Zooming In: 2011 CES, the Unusual and the Innovative

Zooming In: 2011 CES, the Unusual and the Innovative


Last year I skipped CES. The economy was gloomy, and I just could not face the prospect of dragging my weary feet around miles of depressing halls. Not so this year. I jumped into the Murano and took the scenic high desert route from LA to Vegas, and after check-in I headed for Digital Experience, Pepcom’s excellent preshow extravaganza. Free food and liquids, what’s not to like?

Owned and produced by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the 2011 International CES was kicked off by Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA. During his opening keynote address, Shapiro said CES is the world’s most important tech gathering and the products and services at the show demonstrate how innovation is the engine for our global economy. Let’s hope so!

In fact, more than 2,700 tech companies were there, including the usual suspects—Kodak, Samsung, Casio, General Imaging, Texas Instruments, Sony, etc., but one company that caught my eye was MicroVision. It has made great progress in miniaturizing pico projector modules to the point that they now fit into cameraphones, laptops, etc. They use a three-laser solution and finally have a green laser as small as the other two colors (red and blue), and depend on a single, maniacally moving mirror. 

TI’s DLP system, however, can use several types of light source, and it depends on a chip containing a rectangular array of up to 2 million hinge-mounted microscopic mirrors; each of which measures less than one-fifth the width of a human hair and can switch on and off up to several thousand times per second. The mind boggles at the thought of the durability of these mirrors over the lifetime of the product. 

You will read about the big names elsewhere in this issue, so I’ll give you a peek at some of the less-publicized players in the imaging arena.

Let’s start with Aigo from Beijing (pronounced “I go”). They are very active in Europe, even sponsoring a grand prix racecar team, and they are about to get rolling in the U.S., based in Los Angeles. Aigo is pinning part of its hopes on a modern version of ancient Chinese porcelain-ware that covers their “GeYao” camera and digital photo frame. The camera has a 12MP CCD sensor, a 3x optical zoom and a 2.7-inch LCD. It would seem to belong in the $100 or so retail category, yes? Wrong! Try $1,999. It seems that in China a gift like this (every camera has a unique network of cracks covering it) is much admired, so Aigo has sold 12,000 units (so far) of the 20,000 production run at $1,999 retail. Their 8-inch digital frame sells for $399. Let’s hope they’re both all they’re cracked up to be!

I have untold thousands of color slides at home, all in slide trays (straight European ones) and all unseen for several years. German slide-projector company Carl Braun was working on a multi-mag projector that, instead of throwing images onto a screen, digitizes them for display on a monitor or HDTV set. It seems that they sold the idea to Enna who in turn passed it on to Reflecta, who now sells it as the Reflecta DigitDia 5000 + SilverFast Ai 6.6 IT-8 in Germany for a measly (!) 1259 Euros, or only $1,700. You can find simpler but far cheaper digitizers at www.eu3c.com, especially a new 9MB model with stack feeder that is alas not yet on their website. You only need to digitize to 2MB for current HDTV sets and monitors, but the next-gen HDTV sets will be four times as sharp, so 9MB will fit nicely.

Which brings us to the subject of 3D HDTV viewing, perhaps the biggest event at CES. By definition, every current HDTV 3D system depends on having each of our eyes seeing the image from a different viewpoint, and they do this by making us don special glasses. Every time I do so, the image dims considerably. Silly question: why can’t such TV sets have a “double brightness” mode to offset the light loss the glasses impose (at least the LED ones)? Anyway I’m still enthralled by my new 1080p LED edge-lit 46-inch HDTV in 2D. I hooked up a spare set of computer speakers I had (two mid-range and one woofer) and the sound improved noticeably at zero marginal cost. The SD card slot in my Blu-ray player does a great job at moving my digicam images onto the big screen.

Nostalgia buffs will have noticed that Lady Gaga is now the promotional face of Polaroid and that The Impossible Project has resurrected Polaroid films, while their spin-off ZINK has a new tiny printer for 3×4-inch prints from digital sources. You might remember that Polaroid instant cameras feed light into the front of the print, thus requiring one mirror and hence allowing for small form factors. In an attempt to bypass Polaroid patents, Kodak (years ago) fed their lightpath into the back of the print, thus necessitating either two mirrors or none at all, and cameras with a larger form factor. Fujifilm uses the Kodak logic, and thus its instant cameras have a different “look” to Polaroid’s.

Here endeth the sermon.