Page last updated at 15:38 GMT, Friday, 8 January 2010

CES 2010: The race for the future

Simon Osborne-Walker
Online editor, Stuff magazine


Stuff Magazine's Simon Osborne-Walker tries out 3D TV

It's January, it's Las Vegas, the City of Sin, and that means it's time for the Consumer Electronics Show.

This is where the technology industry flaunts its latest wares and we find out what we'll be buying and using over the coming year.

But what we really want to know is which products are going to change the landscape.

Glasses on

CES attendeed wearing 3D glasses
Everyone was trying to persuade attendees to wear 3D specs

Last year, high definition seemed old hat and the talk was centred around 3D TV.

That didn't really happen for 2009, so it was no surprise that the buzz this year was around not just the concept of 3D, but actual products and content.

Everyone had 3D on display, which in a way made it all the less extraordinary, as it turned out.

Of the early press conferences, there were distinct highs and lows.

At the top end of the scale, Samsung wowed not just with 3D, but with gorgeously designed LED TVs with amazing features - a remote control with its own telly built in, for instance.

Samsung also announced an app store selling applications for both mobile phones and their compatible televisions, and rounded things off with touchscreen e-book readers and an appearance from Jeffrey Katzenberg of Dreamworks.

LG meanwhile unveiled the amazing Full LED Ultra Slim television - a set just 6.9mm thick - and a mobile phone with a miniature projector bolted on the back.

No iSlate rival

Microsoft's CES stand
Microsoft did not offer much in the way of innovation

At the other end of the scale was Microsoft.

Having queued for an hour and sat through two hours of keynote speaking, there was really nothing to get excited about. It started with a power cut and never recovered.

The magnetic, ever-enthusiastic Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, bobbed back and forth across the stage, exuding pride in his company - but he couldn't mask a lack of substance.

There was an expectation that Microsoft would be announcing a rival to Apple's rumoured iSlate, a touch-sensitive keyboard-less computer.

Ballmer covered the uninspiring-looking Windows 7-based "slate PCs" in mere seconds, which made it utterly plain that Microsoft doesn't see them as able to compete with whatever Apple will offer.

To put the slate PC announcement into context, he spent 10 minutes discussing a new feature of PowerPoint.

The one silver lining for Microsoft was confirmation that Project Natal will be available by Christmas.

It is a motion-sensitive control system for the Xbox 360 that registers body movements without the need for a physical controller, and could make the Nintendo Wii seem like a dinosaur.

As usual, there were certain themes and phrases that cropped up throughout. You couldn't move for people mentioning Twitter, apps, 3D, e-books, and their eco credentials.

The latter has become a staple of press conferences, with every company trying to impress upon us how much effort they are making to reduce energy use.

Placing the TV back at the centre of the home hub was also a popular theme, with none doing more in that department than LG, adding Skype video-calling to more than half its televisions.

All you need is a camera attachment that sits on top of the set.

Still innovating

Plastic Logic's e-reader
The Plastic Logic e-reader created a buzz

The great news is that the economic downturn hasn't seemed to hurt innovation in the technology industry.

Plastic Logic is a case in point, launching an e-book reader called the Que that featured an entirely new screen technology using plastic transistors that makes it incredibly light.

Amongst a hoard of new e-book readers, the Que managed to stand out.

Asus displayed concepts such as the WE.PC - a device with dual touchscreens that can be held upright for browsing ebooks or laid flat to type on the virtual keyboard.

The company also showed off its Waveface Ultra wrist-mounted computer - sadly, another concept.

My highlights of the show varied enormously.

There was the really fun stuff, such as Duck Hunter Xtreme, a remote-control duck that comes with an infrared gun to shoot it down, and the Parrot AR.Drone - a hovering craft that can be controlled by moving your iPhone around.

Then there was the sheer gorgeousness of things like the Asus laptop designed by hi-fi fashionistas Bang & Olufsen.

It has B&O ICEpower speakers for great-sounding music and movie playback, and trackpads on either side of the keyboard.

Special mention certainly has to go to LG for having by far the busiest stand. Still, that Ultra Slim TV deserved the attention.

If the economic crisis of the last year resulted in this much quality, we can expect great things from CES in 2011.


The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones tests the show's top innovations

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