“Never mistake a clear view for a short distance” is my favorite line about technology. It’s especially true at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the annual techapalooza where the world’s manufacturers gather to pitch their newest wares.
With that large qualification in mind, here are a few trends that may eventually find their way into your home and life.
Ever since high-definition TV prompted millions of consumers to junk their old cathode-ray-tube sets for new flat panels, manufacturers have been seeking the Next Big Thing to create another wave of upgrades.
They thought they’d found it in 3-D TV. But consumers failed to share their enthusiasm, put off by headaches, lack of content and the added expense and hassle of those dorky glasses.
Ultra HD is the latest weapon of choice in the battle to get consumers to pry open their wallets. Manufacturers, including Samsung, Vizio, LG and Toshiba, are all touting TVs designed to make today’s current generation of HD sets look as primitive as cathode-ray tubes.
This new format vastly increases the number of pixels that make up a digital image. The new sets feature a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, or four times the number used in current “full hi-def” 1080p sets. An even higher UHDTV format, with eight times the pixels, is being developed as well.
I had especially close looks at the Samsung and Vizio UHDTV offerings, and the picture quality was truly breathtaking. Still, there are a bunch of major issues to be resolved before this technology finds its way into the homes of all but the earliest of adopters.
As with 3-D, there’s the question of where the content to take advantage of all those pixels is going to come from. The manufacturers say traditional hi-def content will look even better on the new sets, but it may be some time until we see producers creating a lot of native UHDTV content and programmers opening channels for delivering it.
The manufacturers themselves are providing few details on how soon the new sets will appear -- and how quickly they’ll come down in cost from the cool $25,000 price tag on the 84- incher Sony has already begun shipping.
China has long had a major presence at CES as manufacturer to the world. But this year is a little different: Several Chinese companies have upped their visibility in a bid to establish themselves as major brands in their own right.
Hisense, for example, snapped up much of the convention floor space formerly occupied by Microsoft. (The latter, a longtime mainstay of CES, has now joined Apple in the ranks of major consumer-technology companies that don’t participate in the show.)
Hisense used the prime real estate to present a full line of high-end products, including an ultra hi-def TV, as well as to showcase prototypes like a glasses-free 3D set.
Another Chinese company, Huawei, made a splash of a different kind by pouring water all over its new Ascend D2 Android. The device also boasts a five-inch screen, with pixel density that puts the iPhone 5 to shame, as well as a beefy battery.
Even harder to ignore was the new Ascend Mate phone with its gigantic 6.1-inch screen, which Huawei says is the largest in the world. Just imagine holding something that size upside your head: It makes Samsung’s enormous Galaxy Note feel like an iPod nano.
Finally, this may go down as the CES where wearable technology and mobile sensors really came into their own. You couldn’t turn around without bumping into another company hawking a wristwatch that displays incoming text messages or a fitness wristband that syncs data with your smartphone.
Though not, strictly speaking, wearable, the sensor-based gadget that got the most attention was probably the HAPIfork, invented by a French engineer. It’s a fork that calculates how fast you are eating and then vibrates to remind you to slow down. It also tracks your gastronomic habits so the data can be downloaded into an app that coaches you to eat better.
HAPIlabs, the company behind the fork, hopes to introduce it this year and is already at work on a Bluetooth version that will sync the data without requiring you to stick your fork into the computer.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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