CES 2009 was a bit smaller than in previous years. The economy played a big part in that both attendance in general plus the size and scope of the presence of various manufacturers was diminished. With a slightly lighter crowd of about 120,000, it was easier to get around although still much too big to be able to see everything within the allotted time.
That CES was an incremental show this year was not a big surprise. Given the pervasive gloomy economic atmosphere we did not expect to see huge new developments in technology. There were a number of incremental improvements in the areas of large flat screens and refresh rates, as well as other refinements in the video and audio sectors overlapping both entertainment and computing devices.
So all the hype aside, three items caught our attention in very different categories.
At an invitation-only press event, Palm™ previewed their next generation Smart Phone and operating system. I will be the first to admit that when I entered the room and seated myself comfortably, I expected to see a standard song and dance about some new little whiz-bang feature on an otherwise typical cell phone. I was very pleasantly surprised at Palm's new offering.
Palm obviously put a great deal of time and thought into the design and engineering of this forthcoming product. We got an opportunity to get hands on with the new PRE™ at the reception in Palm’s conference room. The shape of the new PRE™ is the first thing that caught our attention. It fits quite comfortably in your hand and with the lower portion extended it has the perfect slightly curved shape to conduct phone conversations.
The full touch screen interface, while obviously reminiscent of Apple's iPhone, utilizes a completely new operating system based on Java, CSS, and HTML. The multi-touch capabilities and Palm’s new approach to organizing and unifying communications will make this an intriguing and useful business tool. The slide down keyboard is also a major improvement to utilizing just the screen for typing and input. SMS lovers will really appreciate this feature.
The new Palm PRE™ will not be available for several months and will initially be exclusive to the Sprint network. We are very much looking forward to our chance to test drive this new smart phone.
AMD Athlon NEO
We expected to see a lot of interesting mobile devices, both smart phone and computers at CES. We took along a Lenovo Netbook to field test during the trip (More about that in an upcoming review article.) One of the things that we were curious to investigate was why we had not yet seen any offerings in this area utilizing an AMD processor.
We have seen Netbooks from HP, Lenovo, MSI, Asus and Acer, but all of these employ either the Intel Atom™ or a VIA processor and chipset. I was fortunate to get an opportunity to speak with Jo Betsy Vaught, Brand Manager, Mobile division, from AMD who is involved with the new Athlon Neo processor and showed me a pre-production model of an HP laptop using the chip.
The specs on the new processor are impressive. It only draws 15 W of power, and in conjunction with the necessary north and south bridge connections 35 W. This is more than the Intel Atom processor; however, the performance of this K8 core CPU is impressive.
AMD is positioning this chip to fill the gap between the ultraportable Netbooks, and the chunkier 15-inch notebooks. The new form factor is being dubbed Ultrathin. The distinction is not one so much of size, but of power. It is targeted at the mobile user who likes the idea of a notebook but desires a bit more speed and capability than the Atom class processors can provide. We watched a demonstration of the HP Ultrathin running a blue ray DVD with perfect clarity. This is something the Netbooks would be hard pressed to do with the more limited CPU and graphics capabilities they possess.
Based on what we saw at CES, we would anticipate pricing to start at around the $699 level putting it squarely in the sweet spot between the ultraportable and notebook form factors. We don't expect this new offering to be an ‘Atom smasher’, as it is not meant to directly compete in that space. We do expect that it will pull substantial sales from both markets.
3D - It's coming at you...
3D was this year’s buzzword. Most of the major flat screen manufacturers such as Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and LG had some form of 3-D presentation setup. This was also accompanied by manufacturers such as NVIDIA, demonstrating their take on 3-D gaming. Besides general entertainment, gaming will be one of the other two main markets for your 3-D viewing pleasure. [If you haven't guessed by now, what that "other" market is, your arteries have probably already hardened and 3-D glasses wouldn't help your eyesight a bit.]
There are various technologies used to produce a 3-D image, some of which have been around for years. All of the technologies are based on fooling your mind into thinking that the flat image you're looking at is actually three-dimensional. We all have seen, or even used, those odd little red and green cardboard glasses to view some "creature from the Black Lagoon" 3-D flick.
Another alternative is polarized lenses. With this method two different polarized images are projected and filtered to the eyes via a different set of cardboard glasses with polarized lenses. The newest entry into this optical sleight-of-hand field is liquid crystal shuttered lenses. These are the type being used by NVIDIA for their 3-D gaming offering. The short version of how they work is simply that each eye’s lens flickers on and off at a very high rate of speed to deliver the necessary delay in time and perspective to fool the mind into perceiving three dimensions.
We tested the technology at CES, and it was most impressive. It does have a limitation in that currently it can only work in a gaming environment. Its one other drawback is that it is a bit pricey at $399.
The writing is definitely on the screen. 3-D is an up and coming technology that now has backing from both major movie production houses as well as gaming companies. I would expect that by next year's CES, we will see a lot more offerings in the consumer space.