Hit or Miss: Video Trends of CES 2010 
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Written by Dick Ward   
Thursday, 14 January 2010

Another CES is behind us.  The monstrous screens and massive subwoofers are no longer there, and neither are the innovations that make the show so great.  The purveyors of sadder products have gone home as well.  The people that make shoe shaped speakers and unbreakable cell phones that crack on live television have returned to the drawing board for another year. It’s time to reflect on the Consumer Electronic Show, and take a look at some of the impressive (and less impressive) technologies that make the show worth going to year after year.


TRansparent OLEDTransparent OLED – This one took me by surprise.  Transparent OLED screens have gotten a buzz in the last few months as they’ve been placed into laptops and cell phones.  Until I got up close with Samsung’s IceTouch, I dismissed it as something pretty but not practical.

The IceTouch is an MP3 player that uses a transparent OLED touchscreen for controls and display.  The idea of it is that rather than controlling it from the front, covering the screen in the process, you can control it from the back.  

It’s pretty and it’s surprisingly practical.  Controlling from the back of the player also means no smudges on the front screen.  It’s something that I think we can expect to see come to television remotes in the next few years.


OLED Televisions – It’s been years now since the debut of the first OLED, and things don’t seem to be improving a whole lot.  They’re still fantastic looking, and they can still bend, but they’re still small and expensive.

LG is one of few companies still making noise about the screens.  They’ve boasted that they’ll have a 32” screen in the next two years and even gone so far as to say that they’ll be making OLEDs cheaper than LCDs by 2016.  At the show however, OLED was still just a tiny piece of their booth.


Remotes – The improvement of the quality of remotes was huge this year.  Lower end televisions still had standard TV remotes, but the addition of so much streaming content means those standard remotes just won’t do it anymore.

The Boxee Box comes with a remote with dual functionality, for example.  On one side it’s a simple remote with only the most basic of controls, but the flip side reveals a full QWERTY keyboard.  Even Vizio has adopted QWERTY into the remotes of their XVT line.

Samsung really stepped it up though.  Their new 9000 line will come with a touch screen remote that lets you view content from your television right on the 2” LCD screen.  Not only can you stream the channel you’re currently watching to the new WiFi remote, but you can browse through other channels, or even grab content from your home computer, as the remote is DNLA compliant. 


3D – I’m sorry to have to say it, because there’s so much potential for this to be cool, but 3D just doesn’t work.  Whether it was Samsung or Panasonic, plasma or LCD, or even from a high end LG projector, 3D content looked awkward at best.
Vegas 3d TV

There are a lot of problems that come with putting content into 3D, just as there were a lot of problems that came with upgrading to a high definition 16:9 television.  The difference is that while HDTV looked obviously better than SD, 3D television requires a sacrifice of quality.

3D may be the future, but based on the displays on the CES show floor, it’s not here yet.


2D to 3D Conversion – Oddly, 2D to 3D conversion is seen by companies as the red headed stepchild of true 3D content.  They announce that their televisions can upgrade 2D content to 3D, and they display the feature, but it’s not hugely featured in their booths.  This is a shame, because unlike native 3D content the 2D to 3D conversion actually looked good.

Content created to be in 3D takes on the third dimension by popping out of the screen towards you.  It’s the same style 3D that we’ve experienced since the days of Captain EO.  When 2D is converted to 3D it loses that pop-out effect.  Instead, images pop in, which creates a much more realistic picture.

Samsung’s display for 2D conversion featured a rebroadcast of a soccer match.  Watching the match was like looking through a window and seeing a game being played.  The field had depth, and it felt almost like watching it in person, but with better angles.  Without the pop-out effect, it felt natural, and didn’t suffer from the same flicker that native 3D did.


3D Wannabes – There’s 3D content, there’s 2D content that’s been upconverted to 3D and then there’s the stuff that just doesn’t work.  Back in 2009 I was excited to see the autostereoscopic displays; those potentially revolutionary 3DTVs that don’t require glasses.  They were in their infancy then, and with another year of development, said developers, you’ll be amazed at what we can do.

Another year’s gone by and things haven’t gotten better.  In truth, most autostereoscopic displays look the same if not worse.  TCL in particular had a less than impressive 3D image in an absolutely hideous reflective display that made it difficult to focus on the TVs at all.  

There’s bad, and then there’s bad.  The Deep Screen from RealView deserves the italics.  In its essence, it’s a piece of plastic that you put over your television set to make it look like the screen bulges inward at the surface.  It’s a bit like a permanent fish eye lens.  If that weren’t impractical enough, it also catches more glare than any display I’ve ever seen.


Noise Reduction for Streaming Content – No one’s come up with a nice short name for it yet.  Sony calls it IP Content Noise Reduction, and Toshiba calls it Web Video Noise Reduction.  Whatever they call it, I call it a great idea.

There wasn’t much, if anything on display to show the difference between the cleaned up web video that the two companies are offering and the original grainy picture, but the promise is enough to intrigue me.  Essentially, content will stream from the internet to your TV and get a little bit of a clean-up first.

Even in HD, Netflix doesn’t always look great when blown up over forty inches, and YouTube videos look bad enough already when full screen on my 24” computer monitor.  These are videos that we can watch on TV even though that was never the original intent.  Any increase in quality from the noise reduction, especially with all the streaming options now available, will be a welcome one.


Video Phone in a TV – I asked, I don’t know a single person who wants this.  I talked to other press members, to my friends, and even to my parents, and no one seems to like the idea.  My sister has a baby that she can’t stop taking pictures and videos of, and even she thinks video conversations on TV are overkill.
Skype on HDTV

Whether they utilize Skype or another piece of proprietary software, many of the largest television manufacturers are of the idea that we want to view our loved ones in high definition on a 60” screen while talking to them.  If actors and news anchors can’t stand up to the perfection expected on a high def screen, imagine how your uncle might look, calling you up after a long day.

Were this marketed solely as an application for businesses, I could see the point of it.  Videophones, though, haven’t taken off in the countless years that they’ve been around.  There’s something about having to get dressed up to make a phone call that just puts people off.


Set-top Streaming – If the crowds around D-Link’s booth mean anything, it’s that the Boxee Box is popular.  It’s so popular in fact, that many of the people I spoke to about streaming video and audio felt the need to mention it in their pitches.  “With this Blu-ray player, you really won’t need the Boxee Box.”

 While most Blu-ray players and televisions offer options to stream content, there were also a lot of standalone set-top boxes made only for streaming.  Like most new products, a majority of them were redundant, or already out of date, but a few stood out as viable options.
Boxee Box

Among the leaders in the streaming market is the Popbox from Sybas Technology.  It’s the evolution of Popcorn Hour, and it does everything you’d expect a streamer to do.  It’s small, it’s got a simple interface, and unlike the strangely shaped Boxee Box, the Popbox is a rectangle.  It handles, in addition to Netflix, applications such as Twitter, Facebook and Blip.tv as well as almost any video or audio format you can throw at it.


Decorative TVs and HTPC – This isn’t unique to the Consumer Electronics Show, but there was just so much of it present that it can’t be ignored.  Attaching a television to the outside of a purse is a silly and pointless idea.  The same can be said about the TVs mounted inside of cute plush polar bears.

Decorating a TV up to look like something else seems strange, since you’ll be looking at the screen most of the time anyway, but it’s the gold encrusted HTPC from Moneual that really caught my ire.  It’s an HTPC with average specs that costs a whopping $45,000.

There are a lot of ways to make a PC worth the forty-five grand.  You could load it up with functionality, storage space, processing power, and add some intuitive software and the ability to stream video across an entire house.  Or you could take Moneual’s approach of taking an HTPC with Windows Vista Home Premium – sure, you don’t need Windows 7 Ultimate, but at $45k, it seems like you may as well go for it – and cover it with gold.

So who's ready for CES 2011? 

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