The economy may be sliding but innovation at Asia's tech giants is alive and well, if gadgets on show at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show are anything to go by.
Sony joined the small laptop crowd with its Vaio P -- an interesting widescreen design that allows for a larger keyboard than on competing netbooks -- and impressed with a flexible OLED screen. Samsung showed off a thin TV, while Panasonic debuted a portable Blu-ray Disc player, and perhaps the most futuristic of the gadgets we saw was a watch-phone from LG.
Sony Vaio P
After several weeks of leaks and teasers Sony took the wraps off its anticipated Vaio P-series mini-laptop at CES. It has a widescreen 8-inch display and measures 24 centimeters wide by 11 cm deep and 2 cm thick, giving it a form factor that, according to Sony, allows it to be slipped into a jacket pocket or handbag. An advantage of the wide form-factor is that the keyboard can be made slightly larger. The key pitch on the Vaio P (the distance from the center of one key to the center of the next) is 16.5 millimeters, considerably more than on keyboards used on some of the small form-factor netbooks currently available. It's based on the Intel Atom processor and will be available in North America from February for around US$900.
One of the most futuristic gadgets at CES could be one of the quickest to hit the market. LG Electronics' watch-phone is a complete 3G cellular phone in a wristwatch-style form factor. The LG-GD910 phone has a 1.4-inch touchscreen display and is based on the WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) mobile network standard. It packs the latest 7.2Mb-per-second HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) data system, so downloads should be fast. It can also make video calls via a small camera above the top right corner of the screen. Other features include Bluetooth, an MP3 player, a speakerphone and a text-to-speech function. The watch-phone is also waterproof. It's scheduled to go on sale in the second half of 2009 in Europe. Pricing and plans for other markets were not announced.
The remote control has relieved generations of couch potatoes from the hassle of getting up to change channels, but is there an even easier way? Toshiba and Hitachi both showed prototype gesture-controlled TVs at CES. A small infrared camera watches the viewer's hand movements and translates them into action. Wave at your TV to switch it on, control the volume with circular motions or navigate a large number of video files in three dimensions with your hands. Look for it in TVs in the next two to three years.
Sony Cybershot G3
Sony's latest Wi-Fi-equipped Cybershot camera, the G3, now packs a Web browser. That means users can upload images and video from the camera directly to Web sites, so long as they are near a Wi-Fi connection. The camera has 4GB of built-in memory, a 10.1-megapixel image sensor and a 4X-optical zoom. Sony has teamed with sites including Shutterfly, Picasa and YouTube on its Easy Upload service. Like all Sony cameras it uses MemoryStick media cards. It is available now in the U.S. for $500.
Casio fast-shutter, slim camera
Casio unveiled a small, thin digital camera that features its innovative fast-shooting function, which has been available until now only on larger models. The EX-FC100 camera is 16mm thick and can manage burst-shooting at up to 30 frames per second and high-speed movies at up to 1,000fps. The high-speed picture mode allows for all sorts of neat tricks, such as the ability to shoot a bunch of pictures in close succession and then pick the best shot, while the high-speed movie mode produces a super-slow-motion effect when the video is played back at standard 30-frame-per-second speed. It shoots at 9.1-megapixel resolution and is out in March for around US$350.
TransferJet could revolutionize the way we hook up gadgets. It's a high-speed (375Mbps), short-range (about 3 cm) wireless technology that is intended to replace things like USB cables. It debuted last year on the booth of inventor Sony, but a consortium has since formed around the technology and Toshiba was demonstrating it this year. The Toshiba prototypes include a PDA (personal digital assistant) and a television adapter (pictured). When the PDA is brought close to the TransferJet pad, the images inside are automatically transferred to a TV connected to the pad and appear on screen. The first products are due later this year or in 2010.
Panasonic portable Blu-ray Disc
Last year at CES the battle between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD was still big news. Twelve months later and not only has that ended, but we're seeing the first portable Blu-ray Disc player. The DMP-B15 has an 8.9-inch screen with 1024-by-600 pixel resolution and will run for about three hours on battery power. That's long enough to get through almost every movie on the market, and even two if they're short. Also included is Viera Cast Internet access and BD Live support, and you can watch movies off an SD Card too. It's due in the U.S. in May at a price yet to be announced.
Samsung thin TV
Flat-panel TV makers are locked in a battle to make ever-thinner sets, and it was Samsung that delivered the slimmest at CES. Its new Luxia sets are between 6.5 and 7 millimeters thick across the body and were demonstrated in screen sizes of 55, 46 and 40 inches. The sets have an LED backlight, which means they use a bank of LEDs behind the screen to create the light shone through to illuminate the image on the display. Samsung hasn't announced when they might be available.
Sony Flexible OLED
A flexible color OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen that could be used in future highly portable electronics devices was one of the R&D highlights at Sony's booth. The 2.5-inch screen was manufactured on a thin sheet of plastic, so it's 0.2 millimeters thick and can be gently bent while it's showing video. The prototype screen has a 160-by-120 pixel resolution and weighs just 1.5 grams. It's not likely to appear in products for several years.