CES 2011: For the Maximum Tech editors, It’s been a whirlwind cluster-frack of product demos, backroom meetings, and miles and miles of floor walking in the North, Central, and South exhibition halls. But we’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of products, and are ready to name our CES 2011 Future Tech Winners – FTW, for the win!
We think plasma is the best current TV display technology, thanks to exceptionally deep blacks, rich color reproduction, and superb fine detail reproduction in shadows and highlights. In fact, Panasonic’s 50-inch VT25 was our highest-rated HDTV last year. With this newest model, however, Panasonic offers a much thinner screen package, expands its LAN connectivity options, adds new online services, and eliminates the company’s walled-garden approach to the Internet.
Available sometime this spring, Panasonic’s TC-P65VT30 is a THX-certified, 65-inch plasma TV that delivers what Panasonic is describing as “Full HD 3D,” meaning that both the left and right eyes are presented with 1080p images. Panasonic has also improved the TV’s Internet connectivity, adding LAN connectivity to its USB ports so you can plug in a USB Wi-Fi adapter.
Panasonic has moved away from the walled-garden approach it took with its earlier offerings, providing consumers with two-way connectivity to the Internet. They’ve also expanded their third-party service offerings to include Napster, Hulu Plus, CinemaNow, and Facebook. The new Viera line-up will also continue to support Netflix, Pandora, Skype, and YouTube.
The TC-P65VT30 may not be the largest or thinnest display we’ve seen at CES 2011, but it’s a whopping 65 inches, super-thin (thanks to its one-sheet-of-glass design), and one of the few CES wunder-products you might eventually actually buy.
Best Lifestyle Product
Sure, we’ve seen so-called “smart” or “Internet” refrigerators before, but LG gets the FTW for showing off not a single appliance, but an entire line-up of digitally enhanced appliances—from a refrigerator to a washer/dryer combo to an oven, steam cleaner and even robot vacuum cleaner. The highly automated LG mojo is called THINQ technology and is expressed in three key feature sets.
First there is Smart Grid, which imbues appliances with special energy-saving features. For example, it can automate your clothes washer to start a wash cycle during off-peak usage hours (saving both energy grid loads and hard-earned cash). Similarly, the fridge could go into defrost mode during off-peak hours, or even help you track how many times you open the damned freezer door.
Next up is Smart Diagnosis, which delivers built-in diagnostic tools, speeding up service calls, or even eliminating the need for a service call at all. It’s a system similar to the diagnostic features of a car’s ECU (electronic control unit), allowing LG technicians direct access to fault codes. For example, instead of disassembling an entire machine to determine what’s gone kerplewy, LG customer service can use Smart Diagnosis to plug into the appliance’s innards – even remotely – to ask the computer inside what’s gone wrong. Perhaps even cooler, when you’ve done something as simple as leaving the fridge door open, Smart Diagnosis can alert you via WiFi or even an smartphone app.
Which leads us to Smart Access, a system that lets you interact with your LG appliance via your Android or iOS device. For instance: Manage your clothes washing from the office. Turn off your oven (which you’ve foolishly left running) from the road. Or tell the HOM-BOT to vacuum your floors right before your mother-in-law drops over. Heck, all we want is a clothes dryer that will ping us when the cycle is done. And that’s what THINQ does.
Most Innovative Product
PixelOptics Electronic Focusing Eyewear
Only one Maximum Tech editor currently has a need for this product (we won’t mention names), but we know we’re all due for the day when it’s time for reading glasses – or, even worse, bifocals. Enter our FTW choice for most innovative product. In a nutshell, PixelOptics’ technology gives you all the benefits of bifocals without those embarrassing, “I’m an old fart” lens seams going through the middle of each piece of glass.
In the company’s amazing eyeglasses – and, yes, they are crazy cool -- a layer of liquid crystal is sandwiched in the middle of each lens. Via electronic control, the liquid crystal layer can be activated to instantaneously change the refractive index of the lenses. To switch between reading mode and whatever correction you need for your myopia, all it takes is a tap on the frames.
It gets cooler: Because the glasses are equipped with an accelerometer, you can set the lenses to an automatic mode, and the system will react to the tilt of your head. Tilt your head down, and you’re in reading mode. Raise your head up, and you’re back to your normal vision correction.
PixelOptics tells us the technology should add about 25 percent to the price of typical “progressive eyewear” (the euphemism for bifocals), and we understand the lenses could roll out to optometrists as early as April 2011. That’s only a few months from now, and even if the timeline slips, the lenses should still be ready before most of us need their sleight-of-hand focusing power.
Motorola is a huge player in mobile hardware, but we haven’t given much exposure to their gear, which errs toward low- and mid-range phones (save the venerable Droid family), walkie-talkies, landline handsets, the odd modem, and, um… what else? But lo and behold, this year Motorola takes home two FTWs – one for the Atrix (described above), and the second for the Xoom tablet, which struck as the tablet with the best fighting chance to unseat the iPad.
The display is a glorious 10.1-inch, 1280x800 capacitive touch screen that bests the iPad on both the horizontal and vertical dimensions. This pixel grid is powered by a 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, and 1GB of DDR2 RAM. There’s 32GB of internal storage, plus SD card support for expansion. For getting data in and out, you’ll get micro USB support, and there’s also a 2MP front-facing camera for chat, and a 5MP rear camera with dual flash for those rare times when you don’t have your camera-equipped smart phone with you. All of these components are sandwiched inside a notably thin if unremarkable-looking package.
The hardware specs are impressive, but what scores the Xoom our FTW award is the inclusion of Android 3.0, aka Honeycomb. No, the Xoom isn’t simply slated to include Honeycomb. The model we played with has Honeycomb – Google’s mobile OS version that’s been built specifically with tablets in mind.
Running on the Motorola hardware, Honeycomb was zippy, responsive, fluid and all the other adjectives one might use to describe that no-laggy UI experience we’ve come to expect from the iPad. Honeycomb offers other tablet optimizations that we’ll cover in future articles, but for now you can just revel in the knowledge that 10.1-inch, Android 3.0 tablets are undeniably lustworthy, and are what you’ll be wanting in the search for a non-Apple tablet. And let’s not sell Nvidia short in this story: In general, the dual-core Tegra 2 is emerging as the chip to beat in the SoC game (at least based on what we’ve tested at CES).
Timing? In so many words, Motorola told us the Xoom will ship when Honeycomb goes public. Bah! Give us. Give us now.