CEATEC Exhibit 2009

Here is our report from the latest CEATEC show, which I went to here in Japan. It well outshone the rather muted 2009 Tokyo Games Show, in terms of offering exciting and innovative technologies. I don’t think anyone could fail to be amazed by some of the goodies on offer here.

The main focus was on 3D backlit LED TV’s.

CEATEC 2009-0574The models shown were all prototypes, but they should be available by the end of the year, or early in 2010. Displaying the 3D signal involves quickly alternating images intended for the left or right eye with a 240hz refresh rate (how often the picture is redrawn on the screen per second), though probably 120hz will do it. Existing TVs may well be able to show such signals. The displays on show were also using ‘backlit LED’s’, which makes very deep blacks and rich, natural, colours possible, qualities that before were giving plasmas the edge. LCD’s seem to have finally caught up longer- the quality to image  was incredible. Whilst conventional LCD’s rely on a florescent tube behind them to light, which must always be on all over them, even in parts of the image that should be black, these LED’s can be turned on only where and when they are needed, allowing for localised very deep blacks or vibrant highlights.

CEATEC 2009-0775 As for the 3D modes, unfortunately for the foreseeable future we’ll be wearing those silly polarised glasses to watch them, as even though screens can be made that ‘project’ 3D (see below), they are nowhere near as good yet and prohibitively expensive. The effect seems to work best for games but is interesting for movies- we’ll just have to see if and when it catches on for more ‘serious’ genres. I really enjoyed the experiences I had of it, despite the usual 20-minute+ wait I had to endure for what was often less than a minute of viewing. Sony had the edge here, with many screens available making for shorter lines. The fact that the PS3 will be able to output games and the right Blu-Ray movies in 3D in the near future may have something to do with this generosity.

If you have ever seen the Terminator experience at Disney Land, you will know what to expect, minus the dry ice. It is exciting, if ultimately a little tacky and I found that objects converging in the centre of the screen tended to break the effect and be seen in duplicate- acceptable for a game or cartoon, but not what you want for an engaging movie. Who knows, maybe it’s just my eyes, but I think such problems will need to be fixed if it is to become the norm. Yet norm it will surely be, just as colour TV replaced black and white. It is exciting to see such a future being born.

CEATEC 2009-0581 One of the most popular LCD’s was the Hitachi Cell Regza– capable of recording around 80 channels at once onto it’s spacious hard drive. Why anyone would want to is anyone’s guess, but it means you won’t miss a thing. Sony also showed a prototype of a very exciting 3D camera, utilising just one lens and a system for getting both eye’s images from it by capturing at a very fast rate very fast (240-frames per second!) and funneling the image into two, slightly offset captures, which provide a view for each eye. There was some footage filmed at a football game (that’s soccer, for my American-English speaking readers), which looked almost too good to be true. They also had a ‘comfort 3D` way of showing it, which relied on the 240-frames/second refresh and impressively was viewable without the glasses ion a smooth 2D- put on the specs and suddenly it’s 3D! I can’t be sure, but I think this system also had less of the annoying flaws than the other ones I saw there, probably this having something to do both with the lightening-fast refresh and Sony’s long experience with professional video cameras amongst all kinds of technologies.

CEATEC 2009-0618 Another kind of screen I saw there that excited me a lot, but which will probably take a lot longer to make it into our homes in any big way, was a ‘4k x 2k’ HD screen. At around 3656 × 2664, these have over four times the resolution of full-HD at a mere 1920×1080. The picture was unbelievably clear; you could look over it with your eyes and see incredible detail everywhere, much like a digital camera file. I am very interested in this, not only for video (which would need a large screen to be really appreciated), but also for photos. Photo slideshows at 1080p are no more than okay on a large screen, losing so much of their subtly in the relatively low resolution. If LCD screens are going to replace printing as a way to display photos, upping the resolution for larger screens is a must.

I was also impressed by one of Sony’s new ‘toys’- an adapter for a compact that swivels around, using face-detection and even smile detection to take snaps of friends at parties. Seeing it zoom, pan, tilt and actually find faces effectively was quite a sight. To an extent, it does actually work, though it seemed to confuse grimaces at having a camera see someone with an actual smile!

CEATEC 2009-0521 Meanwhile, in the realms of applied science fiction were some other devices that are being worked on, which were on display at the simultaneous ‘NICT’ (National Institute of Information and Communications) show. One was a 72-speaker surround sound system, featuring 3 suspended ‘metal balls’, each covered with mini-speakers that project the sound exactly the way it would sound from their angle on the instrument. Each speaker replayed a different instrument in the trio, which had all been recorded with 72 mikes. All quite a handful and hard to listen to critically in such a noisy environment, but I could tell that the soundstage was quite luscious and the sound amazingly lifelike (as you might expect). To power it all was a collection of amps and a massive hard-drive array to produce that 72-channel soundtrack. So much for my 7.1 set-up at home!

Next to this was a theatre showing the ‘Real 3D’ of a no-glasses needed 3D capture, which would have been made with around 70 cameras, each filming a particular angle of the scene so as to fully reproduce it later. Perhaps micro-cameras will facilitate this in the future; much the way microphones have become so automatic and unobtrusive. Who knows, but certainly one day this will be the way 3D is viewed. Unfortunately the price was to high for me- in this case of time, with a 45-minute wait required, and this after a ticket had been gotten elsewhere!

CEATEC 2009-0504 A little scary was this ‘intelligence amplifier’, which attaches various electrodes to the subject and increases the IQ by sending electricity to the appropriate brain-lobes. No, just kidding, it is actually a kind of scanner to research people’s brains or possibly diagnose problems by displaying the electrical activity on the screen. Still a little scary and giving people the ability to potentially see a bit more of you (i.e. your brain activity) than you might like, but perhaps another inevitable future tool, bringing many good possibilities along with it.

Probably the best-designed booth I went to was the wonderful NHK/JEITA ‘Broadcasting with New Experience ― Equipment from Analog to Digital’, a kind of living room museum experience. I showed typical (well, perhaps even ideal) Japanese living rooms from various decades, from the 1950’s up to today. It then moved into the 3D and 4K possibilities beyond, each shown in largish theatres, by the show’s standards at least. They concentrated on natural images, including some feed from a Japanese space probe surveying the moon with such cameras. A moving and rather a ‘Space Odyssey’ experience, complete with classical music to lend a sense of elegant drama to the new technologies that were so predominant at the show.

CEATEC 2009-0840 The last thing I came across was a small booth from Hong-Kong company ASTRI, who were demonstrating their portable projectors. At around 800×600 resolution and with a bright, RGB Led light, it was quite an effective little thing, certainly a more exciting way to make a presentation or slideshow than a small laptop screen, let alone a digital camera’s rear LCD. Seeing it on the wall, there was a lot of interference from the lights at the show, but they very nicely opened up a nearby cupboard to show how large and bright it can look in a darker space- and this on a black wall. They’ll be supplying them to manufacturers soon, along with some interesting-looking cell-phone CCD sensors (for digital cameras), some including stabilisation as well as the more common 5 mega-pixels and autofocus.

All in all, a fabulous show and I hope this report brings some of it home for you.

CEATEC 2009-0611  CEATEC 2009-0804    CEATEC 2009-0830

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