Our smarter future

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The consumer electronics business regained its momentum at IFA 2011. While key themes, such as 3D and network connectivity, remain unchanged from last year’s show, genuine product innovation was most definitely back in fashion. One company that appeared completely refocused was Sony. Its chairman and chief executive, Sir Howard Stringer, was in fine fettle, delivering an opening address that was both self depreciating and deliciously confrontational.

“This year, we’ve been flooded, flattened, hacked and singed, but that was yesterday,” he proclaimed.

Introducing the brand’s first tablets, he couldn’t resist taking a pop at rival Apple: “It’s not who makes it first that counts,” he sniped “but who makes it better… and remember Apple doesn’t make movies.”

Certainly on the product front, Sony reclaimed its old mojo. An IFA highlight was its remarkable HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer. This futuristic looking headset incorporates two OLED panels and a surround sound system to create a virtual movie-going experience. Sony says wearing the headset is the equivalent to watching a movie on a 700-inch screen. It’s not, of course, but it is a novel twist to the ongoing 3D story.

Another innovative 3D gizmo that few saw coming was Sony’s digital binoculars. Aimed at twitchers, spys and voyeurs alike, the DEV-5 not only offers massive magnification but can record video in 2D and 3D. Footage can even be geotagged by an inbuilt GPS receiver.

Dual Play rising

3D was a key ingredient at LG’s IFA booth as well, but adding a zesty twist was a new feature called Dual Play. This uses the brand’s Cinema 3D technology to deliver two completely separate 2D images to wearers of Dual Play polarized glasses. It’s aimed at video gamers who would normally have to play each other using a split screen display. Dual Play eyeware is either left/left polarized or right/right polarized and allows multiplayer video games to be played full screen.

Also generating a buzz was LG’s PenTouch TV. With a supplied light pen users can write, draw and deface their gogglebox. The general gist seems to be educational, but many visitors appeared to be content playing oversized Angry Birds or scribbling doodles.

Glass-free 3D TV

Toshiba used IFA to establish an early lead in the nascent glasses-free 3D TV market, with the announcement of its autostereoscopic 55inch ZL2.

Due for European release at the end of the year, this extraordinary television offers 3D without the need for eyeware plus hitherto unseen levels of 2D picture clarity. That’s because it’s the first consumer screen to offer 4K2K resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels). Dubbed Quad HD by Toshiba, the groundbreaking set uses the extra resolution to create nine 3D viewpoints. When not displaying 3D, the screen will upscale existing Full HD sources to Quad HD.

The 3D picture performance of the ZL2 proved to be surprisingly good, confirming that the brand has made big strides since the launch of its first small-screen glasses-free 3D sets in Japan at the end of last year.

Haier learning

Haier previewed two new TV ranges at show, both due early 2012, but that’s not what had people flocking to its CE booth. The real attraction was a bizarre transparent monitor. This 22 inch LCD curiosity was completely translucent – even with an image floating across the screen you could see right through it.

Essentially an LCD panel without a backlight, the overall look was triumphantly futuristic. Given Haier is based in Paris and has a design centre in Italy that was probably always going to be the case.

A related talking point on the Haier stand was a completely-wireless 55inch 3D TV prototype which employed WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) video technology to receive sound and HD vision from a transmitting base unit. But not only did this set receive AV without wires – it didn’t require a mains lead either. Apparently the screen was powered by magnetic resonance coupling.

The future of television

Where ever you looked, there was no shortage of jaw-dropping tech at IFA 2011. Arguably the most spectacular was Sharp’s 85inch 8K4K Super High Vision monitor. To see one of these in the wild is akin to spotting a Black Panther on Bodmin Moor. The screen was a prototype conforming to the Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV) standard currently being developed by Japanese state broadcaster NHK.

UHDTV has a pixel resolution of 7680 x 4320, that’s 33million pixels -16x higher than today’s Full HD screens. Experimental 8K4K broadcasts aren’t scheduled to begin in Japan until 2020, and content is predictably thin on the ground, however word is that NHK will be bringing a camera rig to the 2012 Olympics to shoot test footage. 

If nothing else, the dazzling display stood as a mighty testament to Sharp’s panel-making prowess. Interestingly, this mega-display doesn’t use the brand’s proprietary quad pixel (Quattron) technology because four-colour pixels can’t be made small enough for 8K4K. 

Bright white goods

Digital appliances enjoyed a significant IQ upgrade at IFA 2011, with most major brands ushering in, or refining, Smart product lines.

Samsung introduced its new European-made fridge freezer range, the G-Series. These models have 60 litres more internal capacity than their predecessors and use seven smart sensors to continuously monitor temperature and humidity levels. They also sport a vacation mode, able to maximise energy efficiency when their owners are on holiday.

The brand also expanded its line of eco-bubble washers with a new 12kg capacity unit offering an LCD touchscreen. Joining it was an 8kg slim-depth washer.

The smart refrigerator

LG Electronics launched a similarly cerebral DA range under its Smart ThinQ banner. LG’s first Smart ThinQ-enabled washer is able to self-diagnose water supply problems and run customized, downloadable wash cycles.

Young-ha Lee, president and CEO of LG Electronics Home Appliance Company predicted smart tech would bring “previously unimagined levels of convenience and energy efficiency and a fundamental change in the way people manage their homes.”

LG’s first side-by-side refrigerator has an integrated LCD panel and Smart Manager food system. If you want to find out what’s inside there’s no need to open the door, just log on to the fridge with your mobile or check the in-door LCD panel.  The latter also offers a digital photo album, calendar and memo. It can even keep track of your social media.

Germ busters

Nearby, Haier touted a range of washing machines featuring a unique anti-bacterial treatment.  The brand’s so-called ABT coating claims to wipe out resilient extremotolerant fungi once and for all. This ABT ‘special treatment’ permanently protects seals and detergent drawers with a coating applied during construction. It’s said to be effective throughout the entire life cycle of the product. Perhaps not smart in the techy sense, but most definitely clever.

Smart Grid ready

A growing number of digital appliance brands used IFA to bow Smart Grid compliant appliances. Miele, Samsung and LG led the way with an assortment of products. When local utility companies begin to offer differentiated energy-rate time slots, these appliances automatically re-adjust to take advantage of the best energy rates. 

Sadly the UK appears to be falling behind parts of Europe when it comes to a concentrated Smart Grid roll-out, but the technology will undoubtedly gain favour.

Green shoots

While most big brands played their eco-card at IFA, few dealt as enthusiastically as Panasonic. Chairman and CEO of Panasonic Europe, Laurent Abadie, used his media address to pledge that Panasonic would become the number one green technology brand by 2018. As part of its corporate vision, the company is co-developing a smart city project in Fujisawa, Japan, which will become a living example of its green technologies.

Naturally, 3D remains a lynch pin for Panasonic. Not only is the company working with the IOC to deliver the first ever 3D Olympics, in 2012, but it also unveiled its most advanced 3D camcorder to date, the HDC-Z10000. Offering a raft of advanced film-making technologies, the brand says it hopes the camera will encourage enthusiasts to create their own 3D content.

Numbers up for IFA 2011

Despite ongoing gloomy trading conditions, the IFA organizers declared this year’s expo a resounding success. 238,000 visitors attended the show (up 3% YOY), with 1,441 exhibitors reporting trade orders in excess of 3.7 billion Euros as a result of the show.

Epson launches video projector with iPod dock

The world’s largest LCD projection company ushered in five new models at IFA, led by a spectacular 3D unit, the EH-TW9000. However, it was a smaller model which threatened to steal the show. The MG-850HD is the first video projector to incorporate a pop out iPod/iPad dock.  The projector, a 720P HD LCD model, even sports an integrated 10w stereo soundbar.

Robotic Cleaner

Samsung’s latest robotic vacuum cleaner, the NaviBot S, can empty its dust bag automatically. When full, the NaviBot S returns to its charging base where empties its dust container into a central bin, refreshing its battery and cleaning its main brush in the process. The Navibot S also has an upgraded Visionary MappingPlus System and is 10 % slimmer than last year’s cleaning ‘bot.

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