3-D TV and Other Toys in Your Future

March 2010

I can’t believe I passed up an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas. Same old story: too many deadlines, not enough time. But as I read the reports emanating from the annual Computer Electronics Show, I realized I shoulda been there.

The offer came from iPhone Life magazine, and I would have spent time helping to man the booth. But I probably also would have had a chance to see some of the amazing gizmos.

Attracting the most headlines were the 3-D TVs that were there in abundance. And people who saw them were dazzled. You can get the experience of the movie Avatar in your own home.

Leading the way was the Panasonic VT25 plasma TV, which is expected to be the first to be available this spring and which won CNET’s best-of-show award. You’ll be able to get it in sizes up to 65 inches at a price about the same as the current Panasonic plasma series.

It comes with a pair of glasses needed to see the 3-D image. The glasses in all of the 3-D TVs use a shutter system in which the right and left lens alternately darkens and lightens while the TV displays corresponding images specific to each eye. The Panasonic TV creates a 3-D effect in full 1080p resolution. Of course, these aren’t throwaway glasses, and you’ll need to pay in the range of $75 for additional pairs.

With the Panasonic model, you’ll need to have a 3-D source, such as a 3-D Blue-ray player or 3-D TV channel playing 3-D content. The thing is, such content isn’t yet available, though players and channels were announced. However, two manufacturers, Toshiba and Samsung, announced systems that will convert 2-D to 3-D. Fortunately, a 3-D TV also lets you view regular TV.

Also on display in Las Vegas were 3-D TVs that don’t require glasses, but the resolution was low, viewing angle limited, and eyestrain pronounced.

Of course, new TVs can be connected to the Internet, with the Panasonic letting you access the Picasa photo-sharing service, YouTube, Pandora radio, Twitter, Netflix streaming movies, and more. A webcam is available for the Panasonic unit that works with Skype and lets you use the TV for video conferencing. Pretty cool.

Okay, it got best of show, but the gizmo that got the “most insane technology” award from the TidBITS website was the Parrot AR Drone, a hovercraft (20 inches in size) that you control with your iPhone or iPod touch and that has two onboard cameras.

You pilot the thing by tilting your iPhone, and the front-facing camera lets you see what everything looks like from the perspective of the Drone as it flies through the air using its small quadricopter propellers. It streams real-time video images to your iPhone. A demo on YouTube makes it look like great fun (tinyurl.com/ya6jfy6). It uses WiFi to communicate with your iPhone but just has a range of about 20 feet. If it gets out of range of your iPhone, it switches to autopilot and softly lands.

Although it was demoed at CES, it isn’t expected to be available until the end of this year at a price of around $500.

If you’re not into piloting a small hovercraft, maybe you’d opt for something more practical, like a robot vacuum cleaner. These have been out for a number of years, but the new Powerful XV-11 from Neato Robotics is particularly smart.

It uses a laser mapping system to construct a map of the room and where everything is, including furniture, objects, and doorways. Once that’s accomplished, it then vacuums quickly and efficiently, getting deep into the corners and without bumping into walls or furniture.

It automatically moves from one room to the next, tracking on its map where it’s been. Once it’s done, it returns to its charging base. And consider this advantage of a robot vacuum: it has a very low profile so that it can scoot right under your furniture to vacuum. You can send it on its way by pressing the start button — or you can set it so that it cleans at particular times.

Also garnering attention at CES was Ford’s instrument cluster on the dash, called MyFord Touch, that includes three color LCD displays: two 4.2-inch screens on either side of the speedometer and an 8-inch touch LCD in the center of the dash that is essentially a PC used for entertainment, navigation, phone, climate control — and Internet access!

Next year I want to see all this stuff for myself!

© 2010 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen