What’s Hot, and What’s Not, at the Consumer Electronic Show
Doug Bernard and Rick Pantaleo | Washington DC
If you have anything more than just a passing interest in what new electronic devices will soon be hitting store shelves, chances are good you’re either in Las Vegas this week, or wish you were.
That’s because each year at this time, the mammoth Las Vegas Convention Center plays host to the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), one of the world’s largest and the exhibition-of-choice favored by manufacturers to unveil their new products for the coming year.
This year more than 31,000 exhibitors are showing off their wares (a new record) over 170,000 square meters of display space. That makes for a lot of tablets, smart phones, digital cameras, televisions and just about anything else that is hot in the consumer electronics market. Seeing and sorting through all that’s on display at the CES can tire even the most avid geek.
Some of the displays feel more like science fiction than store shelf. Take, for example, Tobii Technology‘s new application called “Gaze.” Using proprietary software and a small video camera, Gaze allows users to control their existing laptop or desktop computers with a simple combination of eye movements mouse-taps. Want to open a new web browser? Just look at the icon and blink. Zooming, opening links, saving documents; Gaze lets users do much of this with just their eyes.
Then there’s the “Cube.” Manufactured by the firm MakerBot, the Cube represents the second generation of three dimensional printers (the first was titled, aptly, “Thing-O-Matic”) and the first for home use. 3-D “printing” has been around for several years: using a combination of digital scans and plastic resins laid down in successive layers, a wide array of physical items can be reproduced in full, including footwear, tools, medical devices and complex equipment, complete with intricate moving parts and gears. While the Cube is small, and presently limited in the total number of devices it can reproduce, MakerBot says it already has 15,000 object plans that can be downloaded and “printed” anywhere, with more on the way.
There’s always a certain amount of gee-whiz in evidence at the CES, but its bread and butter are the high demand devices like computers and televisions, and the applications that power them. In 2011, tablet computers and 3-D televisions were the big buzz; this year, while tablets are still winning a lot of attention, 3-D TV has faded somewhat as consumers remain reluctant to invest in an uncertain technology.
For televisions this year, it appears that thin is in, as TV manufacturers continue to shrink the thickness of their displays. And the quality of the picture these TVs produce has also improved with the introduction of OLED (organic light emitting diodes) displays. Compared to the popular LCD (liquid crystal display) and Plasma displays, the OLED offers screens that can work without a back light, produce true black levels with a higher contrast ratio. Continuing a several-year trend, manufacturers are also hoping to kick start the “Smart-TV” trend with new products that blend TV with the Internet.
Also highlighted this year are the next wave of digital cameras, including several from Polaroid, the company that, way back in 1948, first offered instant film photography. After almost disappearing from sight after the introduction of the consumer digital camera, Polaroid is fighting back with its new Polaroid SC1630 Android Smart Camera – a digital device that incorporates the popular Google Android operating system for mobile devices with high resolution still and video capture.
There’s much more on display, but the real story of CES is often the one that no amount of digital razzmatazz can answer. Namely, questions about the health of the consumer electronics market, estimated around $190 billion in the U.S. alone.
And as for predictions about which items will prove hot – or not – in the coming year, there are no certain answers on display in Las Vegas.