Monday, December 04, 2023
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CES, The Economy & 2010

3-D TV

As if CES wasn't "in your face" enough, this year they had 3-D everywhere just to make sure it was really in your face. Actually in the case of 3-D, it's more like on your face. That's because the technology that has been most universally adopted uses the shuttered LCD lenses in those always interesting looking 'sunglasses'. In all fairness, the 3-D demonstrations we saw from LGPanasonic SonySamsung  and others was very very impressive. 
Content will be increasing constantly with not only Blu-Ray 3-D DVDs and games, but also broadcast programming. The Discovery channel announced that in 2011 they would launch the Discovery HD 3-D channel.

3-D, in various incarnations, has been around for a long time. With the release of such movies as "Avatar" it has been catapulted into the mainstream consciousness. However, 3-D is still what I would consider "bleeding edge" technology. This is not because it doesn't work well, but because there are still several little flies in the ointment. 

The first is standards and interoperability. Just because two manufacturers choose to use the shuttered LCD glasses does not mean that they are interchangeable. What does this mean to the consumer? If for instance, you buy a Samsung LED flat-panel TV with 3-D capabilities, you won't be able to use the glasses with your next-door neighbors Sony 3-D TV. The basic tech might be the same, but the communications parameters between the TV and the glasses will not necessarily sync as there is no standard. This first glitch means that instead of one or two pairs of 3-D glasses, you will need to purchase four or five or six or more depending on how many people are in your family or how many guests you intend to invite over to enjoy it with you. A little extra bonus in the expense column.

The second problem is one of usage and adaptation. There is a term in French, "Trompe l'oeil", which literally means to fool the eye. It is a term and form in the art world used to describe extremely realistic paintings that are so lifelike so as to fool the person into believing the objects are real and touchable. Todays 3-D technology uses shuttered lenses to fool the brain's perception of the image being received as three dimensional. The good news is it works pretty well. The bad news is you still have to deal with wearing the glasses, which always has mixed reactions, and the fact that they have been known to cause the occasional headache or vertigo when removed.

This won't stop the early adopters and the avid gamers. The visual effect is a magnitude above what is available in any other format and content providers (movies, games and future broadcast) will be offering more and more titles for our consumption. It will set you back several thousand dollars to ante up in the 3-D game and I can't promise you won't have to spend it again in a couple of years when 'version 2.0' emerges, but you'll certainly enjoy it if you can afford it.

Last year you had two basic choices if you wanted an e-Reader; Sony or Amazon's Kindle. This year...well, I can't count them all. There was a whole section of CES devoted to this new altar to the electronic book worm. You can still get them to just read, or you can read as you ply your social networking skills.  Maybe you want to be able to surf the web a bit or you just want to get down to business. Whatever your inclination, the silicon genies are doing everything they can to grant your wish in this newest buzz catergory.   

My three favorites were the eDGe™ from Entourage, Alex Duet Navigator™ from Spring Design and the Que™ proReader from Plastic Logic. Why? Because they represent three different and interesting approaches to the e-Reader category. 

The Entourage eDGe™  is a dual screen e-Reader with both a 9.7 inch e-ink display as well as a 10.1 inch LCD screen. Billing itself as the world's first Dualbook, the 
eDGe™ sports an android operating system and WiFi capability. The point of this nifty little device is that you can not only use the e-ink capabilities to read books or take notes, you can also surf the web, ply your social networking skills or work with a colleague or fellow student. It has a lot of great features worth checking out. Pricing is on the order of a better net book at about $490.

Alex Duet Navigator™ from Spring Design is more along the lines of a traditional e-Reader (if there is such a thing)
 with a twist. Alex also incorporates the dual screen concept, but does it in a vertical fashion. The e-ink  display is on top with a 3 1/2 inch color LCD underneath. This allows the Alex to stay slim and trim and still give you a small area to practice your web antics. This model is designed more for the true e-Reader enthusiast who wants to be able to do a little bit more.

The Que™ proReader from Plastic Logic which we got to see up close and personal at the ShowStoppers press 
event, is oriented to the businessperson with the need to carry, peruse or consume large amounts of otherwise printed paper. The Pro reader has a large 8.5 x 11 form factor to allow for full size paper replication and is only 1/3 of an inch thick. The concept here is that an attorney for instance can carry a complete file cabinets worth of paper in this slim device. Besides having the largest screen available, the Que™ ProReader is also unique in that it uses a shatterproof plastic display. For those of you thinking that this might impact the clarity on the screen, think again. The units we examined at CES were exceptionally crisp and clear. Formal pricing wasn't announced, but the numbers we heard were a bit expensive.

The whole area of Slates and Smart Books has become a little bit blurred. When you have a dual screen system with an e-ink reader that is capable of surfing the net and running applications is it an e-reader or a smart book? Also, if you have a Slate or a convertible Net Book of some sort, isn't that a tablet? My point here is there is a lot of renaming going on to otherwise recognized formats. The only serious stand out I found in all of these was Lenovo's Ideapad U1 . What makes this hybrid PC so incredibly cool is that the
screen not only detaches from the base but each portion houses its own processor. This means that the Slate portion can work as its own mobile device. The two devices synchronize to work together seamlessly, so even if you start something in Slate mode when you re-dock with the keyboard you can pick up where you left off without interruption. This was unquestionably the hottest device in the room at the Digital Experience press event at where it was shown. We don't have a production date yet, but we're certainly looking forward to it.

One other product should be brought up in any discussion of electronic print media, and that is Blio . What's Blio? It's a soon to be software download that will act as an e-reader plus. The plus is color, multi-media capabilities and a quasi 3-D look. It's from Ray Kurzwiel who has a list of inventions to his credit that would be longer than this article. Take a look. It may be a game changer.

Smart Phones

Smart Phones are making a comeback in a big way. The last couple of years have seen the emergence of a whole lot of phones that specialize in media or texting but ignored the business side of things. Some of us like to sync up our
calendars and emails and don't necessarily want a Blackberry. This CES saw a resurgence of phones that didn't fall into the 'apps for dummies' category. The biggest chatter was about Google's Android based Nexus™  and Motorola's BACKFLIP™ which won "Best of Show" in it's category. Palm™  also introduced the second generation of the Pré™ and Pixie™, both with improved processors and speed. They did not announce a release date.
Our take? We weren't as impressed as the pre-show hype led us to believe we should have been. But not wanting to feel too cynical, we contacted an industry colleague, Mitchell Weinstock, who is deeply immersed and knowledgable about all things cellular. It appears Mitchell felt the same way I did, except maybe more so. We agreed that the whole Nexus™ thing should have been a more controlled rollout to keep the press hype from spinning out of control. Instead of positioning this release as the natural progression of a version upgrade with; (1)the option to buy an unlocked phone or (2) in conjunction with a favored US carrier, both handled like an ebay transaction, it was positioned as a market game changer. A bit over the top.
I wasn't sure about the BACKFLIP™ and its utility, though I felt it did hold a slight cool factor appeal for a certain audience. Mitchell felt that as a Smart Phone it would be a fine target for the mid tier market including high school aged users, and that the rear touch capability was perfect for those needing additional fidget outlets in that attention deficit age group. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if that were a deliberate part of the design. Let's face it, the youngest of the phone's users are so addicted to constant stimulation and instantaneous feedback....this may be the first cellular non-prescription pacifier on the market.

Video Conferencing

"Almost as good as being there" was a tagline in an old telephone service commercial. Well audio is nice, video is better. Video conferencing has been around for a long time but has never exploded in the popular culture the way it was envisioned back at the 1964 New York World's Fair. There are probably numerous good reasons for that, but we'll save them for a future article. 

This year at CES a number of announcements were made that will dramatically improved the medium's popularity. The folks at Skype were probably the busiest. They announced partnerships with both LG and Panasonic to provide the service for Internet-based video calls over the television manufacturers' integrated web capabilities. This means grandparents will be able to see the kiddies in HD on their new 50" flat panel TV at the push of a button. It's actually pretty cool as the technology has been upgraded to provide a crisp image on that much larger screen. 

InStore Solutions, the folks who handle the sales of all those cute items you see at the bottom of your Skype box, announced three new webcams that will be added to their Freetalk™ product line. The upper two products incorporate
beam array microphone technology to enable clear pickup of conversation from the grandkids up to about 12' away. We're big fans of beam array technology and use some from Andrea Labs daily for conversation and speech recognition (see our article about Nuance's Dragon Dictate ). We expect to be receiving samples of the webcams to review soon.

Logitech was showing off one of their new acquisitions, LifeSize Communications, that specialize in high-end video conferencing or telepresence. This expands on their already impressive line of consumer webcams and WiLife monitoring systems and adds business class products and services to their video offerings.
The Economy 

So how will our ailing economy effect the products we see and purchase this coming year. The economy has somewhat stabilized, and unemployment has hopefully bottomed out. True, employment isn't going to be on an uptick anytime soon, but I think we won't see it go any lower. It certainly will start to bounce back as businesses recover. What does this mean to the consuming public? Primarily, that we will spend our hard-earned money on necessities, and the bread-and-butter items. Those that will give us a the functions and utility that we require. Certainly, we will splurge from time to time, but generally, we will try to seek the best technology for the lowest price. 

We all sat down with our hi-tech ouiji board and came up with the following:
-There will be an uptick in equipment purchase for the SOHO and  Home Enterprise  market. This won't be earth shattering, but as umemployed people with skills become hopelessly frustrated with outside job opportunities they will begin to focus on adapting those skills to entreprenuerial opportunities. Translation - more home businesses and home offices ergo the need for tech to support it.
-Dollars still being at a premium we expect to see more use of multi-purpose equipment. This will be everything from the popular printer/scanner/fax combos to larger monitors that will double as TVs.
-Opportunities to use advances and introductions of new and better technology to set up a home based business that might not have been possible before.

To that end, will be focusing on just that kind of technology during the coming year. Some of the items we discuss may be a bit surprising...stay tuned.


OK, this section is strictly to vent a pet peeve.  There is debate as to whether this year is two thousand ten or twenty ten. I say there should be no debate. The answer is two thousand ten. How can I be so certain? Simple. Did you hear anyone call last year twenty oh nine? Unlikely. Now this doesn't mean you can't say twenty ten, it's an easy enough shorthand. More like a nickname. You know, Bob instead of Robert, Steve instead of Steven, Dick instead of Richard.
The 20s are linguistically different than the teens. Everybody called 1909, nineteen oh nine. Nobody walked around saying it was one thousand nine hundred and nine. (At least that's what they tell me). There is also precedent. When the sci-fi classic Space Odyssey was released, it wasn't called Twenty oh One A Space Odyssey, it was called Two Thousand One A Space Odyssey.

Now I'm a realist. I'm able to look far enough into the future to ask myself "hmmm...what's going to happen after 2019?" Everyone's so used to referring to 20/20 as twenty twenty, be it as a measure of vision or the TV show, that they will naturally call that year Twenty Twenty. And yes, at that point things may change. But I say, in the meantime, give this decade its due. Allow it its moment in the chronological sun. We talked so long about what would happen in the year Two Thousand (2000) and beyond....give it this one decade.