Plugging in to the cutting edge of 2010


LAS VEGAS The glitz! The glamour! The gadgets! The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show officially kicked off this week in Las Vegas in a spectacle that can only be described as Disneyland for geeks.

With 2,700 exhibitors, 1.7 million square feet of space and an estimated 110,000 attendees from around the world, the early buzz is centering on a few new and not-so-new technologies that are expected to emerge by the end of the show as the next big thing.

More technology deals are made during the four days of CES than anywhere else on earth, said Gary Shapiro, president of the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association, which produces what is now the worlds largest consumer technology tradeshow.  There is no doubt that there is more innovation at this show than any one in history.

Making its debut at this years CES is a sprawling iLounge Pavilion, a nod to Apples withdrawal from the Mac World show set for next month.  For leading Apple developers and retailers, it was long overdue and new software, app and peripheral displays are everywhere.

But rather than a singular new technology to emerge from this years show like the video cassette player in 1970 or CD player in 1981 this years CES is improving on technologies that consumers have already been slowly getting familiar with.  Heres our first look:

The biggest buzz is not over a product but a concept: 3D. While visual entertainment in three dimensions was a novelty at last years show, the recent success of movies like James Camerons Avatar has spurred companies to step up their efforts to affordably bring 3D technology into the home. 

TV manufacturers, home theater component sellers and content providers are all getting in on the action and with the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament being broadcast in 3D, sports fans as well as gamers are expected to be the early adopters.

E-book readers
It started with the Kindle and now e-book readers galore are dotting the show floor. Crowds raced to see the Skiff, a reader just over a quarter-inch thick with an 11.5-inch touch-screen display (1200×1600 pixels). It is designed to optimize newspaper and magazine content along with e-books and documents.

A joint venture between the Hearst Corporation-backed Skiff and Sprint, the device also has built-in wireless 3G and wi-fi and weighs just over 1 pound. 

Despite 2009 seeing the worst recession since the Great Depression, new data from DisplaySearch, a leading market research firm, found that netbook sales increased a staggering 103 percent year-over-year from 2008 with revenues up some 72 percent. So its no surprise to see netbook displays back and bigger than ever as vendors across the board roll out devices with more reliable builds and better specs.

Most of the major notebook manufacturers are introducing laptops with ULV or ultra-low voltage processors in them. This provides better battery life and allows for a smaller footprint and thinner form factor.

If those dizzying displays are not enough, complicating things is the introduction of the smartbook, which falls somewhere between a netbook and a smartphone. 

Smartbooks are especially small and portable, offer comparable battery life and use mobile processors similar to e-book readers. When they become available to consumers, theyre expected to be even more affordable than netbooks. 

Dual panels
The two over-saturated markets of e-readers and netbooks has intersected in the niche category of dual screen devices that for now is best executed in the EnTourage eDGe, a dual-function hybrid that functions as both a reader and tablet computer.

Features include a 9.7-inch e-reader display paired with a 10.1-inch, 1024×600 resolution screen running on the Android platform. Both sides have a stylus-input touchscreen.

Manufacturers are doing their best to make USB cables a thing of the past with wireless charging, file transfers and HDMI gaining ground at this years CES.

Wi-Fi-Direct in particular is giving Bluetooth some serious competition as a way to transfer content and share applications. The technology allows devices to connect in pairs or in groups, but unlike Bluetooth, only one of the devices needs to be compliant with Wi-Fi Direct to establish the connection. This means that a Wi-Fi Direct-enabled cell phone can establish a connection with a non-Wi-Fi Direct notebook computer to transfer files between the two.

Mobile DTV
Last year saw the transition of the U.S. broadcast television standard from analog (NTSC) to digital (ATSC). But while digital broadcasts offer crisp high-def images, the biggest drawback is that digital TV is tough to receive if youre on the move. 

But 2009 also saw the emergence of a new standard for Mobile DTV, one that is optimized for small screens and provides reliable reception even in transit. Several hundred Mobile DTV channels are scheduled to be rolled out across the country this year, with the Washington area slated to be one of the first to test the mobile-friendly versions of existing broadcast networks and premium cable channels. 

With the new standard in place, this years CES is premiering a variety of products from laptop USB dongles to portable media players and car entertainment sets to facilitate Mobile DTV viewing.

The Samsung Moment smartphone is drawing crowds, as is the Tivit, a networking device that enables many existing PCs and smartphones to access Mobile DTV programming via Wi-Fi. 

Time will tell which technologies and gadgets are ready for consumer prime time later this year. But for now, its viva Las Vegas!