As a culture we love to imagine the future. Whether in a light-hearted way like Epcot Center or The Jetsons or a more grim future like 1984 or Children of Men, we are fascinated by portraits of where our journey might lead us. If you’ve read anything about CES, you’ve probably heard the mantra of “TVs and Tablets.” This is a pretty accurate assessment. But more than individual products, CES is about companies offering a simple promise for a better tomorrow with the help of technology. But if that’s not enough, the following is a recap of the highlights of the Consumer Electronics Show.
The TV, Everybody's Favorite Screen. Talking with several people who have attended the event religiously for the past 20 years, televisions have always been a big part of CES. This makes sense. In the past 10-15 years the television has gone through quite an evolution. It shed a lot of weight— do you remember having to get a friend to come over and help move your TV? It’s become more design conscious, the displays clearer, the colors crisper. However, if you thought you’d seen it all, you’d be wrong. Below are the three biggest stand out advancements in one of the most ubiquitous pieces of technology there is. Barely There If you’ve recently been complaining about how cumbersome and clunky your flat panel television is— 4 inches deep? sigh— then you are in luck. New televisions from manufacturers like Sony and LG are so thin, you might be in danger of losing them. These televisions almost disappear when you stand beside them. Gone will be the days of needing to purchase a stud finder to mount your television, these screens could probably be mounted with a few command strips from 3M.
But Smarter Than Ever Smart televisions were all the rage. Salesmen in facades meant to look like your living room walked through all that you’ll be able to do with your television, “Now you can watch the game and update your fantasy team at the same time” was by far the favorite way to entice onlookers. Until you see it in action, you might think it would detract from the experience of watching TV to be simultaneously finding recipes or checking the weather on the same screen, but with the size and clarity of this new generation of televisions, having the game shrunk down to a quarter of the screen really isn’t so bad. All of a sudden the television is starting to look more like the home command center and less like the simple entertainer of yesteryear. Or as the pitch man for Intel put it, "You’ll be using TV not just watching it.” And Bursting At The Screens If you’ve been to the movies more than once in the past two or three years chances are you’ve experienced the incredible advancements in 3D technology. And in the ways that 3D has escaped the cinema and landed in your living room, the production of 3d content is escaping the clutches of big budget studios. Most of the standard bearers of home electronics (Sony, LG, Samsung, Panasonic) were all showing 3D video cameras meant for mass markets, or attachment lenses meant for legacy devices. Now you might be saying “Oh, 3D is great, but Ugh! those glasses do nothing for my look!” Well fear not, glasses-less 3D televisions are on their way. Of course the experience today still leaves something to be desired— remember having to stand directly in front of old projection TVs? It’s sort of like that— the experience is still exciting enough that people lined up in droves just to catch a glimpse.
This 3D phenomena is also, probably obviously, infiltrating video games and the results are pretty incredible. A few moments playing Crisis 2 in 3D at the Dell/Alienware/AMD suite at The Palms and even the most gaming phobic person would be converted.
Big Phones or Baby Computers? If you’ve already used a tablet before then you didn’t miss much in terms of developments in the device itself. There were all types of new iterations, colours and sizes, but the user experiences is still predominantly that of the Android operating system. The exciting things came from all the interesting ways people were finding to use them. Play the guitar? Don’t have an amp? Well now you can connect your guitar to your iPad and record in garage band with the help of a nifty adapter. Connect your tablet to your television to play movies or music. There were even car manufacturers like Hyundai touting in-vehicle wi-fi networks so you can sync your tablet to your vehicle and have everything you need to have the most multi-media ride possible. As much as people talk about tablets being the future of the computer, and they probably will be, they still just feel like big phones.
The Smart Home. A Convenient Truth. While a lot can be said about giant companies, there is certainly good that can come with size if the companies have vision. A great example of this was the smart home display by Panasonic and Sanyo. We’ve heard for a long time about smart homes, but this was the first time it actually felt like it was real, and on the way. Being able to control any device in your home, from anywhere has a lot of very real benefits. Save electricity by turning on the AC on the drive home, as opposed to leaving it on all day. Monitor your own electricity consumption down to the individual device to consume more consciously. And thanks to the collaboration with Sanyo, a battery giant, they aren’t limiting this to just connecting to your device. They are creating smarter ways to conserve power. Hydrogen fuel cells for homes that use natural gas to generate electricity and use the heat created in the process to heat your hot water— heat that normally just escapes the smoke stacks at the power plant. These electronics giants were showing that a greener future is a very real possibility with smarter technology.
But Where Are The Wires? Interesting advances in electricity were not limited to the smart grid and efficiencies. If you’ve seen a Power Mat before, a mat that powers your cellphone simply by being placed on top of it, then you’ve experienced inductive current. While it may be sneaking under the radar, it was quietly everywhere at the show. The ability to get rid of power cables is incredibly enticing, but a few companies were showing just how far you could take the technology. A company called Fulton Innovation— which is actually a venture owned by Amway— is pushing this technology to new levels. Not only are they using this technology to power electronic vehicles (EVs), like the Tesla they had on display, but they are bringing it to your kitchen and your grocery store too. A counter top that essentially has one of those power mats beneath the surface could allow you to never have to clean your stove again. Pots and pans enabled with the technology are just placed on the counter top and can cook your meal without that unsightly coil or stove. They’ve also developed an ink that can be printed on boxes such as the cereal box in the picture, which can turn them into little flashing bill boards. Discussions about flashing products aside, it was pretty incredible. (We had trouble embedding our video, but thanks to the wonders of the web someone else had uploaded one.)
A Few Other GemsA remote controlled vacuum (essentially a Roomba with a Playstation remote) and a vacuum that would leave its power station— that was inductive by the way— clean your floors and return itself to it’s power station. Can you say Rosie?
A stick that allows you to place your camera or phone on it to take self portraits or include yourself more easily in group photos, hardly high-tech, but certainly it serves a need.
At the Intel booth they brought something as simple as Legos to the forefront of technology to display the power of their new suite of quadcore processors. By mapping Lego objects that they created, and using a camera much like the new XBox Kinect, they were able create an area where Legos took on a whole new life. Lego Dragons breathed fire (that was shone down with a projector) and if that fire happened to touch the area where the Lego train station was, it caught on fire and needed to be put out by the Lego Firetruck.
Recap Overall the show was extremely intense and at times overwhelming but the one thing you couldn’t miss was the sense of optimism. All the people were there for a glimpse into the future and the companies painted a picture of the future that felt positive and big and improved. With all the talk of recession and recovery that we hear on a daily basis, the economy was never part of the conversation at CES. People were talking about the future, and in their future there was room for remote controlled vacuum cleaners and light up ink but there was no room for letting a little thing like money slow them down.
Post By Joey Camire
Panasonic Smart Home Photo via CNet