Pain and Writhing in Las Vegas
With only 120,000 people attending the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas it was easy to get a seat at a poker table. It was tougher to find a booth that wasn't showing an iPad knockoff; over eighty were on exhibit. The show still requires a great deal of walking. Fortunately there was a great deal more to the show than iPad and iPhone knockoffs. So many wonderful toys, so few fully charged batteries.
Displays - There may have been nearly as many 3-D displays offered as there were iPad alternatives. Some required polarized lenses to view, some required powered LCD shutter lenses. The ones of most interest to me didn't require glasses at all; about four of these were exhibited. One was shown a few CESs back by Toshiba on a notebook. The problem was that you could only move your head about one degree to the side for the effect to be lost. It was shown on a notebook because then it is normal for the user to sit squarely in front.
Today's wider viewing angle is achieved by breaking the viewing location into fields, typically six fields for about 120 degrees. Every field requires an additional copy of the image be produced. A consequence of this is that resolution is decreased and jaggys creep in.
Toshiba took a slightly different approach this year and used the webcam to track the head position of the nominally only viewer, thus allowing them to only one image set.
The technology is currently called "autostereoscopic". To use it you will need a new monitor, but not a new video card, just a driver update. Look for Nvidia's around mid-year. Tridelity of Germany is a current display supplier. I think this will be a big market, not having to bother with glasses is a big plus.
The most amazing display at the show to me was Sharp's cave. They tiled five walls of a room with multiple large LCD displays. The sixth wall was open for viewing. Displayed on the five surfaces of the cave was a movie of a walk through a computer generated Italian villa. Though the display seams were visible, suspension of disbelief was very easy.
Games - HomeFront due out in March on the Xbox and PC was widely used to show off displays because the graphics are impressive and it supports Nvidia's 3-D systems. It was running the the Nvidia booth. Nvidia was pushing their depth of focus capability, doubtless because it wasn't compatible with any standard. Do you think they were trying to get developers locked in? The effect is effective. The developer decides what depth he wants to be in focus, e.g. everything six to ten feet, the rest is a bit blurry. The point seems to be to work like the eye works as well as direct the users interest on the display. OTOH most people are constantly changing their depth of focus exploring a scene, if parts are out of focus you happen to want to look at now, you are out of luck. HomeFront doesn't use it.
Computers - Intel announced a change to their on-chip dataflow/bridge architecture providing them with another 10% boost. MSI supports the chip with their Speed Genie providing about 10% over clocking. Another interesting thing MSI is doing is buying chips from Nvidia to build video cards with elaborate on-card cooling systems. Apparently display adapters now cook more than the main processor.
GPS - NavTeq sells map information to GPS manufacturers including Garmin. Their latest maps are adding landmark information, e.g. large building. The preview movie only showed a god's eye view. The final product will also provide a street level view.
Garmin now has color touch screens on their new units.
DeLorme focused on color displays for off-road GPS units. They also offered a base unit which would provide satellite text communication in case you need to call for help on your expedition.
Office Applications - Microsoft's Windows Live Office applications are worth a look at. Sign in to your Windows Live. Either create a new document or drag it on to your SkyDrive then open it in Word, Excel or PowerPoint. The editing capabilities are substantially reduced but the documents thus edited shouldn't lose any of their regular aspects. There is a viewer in which you can view, but not edit, the earthly versions of the documents.
Cameras - I have been a Panasonic enthusiast for years but their latest model really confused me so I visited their booth hoping that the user interface key would be revealed to me. The demonstrator began to explain quite confidently. As he was auguring in Bob Frankston, co-creator of VisiCalc happened by. He had purchased on of the same model for his son. Bob, a gadget fan of the first water, had a different model cell phone in each pocket, shirt, pants and coat included, as well as a 3-D camera in is hand. We discussed those as well as Note Taker HD for the iPad, created by the other VisiCalc creator, Dan Bricklin. By the time the demonstrator resurfaced we were discussing integrating GPS technology with cameras. He whispered that Panasonic would have one in their catalog by March.
The 2011 Camera Wow award goes to the Casio Exh20g hybrid GPS camera. The $349 MSRP camera notes the location of pictures you take. Choose a display mode and it shows the location of all of the other pictures you have taken. Another map shows nearby points of interest where you might also want to take pictures. It claims to track your location whether you are inside or out of a building! In February Casio will start offering image effects editing on their website for free. exilim.casio.com/gps
Toys - Helicopters are spooky things to fly... no longer. Parrot showed off their helicopter at three locations, two of them outdoors! This is the most amazingly stabile flying device you can imagine. It overcomes the surprisingly troublesome helicopter takeoff problem by doing it for you. When you start it, it jumps three feet into the air and stops there awaiting your direction. It is controlled by your iPhone. Slide your thumbs across the surface to make it climb and turn. If you get confused or want to stop, just pick up your thumbs and it stays where it is at, in midair. I was flying it instantly and the few times I rammed it into the wall did no damage. As another benefit there are two cameras, one forward pointing and one facing down. They can be displayed on the iPhone as you fly. About $200 at Brookstone. Toy of the year! ardrone.parrot.com
Stereolithography - MakerBot is now a retail product. For about $1000 you get everything you need to make your own 3D printer. Objects are constructed of either ABS, HDPE or PLA plastic and fit into the 100x100x100mm volume. Get one at Makerbot.com. See what others have built at thingiverse.com.
Other Notes - Otter box.com has really trimmed down their containers for cell phones. Their plastic containers have always been rugged and well designed but their recent designs are also slim and attractive.
iEverything was being offered by the smaller vendors. Among the most clever is iaPeel. They produce an inkjet printable skin for cell phones. The glossy photo sheet you print your image on has several tabs on it. When these are folded up after printing they form a jig for your cell phone to position the skin accurately. Just drop in your phone and smooth the image on.
Talking to developers at CES I learned that there is a lot of resentment of Apple's policies and their non-support for PC users. Every one of them had an Android based phone.
I was surprised that the USB center, usually a source of whacky wonders, was entirely serious and 90% industrial. OTOH the home USB endoscope was on offer elsewhere on the floor.
USB3 interfaces are not yet widely supported by vendors although motherboard makers are offering the connections.
- Fred Thorlin