The rise of 3D

 
Steve Dinneen
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STEVE DINNEEN REVIEWS THE MAJOR TRENDS THAT DOMINATED THE AGENDA AT THE CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW

THE technology world will remember 2011 as the year that 3D went mainstream. Every major electronics manufacturer made 3D the centre of their displays and its presence was ubiquitous throughout the show. Sony predicted 3D will become as accepted as colour TV, and showcased a stunning new range of its flagship Bravia sets. The Japanese firm is also leading the way in user-generated 3D, with a range of camcorders starting at less than $2,000.

But it isn’t just TVs that are going 3D; advanced chips such as Intel’s second generation Core, which was also unveiled in Las Vegas, mean the third dimension is also coming to desktops, laptops and even notebooks. Toshiba demonstrated a 3D enabled laptop that tracks the user’s face to correctly align the 3D images without the need for glasses. Samsung also showed off a range of sleek 3D laptops which use battery powered glasses. And even more impressive was an as-yet unnamed portable device from Sharp, which is the size of a mobile phone and can play and record 3D images.

SMART, SMARTER, SMARTEST
Smart devices were the order of the day, with microchips being implanted in everything from cars to washing machines. LG attracted attention with its smart vacuum cleaner that can remember exactly which parts of the house it has cleaned. Almost all of the new TVs on display were “smart”, offering internet connections and access to application stores that were not dissimilar to Apple’s App Store. Audi and Ford both revealed next-generation cars that are internet connected and can even predict when a driver is about to be in an accident and take precautionary measures.

TABLETS
Despite being somewhat overshadowed by 3D, around 80 new tablets were unveiled as manufacturers scrabble to create a viable competitor to Apple’s iPad. City A.M. was wowed after being given a sneak peak at BlackBerry’s upcoming Playbook, a seven inch tablet that is both stylish and powerful, offering multitasking and lightning-fast web browsing. However, while the device has not yet been priced, we understand it will not be cheap. Panasonic also unveiled a new range of Android-powered tablets in 11, seven and four inch versions. The larger of the three is the most impressive, although they are all let down by their plastic backs, which feel cheap. The smaller of the three will double-up as a phone. Samsung, already offering the closest rival to the iPad with its Galaxy Tab, showcased a new tablet whose back slides out to reveal a keyboard – a handy solution to the discomfort of typing long emails on a touch screen.

INTEGRATION
Manufacturers have woken up to the possibilities of tying customers to their brand by offering a monolithic range of complimentary products. Panasonic’s new tablet doubles up as a TV remote control, allowing content to be shared wirelessly between the two. Samsungs’s new mobile phones also interact with their TVs, doubling up as a remote control and allowing users to watch videos they have captured on the big screen.

INTERACTION
Powerful new chips are enabling manufacturers to change the way we interact with technology. Rather than relying solely on keys and buttons, a range of devices can now “see” users through cameras and read their gestures. Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect can be used to interact with the firm's TV offerings, using hand gestures to scroll seamlessly through different channels and content. The Xbox can also recognise users’ voices, allowing them to easily instruct the TV to change channel or a game to pause. Toshiba demonstrated a new voice activated TV that responds to clapping and a range of commands. New software can even recognise facial expressions, giving rise to the possibility of advanced computer-generated versions of users that can be sent out into the online world to interact with other people in extraordinarily complex ways.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WEIRD
HOM-BOT, LG
The days of vacuum cleaning your house could be over thanks to LG's smart vacuum cleaner the Hom-Bot. The round gadget will create a virtual map of your home and plot a course ensuring every inch of it is spotlessly clean. The Hom-Bot uses ultrasonic, infra-red sensors as well as a dual-camera system to navigate its way around a room. Top and bottom facing cameras track the ceiling and the space around the unit, allowing it to detect steps and even tell the difference between moving objects (such as children or dogs) and furniture. The clever cleaner will even remember where objects are placed so it can plot a more efficient route the next time it is switched on. And if you're bored you can sit back and watch the cleaner online through a built in webcam as it works its way around your house.
www.lg.com Price: rumoured to be around $600

i3WALL, SHARP
Perhaps the single most impressive thing on show at the Consumer Electronics Show was Sharp’s astonishing i3 Wall. The Japanese firm created a 3D effect that outshone every new TV set at the show by building an entire room out of flat-screen TVs. The monitors all linked together to create an interactive environment that moves around the viewer. On display was a computer-generated scene from ancient Japan, with the 64 flat-screen monitors guiding the viewer over hills and inside buildings. The ultra high definition screens provide a crystal clear picture, creating a believable virtual reality.
www.sharp.com Price: Not for sale

UNO III, UNO
One of the more off the wall creations on display this year was a segway that converts into a motorbike at high speeds. The Uno III's default position is like a motorbike with the front wheel missing. The rider sits on the seat and controls the unicycle with a throttle, much like a regular motorbike. But at high speeds a third wheel extends to provide extra balance. Users wanting to ramp up the speed on the go can even make the transition from segway to motorbike while riding the bizarre contraption. The bike will be arriving in Europe later this year for the same price as a top of the range scooter.
www.bpg-motors.com

SOUND EGG, ACOUSTICOM
This 60s inspired audio chair by Acousticom is the audiophile's seat of choice. The egg-shaped chair is fitted with surround sound speakers, including a 10 inch sub-woofer, and is insulated with foam to eradicate echo, providing crystal clear sound. The top of the range model features a movable arm with a flat-screen monitor, giving you the perfect cocoon to waste a weekend watching Mad Men or playing Call of Duty. The chair and the interior foam padding is available in a host of colours, allowing you to coordinate it with the rest of your decor.
www.soundegg.com Price: from $1450

CES IN NUMBERS
1m the number of PCs shipped every day in 2010

70% of all gadgets will boast an internet connection by 2014

50% of TVs will be internet connected by 2015

1bn number of Microsoft customers

100 times increase in bandwidth expected over the next five years

1.6bn the number of transistors on the new Intel chip

120k people at this year’s CES

LOSING THE GLASSES:
TOSHIBA demonstrated a new range of glasses-free 3D TV sets at CES in a bid to win over customers unwilling to wear the battery-powered eyewear, writes Steve Dinneen.

The firm unveiled a host of 3D TVs that work by sending out eight distinct images which are interpreted by the brain as 3D.

City A.M. trialled the new technology at the Consumer Electronics Show and, while lacking the depth of other 3D sets, the sets still achieve a passable 3D effect.

The firm will begin shipping some of the models later this year but has not yet released pricing information.

The move is a response to poor sales of 3D TVs that require glasses. These models account for only about 15-20 per cent of large TVs sold by Toshiba, compared with an initial target of 50 per cent. This is despite better-than-expected TV sales in November and December.

The firm also plans to push “passive” 3D technology, which still requires glasses but ones which are cheaper and do not require batteries.

Toshiba also demonstrated a new glasses-free 3D enabled laptop which uses a camera to scan and track the user's eyes and project the image accordingly.

The depth effect is as strong as some TV sets that require glasses but at present only one person will be able to view the 3D image at a time. Anyone looking over their shoulder will see the video as blurred.

Meanwhile, TV companies are rushing to do content deals with the likes of Time Warner, allowing customers to stream shows over a fast internet connection without a cable or satellite subscription.

SMART CARS:
FORD and Audi both used CES as a platform to launch a host of new innovations, including the first electric Ford Focus, writes Steve Dinneen.

That Ford chose a technology show rather than a motoring expo demonstrates how important the sector has become to the next generation of cars.

In a keynote speech – during which he kissed the new motor – Ford boss Alan Mulally underlined the new direction for his company. He said: “Ford is more than a car company. We are also a technology company.”

Although the new Focus – which has a battery life of 100 miles and a charge time of three to four hours – was the headline act at the show, smart technology has been spliced into almost every aspect of motoring.

Audi showed off a new system that allows its cars to detect and brace for impact before a crash even happens. The German carmaker also revealed plans for an “augmented reality heads-up display” that makes it look like directional arrows appear on the actual road rather than a separate GPS device.

Both firms also showed off advanced new steering technologies and fully-integrated entertainment systems.

Internet radio firm Pandora announced tie-in deals with Toyota – whose Entune multimedia system is powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine – and BMW, to provide its music streaming service in their new range of vehicles.

Audi chief executive Rupert Stadler said: “Some of the most exciting innovations in consumer electronics aren’t happening in your living room… they are the ones in your car”
Mulally added: “We are plugging in more than electric cars. We are plugging in the entire Ford Motor Company.”