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
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
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
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 Amazon.com -- 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
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
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
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
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
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.