Japanese R&D firm KDDI promises to bring "bullet-time"-like rotatable scenes to replays of sporting events, allowing users to view the action from any angle.  (Source: Warner Brothers)

Ford's first EV, the 2011 Transit Connect EV cargo van is on track and was on display at the show.

We played with Honeycomb, it will be out soon (a couple of months), and we trust you will like it.  (Source: Geospatial)
Some of the biggest stories at CES were those that went untold

At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, we ran into plenty of predictable fare - released tablets, unreleased tablets, top secret tablets, small tablets, large tablets, etc.  Connected appliances, internet televisions, and 3D TVs were other hot button items.  But we also saw plenty of other interesting stuff that fell into alternative, less treaded categories. (Confession: We did sneak a tiny bit in here on Android 3.0 Honeycomb...)

I.  KDDI Offers 3D Control of Sporting Events

Want a totally novel video technology that isn't 3D-TV?  Well, we witnessed one at CES.

This tech had its roots in the movie The Matrix, a film that made a name for itself in a number of ways.  One way it distinguished itself from typical action fare was the unique ways in which it redefined the emerging art of "bullet-time".  With dozens of timed capture cameras lining arcs and encircling the actors, cinematographers were able to spin the viewpoint around the actor (such as Keanu Reeves) as they performed intense maneuvers, all in slow motion.

A Japanese company named KDDI has developed a panoramic multi-camera technology that aims to offer similar panoramic views, albeit consumer-controllable and of real-life events, such as sports games.  The firm presented its work at the CEATEC breakfast, where Cyberdyne also delivered a keynote. 

The key to this technology is to have a lot of ultra-high definition cameras.  The working demos used 30+ "4k cameras" (4x the resolution of traditional HD cameras).  

The net result was that you could spin around a series of actors or athletes; viewing action from any viewpoint you wanted.  The system used a smartphone as a controller.

From a technical standpoint it was clear that they had solved the difficult "fixed point" problem (identify which points from two different cameras are the "same" in real life), but it was less clear how well they were dealing with the concavity problem (dealing with a concave surface that some cameras can't see), as the human based scene was primarily convex, with little concavity.  We later discussed these details with KDDI, but the company's representatives at the show seemed unsure what (if any) steps had been taken to offer realistic views of rotation around objects with concave surface features.

KDDI did say that they have already received interest from Japanese television broadcasters, such as soccer channels.  They have begun to work out deals to deploy the technology to consumers.

To us, it seemed that the technology only has novelty perspective on the consumer end.  It would take too long to fiddle around with camera angles to follow the action sufficiently during a high-paced point-driven sport (like basketball, football, or soccer).  Once the consumer begins missing important events and has to rewind, they will quickly tire of the novelty of being able to pan around scenes.

On the producer end, this could be a hit, as it would allow sports telecasters and others to pan around scenes and offer unprecedented action views.  With experience on their side, specialists could hand-pick "good" pan angles which showcased the important events in the full recorded area, and reject ones that took the viewer away from the action.  In theory, this could all be done with a brief tape delay of a minute or two.

Currently the scenes require 2-3 hours to pre-render, and thus are only available after the original broadcast.  But that's just from rendering the scene on a single machine.  We suggested to KDDI officials at the show that they should explore building a CUDA supercomputer, which could cut this math-based process down to a real-time exercise, suitable for tape delayed broadcasting.

This technology obviously has a long ways to go, but it would be pretty neat to be able to see the viewpoint sweep around a basketball player as they go for a dunk, or around a soccer player as they shoot and their teammate scores on the deflected shot.

II. Intel's $30 Book of Wondrous Propaganda

Intel's newly-launched flagship CPU/SoC Sandy Bridge is great and its embedded/low-power Atom SoC isn't bad either, but it's sometimes funny the things companies do to promote themselves.  For example, outside the Las Vegas Convention Center Intel representatives were unloading piles of books that were "A $30 value!"

Titled "Screen Future" the book is a decent summary of certain topics, but overly prone to rambling and eventually returning to some sort of sales pitch for smart TVs powered by Intel CPUs.  Not surprisingly, it's written by Intel "futurist"/evangelist Brian David Johnson.  The book was highly entertaining, though perhaps not how it intended to be.

We thought Laugh Factory Founder and CEO Jamie Masada summed it up nicely when he put, "If you're like me and don't know your CPU's from your DSP's, I'd highly recommend Screen Future.  Brian David Johnson is a visionary."

Indeed the book, filled with atrocious illustrations and long-winded stories, likely would prove equally enthralling to those new to the world of electronics, and amusing to those who actually knew a thing or two.  

While it offers a few interesting conclusions and summaries, it was predominated by such passages as:

The 'N Sync tracking device and the concept of intelligent agents for TV give us two distinct visions of personalization.  Facebook and NetFlix are examples of these realizations in the real world.  To make a TV or any other device personal there has to be a company developing the software and hardware to do it.  Ultimately for personalization to go mainstream there needs to be a way to pay for it.


Ubiquity is a funny word.  Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines it as "presence everywhere or in many places especially simultaneously."  Random House Dictionary describes it as "the state or capacity of being everywhere, especially at the same time."  Simple enough right?  Well, hang on -- there's more to it.

The book's chapter titles are also rather entertaining:

  1. Space Aliens, Pop Culture and What Happens after Convergence - A Conversation with Henry Jenkins
  2. Informative TV
  3. From Star Trek to Paranormal Activity - A Conversation with Amy Reinhard
  4. Ubiquitous TV
  5. Your TV Won't Change, but Everything Else Will - A Conversation with David Poltrack
  6. Personal TV
  7. The Implications of our Digital Future - A Conversation with Senator Stephen Conroy
  8. Social TV
  9. Being Bullish on TV -  A Conversation with Jeffrey Cole
  10. Conclusion - What Is the Future of the Future?

Despite being humorously bad at points, it's hard to completely write off the effort.  It did offer some decent interviews and explanations, if you dug through the overly verbose filler.  And given that consumers seem pretty apathetic on the topic of internet TV, maybe Intel has fair cause to start rattling the old propaganda machine.

Nonetheless, we're not sure if this book could be accurately described as a "$30 value", much less be a compelling buy at the $25 USD it currently commands on -- even with the eye-catching bonus Intel "Smart TV" bookmark that came included with the book, blowing Intel's attempt at advertising subtlety.

III. Ford Transit Connect EV Update

Ford's big electric cargo van, the Transit Connect EV seems to be doing decently.  We received an update at the show from a Ford representative concerning the vehicle -- Ford's first commercial EV.

As far as vehicle volume, Ford states, "For volume we're thinking at least tentatively around 1,000 units a year.  But we're definitely to quota based on customer demand.  We've got to monitor it and see where it goes."

Initial customers include, "AT&T; Southern California Edison; New York Power Authority, another utility company; the Canada Post; the (U.S.) House of Representatives bought one..." The company says it's working with "several" other firms who are "very interested" in the vehicle.  

Ford says it plans on shifting to "larger production runs" in April.  The vehicle shell will still be produced in Turkey to save on tooling costs.  It will then be shipped to Michigan, where the internals will be added, completing the assembly process.  The Ford representative denied rumors that the shell production would shift to a U.S. plant, saying it makes sense for Ford financially to continue to produce the body overseas.

Interestingly, the vehicle has no "miles per gallon" (equivalent) rating yet, thanks to the government's inability to reach a decision about how to judge large business-geared EVs.  While smaller consumer EV sedans (such as the Volt) have seen official U.S. Environmental Protection Agency MPG ratings, the Connect EV remains a big question mark.  That's a bit bad for Ford, which wants a good MPG rating to help it meet upcoming CAFE standards

III.  iBuyPower & NXZT

At the iBuyPower suite we were shown the snazzy new "Erebus" high-end desktop PC.  Sporting an i7 Extreme series Sandy Bridge CPU and tri-SLI GeForce 580 GTX graphics, the machine would be in for a world of thermal hurt if it weren't for its dedicated liquid cooling.

The cooling extends to the GPUs, CPU, and chipset.  Thankfully the DDR3 RAM was not liquid cooled -- saving customers from that utterly unnecessary exercise in extravagance, which some vendors try to sell (in truth DDR3 RAM generally doesn't get hot enough to justify liquid cooling in a properly air-cooled case).

The CPU was reportedly running in the mid 5 GHz range and surely sucking in a ridiculous amount of power from the system's dual power supplies.  The system, co-designed with NZXT is the company's first attempt at liquid cooling the GPUs, according to the company's spokespeople.  The unit is prospectively priced at around $5,000-$6,000 USD in the configuration we mentioned, or about "the down payment on a pretty nice car" as one representative quipped.

If the Erebus is a bit out of your price range, iBuyPower was also showing off its third generation Paladin XLC.  Like the previous generations, the desktop's internals come packed inside one of the popular NZXT Phantom cases, which are offered in red, black, or white.  Systems range from just over $1,000 USD to more than $4,000 USD.  Expect i-Series Intel CPUs inside with varying grades of CPUs and graphics cards, depending on your chosen cost point.

IV.  Honeycomb is Live!

The tablet-geared Android 3.0 Honeycomb is coming and some vendors were showing off early builds of these tablets at the 2011 CES.  The OS looks slick, as expected.  Expect to see a few twists on the traditional camera/connector popping up in these models, which should offer users further temptation to enlist in the quirky green robot army.

V.  Newegg in Danger from Amazon?  Maybe not yet?

After speaking with several OEMs we were getting the impression that Amazon's aggressive pricing (and convenient tax status) was leading them to snatch large chunks of business away from Newegg.  Following up with a variety of other OEMs we found the situation to be more mixed.

While a few others reported that Amazon was near to taking the lead in shipments, or at least growing at a much faster pace (one business described that their Amazon sales grew by 400 percent over their last year), many said that Newegg remained a solid number one.  Some even went as far as to say Amazon was a distant third behind Newegg and number two TigerDirect.

Almost everyone agreed that Amazon was beating everyone on pricing, but the companies indicated that the company hadn't advanced as far in the world of hardware and custom PCs yet because it wasn't known for selling those kinds of items.  Newegg and TigerDirect thus appear to be clinging to large chunks of sales, thanks to their veteran industry image.

VI.  Fusion is Alive -- So is Bulldozer!

We spoke with an unnamed OEM who swore to us that their AMD contacts had promised Bulldozer chip samples by April and a launch to market around late Summer.  We had feared far worse for AMD's Sandy Bridge competitor, which had been noticeably absent from the show in physical form.

Also, we were told by another source that Fusion's spec launch wasn't vaporware and than within a few months you'll see Fusion SoC based notebooks from major players.  Granted, not everyone indicated they would be making Fusion-based products (one company we spoke to said they were producing 60+ new notebook models this year, but were unlikely to produce a Fusion-based design), but again, like Bulldozer, at least the Bobcat based Fusion isn't quite as vaporous as it initially seemed (for lack of demoed hardware on the floor or behind closed doors).

We figured as much, given that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer seemed so hot on Fusion at his keynote.  Then again, we had to be sure, as Microsoft was pretty hot on Intel tablets last year, and those never materialized, as we all know.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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