CES 2011: the view from the Blue Room
Smart: the word that predominates at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, CES 2011 in Las Vegas.
Smart is everywhere, on banners, in product names and marketing slogans and perhaps reflects recognition amongst hardware manufacturers that they needed to simplify overall control of the raft of devices, technologies and services that they have on offer and present them in a coherent and useful way to the consumer.
Smart is mostly being used to describe a type of TV interface which enables the consumer to easily control and share content between key devices such as TV's, mobile phones, MP3 players and computers. These control panels are typically called a "Hub", "Dashboard" or "Media Link" and are either proprietary to the TV manufacturer or provided by a third party service provider such as Yahoo!. As well as acting as a portal to the ubiquitous App Store which every TV manufacturer now seems to offer they bring together easy access to Internet based service as well as media storage devices on the home network.
The connected TV as the hub of a multimedia home therefore seems to be becoming a reality and for those with existing TVs LG, for example is offering the Smart TV Upgrader, which brings applications and the Internet to "legacy" devices.
3D TV is again increasing its profile on the consumer technology agenda this year, being the dominant technology being exhibited by the big Korean and Japanese manufacturers. From my perspective working for a broadcaster like the BBC this is somewhat perplexing to see given the relative complexity and cost involved in producing 3D content.
Sony in particular has a significantly revamped and much larger presence than in previous years, emphatically promoting 3D as the core of its product line up. In Sony's case the focus on 3D is lent credibility by the fact that they own a significant slice of the content business in terms of 3D film production; this is not a position enjoyed by most of the other 3D TV manufacturers however and there is little evidence at CES that volume 3D content is a reality.
Tablet computing devices proliferate, largely on the back of the success enjoyed by the iPad (Apple, as usual, isn't at CES) and it seems that every manufacturer is having a stab at producing their own version. Reactions to these range from the positive such as for the BlackBerry Playbook to the rather less successfully received Panasonic Viera Tablet. Typically a range of screen sizes is on offer from each manufacturer, perhaps hedging their bets as to which is going to prove most popular. A slightly different take on the concept is on offer from Lenovo where the screen of a Laptop can be removed and used as a Tablet PC, and from Dell where the screen pivots within its frame to offer a Tablet interface. Clone devices are available by the dozens but there seems to be an identity crisis evident as to whether they are Tablet PCs or multimedia players. Touch screen devices in general continue to make steady progress, with a notable large surface example from LG with its Pen Touch Multi Board.
A Blackberry Playbook
Underpinning many Tablet computers, as well as being the platform of choice for many other devices is the Google Android operating system, which seemed to be everywhere - in TV interfaces, mobile phones and Tablets. Skype too is becoming a standard feature of many Internet connected TV's, a set-top camera being available as an accessory for most
Wi-Fi connectivity seems to be seeping into the kitchen with notable forays into enabling domestic appliances. The idea is that you can download recipes and wash cycles (hopefully to the appropriate appliance) and control and monitor these from your Tablet device. Both Samsung and LG were displaying examples of Cookers, Fridges and Washing Machines with these capabilities offering the potential for energy savings, optimal cooking times and even being able to text you when your food is cooked.
CES 2011 is certainly much more busy than in the previous two years and there is a much more upbeat atmosphere which suggests that confidence is returning in the ability of the consumer to spend their money...
Rolland Allen is Head of Technology Liason, BBC Future Media & Technology.
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