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CEATEC 2007 Photo Roundup

Ceatec_screen CEATEC in Japan was bursting with techno gadgets. Some were full-fledged products with price tags, others simply way-out science experiments. Launch the gallery here for a quick roundup of things from both categories.

For our complete coverage of the show, click here. —Sean Captain

CEATEC Video Gallery

Some of the Best Sights and Sounds from the Japanese Gadget Fest

This year's CEATEC wasn't just about ogling shiny gadgets, but about watching the gear in action. Following, in no particular order, are our some of our favorite video moments from the show:

MuRata’s Bicycle Bot

The best robot we saw, MuRata’s little guy uses gyroscopes to keep himself balanced while riding a mini bicycle.

Sony Rolly


Oh alright, we tried to resist following the herd and ogling the freaky robotic speaker. But dang, this totally pointless gadget is a lot of fun. So far, it’s a Japan-only product. But we already know hackers who are working on software for it with an interface that Americans can read.

Pioneer's 3D Navigation System

Pioneer displayed a technology concept in which you conjure up 3D images of items you are interested in - such as maps of intersection maps or gas stations, and fling them onto the GPS map to find their locations. Playing with the system would likely quickly become the number one source of road accidents. But it was fun to fiddle with while stationary.

ePaper Phone Pad Arrives Too Late

Japanese Telecom giant NTT was showing off a concept phone with a keypad made of electronic paper that allows symbols on the keys to change for new functions--especially handy in a country with three alphabets, and where Latin script and Arabic numbers are also often used. This would have been a great idea before the iPhone's keypad-less touchscreen came out.

Click the jump below for several more...

Continue reading "CEATEC Video Gallery" »

Cutting Edge Image-recognition Software Makes Fun of You

Image-recognition software calculates your age, fixes hair loss. The horror!
Image analysis was one of the hot trends at this years CEATEC show in Japan. In addition to Pioneer’s road-analyzing navigation system, both NEC and Toshiba showed how far the technology has come.

NEC’s system, called FieldAnalyst, is like camera face-recognition software on steroids. Beyond just spotting your mug, it does a critical once-over to see if you are a man or a woman and to guess your age. What’s it good for? Think extremely targeted advertising—a la Minority Report—in public places like shopping malls.

That’s something I’m not looking forward to—not because of privacy, but because of vanity. According to Field Analyst, I’m about 40 years old. Forty?! I’m a fit and young-at-heart 36. At least I thought so. Now according to NEC, the system on display at CEATEC only contained profiles for Japanese people—who apparently age more gracefully than we haggard gaijin.

Maybe FieldAnalyst inflated my age when it spotted my semi-glossy dome. In any case, Toshiba has a fix for that—via a digital extreme makeover. The real purpose of the exhibit was to show off the power of their SPURS engine—which takes the mighty, multi-core Cell processor that Sony so effectively wastes in the PlayStation 3 and employs it in PCs. Toshiba hasn’t set a timetable for selling systems with SPURS. But it showed off some amazingly souped-up Qosmio laptops fitted with the coprocessor. Two of them were running powerful Toshiba software that can create computer models in real-time. So you can apply special effects, like this awesome coiffeur and outfit I got, to live video. —Sean Captain

I Want My Big OLED TV!

After years of promises from tech companies and premature prognostications by magazines like—oh, PopSci—the OLED TV is here. All 11 inches of it, for about $1,700.

What? I’m supposed to shell out all those bucks (Actually Yen, since it’s only in Japan) for a glorified portable DVD player? Sure, the colors are brilliant, the contrast is eye-popping and the screen is implausibly thin. But let’s remember the main reason we love new TVs—because they’re huge.

So why is Sony holding back on us? Turns out they haven’t quite figure out how to make a bigger OLED TV. For the small panels, Sony heats up the organic material into a vapor that condenses, sifts through a screen, and settles neatly on the glass. But this method won’t work for big screens and high resolution. (The current model is a sub-high-def 960 by 540 pixels.)

To go bigger, Sony has to switch to a new method in which they lay a sheet of OLED on the glass and somehow use a laser to make it stick. That’s about all I could get through the broken-English explanation. (Not that I’m complaining. I’m so grateful for all the Japanese who struggled to say something to me that I could understand.)

So when will they get that new method down and start pumping out the big(ger) OLEDs? It’ll be a few years, they say. Sigh.—Sean Captain

Black is the New Black for HDTVs


Screen resolution is so early-2007. At the CEATEC show in Japan this year, the big TV news is contrast—the difference in brightness between the lightest and darkest parts of the screen. The higher that difference, the easier details are to see and the more images “pop” off the screen. Nearly every TV maker is trying to push contrast higher, and they are doing it in many different ways.

Pdp5010fd_front_wspk_300_retouched Pioneer is showing off its new line of Kuro plasma televisions—named after the Japanese word for “black.” The screens require less power to stay charged up, allowing them to remain darker while the set is on. But that’s old news. Kuro TVs are already on sale in the US.

Newer things are happening with plasma’s big rival, LCD. Here the problem is blocking out the strong backlight behind the screen that washes out dark parts of an image. To fix it, companies are switching from big fluorescent tubes to tiny light-emitting diodes that can be brightened and dimmed individually in different parts of the screen. Samsung is already selling such TVs, and now others are following.

Dolby, of all companies, is getting into the business, with a set that pumps the contrast ratio by individually modulating LED backlights. (The photo at top shows the Dolby TV, at right, vs. a regular LCD.) How did they do it? By buying a company that already had the technology. Brightside (a PopSci Best of What’s New winner in 2006) pioneered the LED backlight concept years ago, and now Dolby is running with the tech, which they aim to license to other companies as they do with virtually every audio technology. So, is Samsung running afoul Dolby’s patents? A representative simply said that if companies are using the LED-dimming method, they should be talking to Dolby. Stay tuned.

Backlight If he’s right, maybe JVC should be talking, too. It showed off a 42-inch prototype TV with 128 individual LED segments and a purported 100,000 to one ratio. (Regular LCDs get, at best, a few thousand to one.) And unlike the competitors, JVC doesn’t use white LEDs but instead clusters of red, green and blue lights that expand the color range to about 116 percent of what the HDTV standard calls for. (There is already an effort to expand that standard in the future.)

Sonyoled_2 While LCD is the flat-panel juggernaut, new technologies are trying to tackle it. Sony, a huge maker of LCD sets, debuted the world’s first TVs to use organic light-emitting diodes. Like the goop inside a firefly, OLED glows on its own, so the panels don’t need a backlight. That makes them super-thin (Sony’s 11-inch diagonal model is only 3 millimeters thick); and it gets rid of the leaking backlight problem. According to Sony, the new sets get a one-million-to-one contrast, plus 110 percent of the HDTV color gamut.


But wait. There’s more. Like Jason from Friday the 13th, a technology called field emission display will not die—though it’s not quite alive, either. The idea is simple. Take the phosphor-coated screen from an old CRT and remove the big vacuum tube on the back. In its place, put on a plate of microscopic spikes—each of which acts as an electrode to light up the phosphor. FEDs also have great blacks, and they can refresh screen images insanely fast for blur-free video. At CEATEC, Field Emission Technologies was showing off TVs that get at least a 20,000-to-one contrast and that flash 240 images per second—twice as many as the fastest HDTVs on the market. Sounds cool, but don’t hold your breath. Little Field Emission Technologies is venturing into a technology swamp that has already swallowed up industry giants like Samsung, Motorola, Canon, and Toshiba. FED may well be the future of TV technology, and it may remain so forever.—Sean Captain

Sony Preparing an AppleTV Killer?


Where Apple goes, Sony is soon to follow. Or vice-versa. So Apple has its wireless gadget for getting iTunes video to your TV. And so will Sony, maybe.

A chance encounter on the train from Makuhari station to Tokyo, I overheard talk about a possible video-streaming system for Sony Vaio PCs that uses ultrawideband to send uncompressed high-def video to TVs. On the PC end, it requires adding a wireless chip. On the TV end, there will probably be a wireless adapter that simply plugs into the HDMI audio/video port.

Watch for it in the next couple years.—Sean Captain




Hands on with Casio's Crazy High-speed Camera


While in Tokyo for CEATEC, I made the pilgrimage to Casio headquarters and geeked out at their museum. I saw the world's first electronic calculator (about the size of a toaster oven) and also the first digital camera with—if you can believe it—an LCD screen on the back.

But my real purpose was to meet with the father of that old camera, Jin Nakayama, to see his latest offspring. It's so new, in fact, they haven’t chosen a name yet. But it’s the wildest camera I've ever seen. By mating a high-performance CMOS image sensor with a new, lightening-fast processor, the camera can shoot up to 60 (yes, 60) six-megapixel photos per second or—get this—300 video frames per second. That’s National Geographic-style slow-mo video from a consumer camera. Well, if Casio goes ahead and builds a consumer camera. For now, it’s just a science experiment. But the prototype I saw looks pretty darn close to a real product.

Enough talking. If a picture's worth a thousand words, this 300-picture-per-second clip of me drinking water is the Magna Carta.—Sean Captain

Video Imitating Video Games

New 3D tech lets you view a scene from any angle

In Japan, a phone company’s R&D goes beyond finding new ways to lock you into oppressive contracts. The telecom giants play with all kinds of technologies, like this fly-through video system that KDDI introduced at the CEATEC show near Tokyo.

Called Free-Viewpoint Video, it uses thirty cameras to capture a scene from almost every angle. Software mashes the images together to generate a 3D computer model like those used in video games. So, just like you can walk around a virtual room Halo 3, you can zoom through a real-live scene in Free-Viewpoint. The demo video, which provided almost unlimited voyeur opportunities of cheerleaders, was well-calibrated for this mostly-male geekfest. And KDDI is considering providing various sorts of 3D eye candy for cellphones. But the technology’s designer said Free-Viewpoint could also be used for serious-business, like virtually-there video conferencing. —Sean Captain

Pioneer's GPS Concept Reads the Road Ahead for Better Nav Tips


Getting bleary-eyed from staring at the road on a long car trip? Pioneer’s new navigation technology provides an extra set of eyes. Called the Image Recognition Car Navigation System, it combines a traditional GPS nav system with a video camera and software that analyzes the scene ahead to provide better directions, warnings, and even suggestions for a more scenic route.

Second_2Instead of showing just a digital map, as in other GPS systems, Pioneer’s prototype technology displays live video of the road ahead with information superimposed. For example, it adds an arrow to show you exactly where an upcoming turn is—say, just behind the McDonald’s sign that’s obscuring your view. It can also tell you the distance to a car ahead—by measuring how large it appears—and warn you when you get too close. And it watches the road lines to make sure you don’t drift out of your lane.

ThirdBest of all for people on long, dull road trips, the system analyzes the view to decide how interesting it is. Lots of sky and flat, featureless terrain ahead? The computer recognizes that as dull, and suggests a more interesting way to go.
Like many technologies debuting at the CEATEC show outside Tokyo this week, the Image Recognition Car Navigation System is still just a cool concept without a firm date to become a real product. So, for the next few years, you might still need that extra cup of coffee, and maybe a carbon-based co-pilot to help out on long drives.—Sean Captain


No Fat TVs in Japan

Companies compete for the thinnest screens


At the CEATEC show near Tokyo—as at other tech shows lately—flat panel TVs are the stars. And like so many of the Hollywood stars, the sets here are unnervingly skinny.

Sharp Several companies are pushing the thinness of their LCD panels. But a few are going to the extreme. LCD giant Sharp was showing off a mysterious prototype—first displayed in August—that measures fifty-two inches diagonally but just 0.79 inches thick. (That’s slimmer than many pocket cameras.) How did Sharp do it? They won’t say. But they do admit the big secret is in the backlight that illuminates the LCD panel from behind.

Hitachi Hitachi had a similar story. It debuted its own anorexic LCDs – these measuring 32 inches diagonally and a waifish .75 inches thick. Hitachi also declined to name the secret sauce. But unlike Sharp, it did say when the sets will be for sale: 2009 in both Japan and the US.

Despite Sharp’s and Hitachi’s reticence, the technology behind the sets is no mystery, according to analyst Richard Doherty of the Envisioneering Group. He’s pretty sure the sets use ultra-small "nano" or "pico" light-emitting diodes for the backlight. LEDs have appeared in high-end sets from Sony, Samsung, and LG, that aren’t any skinnier than sets with fluorescent backlights. But new LEDs are extremely thin.

Sony, on the other hand, was happy to talk about how its wafer-thin sets work. After a lot of talk and prototype demonstrations, it finally introduced the XEL-1, the world’s first TV using organic light-emitting diodes. Unlike LCDs, OLED TVs don’t need a light behind the panel, because panel itself is made of fluorescent organic materials. That allows OLEDs to far out-do even the skinniest LCDs. Sony’s set measures a hard-to-believe 0.12 inches thick. However, it’s also only 11 inches on the diagonal. One measurement is quite big, though: A price of 200,000 Yen ($1,726) when it goes on sale this December in Japan.—Sean Captain


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