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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2002

5 cool technologies coming your way

Gannett News Service

If you think some of today's technology is neat, wait until you see what's on the way.

More than 100,000 industry watchers got a sneak peek at upcoming gadgets, gizmos and other gear at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which wrapped up recently in Las Vegas. Here is a glimpse of the hundreds of companies and thousands of products that dominated the 1.2-million square feet of exhibition space in five areas:

  • Televisions and video.
  • Mobile computing and communications.
  • Digital entertainment centers.
  • Digital imaging.
  • Satellite-based navigation and location systems.

Learn about some of the hottest emerging products in each category, when they will be available and how much they're supposed to cost. And find out how each product might change the way you live in 2002 and beyond.

1. TVs and video gear: Slim designs, low prices

Those sexy, thin television monitors have become even more eye-catching as they get both larger and smaller — and somewhat less expensive. Fujitsu, Panasonic, Samsung and Zenith, among others, plan to offer wide-screen plasma displays that stretch 60 inches diagonal and larger while staying less than 4 or 5 inches deep. (The most common plasma screen size today is 42 inches).

Philips is going the other way with a 32-inch plasma set, ready to hang on a wall or place on a pedestal, for $6,000; it's due out in July.

Consumers are looking for sets that are "flat, slim and wide," said Philips CEO Larry Blanford.

At the large end are Fujitsu's 61-inch plasma monitor for $25,000 (out this month) and Zenith's $20,000, 60-inch plasma screen TV (due by summer). Samsung showed what it calls the largest plasma screen, at 63 inches, for $25,000 (due by June), and a 40-inch flat monitor that uses a liquid-crystal display, or LCD, like a giant laptop screen (about $12,000, targeted for summer).

Those prices may seem stratospheric, but some typical 42-inch flat screen sets have been inching down to less than $6,000, which makes them merely extravagant. Competition and manufacturing expertise are pushing costs down: "The technology has matured," said Daeje Chin, president of Samsung's digital media division.

The new TVs are not only thin. LCD TVs are so light that Sharp is adding handles to its Aquos LCD models so they can be carried from room to room.

The 30-inch, 45-pound wide-screen display (due in June, no price set) also can be mounted on a wall or placed on a stand. "We're giving them more options to put televisions in places they never thought of before," said Sharp's Bob Scaglione, such as placing it on a dresser in the bedroom.

Thin isn't just for TV monitors; components are going flat, too. Panasonic has two DVD players ($349-$399) and a matching receiver ($599), due this summer, that are only 1.7 inches high each. Both DVD units play discs with MP3 and Windows Media music files. "People are running out of space," said Panasonic's Mike Aguilar. "Thin products are an answer."

2. Wireless gear: Multimedia in your pocket

The "third-generation" wireless services, which promise new multimedia experiences via cell phone, have been slow to appear.

Nonetheless, Sprint chose CES to demonstrate its 3G network, sporting blazing broadband speeds of up to 144 Kbps. Sprint CEO William Esrey flaunted a nifty 3G phone from Sanyo. It won't hit the market until 2003, but the Sanyo gives a glimpse of what's on the horizon for wireless gaming and streaming video, among other capabilities. The phone's colorful, vibrant 2 1/2-inch "organic" light display feels at home in neon Vegas and won't require the backlighting that typically drains batteries.

Among other gadgets that cut the cords:

  • Samsung is advancing the evolution of the handheld with its NEXiO, a small wireless PC with a 5-inch color liquid crystal display (LCD); it acts as a 3G cell phone, personal digital assistant (PDA) and wirelessly connected computer. Due out this summer in the United States (no price set), it runs on Windows CE, Microsoft's operating system for portable gadgets. The screen, larger than those of typical handhelds, allows for a mobile desktop viewing experience; it also serves as an e-Book, an MP3 player and a game-playing device.

  • Perhaps not as dramatic, ordinary cordless home phones also are migrating to a new generation. VTech and Uniden are among the first companies to announce phones that adhere to the newly available 5.8 gigahertz (GHz) frequency range, supposedly less prone to interference than today's 2.4GHz models. Coming in August, VTech's $179 VT 5831 has a four-line display and handset speakerphone.

3. Digital hubs: Manage movies, music

Now that you have so much digital entertainment in your home — from CDs to DVDs to MP3s — you probably need help organizing it all. And many companies want to help you out by selling you a single do-it-all box:

  • The latest brainchild from WebTV co-founder Steve Perlman is the Moxi Media Center, from his newly named start-up Moxi Digital. An all-in-one, broadband-capable set-top box, the Moxi combines a satellite receiver or digital cable box with a personal video recorder, CD/DVD player, digital music jukebox (holding roughly 6,000 tracks), Internet gateway and home media server.

    It will let you distribute recorded or live TV shows, music, pictures and games throughout the house without wires, by adding optional extension modules in other rooms. EchoStar, the first licensee, demonstrated a Moxi box for its Dish Network with two TV tuners (to watch one show while you record another), an 80-gigabyte hard drive, and speedy wireless networking capabilities. Moxi is expected out by year's end; pricing has not been set. (moxi.com)

  • Kenwood's Entre Entertainment Hub (just out, $1,500) has a 20-gigabyte hard drive with a built-in CD recorder, but it also links up with Kenwood DVD changers and receivers.

    Just load up to 400 discs in the changer and the Entre, which has a modem and Ethernet capability, will go onto the Web and get album or movie artwork and other information.

    Using an easy-to-manage onscreen interface, the Entre also plays Net radio stations and 60 channels of Sirius Satellite digital radio.

4. Digital imaging: Smaller, more mobile

Camcorder sales slipped in 2001, while those cute little Webcams people park on their PCs to send video over the Web shot up in sales. What's Sony, the top maker of camcorders, to do?

The company is turning its 2002 camcorder models into Webcams as well. Sony's six new models, due later this year (starting at $399), can shoot digital or analog video of those precious family events — and then plug into the USB port of your computer for Webcam features.

And Sony's dual-cam offers something no other Webcam can do: During Web video chat, press play on the camcorder to share video footage with your chat partner.

Other digital image-and-music news:

  • The folks at Minolta call the Dimage X the smallest, slimmest and lightest megapixel digital camera — and they're probably right. Out next month, the $399 unit is the size of a floppy disk (and at three-quarters of an inch, just a bit thicker). Image resolution is 2 megapixels. Why the radical, spy-like design?

    "We wanted to come up with something that could fit into people's pockets," said Minolta's Jon Sienkiewicz. Besides stills, the Dimage also can produce 35-second videos with sound.

  • Another stealth device is Panasonic's e-wear audio/video recorder (the SV-AV10, $499, due in March), a small, versatile gadget that records video (up to 30 minutes), shoots photos, plays MP3 music and records voices. The size of a deck of cards, the AV10 has a 2-inch LCD display and comes with a 64-megabyte memory card.

  • RCA and SonicBlue introduced new digital music players, the 10-gigabyte (GB) Lyra ($299) and the 20 GB Rio Riot ($399) respectively, to compete with Apple's iPod.

5. Navigation systems: Personal protection gear

Panic sets in. You're traipsing around town when you suddenly realize your child has wandered off.

But if you outfit your offspring with a special oversized wristwatch from Wherify Wireless, you may be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

With an assist from global positioning system satellites and a digital PCS nationwide wireless network, Wherify's GPS Personal Locator for Children lets you pinpoint your child's location within several feet. The adjustable, wide, 3.9 ounce watch, in purple or blue, is designed for 4- to 12-year-olds. Families can track a loved one in less than a minute, via maps on the Internet or by calling a toll-free number. The watch costs $399, with monthly fees of $24.95 to $39.95 (available in March; wherify.com).

  • The Pursuitrak system from Audiovox (available next month, $699) provides similar security for your car or truck. The vehicle tracking system informs car owners, via cell phone or e-mail, when their vehicle is moved about a half-mile. The system uses GPS to check the location every 30 minutes. Owners also can get an alert when someone drives the vehicle faster than a certain speed, which may be valuable to parents of teens.