I'm just back from the annual Computex trade show in Taipei, where I got an inside look at what might be coming in consumer electronics in the next year.
The show, now in its 25th year, brings together Taiwan's huge electronics industry with commercial buyers from around the world. Many of the products on sale in stores near you probably have their roots in Taiwan, and a lot of those can be traced back to deals or relationships formed at Computex.
Like last year, the digitization of consumer electronics was a big theme, and looking at the products on display, it seems the industry hasn't come very far in a year. There were countless examples of existing hit products, such as digital music players, but some of the new products seen last year, such as portable media players and media extenders, aren't out of the gate yet.
So let's look at these products.
If you think of a portable media player as an iPod with video, then you've got the idea. One of the things holding these back is that most consumers don't have a ready source of video files to play on them. Copy protection stops you from transferring a DVD onto the embedded hard-disk drives, and about the only way you can get TV shows onto them is if you record them on your PC.
Philips Electronics thinks it has an answer. The company's latest reference design, which is an almost finished player available for companies to customize and put on sale, has a built-in tuner for DVB-T, the dominant digital terrestrial television format in Europe and most of Asia. With the addition of multiple digital TV channels, getting your own video onto the device won't be so important, the company said.
Media extenders are perhaps selling a little better than portable media players, but they still haven't really made it big. Yet for PC users, they're almost a natural addition to the living room set-up. These gadgets hook up to your home network and allow you to play media stored on the PC via your living room entertainment set-up. You can stream video onto your TV and MP3s into your stereo and run TV slide-shows from your PC photo album.
An additional bonus is that many support high-definition video, so you can route downloaded HD content onto an HDTV without having to wait for Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD players to appear.
Whether these will be successful this year remains to be seen, but the emergence of standards such as DLNA, which allows consumers to transfer protected content between devices, can only help their chances.
Even away from Computex, the month saw a host of new products. Here are what I think are some of the cooler ones:
BenQ storage products
Epson 9-ink printer
Epson has come up with a new ink-jet printing system that requires nine ink cartridges. In addition to the cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta and yellow colour inks, the system has four types of black ink. Who'd have thought? Different types of black! The basic black is user selectable to match the paper being used - either matte black or photo black - and then there are two additional inks, both of which are new: light-black and light-light-black. Epson says the new inks have different densities and can be utilized to get richer blacks and better contrast, especially in photos. There are four printers compatible with the system, one of which is aimed at consumers. The Epson Stylus Photo R2400 is a desktop model that can handle resolutions up to 5,760 dots per inch (dpi) by 1,440 dpi and borderless printing on paper up to the "Super B" size of 13 inches by 19 inches (33 cm by 48.2 cm). It went on sale worldwide from late May and costs $849.
Sony HD camcorder
Sharp 65-inch LCD TV
Are you ready for some serious channel surfing? Before the end of the year, Japan's Sharp plans to put on sale worldwide an LCD TV with a 65-inch (165 centimeter) screen. It can show high-definition TV at 1,080 lines and has a digital tuner and HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface). Sound good? Well, here are some numbers that might frighten or impress you: The LC-65GE1 weighs 58.5kg (128 pounds), it consumes 550 watts when in use, and it will cost ¥1,680,000 ($15,560). If you're still interested, then you might want to get your order in quickly. Sharp says it's going to be making about 300 sets per month for Japan and between 1,000 and 2,000 for international markets.
Sony PlayStation 3
Samsung flash disk
Samsung Electronics has developed a replacement for conventional hard-disk drives that is based on flash memory chips. The new 'disk' is faster than HDD, consumes less power and has a much higher resistance to shocks. But such products, though technically possible for years, haven't been commercially produced because flash memory works out per-byte much more expensive than hard-disk drive storage. So the big question is how much ... and it's one Samsung hasn't answered yet. It looks like Samsung will be targeting the industrial and military markets because of the disk's higher resistance to harsh environmental conditions and shock. It will be available in 2.5-inch and 1.8-inch form factors, so it can easily replace a conventional drive in a laptop. Commercial production is due in August.
R&D Corner: Samsung 40-inch OLED