Sunday, January 11, 2009

OLED TVs, 3-D television, next-gen netbooks among cool gadgets at 2009 CES




The 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was packed with cool gadgets.
Sony continued its leadership in organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TVs.
It already has an 11-inch model on the market, the XEL-1 for $2,500. At this year’s CES, Sony showed 21- and 27-inch OLED TV prototypes in its exhibit area at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
OLED TVs are beautiful and “green.” They are paper thin and energy efficient. The current production model is just 3 millimeters thick and the prototypes are even thinner. OLED televisions can display fast-moving, vibrant video without the need for a bulky backlight.
Plus, OLED TVs beat all when it comes to picture quality. They display rich color and deep contrast. Sony’s current model offers a contrast ratio of 1 million-to-1. It can completely turn off pixels when reproducing black, resulting in greater dark-scene detail.
LG Electronics showed off a 15-inch OLED TV prototype at its booth. Samsung also is working on OLED televisions.
Panasonic earned the biggest wow with its 3-D home theater demonstration.
Panasonic showed 3-D sports and movie clips in full high-definition 1080p resolution on a 103-inch plasma TV. Its 3-D video shot at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing was stunning.
Panasonic is pushing to make its technology the industry standard. It claims to have the only full HD 1080p system. Other systems, such that demonstrated by rival Sony, make compromises in color or resolution, says Joseph Taylor, chief operating officer of Panasonic Corporation of North America.
PC makers such as Asus, Dell and Sony trotted out a lot of netbooks at this year’s CES.
Many featured larger screens and full-size keyboards – things lacking from first-generation models. The added functions also bumped up the price of the small, low-cost, wireless computers.
For example, Taiwan’s Asus showed a netbook with a TV tuner, GPS navigation and a swivel display that turns the touch-screen unit into a tablet computer. The device, which has an 8.9-inch screen, sells for $499.
At the opposite end of the notebook PC spectrum is Lenovo’s ThinkPad W700DS. It’s a dual-screen portable workstation starting at about $3,700. It features a 17-inch main screen and a 10.6-inch secondary screen that pops out of the side of the main display.
The 11-pound notebook is designed for engineers and professional photographers who want to work on graphics or photos outside of the office. It includes a digital pad and stylus for making edits to images.
The secondary screen works as an extension of the main display. You can drag and drop application windows from one screen to the other. The smaller screen can be used to display graphics tool menus, e-mail or instant messaging applications.
Another recurring theme at this year’s show was accessing the Internet from living room TVs.
Netgear announced a neat product called the Internet TV Player, which lets couch potatoes access via remote control videos from YouTube and other Web sites. The player also can get live Internet TV and premium on-demand video.
It can stream content from popular sites such as BBC.com, CNN.com, ESPN.com, NBC.com, TMZ.com, YouTube, Yahoo Videos and MetaCafe. It also supports paid movies on demand such as Sonic Solutions’ CinemaNow. Plus, it can access downloaded videos from sites such as BitTorrent.
The compact set-top box should be available this summer for $199, says Vivek Pathela, vice president and general manager of Netgear’s home and consumer products.
Watching a demo of the product, I wondered how long it would be before the quantity and quality of Internet video becomes good enough to be an alternative to cable or satellite.
I can envision dumping cable TV for over-the-air HD broadcasts and Internet streaming or downloadable video at some point.
My monthly cable bill from Comcast is $89.08, including taxes and fees. (I get the standard digital programming package plus a set-top digital video recorder, but no premium channels.)
I already pay for broadband Internet and get Netflix, including streaming video via the Netflix Player by Roku. That Roku box soon will offer new movie releases to rent from Amazon.com’s video-on-demand service.
Given the current economy and need to save money, Comcast might get the boot.

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