We don't need a crystal ball to predict the future of high-tech gadgetry and the ways we'll interact with it. Not when we have CES -- the giant annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas -- to reveal all. The show opens Tuesday, and this Gizmo Guy will be blogging CES sights, sounds and wonders all week. In anticipation of the event, I've previewed some of the hottest new items.
The year of ultra-HD: Pricey new televisions offering four times the clarity of today's high-definition screens are the biggest (or at least loudest) story at 2013 CES. In part, that's because TV makers are praying these next-generation, 8 million-pixel sets will return profitability to their cutthroat biz.
Computer-monitor maker Viewsonic believes U-HD will help doctors and engineers do their jobs better. For conventional viewing, signal-upconverting ultra-HD TVs from the likes of Toshiba, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony and Westinghouse do make Blu-ray discs look better, especially in the commanding 84-inch screens. But $20,000 worth of better?
Stream TV Networks, a Philadelphia-based innovator of glasses-free 3-D TVs, is demonstrating a prototype ultra-HD variant at the trade show. We'd be happy if the team, making its third CES appearance, would just get its first HDTV models to market.
Voice/motion activation: The "open sesame" factor is all over CES, in car-tronics, kitchen appliances, home-automation products and more that take operational cues from your voice and body -- even drooping eyelids.
Texas Instruments, Harman and European giant Bosch are showcasing sensor, microprocessor and heads-up display "solutions" that go far beyond Apple's SIRI and the Xbox 360 Kinect.
Toyota, Lexus and Audi have prototype, fully automated vehicles that don't need hands, feet or voice to steer down a highway and park themselves.
More pragmatic, LG is unveiling a second-generation voice-, gesture-, wheel- and button-activated Magic Remote to be packed in or optional on every new TV model. This wand and LG's Voice Mate search engine allow you to shout out "films with Robert De Niro" and be instantly rewarded with an on-screen menu of options from channels, video-on-demand and the Internet.
Mobile-connected everything: Accessories and apps for the iPhone and iPad have been huge at CES the past few years. For 2013, product makers are now courting the Android-user base almost as much in CES' growing iLounge exhibit zones.
One of the most cunning intros is Cobra Electronics' iRadar S Series, the world's first under-the-hood radar detector, which connects discretely via Bluetooth to your smartphone.
Satellite TV provider Dish Network's Hopper Transfers lets you wirelessly transfer DVR recordings for free on to up to five iPads. Hollywood's gonna hate that.
Philips is moving content wirelessly in the other direction, with its line of "MediaConnect" TVs that display Internet sites, movies and the like wirelessly "thrown" from a PC. The tech does an end run around content holders like Hulu that give it up for free to computer viewers, but want fees from the big-screen TV audience.
The Google-owned YouTube service will announce deals with a number of TV makers to enable free, wireless content "throwing" from Android devices to the TVs.
Escort has a nifty little Mobile TV receiver that plugs into most 30-pin port iProducts and (soon) Android devices to receive a new breed of mobile digital TV signals (spin-offs of channels 10, 29 and 61 locally).
The Dyle service remains free but limited for 2013. Programming will improve if/when broadcasters start charging for it.
Robbie the Robot's calling: In the home-automation space, brands like Whirlpool, LG and Samsung are showcasing laundry products, ranges, robotic vacuum cleaners and other appliances you can trigger and monitor from a mobile phone.
Sound check: Every music celebrity wants his or her name on a premium head phone (the profit margins are great). Motorhead and AC/DC are among the new headphone endorsers, with lots of metal (literally) in their wearable sound machines. Other fresh 'phones carry the "endorsement" of Elvis Presley, James Dean, Tim Tebow and the legendary Marshall Amplifier brand.
Hello, tablet: And every electronics firm feels compelled to field a tablet computer, though the competition is driving prices way down and driving "old school" laptop makers (who needs 'em?) to drink. New are children's models from Sakar International, Barbie and Hello Kitty.
Polaroid and Acer are courting the family/second-tablet market with reasonably powerful 7-inch models running the yummy Android Jelly Bean operating system and priced like candy at under $150.
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