Where the innovative meets the radical
Jan 17, 2013 (St. Joseph News-Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Consumer Electronics Show (or, more commonly, CES) is held every year in Las Vegas. And like Sin City, everything about the event is big.
Big announcements like the 3D HDTV, the DVD player, the camcorder, the Blu-ray player, the Xbox and the VCR have all come at CES in years past. At CES 2013, however, it felt like a different kind of big. Few of the products unveiled at the event will make an immediate impact, but many were indicators of big, sweeping change in the future.
We talked to a few writers and analysts who attended the event, and here's what they felt were the greatest impressions of CES 2013:
The 4K generation isn't far away
For years, manufacturers have been slimming down and improving the quality of TVs, but at CES, Samsung re-imagined how TVs can exist in the home.
The company's "floating" 110-inch 4K Ultra HD TV, which has twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of the 1080p HDTV format (long considered the best picture around) and four times as many pixels overall, uses a metal frame that props the display up, allowing it to be angled up or down at the viewer's pleasure. Even more interesting, the frame itself includes a built-in speaker system, eliminating the need for additional external speakers. While it certainly will cost a pretty penny when it finally launches, it is without question a clever design.
LG and Sony also unveiled their gigantic 4K TV sets, and Panasonic even created a 20-inch tablet with 4K resolution that will make photographers and designers salivate. The images these four products have produced are far more crisp, clear, colorful and vivid than any TV you'll see in stores today.
Right now, the biggest charge against 4K is that the sets will be too expensive. That's true. The first 4K TVs -- among them 84-inch displays from Sony and LG priced between $20,000 and $25,000 -- are out of reach for many consumers. But the Consumer Electronics Association projects that the average wholesale cost of a 4K TV will drop to $7,000 in 2013, to $2,800 in 2014 and will continue to fall in 2015.
"The instant I saw a 4K TV in person, I regretted having just bought a new HDTV," says Armando Rodriguez, technology reporter for PC World.
Our cars will become even more convenient
It's easy to predict most of what's on display at CES: phones, TV sets, gaming systems, accessories, etc. But here and there, some incredible technologies make their first appearance. The big one this year was self-driving cars.
Google, of course, is at the forefront of this technology. The company has had a successful self-driving car experiment running for some time now. Last year, Google created an automobile controlled by Velodyne's laser-eye camera. By CES 2013, the driverless car had completed 300,000 autonomous-driving miles without an accident. Unfortunately, Google didn't make an appearance at the event. Audi did, however.
Audi demonstrated a car that can park itself in a garage after dropping you off (it was the garage of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, in this case). And when you return, you can summon the car with a phone app and the car drives itself from its parking spot to you. Right now, the self-aware car requires a self-aware garage, one equipped with special laser guides. And the driving is very, very slow and controlled (as most of us would hope).
At CES, Audi announced that it's also working on a traffic-jam mode, in which you can take a nap, work or do some reading as the car handles the slow, patient, stop-and-go edging through crawling traffic.
Automakers Toyota, General Motors, Daimler AG and Nissan were among many others that announced plans to automate their products to varying degrees. That's right, readers -- robotic cars are probably only a decade away from coming to fruition.
On a more practical note, GPS maker Garmin showcased its K2 platform that makes the car dashboard all digital, using voice control, infrared buttons and smart phone integration to provide navigation, vehicle diagnostics, office features, communications and entertainment. Robin Raskin, guest technology analyst for Forbes and founder of the lifestyles technology resource group Living in Digital Times was quite impressed with Garmin's work.
In addition to Garmin's K2 showcase, both Ford and General Motors announced they'll be opening their information and entertainment systems to third-party developers. That means that folks with a knack for software development can design their own car-connected apps, either for smartphones or for the vehicle itself. Expect a lot of innovative ideas to come from this.
Gaming ideas of the '90s are making a comeback
In the mid-'90s, video game developers were getting more and more courageous, and several crazy ideas sprang from this wild era. Some were good, like handheld gaming devices (think Nintendo's Game Boy and Sega's Game Gear). Some were bad, like virtual reality headsets (does anyone remember the Nintendo Virtual Boy or the chintzy R-Zone )
Well, both of those concepts got some impressive updates at CES.
Nvidia surprised the world last week with its new and first handheld gaming device, Project Shield. Packing the company's next-generation Tegra 4 mobile processor, the Shield is a powerful and versatile Android gaming device that combines an innovative design and streaming access to full PC games from your home computer.
"With full access to the Google Play Store, plus the ability to stream games from your PC, Project Shield does look like every gamer's dream come true," Mr. Rodriguez says.
However, more gamers were champing at the bit to try out the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that's only in a prototype stage but was remarkably polished and impressive nonetheless. As Richard George of video game magazine IGN describes: "It's virtual reality done right. It's the right mix of technology and design that's going to make a decades-long dream of tech companies around the world actually work."
Although he had a difficult time describing the experience, Mr. George also says that it was the first virtual reality headset that didn't give the user a disconnected feeling.
"This one made me feel like I was physically in that space," he says.
Can you imagine playing a horror game on that thing Yikes.
Our homes will be getting smarter
While most of us are still using stoves and microwaves from the stone age, kitchen technology got a much needed boost at CES this year.
At the show, Samsung introduced its T9000 refrigerator -- a stainless-steel wonder with French doors, an LCD screen and Evernote integration. It's a tech-savvy chef's dream come true. You can look up recipes, share grocery lists, manage your food inventory and keep track of your schedule on the refrigerator's calendar app.
As an all-in-one PC, Lenovo's IdeaCentre Horizon Tabletop is going to be pretty neat, but as a device for group tabletop use, this 27-inch, 1080p panel (with two hours of battery life) should be fabulous. Seriously, this interactive table got a lot of buzz last week. When it's released later this year, Lenovo will ship game controllers with sensors to interact with the system. The company also plans to offer a 39-inch version for those with a little more space to fill.
CES wouldn't be CES, though, without a healthy dose of the future. Whirlpool showed off several concepts on the show floor last week, and one of the cooler innovations is what the company is calling "The Fireplace." A smart table surface at heart, the Whirlpool Fireplace responds to items placed on it and will apply either heat or cold to those items. Above the surface is a standard stove hood, which also provides customizable mood lighting depending on the user's preferences.
"The idea is to create your own atmosphere for your own high tech family hearth," Ms. Raskin says.
The iPhone has some competition
Coming away from CES, the smart phone that had everyone raving was the Sony Xperia Z. Expect this to be the hottest Android-powered phone of 2013.
"Sony's latest Xperia smart phone looks top-notch," Mr. Rodriguez says. "The handset's svelte design, ultra-high-resolution display, and excellent 13-megapixel camera make it one to watch."
With a quad-core processor, 13-megapixel camera, and a sleek, minimalist design, Sony's Xperia Z is not only powerful and versatile, it's one of the flashiest smart phones coming to the market. Mr. Rodriguez and many others were wowed by the phone's stunning 1080p display, which rivals most HDTVs.
According to a Sony Mobile count, the Xperia Z grabbed no less than 10 "major" awards in the aftermath of CES 2013, as well as two honorable mentions. The 4K TV sets may have drawn more attention, but this phone drew the accolades.
Shea Conner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.
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