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Infotainment systems, like the MyFord Touch, should help your car act a bit more like the ride in Knight Rider.  (Source: AutoWeek)

The ATI 5000 Mobility Radeon series should bring unparalleled graphics and much needed competition to the notebook sector.  (Source: Electronista)

3D Glasses have been around for a long time, but they haven't gotten much cooler. This is one overblown trend that seems unlikely to take off.  (Source: AP)
Infotainment and mobile GPUs were highlights, while 3D TVs and tablets were almost painfully overblown

The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, was once again a convention of epic proportions. The show is now all said and done and slowly fading into our memory like a pale Vegas sunset.  However, a few things stand out in particular, in this editor's mind, highlights and lowlights from the show, if you will.

Two Highlights:

In-Car Infotainment
Ford's MyFord/MyLincoln Touch, the successor to the very successful SYNC, is really pushing the boundaries of in car information, entertainment, and communication.  Priced in the mid-range mass market segment, the new system features some truly amazing features like an applications API that can allow for smart phone-driven apps, complete with voice commands and text-to-speech.

Here's how we'd like to see this promising feature employed:
Ford already has the ability to download turn-by-turn directions from an attached phone via Google Maps.  Imagine if you created an iPhone (or Blackberry) app like Urban Spoon that allowed you to select a food type via voice.  Then imagine reading the user each option, reading them reviews/menus, if asked, and then finally allowing a voice selection.  Then imagine the app automatically grabbing directions and directing the user to the location.  All the pieces are there -- someone just needs to put them together.

Also noteworthy were infotainment systems from Fiat and Hyundai Kia.  Fiat's Blue & Me has less features overall, but does pack a nice driving analysis suite, which will likely be offered as an interesting option when the Fiat 500 hits the U.S. shores later this year.  As for Hyundai Kia, its system appears to be the second best solution on the market, but it will certainly be the cheapest.  It may be well behind Ford's offerings in its current iteration, but then again it's just starting out and if its budget price make it a strong competitor to Ford's pricier upgrade packages.  The new system, dubbed UVO, offers the conglomerate a great way to continue to improve the quality of its low-cost vehicles, allowing it to snatch more market share from the stale Honda and Toyota, which are getting left behind in the infotainment movement.

Mobile Graphics
NVIDIA has basically had the laptop discrete graphics market cornered in recent years.  That hasn't always been a good thing, given the abundance of overheating issues in previous generations.  NVIDIA's GeForce 2xxM series of GPUs lays most of these problems to rest, but without competition its maker seems unlikely to be inclined to seriously push its successors' mobile GPU power.

As at least one DailyTech writer games primarily on his laptop, this would be a disappointing state of affairs.  Fortunately, AMD has at last decided to translate its recent success in the desktop graphics segment into a big mobile launch.

AMD is promising that we'll see many notebooks with 5000 Mobility Radeon series GPUs in the next year.  We're adopting a wait and see strategy on this one, but even if AMD can succeed in getting its GPUs on a wider range of notebooks, that would be a tremendous improvement.  There's a scattering of AMD GPUs in notebooks currently offered at Fry's, Best Buy, Newegg.com, and Amazon.com, but they remain scarce.  If AMD could match NVIDIA in terms of models offered with its mobile GPUs, that would be a wonderful accomplishment and very good for competition.

We're always skeptical of big claims, so we're not sure what to make of AMD's claims that the top of the line 5000 series mobile GPU will best NVIDIA's top of the line GeForce GTX 280M.  We like their spirit, though, and we certainly hope that they can deliver on their promises of some excellent drivers.  We also hope they can deliver on their promises of bringing external GPU upgrades to the U.S. market, with the help of partners like Acer.

When it comes to mobile graphics, there's plenty to look forward to, from the eventual launch of a mobile version of Fermi, to AMD planning to aggressively improve its mobile performance and availability.  There's a lot of unknowns, but there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic that we'll be gaming on the go as never before.

Two "Most Overblown":

Three-Dimensional Television/Monitors:
3D was the buzz word on the tongues of every major LCD screen maker.  Even the cabbies were talking about it.  However, this colorful fad ultimately seems like another questionable promise from a technology that has been flirted with for decades, but never fully embraced.

The fact of the matter is simple.  As wonderful as watching your media of choice -- sports, movies, or pornography -- in 3D might be, it still requires you to put on goofy glasses.  Outside the movie theater, this has never caught on in the past (despite repeated attempts), and it seems unlikely to now.  Can you imagine a bunch of guys sitting down to watch a football game, and the party host saying, "Wait!  We've all got to put on our 3D glasses!"?

Such as scene seems pretty unlikely, so that leaves 3D gaming.  Sure gamers might be able to swallow the nerd-factor (its hard to be offended by uncool glasses when you're logging 10 hour runs in Warcraft).  However, in more cutting edge titles many gamers will be unable to use the tech, as it cuts frame rates by as much as 20 or 30 percent.  Final benchmarks remain to be seen, but if early estimates hold true, it seems many gamers will be hesitant to trade their frame rates for 3D glitz.

That leaves so-called "auto-stereoscopic" technologies, still in their nascent stages.  Such glasses-free 3D tech is certainly promising, but currently lack the pop of its awkward glasses-driven brethren, raising questions on their price.  Many models also suffer from image distortion at certain viewing angles.  Clearly this is the more promising approach, but it has a long way to go.

Some analysts estimate that 3D TV revenue could reach $22B USD by 2018.  That could certainly be true if manufacturers throw in the chip on most of their lineup.  However, that still doesn't mean that anyone will be using the awkward TV plus glasses setup.  The 3D chip (unless its of the glasses free variety) will likely sit gathering dust.  You couldn't find a more perfect example of overblown CES 2010 hype than 3D TV.

Tablets:
Tablets, tablets, tablets!!! Okay, we're sad to say Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer didn't cheer that at CES, but he might as well have.  His keynote address focused heavily on tablets, including the HP Slate.

Unlike 3D TV, tablets do hold some serious promise as a niche product, in the short term.  For certain users, particularly those who spend lots of time on-the-go, a light tablet like the HP Slate, Microsoft Courier, or the upcoming Apple Tablet could be a fun an useful tool.  That said, the major focus on them was a bit overblown.

It is hard to see a tablet appealing to the majority of consumers.  Touch input is currently somewhat poor (as touch screens with smart phone-scale touch sensitivity are rather expensive -- you can either multiply the screen cost or scale up at a lower fidelity) on most of the devices we played with.  Even if it can be perfected, typing and input will be slower than on a standard Notebooks/Netbooks.

Tablets may certainly conquer a niche market (perhaps surplanting E-Book readers, like the Amazon Kindle).  However, they're unlikely to storm the business or consumer computing quite like notebooks and netbooks have.  No matter how hard top OEMs try to pitch the devices, it seems unlikely that the majority of consumers will bite.

The Ugly:

CEA and Hotel Security Escort Out Vendors:
If certain vendors' stories are to believed they asked thoroughly when renting rooms at local hotels in Vegas about exhibiting product and holding business meetings, and were told that it was perfectly okay.  After they reportedly had paid in full (and extra for corporate parties), we personally witnessed at least one hotel bowing to the CEA and kicking these vendors out for failing to pay an exhibition fee.

If hotels screwed up on the info they gave vendors, they should have refunded them a portion of the suite rental, corresponding to the remaining booked time.  From what we've heard they've done no such thing, and vendors were left to try to book another hotel, farther away, to carry out the rest of their business.

According to a security guard at The Venetian whom we talked to, these "problems" were abundant, and as many as 30 vendors had been kicked out.  We heard personally from two vendors -- one who got kicked out, and one who paid to avoid it.  We also heard of a third vendor running into trouble.  Ultimately, its hard to get a cold hard number on exactly how many vendors got the boot, but the mess cast a dark cloud over our final day of meetings at CES.

We can only hope that next year hotel management and the CEA do a better job communicating exactly what the rules are and enforcing them from Day 1 -- not selectively deciding to enforce them mid-show.

Were you at CES 2010, or following our coverage and think we missed something?  Disagree on one of our top items?  Feel free to give your picks and thoughts!



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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Lazarus Dark on 1/12/2010 6:41:53 PM , Rating: 2
While the auto companies try to shove more distractions in the car... I mean "infotainment".

I really wish they would mandate manual transmissions, personally. You can't be trying to juggle all these services while trying to row the gears. Heck, I don't even listen to the radio anymore since getting a manual cause I need to hear the exhaust.

I wish people would just stick to driving while in the car. Put a tv in the back for the kids with headphones and pay attention to the road, You're raising my insurance rates with all these distractions!!




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