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IFA 2010: What We Will See Here, and What We Probably Won’t

Picture a consumer electronics trade show that occupies more or less the same floor space area as CES, but which is spread across 28 exhibit halls on grounds the size of a small college campus… so large that it has its own quad complete with a small lake in the middle… so large that you have to take a shuttle to get f

Picture a consumer electronics trade show that occupies more or less the same floor space area as CES, but which is spread across 28 exhibit halls on grounds the size of a small college campus… so large that it has its own quad complete with a small lake in the middle… so large that you have to take a shuttle to get from one hall to another.

This demo showed glasses-less 3D, if you ignore the glasses that this viewer clearly needed to see any picture!

Add to what you are used to seeing at CES in terms of exhibitors and add a large number of booths with major appliances and small home electronics products from coffee makers to vacuum cleaners.

Throw in having the whole thing open to the general public, such that the number of attendees tops 200,000 and then put it in Berlin, Germany. What will you have? IFA.

This technology demo used IR sensors to let consumers command a home automation system without touching the screen or having to hold any remotes. (The sensors are in the overhead panel.)
The 86-year-old Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin, known as IFA (“ee-FA”), held its 50th annual fair during the first week of September. Given the obvious focus on the European market in general and the German market in particular, many of the products are simply not applicable to the North American market, and we’ll not see them here. Similarly, the halls filled with what is known here as “majaps” or “white goods” are, for the most part outside our field of interest. However, taken as a whole there was much to see that presages what we’ll see here at CEDIA EXPO, as well as trends in general for the next eighteen to twenty four months.

3D Video Was Everywhere
It should come as no surprise that 3D was almost everywhere there was any sort of video source or screen. It’s a bit too early to tell what will eventually hit your installations after CEDIA, but IFA saw the first widespread showing of 3D front screen projectors from the likes of Sony, LG, Samsung and others. We’ll compare notes after CEDIA EXPO, but it was clear that virtually all of the consumer-esque front projectors used active glasses, as opposed to the passive polarized or color-shift glasses we are used to for theatrical front digital 3D front projection.

On the direct-view side of the display world, LG showed the “world’s largest 3D LCD”, a 72-inch model, at IFA, as well as a 31-inch OLED. It remains to be seen if, or when they will appear here. More likely to be sold here were 50- and 60-inch 3D plasmas from LG that are part of the new THX 3D display program. LG also showed a 23-inch 3D computer display, complete with external IR emitter and glasses, one of the smallest 3D displays so far. If your clients’ 3D gaming comes from laptops, there were 3D models from Toshiba and Sony, but again, pricing and introduction in the North American market is still uncertain.

LG showed a 31-inch OLED with 3D capability, but no market plans were announced.

Another interesting display from LG was their 16:4 “Stretched” LCD, designed for signage applications
While most LED-illuminated displays are edge-lit, IFA saw new models with full backlit LED arrays that make it possible to implement contrast enhancing and energy conserving features such as Samsung with what they claimed to be the “world’s largest LED backlit 3D LCD at 65 inches. Sharp took a different approach by using edge-mounted LEDs that concentrate the light energy into light beams that scroll from the top to the bottom of the screen in sync with the image to illuminate only the parts of the picture that are currently activated.

On-Board Content Services
Additional new models were shown by the other major brands, including Panasonic, Sony, and Toshiba that included on-board content services. Given the geographically controlled nature of most streaming video services, it is hard to say what will come to our market. However, serving up everything from Skype to a wide range of streaming services is certain to be a keystone feature of what shows up at CEDIA.

The 21:0 Display
Probably not destined for these shores soon, but worth noting was the latest version of Philips’ 21:9 display, a 58-inch, 3D wide-aspect ratio set that had an impressive, immersive image. Even wider, LG showed a 38-inch digital signage 16:4 aspect ratio with 1920 x 502 resolution. Not quite the thing for a home theater, but interesting for some commercial applications.

3D Without the Glasses
When talking about 3D displays, the discussion inevitably turns to “When will we be able to have 3D without the damn glasses!” It seems as though we’ll be stuck with glasses for a while, but it was at least encouraging to see a few demonstrations of auto stereoscopic 3D at IFA. Philips showed technology they originally funded that is now being licensed and developed by a spin-off, initially for digital signage and public information applications. Samsung had an improved version of the “no glasses 3D’ demo shown at CES, and perhaps the best of the three was from Fraunhofer, a technology incubator perhaps best known for their role in the development of MP3.

Gesture-based Control
Another novel concept from Fraunhofer was a gesture-based control system for home automation that uses IR sensing to let a user simply point at a display screen to control system functions. Call it the whole house version of what you do with a Wii, Move, or Kinect console game application, but it is something that might prove interesting for places where a touch-panel or hard buttons won’t do the trick.

And Much, Much More
Of course, there was much, much more at IFA, and these are only the highlights. Trends already in the North American market were also in evidence at this Euro-centric show, including Soundbars and all-in-one systems with not only Blu-ray, but 3D Blu-ray. Tablets were on more than a few stands, most notably the Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy that will be in sale here before the end of the year.

As befits such a large show, we could go on, but having just come back its time to rest up, as next week it is off to Atlanta for yet another trade show, the all important CEDIA EXPO. See you there!