-D only in connection with a new lens for one of its cameras that will allow it to take 3-D pictures. The only time Sharp mentioned it was to talk about another new screen technology that offers 3-D-like images without glasses.

To be sure, more and more sets now include 3-D capabilities. For example, LG mentioned in passing that all of its 2013 models will be 3-D ready. But that's emblematic of what 3-D is becoming: A standard feature that no one is really excited about and few will pay extra for.

Given 3-D's failure to catch on with consumers, it's understandable TV makers aren't promoting the technology. But for those of us who have experienced the hype over the past several years, its absence this year is jarring.

One hot topic at this year's CES is near-field communications, a technology that has struggled for want of a killer app. But that may be beginning to change.

NFC, which involves low-power radio chips, has been heavily promoted by Google (GOOG) and others for use in allowing consumers to make payments with their mobile phones. Outside of a few places, that market has yet to take off, but the technology is starting to be used as an easy means to help tech gadgets connect to one another.

Last year, Samsung showed how consumers could use the NFC chips in their phones to quickly and easily connect them by just tapping them together. Once their phones were connected, users could transfer pictures and other files from phone to phone without having to email them or send them through text messages.

Now Sony seems to be taking that idea to the next level. At its booth here, the company is showing how consumers can use NFC chips to connect a variety of gadgets.

By tapping a laptop to a wireless speaker system, users can stream music from their computer without having to monkey with their Wi-Fi or Bluetooth settings. Instead, the two devices connect automatically. Consumers can make a similar connection with the NFC chip in their smartphones, allowing them to easily connect it to a pair of wireless headphones.

Perhaps the coolest use of NFC I saw at Sony's booth was the ability to pair your phone with your TV to send pictures or movies to the TV. Instead of tapping your phone directly to your TV, though, you tap it to the back of the TV's remote. It's not as easy as Apple's (AAPL) AirPlay technology -- which connects gadgets without needing to tap them together -- but it's easier than most non-Apple ways of connecting gadgets that I've seen.

So perhaps there's a use for NFC after all, even if it isn't going to replace your wallet anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Intel (INTC) and its PC allies are reviving an idea that many in the industry had given up for dead long ago: tabletop computers. For the first time in more than a decade, the desktop PC industry is starting to see some innovative new designs that don't come from Apple and aren't inspired by the Mac maker.

Here at CES, Lenovo and Sony are demonstrating all-in-one PCs that can be taken off the desktop and used on your kitchen or coffee table.

The new machines have large screens like traditional desktops -- 27 inches in the case of the Lenovo machine, 21.5 inches on the Sony model. But they also include batteries and multitouch-capable touch screens. The former allows you to carry them around and use them without immediately looking for a power outlet. The latter allows multiple users to interact with them at the same time without needing keyboards or mice.

At its booth Tuesday and during its news conference Monday, Intel demonstrated how consumers could lay these new desktops flat on a table and play family-style games on them. So multiple family members could gather around and play Monopoly or air hockey. Or friends could play poker, using their smartphones to display their individual hands, while using the tabletop PC as the table.

Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285 or twolverton@mercurynews.com. Follow him at www.mercurynews.com/troy-wolverton or Twitter.com/troywolv.

___ (c)2013 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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