Last year's big technological development flopped in stores, and TV makers got the message, but will this year be any different?
Rory Carroll is at the Consumer Electronics Show for the Guardian, taking notes and photos about the most talked-about products at the tech jamboree.
Here’s Rory’s latest dispatch:
No CES is complete without a funeral.
New technologies dominate attention, not unlike crying babies, but the expo is just as notable for the technologies which appear to gasp, wheeze and die.
Many in Las Vegas agree that this year’s biggest tombstone is for 3D. Last year’s big thing, the great hope for TV makers desperate to boost sales, flopped in stores. Too expensive, too annoying, too limited, whatever the reasons, manufacturers got the message and switched to developing sharper “ultra HD” 2D screens.
Compared to last year, when you seemed to be offered 3D shades for every presentation, TV-related or not, this year only a few bothered. “Dead, dead, dead. Dead,” said one buyer at ShowStoppers, a sideshow event held across from the convention centre.
But just like Freddy Kreuger, 3D TV never quite dies. LG signalled a possible future resurrection with curved 3D OLED TVs. The wall of screen panels which greeted visitors to its exhibition was, I have to say, spectacular. Multicoloured planets and spaceships swooped so realistically I almost ducked, feeling rather like the Lumiere brothers’ audience which supposedly panicked upon seeing an oncoming train.
It didn’t get much attention but I was intrigued by a Philadephia-based company, StreamTV Networks, which showed off 3D without glasses which can be used for TVs, tablets, PCs and other displays.
Walther Roelen, a company engineer, said the technology had been waiting for ultra HD, which required fewer pixels. “Other companies misjudged the market. But if you do 3D right, it’s better than 2D.” StreamTV has sourced production to China and plans to be on the market by June, he said. He did not know much it would be priced.
My five-minute viewing left mixed impressions. The technology certainly works. My non-spectacled eyes watched dinosaurs charge out of the screen. But after five minutes I found it vaguely oppressive, a buzzing in my head. Don’t read too much into that. After 10 hours on your feet most things are oppressive. And maybe it was just a physical tic, a feeling I ought to have had glasses, if only so I could take them off. The public will soon have chance to judge for itself.
Desktop 3D printing, which caused a big buzz in recent years, took another step to maturity with MakerBot’s Replicator 2X, which gives two colours, not just one, and uses a different type of plastic, ABS, rather than the PLA used by the Replicator 2.
Wow. As a non-techie I don’t usually have need to write sentences like that. I digress. To the uninitiated, think of 3D printing as a microwave-size device which contains a robot arm with a glue gun. It makes stuff, layer by layer, out of plastic. All sorts of stuff. Sculptures, instruments, widgets, toys, spare parts. Whatever you want it to make, in theory, it can make.
The new Replicator is a big, big deal, MakerBot’s evangelical CEO Bre Pettis, assured me. “It’s a beautiful machine. We’re very proud of it. Our goal is to change the world and blaze a trail into the next industrial revolution.”
A 3D printer ($27,999 for the 2X, $21,999 for the 2) can do that, he said, by letting engineers, architects and designers have their own personal little factory sitting on a desk. “As more people get MakerBot they’ll be more in control of the things they need to manufacture stuff.” The company just published a book, Getting Started with MakerBot, for this brave new world.
With so much focus on services and apps there was something infectious about Pettis’s enthusiasm about physical creation. Whether 3D printing will march towards a glorious destiny I don’t know, but you can imagine Charles Babbage’s ghost cheering it on.
Previous journals and more:
* Wireless watches, ‘carrying systems’ … and Snooki
* Smartphones, phablets and forks
* Pebble rocks CES 2013 with launch of its wireless watch
* Channelling your inner Eastwood: CES 2013 offers brain-wave technology
* Tech Weekly Podcast: Rory Carroll reports from CES 2013 in Las Vegas