CES Show 2010 recap

This year’s Las Vegas CES convention was filled with people, products and perhaps a little smoke and mirrors. But hey, that’s to be expected at any product convention. Here are a couple of announcements that caught my attention.

3-D television the next home revolution?

The number one theme was 3-D television. Not only were almost 50 3-D television sets released, several content producers announced plans to begin broadcasting 3-D programming.

ESPN announced it will launch ESPN 3-D in June 2010. The 3-D channel will showcase a minimum of 85 live sporting events in 3-D this year. The kickoff broadcast will be the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match on June 11 featuring South Africa versus Mexico. Other 3-D events include up to 25 2010 FIFA World Cup matches, Summer X Games, college basketball, NBA basketball, college football and basketball. The BCS National Championship game in Glendale, AZ, on Jan. 7, 2011, is on the schedule. Sony will provide the 3-D cameras for production.

Discovery Communications, Sony and IMAX announced a joint venture to develop the a 24/7 dedicated 3-D television network. Discovery will provide network services, including affiliate sales and technical support functions, as well as 3-D television rights to Discovery content and cross-promotion across its portfolio of 13 U.S. television networks. Sony will provide advertising and sponsorship sales support and will seek to license television rights to current and future 3-D feature films, music-related 3-D content and game-related 3-D content, while providing cross-promotion at retail stores. IMAX also will license television rights to future 3-D films, promotion through its owned-and-operated movie theaters across the United States, and a suite of proprietary and patented image enhancement and 3-D technologies.

Samsung Electronics, DreamWorks Animation and Technicolor have announced the formation of a global strategic alliance for the delivery of a complete 3-D home entertainment solution in 2010. The package will include a broad lineup of 3-D-capable HDTVs and a new 3-D Blu-ray disc player, all from Samsung. 3-D content will include a feature-length, 3-D Blu-ray version of DreamWorks Animation’s “Monsters vs. Aliens.” The disc will be created and produced by Technicolor.

Samsung will provide customers with additional 3-D content, including a short entitled "Bob's Big Break" as well as trailers for 2010 DreamWorks Animation feature film releases "How to Train your Dragon" and "Shrek Forever After" on Samsung HDTVs with its Internet@TV feature.

Is everyone onboard?

Will the public buy 3-D? That’s the overriding question. There are plenty of pundits on both sides of this question. Sure, the recent release of "Avatar" and more than 10 other flicks in 3-D this year hasn’t hurt interest, but 3-D was initially thought to be cinema-focused. It’s the home entertainment centers that vendors at the CES Show want to transition to 3-D. Will that happen?

Maybe . . . but slowly, says John P. Falcone, who writes for CNET. “Call me a skeptic, but I consider the industry's enthusiasm to be premature. I think bringing 3-D to the home will be an uphill battle.” He believes there is insufficient 3-D content, that home theatre owners already have upgrade fatigue and that big bugaboo of glasses will combine to inhibit fast adoption of 3-D in the home.

Echoing a go slow approach viewpoint is Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Japan's Ichiyoshi Investment Management. While top TV set makers including Sony, Panasonic, LG, Samsung Electronics, Visio and others were showing available products, demos are one thing, creating demand is another.

Akino thinks it’s too early to invest your retirement money in 3-D (unless maybe you’re 20 years old). He notes it took more than 10 years for color TV sets to fall in price so average homes could afford them. “TV makers want more for 3-D than they can get," he said. "Plus, neither Samsung, Sony, Panasonic or LG has gained the technological advantage. Until that outcome becomes clear, I'm not investing," he said.

However, if you see 3-D as a glass half full, you may identify with the top 10 2010 technology predictions from the hdguru.com Web site. Six of the site’s top 10 predictions involve 3-D television. The site claims, “The cost delta to enable 3-D capability within an HDTV will be small, especially when compared to the standard to high definition switch. 3-D requires a high refresh rate (generally 120Hz for plasma and 240Hz for LED and LCD), the display’s ability to send a sync signal to 3-D glasses, and additional signal processing.”

Number 10 on the site’s list of 2010 innovations is that a glasses-free full HD 3-D consumer computer monitor and/or laptop computer will be announced before year’s end.

Free energy

This CES product demonstration brings to mind the famous engineer Nikola Tesla. More than 100 years ago, Tesla proposed that it was possible to transmit energy wirelessly. His most famous attempt to provide everyone in the world with wireless energy was called the “World Power System.” He planned to transmit electrical energy without wires, through the ground. You can see a photo of his Wardenclyffe Tower, which was a key component in his plan. Interestingly, his idea lost support from investors when they discovered he had provided no method of measuring how much power a consumer was using from the system.

While Tesla was never fully successful in transmitting power through the air, inventors at RCA Airnergy claim to have succeed where he failed. The Airnergy is a battery-charging device capable of capturing free power from wireless communications — Wi-Fi. The device captures Wi-Fi energy out of the air and converts it into electricity, storing it on an internal battery. While other companies have shown prototypes before, the Airnergy claims its product can withdraw electricity from ambient Wi-Fi transmissions at a high enough efficiency to make it practical. The company’s representatives said they were able to charge a BlackBerry from 30 percent to full in about 90 minutes, with nothing but ambient Wi-Fi signals as a power source.

The company claims its final version will be smaller than a smartphone and ready for sale this summer. It will cost between $40 to $50. Representatives said that another version of the product being developed would integrate the company’s technology into replacement cell phone batteries. This would, in essence, create an always-charged battery. The replacement battery would sell for about the same price as a standard cell phone battery.