It’s tough to make sense of the maelstrom of gear released at CES. So thick is the swarm of new HDTVs, PMPs and other acronym-bearing curios, that the handful of truly interesting things on display is, well, easy to miss.
Here, we’ve selected the gadgets that truly impressed us this year. And as is the PopSci way, our picks are not only impressive here in January 2010; they represent a glimpse at what we can expect from the future of consumer electronics.
PopSci at CES
Samsung LED 9000 Series 3-D HDTV
Arguably the cream of the crop of the torrential new crop of TVs, Samsung’s 3-D LED 9000 is an almost absurd 0.3 inches (6.7mm) thin–no thicker than the width of a pencil. Samsung is on its way toward phasing out all non-LED-backlit TVs, and the 9000 represents the current LED leading edge. And, you can watch TV on its crazy touchscreen remote.
Lenovo IdeaPad U1
Lenov’s IdeaPad U1 may look like an everyday Intel-powered Windows 7 laptop–that is, until you detach its 11.6-inch screen, which on its own functions as a standalone multitouch tablet. Powered by Qualcomm’s new ultra-efficient Snapdragon processor (designed primarily for next-generation smartphones), the tablet sports a lightweight Linux operating system and built-in 3G for mobile browsing. When paired back with traditional laptop chassis, an Intel Core 2 Duo processor takes over powering Windows 7. The U1 doesn’t have a firm release date, but when it does hit, it will be around $1,000.
Sony Dash Internet Viewer
Sony’s Dash is a Web-connected bedroom wireless Internet terminal. Most closely resembling an alarm clock, the Dash can display over 1,000 applications from Chumby.com (the similar, more cuddly bedroom Web widget), as well as video from Sony’s Bravia Internet service. It’s $200.
Parrot AR Drone
The augmented reality we’ve come to accept exists in apps that overlay information (tweets, subway maps, restaurants) over live images, an idea that doesn’t really, um, augment anything; the AR Drone robot from Parrot, however, takes the phrase literally. When flying, the Drone’s camera captures objects and re-envisions them as opponents or obstacles before sending its video stream back to a connected iPhone or iPod touch. The result is a truly augmented image of real-world objects. The company’s demo scenario, for example, puts the Drone in the midst of a dogfight on the iPhone screen, when in reality it’s only seeing a bar code on a white box in its path. [See it in action.]
Haier Wireless HDTV
Wireless HDTVs, despite wireless HDMI, are typically still tethered to power. Haier’s prototype 32-inch LCD, however, stands all on its own on the strength of built in wire-free HDMI from Amimon and power from WiTricity, Like other wireless charging solutions, WiTricity creates its own magnetic field to move power through the air; the system uses resonating magnetic coils to transmit wattage from the source, which here is built into a faux wall, to a matching coil in the TV oscillating at the same frequency as the source, which captures the current. On the floor, the two are separated by a little over a foot, but Haier claims the current transmitter will work up to about seven feet away, with future, stronger iterations supporting much longer (room-crossing) ranges.
Skype on TV
Skype, the popular Internet text, voice and video chat application, has partnered with LG and Panasonic to bundle a living room videoconferencing app into the two companies’ Web-connected HDTVs. By connecting a special Webcam to your TV, the whole family can videoconference with Grandma without leaving the couch–in full upscaled HD. Skype-enabled TVs will start shipping this Spring.
Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 Processors
Computers built on Intel’s new Core i3, i5 and i7 architecture (and there will be many) run faster and longer. The chips pull it off by being able to adapt quickly to system demands; the transistors in the chips themselves are only 32 nanometers thick (half the size of prior versions and a fraction of the thickness of a human hair), which allows them to move fast and use less power. So fast, in fact, that the chips are able to partially shut down when the system doesn’t need to run at full steam (like when you’re reading a static Web article) and snap back into action when you fire up a resource-intense program like Photoshop.
Prior to this year’s CES, the Web video media center Boxee (think Hulu on steroids) only existed as a free software application for computers and Apple’s TV. Now, partnerting with D-Link, Boxee no longer requires a computer. Just plug the angular cube to your TV, connect it to the Internet with Wi-Fi and begin streaming Boxee’s vast array of free Web video sources for all your favorite shows and movies, plus playback of any DRM-free video files you can throw at it from your network. No firm price, but it’s expected to be “under $200”.
Samsung IceTouch MP3
See that screen? You can’t tell precisely in the photo, but it’s a transparent AMOLED touchscreen panel that you can look through and see from both the front and back of Samsung’s cute IceTouch 16GB MP3 player. Samsung also showed off a concept laptop with a similar transparent screen, and the effect is pretty impressive. And while in the IceTouch it’s a bit gimmicky–our money is on transparent OLED screens showing up quite a bit more often in 2010, covering your gadgets like a second skin.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7
When it arrives in March, Sony’s Cyber-shot TX7 will be the first camera equipped with TransferJet sharing tech. TransferJet is a new wireless standard built into the camera’s Memory Stick, which allows near-instant photo sharing between Cyber-shots and F-series Vaio laptops. In 20 seconds, up to 20 photos can hop from one device to another when the two are within one inch of one another. While Sony’s variant on speedy ultra-wideband radio signals is only available on select products right now, the company looks forward to an entire ecosystem of TransferJet-capable devices across all categories (TVs, digital frames and more) and from a range of gadget makers.
Neato XV-11 All-Floor Robotic Vacuum Cleaner
This vacuum ‘bot cleans your floors with military like precision. That’s because it, like military robots and automated cars, creates a virtual map of the room before it plots its path. When you turn the Neato on, a laser on its top spins to create a map of the space based on readings it takes to assess walls, doors, furniture and other objects within 13 feet. Once its map is done (it takes about 4,000 distance readings a second) it plots the most efficient course through the room, starting by cleaning the perimeter and then methodically zig-zagging across the rest of the space, avoiding obstacles it sees along the way. [See it in action.]
Light Blue Optics Light Touch
The Light Touch is a color pico-projector that casts a 10-inch picture on any surface, such as a desk or wall. Then you can poke and swipe at this image, selecting icons and flipping through photos, just like you do on touch-sensitive computers. (How? An infrared light beams an invisible pattern. Then a sensor watches for how your fingers break up and change that pattern.) Small UK company Light Blue Optics is working with a number of biggies, such as Toshiba, to get this tech into products˜so look for pico-projectors to get tangibly more useful in the near future.
Panasonic Full HD 3D Camcorder
Panasonic’s Full HD 3D camcorder is the world’s first to package a fully integrated twin-lens 3D camcorder into a relatively compact, portable rig. Current pro 3D systems often require two separate cameras or bulky mirror setups. And while still for pros only at $21,000, Panasonic’s camcorder should make 3-D moviemaking an option for a much larger field of moviemakers. The first made-to-order models should be available this fall.
Toshiba Cell TV
When it comes down to it, CES 2010’s flurry of 3-D HDTVs aren’t internally much different than the flatscreen you probably already have in your living room today. The difference is the added processing power to decode and and present not just one HD image but two–one for each eye. Toshiba is unique in leveraging this added processing power with their Cell TV series–3-D HDTVs that come bundled with a wireless set-top box containing a powerful 3.2 GHz Cell processor (the same brain inside the Playstation 3). Using the Cell’s power, Toshiba promises to upscale any 2-D content to 3-D, and drive hundreds of LED local-dimming zones in real time for blacker blacks. The Internet-connected set-top box also packs a 1TB hard drive and a built-in Blu-ray player, essentially adding a networked home theater PC to your system.
E-book readers are all the rage here in Vegas. At the top of the shelf: the Skiff. Not only does it have the largest E-Ink screen around–11.5 inches diagonally–but that screen is built on a durable, thin sheet of metal instead of bulky, breakable glass. That makes the entire gadget less than a third of an inch thick and safer to toss in your bag. It’s also designed to work with a new e-store for magazines, called Skiff Store, that will let you get your favorite reads in layouts that are more interesting than plain text, yet still easy to navigate on the black-and-white display. Look for the Skiff to come to Sprint’s network for over-the-air book-buying later this year.
Ford MyFord Touch
Ford’s new dashboard system aims to help you manage your growing number of gadgets without taking your eyes off the road. You can control your music, GPS, and climate in several different ways: from an eight-inch touchscreen in the center console, with more-natural voice commands than in previous versions, or using buttons on the steering wheel. Two small LCDs behind the wheel next to the speedometer flash small bits of information, so you can see a song title without swiveling you head to the side. And although the system does add a distraction–you can surf the Internet from the center touchscreen–you can only use it when the car is in park.