The tech world last week converged in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Room rates tripled and cabs were hard to come by throughout the weeklong event. Here's a look at the major product announcements and what they mean for the year ahead.
The line between TVs and computers has blurred over the past several years. People watch movies and TVs on their computers and use Facebook and other online services on their so-called smart TVs. But this year, two companies ventured into unfamiliar territory.
Computer manufacturer Lenovo unveiled its first smart TV, a 3-D HDTV with a 55-inch display, 240Hz refresh rate, TruSurround sound and a voice-controlled remote control (a feature that was common in new TVs) -- but that's where the TV specs ended and computer features took over.
The Lenovo TV is the first set to run on Android 4.0, otherwise called Ice Cream Sandwich. It is also the first TV to get its computing power from Qualcomm's Snapdragon dual-core processor. Like a computer, a 5-megapixel webcam is built in for video chat. The K91 is scheduled for an April 2012 release in China. The company has not announced U.S. availability or pricing.
From the opposite direction, TV maker Vizio launched its first computers -- including two sleek all-in-one desktops, a full-size 15.6-inch laptop and two ultra-thin laptops. The company prefers to avoid calling them "Ultrabooks," the MacBook Air look-alikes that Intel is subsidizing for a host of computer makers. Each prototype featured an HD display to replicate HDTVs and ran Windows 7.
Final product designs are still in the works, but the company hopes to release its first computers by June 2012 at "a price that just doesn't seem possible," according to Vizio's chief technology officer, Matthew McRae. The least expensive Ultrabook announced at CES came from Toshiba. The 14-inch Toshiba Satellite Ultrabook is scheduled to be released in June for $699, around $250 less than its competitors.
Samsung covered the front of the South Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center with a banner that read: Phone? Tablet? It's Galaxy Note! The Android-powered Note is indeed a mobile phone that is almost as big some tablets and offers much of the same functionality. The Note comes with a pressure sensitive stylus for writing and drawing on its comparatively huge 5.3-inch screen. While it has been available in Europe for the past two months, the 4G LTE Note will arrive in the U.S. at AT&T in the coming weeks.
Several new phones revealed just how serious the industry is about replacing the compact camera, which has been on a downhill slide for the past several years. Nokia introduced its Lumia 900, a 4G LTE mobile phone with a 4.3-inch screen, 12-megapixel rear-facing camera with Carl Zeiss optics, an F2.2 aperture lens with a 28mm focal length and a second front-facing camera. The Windows 7.5 phone runs Mango, Microsoft's newest operating system for phones. The Lumia 900 will debut at AT&T in the coming months, an unusual move for Nokia who has previously launched its phones in Europe before the U.S.
In another exclusive for AT&T, HTC revealed its Titan II 4G LTE camera-centric phone. The 4.7-inch big-screen phone, second only in size to the Galaxy Note, has the "biggest" camera to date at 16-megapixels. There's also a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, a 1.5Ghz Snapdragon 2 processor, and support for 720p HD video recording from both cameras. The Windows 7.5 phone includes 16GB of internal flash memory. Like the Lumia 900, the Titan II will be available in the coming months.
New cameras and camcorders, including Samsung's "travel zoom" cameras and Sony's updated Bloggie pocket camcorder, finally got Wi-Fi capability to upload photos and videos to sharing sites without the intermediary step of downloading to a computer. Mobile phones have long had this feature.
Sony was the only TV manufacturer to introduce a new technology, which is sure to cause even more confusion among consumers. What are known today as LED TVs from Samsung and others, are actually LCD TVs with LED backlights. Sony's experimental technology, called Crystal LED, offers direct-view all-LED displays. These types of displays have historically been used for immense signage -- the kind you see up and down the Strip. Sony has found a way to shrink the LED lights to room-size proportions. This could be considered the first true LED display.
Sony showed a 55-inch prototype that consisted of 6 million LED lights. Compared to existing Sony LCD displays, the TV exhibited at CES had 3.5 times higher contrast in a light environment, approximately 1.4 times wider color gamut, and approximately 10 times faster video image response time, according to a Sony statement. The new technology also offered wider viewing angles and lower power consumption compared to both LCD and plasma TVs. No word on when Sony will come to market with Crystal LED.
Press day closed with Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer's traditional keynote address, marking the last time Microsoft will participate at CES.
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