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Next week’s Consumer Electronics Show looks like it’ll be a good one, with lots to see, judging by the current condition of my office desk. I get hundreds of pre show press releases and invites, and print out only the ones that really intrigue me. This year, that stack of printed announcements is frighteningly high. (Frightening, because these represent booths I plan visit or press conferences I plan to attend—and there is no stack representing hours I plan to sleep.)
This year, there are a surprisingly large number of scheduled announcements related to new television technology—new displays (looks like we hadn’t seen everything yet) and, even more interesting to me, new interfaces.
Of course, displays were the talk of the show in 2010—3D displays, that were going to revitalize and perhaps revolutionize the television industry and the living room. Has anybody seen any signs of that revolution lately? Not me. If anybody I know actually bought one of those 3D TVs, they certainly aren’t using it in 3D mode; at least not when guests are around.
But manufacturers aren’t completely giving up on 3D for the home. Based on this year’s pre-CES news, it seems that the new story is that 3D is great; it’s the glasses that are the problem. I’m a little skeptical, but I will be checking out the new glasses-free 3D from Stream TV and, perhaps, taking another look at Toshiba’s version.
More interesting to me in the displays category will be the big-screen OLED displays, expected to be introduced by Korean companies LG and Samsung. OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology has been available in very small screen sizes used in phones for years. Made by layering a thin film of organic semiconductor material between two electrodes, it doesn’t need a backlight, allowing sets to display deeper blacks and be thinner than LCD displays; LG says its 55-inch OLED TV will be less than .08 meter thick. Until now, OLED TV at CES has meant a small, though impressively bright, prototype in a display case in the Sony booth. I’m eager to see a larger screen size, but, for me, I’ll be looking at it more as an attendee at an art exhibit rather than as a potential purchaser; at somewhere between $5000 and $8000 I think it’ll be a long time before we’re seeing many of these in the wild.
What I do expect to see a lot of in the wild, and fairly quickly, are some of the new ways to control televisions. We’ve loved to hate remote controls for decades—they create a messy jumble on coffee tables, they are confusing to operate (and, for some of us, remind us annoyingly that we need reading glasses). Still, no replacement has emerged.
This year at CES, it seems, contenders will abound. At what are sure to be crowded booths and press conferences, I’ll be checking out motion control and gesture recognition technology from Philips, Kionix, Hillcrest Labs, and others; eye control technology from Tobii Technology; and voice control from LG, Samsung, Nuance, and others. And I’ll also be looking at the giant multitouch displays from Corning and Multitouch, though these seem more targeted at the business market than the consumer, I can’t imagine folks are going to want to get off their couches to get up close and personal with their large-screen TVs.
Of course, CES is never just about one type of consumer device, even one as prominent as the TVs. It looks like there will be a lot of action in watches (seriously—way beyond the watch-phone concept), health and fitness monitoring devices, and new flavors of wireless technology and applications. And, of course, my favorite thing at the show will be the one that surprises me, amazes me, and makes me want it now. And I’ll let you know as soon as I spot it.
Follow me on Twitter @TeklaPerry for up-to-the-minute CES updates.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.