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January 29, 2012

Gadgets Galore

Which tech innovations will tank and which will last?

The 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has come and gone, but the gadgets introduced there likely will be part of our future for years to come. Record numbers were set with attendance, vendors, and square footage of exhibit space. Innovations were unveiled, and in some cases, expectations dashed.

Three questions came to mind while I was scouring the interwebs gathering information on this pre-eminent technology event: How practical are these devices? When will they hit the shelves? And how much will my wallet suffer?

With that in mind, here’s a wrap up of some gadgets of note, show-stoppers, and the down-right strange.

This year was all about the pixel, millions of ’em.

The successor to 1080p HD displays offer almost four times the pixels (3840 x 2160 pixels) and has aptly been dubbed 4K or Ultra-Definition. While there is little to no 4K content out yet (although most movies are being filmed with 4K cameras), 3D movies and games are where these sets really shine.

Current passive 3D displays require the cheaper polarized glasses and basically split a full 1080p image into 540p per eye. With 4K sets, viewers can watch 3D movies at 1080p per eye.

LG unveiled its flagship model for next year (above right inset photo), coming in at an impressive 84 inches.

Practical? No. Expensive? Without a doubt.

The other craze at CES in television displays was OLED. OLED displays offer higher contrast, near 90-degree viewing angles, energy savings, and are ultra-lightweight (about 15 pounds for a 55-inch set, half the weight of current sets). Many cellphone displays have been equipped with OLED screens for a while now. But manufacturing costs are coming down, making these larger sets cheaper to produce. Samsung debuted its 55-inch class and went on to win multiple awards for it (above left inset photo). Expected to be out sometime this year, this set will probably set you back $8,000 to $9,000.

Next up, an innovative little camera that will change how you take pictures. Winner of CES’ “Last Gadget Standing” award, the Lytro Light Field Camera (www.lytro.com) lets you take photos now and pick the focal point later, over and over again. Because it captures the entire field of light there’s no auto-focus motor, which means no delay in capturing the moment. At $399 for the 8gb model, and the ability to change focus with just a touch, this funny looking camera looks like a game changer for professional and amateur photographers, alike.

Another popular buzz word being kicked around at CES was Ultrabook. Ultra-thin, ultra-light, ultra-portable. These laptops are utilitarian, and performance wrapped up in a sleek, go-anywhere form factor.

The most talked about notebook at CES in this new category of PCs was Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga. Offering four modes of operation — standard notebook, tablet mode, “tent” mode, and stand mode — this convertible notebook features a capacitive touch screen with multi-touch input (you can use up to 10 fingers) built on a 360-degree hinge which lets you contort it into whichever mode you desire, hence the name Yoga. Once the screen hits the 180-degree mark, the keypad and trackpad are disabled to prevent accidental input.

The Yoga will run on the latest Intel processors (i5, and i7) and is due out in Q2 of 2012 to coincide with the release of Windows 8. Starting price, $1,199. If you’re in the market for a tablet with a built in laptop, or a laptop with a built in tablet, this might be a fit for you.  

Now, the downright strange. Classic Arcade games you play with your eyes, mind-controlled television, and a battery powered, gyroscopic unicycle.

The Swedish company Tobii brought its groundbreaking eye-tracking technology for individuals with special needs to CES in the form of an arcade game. Eye Asteroids allows players to look on screen, defend a base from virtual asteroids and blast them into bits (computer pun intended) using only the motion of their eyes. Their arcade form factor was just a showcase of the capabilities of their eye-tracking cameras, with goal of integration into future laptops and computers. They do, however, sell the arcade units for $15,000.

On that note, another product unveiled by appliance manufacturer Haier also aims to make input devices a thing of the past. The Brain Wave TV headset measures brain waves, allowing users to navigate menus. Although the technology right now only allows for up-and-down movement, side-to side movement still requires a separate remote. There aren’t any plans to bring this to the U.S. just yet.

Finally, the Solowheel. Imagine, a Segway and a unicycle combined. Highly portable and lightweight, this battery-powered evolution in personal transportation will get you around town at a galloping 10 mph. It uses a gyroscope to keep the rider vertical and has a range of about 15 to 20 miles. For $1,800, in my opinion, you’re probably better off walking.

And that about does it for CES 2012.

Jake Crandall is a page designer

for the Union-Sun & Journal.

You can reach him at

jacob.crandall@lockportjournal.com

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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