In Las Vegas, the future of high tech

David Pogue provides a glimpse of tech that will be flying off shelves a year or two from now

Televisions at Samsung’s booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. NYT If you just peek into the huge International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, you might think that it’s mostly a deafening showcase for tablets, thin TV screens, superthin laptops and Android phones.

But if you really take the time to look you’ll discover that, in fact, you were right. CES really is primarily a deafening showcase for tablets, thin TV screens, superthin laptops and Android phones.

Now, despite that wisecrack about the sameness of the offerings, there really were some great ideas on display among the 3,100 booths. To save you a foot-throbbing hike of your own, here’s one man’s CES 2012 notebook.

Televisions

All right, let’s get this out of the way. There were a lot of flat-panel screens. In rows. In columns. In banks reaching up four stories. There were high-definition screens, 3-D screens, gigantic screens. (71 inches! 80 inches! 84 inches!)

LG and Samsung displayed prototype 55-inch OLED screens that were so thin, you could shave with them. (OLED is a breathtakingly clear, crisp, colorful, expensive kind of screen – and the largest one until now has been an 11-inch model from Sony.)

Now that everyone has finished buying flat-panel HDTV sets, the industry is gearing up once again to make them all obsolete. What could be sharper than 1080p HD? Why, four times as many pixels, of course. That’s the idea behind the so-called 4K television, like the prototype from LG.

And if you understand that much, you’ll enjoy the even greater silliness of Sharp’s 8K prototype. (What’s so silly? Even if you bought one of these screens, you’d have nothing to watch. Nobody broadcasts or sells movies in 4K or 8K resolution.)

And 3-D sets were everywhere; clearly, the industry still hasn’t noticed that nobody wants to put on special $50 glasses to watch TV. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the emphasis on the “convergence TV,” a vague concept of TV-plus-Internet that’s been promoted at every CES since the Civil War and still produces only yawns.

In other efforts at differentiation, Sony and Toshiba demonstrated prototype 3-D sets that don’t require glasses. Samsung displayed a set that eliminates the age-old fight for the remote control: It lets two warring family factions watch different shows on the same TV simultaneously. (Each member wears special glasses with built-in earbuds.)

Samsung also demonstrated TV sets that recognise their owners’ faces and take voice commands. Sharp offered Freestyle TV sets: thin, battery-powered, cordless screens in various sizes that you can carry anywhere (assuming you’re strong enough to carry a 60-inch TV). Now when thieves rob your house, they don’t even have to unplug anything.

Tablets

The tablet makers’ 2012 efforts, clearly, will be trying to stand out from all the other tablets. Some will compete on price: Asus and Nvidia will offer $250 Android tablets, Leader will sell one for $180 and ViewSonic plans a $170 model. Fujitsu and Pantech demonstrated waterproof tablets.

But the most heavily advertised tablet was the Samsung Galaxy Note. It’s like an Android phone whose blueprint measurements were off by factor of 10. It’s huge. It’s like holding a VHS cassette in your hand, and looks just as silly when you’re holding it up to your ear. Still, it’s thin and beautiful, and that 5.3-inch screen comes in very handy when you’re trying to read books, examine maps, surf the Web or frame a photo.

Smartphone control

Another huge theme this year was “use your phone to control everything.” For example, the Tagg from Qualcomm attaches to your dog’s collar and alerts you if it roves out of your yard. Home security products from Trane let you unlock your house for guests, control the temperature or program your lights – all by remote control, using your phone.

Casio’s new G-Shock GB6900 wristwatch communicates with your phone using a new, low-power wireless technology called Bluetooth 4.0; brilliant possibilities ensue. Your watch can vibrate when you get a call, text or email and show the person’s name, even if your phone is in your purse or briefcase.

Ultrabooks

Ultrabook is Intel’s name for “MacBook Air knockoff,” and CES was crawling with them. These are superthin, superlight aluminum laptops with Apple-style keys that poke through holes in the deck (and no DVD drive or removable battery). Samsung’s Series 5 and Series 8, Lenovo’s IdeaPads and Hewlett-Packard’s Envy Spectre were among the drool-worthiest.

The weird and wonderful

For $20, RCA will sell you a wall plate that plugs into a standard two-jack power outlet – and changes it into a one-outlet, two-USB-jack plate for ease of charging your gadgets. For $3,000, you can buy a Swiss Army knife that, along with the usual knives and scissors, includes a tiny 1-terabyte flash drive.

LG’s top-of-the-line refrigerator includes the Blast Chiller, a special rocking chamber that cools a can of beer or soda in five minutes. The PowerBag is a line of backpacks, rolling luggage and messenger bags that charge up your gadgets as you haul them, thanks to a built-in battery and prerouted USB and Apple charging connectors.

Microsoft revealed that its popular Kinect, which plugs into an Xbox and lets you play games just by moving your arms and legs in front of the TV, will now be available for Windows computers. That’s right: Now you’ll be able to dance around spastically in front of your PC, too.

The economy may not be great right now, but in the CES bubble, everything is shiny, new and exciting. If the electronics makers of the world have any say in the matter, what happened in Vegas this week won’t stay in Vegas.

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