The 3D world

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Berlin’s IFA show continues to expand. More than 1,400 exhibitors took part in this year’s week-long event in September. Almost every major consumer electronics brand had one or more 3D-capable television in its autumn range. Although a somewhat sceptical public still needs to be convinced, the number of IFA visitors flocking to don 3D specs and sample the technology could be a promising sign for retailers.

It goes without saying that any good 3DTV will handle 2D to a high standard and that in most cases 3D models still represent the flagship, heading a line-up of conventional HDTVs, which themselves are improving continually.

However, it’s likely that within a few years all new TVs could be 3D-ready at little or no extra cost, though glasses may be sold separately if they are of the more expensive active-shutter variety.

Philips, Sharp and Samsung had prototype 3D screens that don’t require glasses, though in Sharp’s case, it’s only a 10in display, based on its parallax barrier system used by Nintendo’s 3DS.

The other big trend was network connectivity, so that TVs, disc players and even domestic appliances can ‘talk’ to each other or be controlled by touch-screen gadgets such as the iPhone, iPad or other handhelds. Home entertainment products linking to the internet is now a standard feature. The tech is relatively simple, what matters is content, and companies with footholds in film and music, like Sony, are making the biggest strides.

New look for AEG

AEG revealed its new logo at IFA, which aims to bring the brand closer to its core consumers while reminding people that it belongs to Electrolux. It was also the debut of AEG’s Neue Kollektion, a range emphasising German form and function that spans all of the company’s lines.

The collection includes the high-efficiency ProFresh refrigerator designed to preserve the original quality and nutritional values of food for 10 days, the ProClean ultra-quiet dishwasher (with visual countdown timer) that copes with all sizes of dishes, and the ProCombi steam oven. Also in the range are the MaxiKlasse large-capacity oven with new airflow technology and more precise temperature control, the MaxiSense zone-free induction hob to heat various sizes of pans, and the Crystal Line modular hob range that uses glass design elements.

Completing the line-up are ProFrame ‘3D’ full and framed induction and radiant hobs. These reduce build-in height and fit into a variety of places. Customers can upgrade to a ProFrame hob using the same 60cm cut-out space. A full set of drawers can be installed below the hob, for example, or certain dishwashers or fridges.

Premium designs

Amica demonstrated an expanded range including its recently launched Inari induction hobs, available in 60cm and 77cm sizes and using German-made glass from Schott-Ceran. The hobs include useful ‘dimpled’ touch controls for zones, and a bridge mode to combine zones. The Polish company also showcased its premium range for built-in appliances. Called Platinum, the new line is targeted at kitchen design specialists and combines black glass, stainless steel and red illumination, as well as touch-screen controls with pre-set modes.

Armour Home Electronics has a smart looking Conran iPod speaker dock coming this winter. It’s designed by the Terence Conran Studio, uses Q-Acoustics on the audio side and includes Bluetooth with APT-X compatibility for higher quality wireless audio playback from certain mobile devices (or via an APT-X USB or iPod dongle). It will retail for about £229.

Bosch displayed a new, modular generation of extractor hoods with basic or premium feature options including economical ultrasound sensors and a low-energy air circulation module. Its latest Avantixx range of washing machines sits between the Maxx and Logixx lines. It incorporates an ActiveWater management system, which uses only 42 litres for the standard program and 20% less energy than the Class A threshold. In addition, Bosch has 11 refrigeration appliances in its ColourGlass Edition, combining glass and stainless steel. From fridge-freezers to side-by-side models, the range has A+ to A++ energy ratings.

Gorenje emphasised high-tech refinements and pleasing designs on its IFA stand. Building on last year’s Wi-Fi connected appliances, the brand demoed its prototype iPad application, enabling customers to control various functions, with a focus on energy efficiency modes.

Many of Gorenje’s latest appliances have touch controls, while ovens with full colour touch-screens and a cooking ‘wizard’ for managing recipes and settings is in development. It also has a fridge with an integrated battery so that if you use dual electricity tariffs, it can be recharged at off-peak rates.

Other Gorenje ranges include Simplicity, with user controls minimised into a simple dial, and a striking line-up from New York-based designer Karim Rashid that uses a vertical LED strip that changes colour to suit your taste or, in the case of the oven, turn red if it’s too hot.

LG’s super-thin TVs

LG had several eye-catching TVs on show. Buoyed by a formal endorsement from Sky, LG’s 3D line-up incorporates plasma and LCD models. It also had the biggest LED-LCD TV in the form of the 72in LE8500, as well as the LEX8 ‘Nano’ TV, which as the model number suggests, is just 8mm thick, despite being a ‘full LED’ TV with backlighting rather than edge illumination. The LEX8 includes LG’s Magic Motion gesture-based remote control and a connection for internet TV or media streaming from a home network. For plasma fans, LG has the 50in 3D-compatible PX950N, which is the first to be THX certified for 3D.

Most striking of all were LG’s OLED (organic light emitting diode) TVs in the existing 15.1in size and a new wider 31in version, both truly wafer-thin. The 31in models were showing a mix of 2D and 3D material, the latter using stylish passive polarising glasses to good effect. Even in 2D, the image is so sharp and impressive that it’s almost 3D. It’s a reminder that if the high definition picture is excellent, a third dimension is not needed.

While no threat to the 40-60in giants commonplace among plasma and LCD, the clarity and richness of OLED is a revelation and, at 31in, feasible for living room use; although it will be expensive, with a reported price tag of around £6,000. It should certainly take pride of place in shop windows as it will turn heads among passers by.

Elsewhere LG had its domestic appliances on display. The brand has gone big on refrigeration by launching a 385 litre fridge-freezer in a unit measuring 910 x 1785 x 788mm. It’s A++ rated and uses a linear compressor to maintain a steady interior temperature.

Several of LG’s latest steam-generating washing machines offer a high capacity of 11kg inside a standard 24in cabinet. They employ an upgraded Inverter Direct Drive to control spin speed, the precise movement of the inner drum and the left and right movement.

Miele’s new range includes induction hobs with Direct Control or Direct Control Plus (for the latter, each ring has its own separate numbered controls). Miele has also revamped its DG1050 steam oven into the DG1450. It’s a 50cm wide free-standing model using the company’s VitaSteam technology and a new touch-sensitive user interface.

For laundry, Miele now offers a fully automatic dispensing system for liquid and powder, which operates as a separate unit on top of a washing machine.

Star attractions

Samsung drew some of the biggest buzz of the show by revealing its GT-P1000 Galaxy Tab handheld device. It combines mobile communications and web browsing with multimedia playback. This thin and, at 380g, lightweight 7in tablet is powered by Google’s Android 2.2 operating
system. Depending on pricing, it could grab some of the iPad’s market share, especially as the Galaxy Tab offers key features missing from Apple’s offering.

As expected, the brand had numerous 3DTVs, including a new 65-inch Full HD 3D LED-backlit TV, two new 3D plasma HDTVs as well as the SP-A8000 3D video projector for home use. The flagship screen is the C8000, which has precision LED dimming for its 65in display, Wi-Fi connectivity and web-TV apps. It will retail for around £5,000. Samsung’s new 50in plasmas consist of the C680 and C490 series, which it says consumes 40% less power compared to 2009’s equivalents.

Among Samsung’s domestic appliance highlights were its H-Series side-by-side refrigerator. This A++ rated range includes a Clear View ice maker integrated into the freezer door, creating more space inside. The twin cooling system combines two evaporation units to maintain humidity at up to 75% for keeping food fresh for longer. Meanwhile the CoolSelect Zone is a drawer where the temperature can be controlled independently. Samsung has an A++ rated fridge-freezer, the RL55VQBRS, which uses an LCD touch-screen display to control the fridge as well as acting as an electronic message board or digital photo viewer.

At IFA Samsung also showcased its Eco Bubble large-capacity washing machines, which enable cold-water washing, reduced energy consumption and new motor features to reduce vibration and noise. The bubble generator injects air into the dissolving detergent, producing a rich soapy ‘foam cushion’ that distributes evenly into fabrics and penetrates deeper and more quickly into clothes, even at 15°C. It is also said to handle delicate fabrics with less damage.

Sony’s sprawling stand had something for everyone, from tiny new pocket-orientated e-book readers with touch-sensitive screens to a 3D home cinema projector (VPL-VW90ES) developed by the company’s professional division. The other big Sony news was the expansion of its already impressive Bravia Internet Video feature, available on recent TVs and Blu-ray players, to include more online films and other content. It is also set to bring out a connected-TV using the soon-to-be-launched Google TV.

Flying colours

October sees Sharp unleash its Quattron 3D TV. Sharp says its Quattron system, which debuted earlier in 2010, is ideal for 3D because the addition of a fourth (yellow) sub-pixel makes the picture 1.8 times brighter than normal RGB LCD TVs, without using more energy. There are also improvements to colour reproduction. Part of the LE925 Series, the new TV is 60in wide and will cost around £3,500. Other sizes follow in 2011. Sharp has a £380 3D-ready Blu-ray player that includes a wireless internet connection and, unusually, can be put on a tabletop stand and placed vertically.

The company has two large A++ rated fridge-freezers, the SJ-WS360T and SJ-WS320T, using Sharp’s Dual Swing door system, so they can be opened to the left or right without special installation. Meanwhile, the AX-1100 is a three-in-one oven that combines steamer, grill and microwave.

Siemens presented a built-in steam cooker specially designed for installation in wall unit recesses, with the control panel placed on the bottom fascia. Taking up no more space than a microwave, it has a left or right-opening glass door and LED lighting. For work-tops, Siemens’ new flexInduction hob enables users to connect two hob zones, along with automatic recognition of the size and placement of pots and pans.

Toshiba has collaborated with Jacob Jensen Design to create the Regza VL Series of ultra-slim LED-backlit TVs, with added internet connectivity. Although relatively late to the 3D party – and Blu-ray for that matter – Toshiba embraces both with its WL series of 3D TVs (again using LED backlighting) and the BDX3100KB Blu-ray player.

Supplementing its laptop range, Toshiba has an Android-equipped 10.1in touch-screen tablet called the Folio 100 to compete with (and substantially undercut) Apple’s iPad with a £329 price tag.

Three dimensions, various sizes

Panasonic had rows of 3D-enabled Viera plasma TVs, culminating in a vast curved wall of screens for bespectacled visitors to experience. IFA saw the arrival of an entry-level 3D range from Panasonic to complement the VT20 series. The TX-P42GT20 brings the starting size for a Panasonic 3D plasma down to 42in. The required active shutter glasses are optional, so you can choose from different styles. It’s also an indication that most new TVs may eventually be 3D ready, which you would access after adding the necessary eye-wear.

Philips had a unique take on 3D with a three-dimensional version of its movie-orientated Cinema 21:9 model. This Platinum Series TV uses a 400Hz 58in LCD in the super-wide 2.3:1 aspect ratio, as used for most blockbuster films. Extras include Ambilight and a NetTV broadband connection.

House share

Over at Loewe’s relaxed, spa-like hall was an edge-LED-backlit LCD TV range, which includes its new DR+ system. This enables programmes recorded with the optional built-in hard disk recorder to be watched on other Loewe TVs that share the streaming function, even if they don’t have a hard disk. You can also continue playback of recordings in another room from the point where you paused them.

Another of Loewe’s new LED ranges is called Art, offering slim styling by Phoenix Design in screen sizes of 32, 40 or 46in and clad in black, chrome or ‘mocha’ colours. Finally, it has created its first 3DTV, for an early 2011 launch, which uses active shutter glasses and LED backlighting.

TV support act

The Peerless AV company has a new flat-screen TV wall-mount with motorised articulation that, despite the mechanism, enables the screen to sit just 25mm (1 inch) from the wall.

Another add-on that serves as a useful impulse purchase for flat-screen buyers is Peerless’ new Stabilis Screen Safety Kit. Costing £20, it connects to the universal wall-mounting holes at the back of a TV and clamps or screws to a TV stand, table or wall. It allows the screen to turn on a swivel stand, if it has one, but prevents it from toppling forwards or back, therefore preventing damage to equipment and possible injury to children or pets.

Vogel’s was showing its new Thin Series of TV wall-mounts, which is available in four types, a flat version just 1.5cm deep, a 2cm tilting version, a 3.5cm version with 90 degree turn and 20 degree tilt, and lastly a silent motorised version with remote control and memory for favourite viewing positions.

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