CEATEC Japan Day 1: Fat show, slim TVs, and some human wires

From Japan correspondent John Boyd:

CEATEC Japan kicked off on a coldish, rainy October 2, but bad weather is not expected to lessen the attendance, which topped 200 000 visitors last year, easily making it Asiaâ''s largest annual electronics and communications industry get-together. This year 895 companies and organizations (up from 807 last year) are exhibiting their wares, new technologies and prototype gizmos in more than 3000 booths, so there will surely be at least a few items to wow even jaded engineers.

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While the electronics industry has long chosen smaller-lighter-faster as a target to perennially aim for, this year it is also making a fetish out of thinner. A number of TV manufacturers including Sony, Sharp, Hitachi, and JVC have been making a display of themselves by vying to out-diet each other and at CEATEC they are brazenly showcasing their skinniest models with wanton pride and with no concern that they might be encouraging anorexia among attendees. Iâ''ll have more details on these technologies in a later blog.

Should you feel unable to justify purchase of such a super thin display, if only on the grounds that high-definition TV broadcasting is still far from being ubiquitous, donâ''t forget there is always the opportunity to hook one up to a next-generation DVD playerâ''though you will have to decide which of the two competing versionsto buyâ'' HD DVD or Blu-ray. The battle between these two camps continues unabated and can be seen up close at CEATEC, with Matsushita Electric, Sharp, Pioneer and Sony all devoting much space to their recently unveiled Blu-ray Disc players and recorders. Meanwhile, lonely Toshiba Corp. will exhibit two HD DVD hard disk recorders that sport new features.

The above are just a few of the heavy items the exhibiting companies are using to strut their stuff at this yearâ''s CEATEC, which, by the way, stands for Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies Producing Images, Information and Communications. But weâ''ll kick off this first of a series of stories on what is happening at the show with something on the lighter side from NTT DoCoMo, Japanâ''s largest mobile network company. In one of its R&D booths it is demonstrating a technology itâ''s dubbed Human Wire Communications, though it is more formally known as near-field intra-body communications.

Currently, millions of Japanese now use their phones as electronic wallets and credit cards to make purchases. The same phones can also be waved at the ticket barriers of train stations to enter and exit minus said tickets with the fare automatically deducted. This is all done via a contactless RFID chip embedded in the phone. Yet as easy as this might appear, some users still find it a hassle to search through their bags for the phone in order to wave it at a the reader.

So DoCoMo is developing a system that will send a signal to a device on your body, such as a phone in your pocket, which then can transmit a weak high frequency signal of 10.7 MHz through the body so that you can simply reach out and touch a reader to enter or leave, making it unnecessary to search for the phone. Similar applications would include gaining access through a security door simply by touching the reader, rather than swiping an ID card through it.

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In one demonstration I put on wireless headphones and when I held a prototype cellphone, it detected the headset using my body as a conduit and caused preselected music stored in the cellphone to play in the headset without having to press a button. The demonstrator also suggested a sensor might be embedded into a ring, for instance, so that only the wearer could unlock a phone for use. There was no sensation whatsoever of an electric current flowing through my body during the demonstration and DoCoMo says the strength of the signal is within safety levels specified by the Association of Radio Industries and Business (ARIB). At the same time, DoCoMo was advising visitors with implanted medical devices such as a pace maker, to consult first with its staff before turning themselves into a human wire

No word yet on when such a system will become available.

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