TV goes 3D

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Held in Las Vegas, in the Nevada desert, the world’s largest consumer electronics show was as big as ever this year, with over 2,500 exhibitors and more than 20,000 new products on show. Remaining bullish in the face of the recession, the show attracted more than 120,000 attendees, according to early estimates, marking a substantial increase in visitor numbers from last year.

“The innovations unveiled at the 2010 International CES brought new optimism and opportunity to our industry and the global economy,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of show organiser CEA. “This show exceeded expectations with its innovation, optimism and excitement. What a great way to kick off the new decade.”

3D is here

It’s been around in the form of cardboard specs with coloured lens and various gimmicky films for years, but genuine 3D is finally coming to home cinema. Manufacturers have been showing prototype models for some time now, but 2010 is the year that will see the technology become a reality for consumers with several products launching this year. LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony all unveiled 3D panels with several manufacturers also introducing 3D Blu-ray players.

Marking its commercial debut in the 3D market, LG unveiled a 47in 3D-ready panel which is due to launch in April. The new screen will use inexpensive ‘passive’ polarized 3D glasses, while most other manufacturers have opted for the more bulky and pricey ‘active shutter’ lenses. George Mead, TV marketing manager for Home Entertainment at LG told IER: “Initially the LG 3D TVs will roll out to pubs and clubs where exclusive Sky 3D content can be viewed by millions of consumers. We anticipate this will create a lot of demand for the commercial market and initial retailer feedback at CES has been very positive. We anticipate 3DTV will be a niche market for the first half in 2010 but believe that the future will bring 3DTV to the masses so we can all enjoy the magnificent, immersive home entertainment experience”.

Samsung also joined the 3D party with its comprehensive collection of 3D-ready LED, LCD and plasma panels, led by its C9000 ultra-slim LED screen. Panasonic showcased a range of 3D-ready Viera plasma panels, along with a gigantic 152in plasma 3D display, made from several smaller panels joined together.

Sony introduced its new Monolithic Design aesthetic to its TV lineup, which will include several models with support for 3D pictures. Toshiba also gave a preview of the world’s first CELL TV, which is due out later in the year. Although exact specifications were unavailable, the LED panel will be 3D-ready and will also convert 2D pictures to 3D, says Toshiba.

The future of 3D was further boosted as Sky confirmed that its forthcoming 3D TV service will be compatible with all of the new ‘3D ready’ panels. What’s more, the Blu-ray Disc Association recently finalised the specification for Blu-ray 3D and confirmed that it will work on all the various technologies launched by the different manufacturers.

TV innovations

Both LG and Panasonic introduced TVs with Skype video calling capabilities, while Samsung launched an improved internet widgets service. LG also launched a vast array of LCD, LED and plasma and debuted its first TV sub-brand for the UK – the Infinia range and stated that Freeview HD will be available on 50% of its TVs this year.

Elsewhere in TV innovations, Sharp introduced its QuadPixel technology which adds yellow to the traditional RGB (red, green, blue) in order to expand the available colour range.

OLED is still very much on the flatscreen agenda with LG displaying its first commercially available panel – a 15-incher due out in April, while Sony showcased a 24in OLED 3D TV prototype.

Blu-ray: what’s next?

The struggle to establish Blu-ray as a mainstream format continues with the next wave of players unveiled at the show. Several brands – including Sony, Panasonic, Samsung and Toshiba – showcased decks with 3D capability. Various manufacturers also introduced models with web functions, such as access to the Netflix online movie rental service, while all of Samsung’s new Blu-ray players will support its Internet@TV web widgets service. What’s more, Panasonic launched a new deck with a claimed disc loading time of just 0.5secs.

Although the latest TV technology once again stole the show, there were several other gadgets creating a buzz, particularly touchscreen tablet or ‘slate’ PCs. Designed to bridge the gap between PC and smart phones, a collection of products was unveiled at the Microsoft keynote speech (see Products to Watch, opposite), including a model from HP that’s due out later in the year.

Apple has long been rumoured to be launching something similar with an announcement due at the time going to press. Following the success of the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader, e-books were also big news at the show, with numerous companies launching products, including Samsung, entering the category for the first time. Interead also expanded its existing range of COOL-ER e-books, including a model with 3G connectivity.

Other product highlights included a 3D projector from LG, Lenovo’s tablet-style computer with detachable touchscreen and Sony’s Bloggie HD camcorders. LG also showed off its Magic Wand gesture control remote control, while Samsung debuted a touchscreen handset. Meanwhile, Microsoft unveiled plans for Project Natal – an innovation that will enable controller-free gaming on the Xbox, by tracking movements of the body and facial expressions and responding to the user’s voice.

Also a big hit with gadget fans at the show was Parrot’s iPhone-powered Augmented Reality (AR) drone. The flying robot can be used to detect real-life targets on the user’s iPhone while flying it. Controlled by Wi-Fi, the device uses accelerometers and two video cameras to keep itself hovering steadily. The maker hopes that his will open up a new world of AR gaming. It’s expected to hit shops this year, although pricing will no doubt put it firmly out of reach for most consumers.

Although most of the products unveiled at CES are destined for the US market, it’s always a good indicator of what we can expect to see on these shores in the coming months and if this year’s show is anything to go by then 2010 looks set to be an interesting year for consumer electronics.

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