Televisions enhanced with direct internet access and 3D displays will be among the most anticipated products unveiled when the world’s biggest annual technology showcase kicks off in Las Vegas on Thursday.
This year could see a revolution in televisions on high street sale as they converge with the web, allowing viewers to watch services such as the BBC’s iPlayer and YouTube more conveniently.
Manufacturers including Sony, Panasonic and LG are expected to launch sets with a broad range of new capabilities at the Consumer Electronics Show, including High Definition TV (HDTV) screens with the internet telephony service Skype built in, so people can use their TVs for video chats with friends and family anywhere in the world.
The BBC launched a limited trial last month of the iPlayer on some high definition Freesat boxes – the free-to-air satellite service is increasingly integrated into TVs – and is anticipating even more viewers being online when the next generation of sets emerges.
There is a scramble to profit on the hype surrounding 3D after cinema hits Avatar and Up. A number of companies will be debuting their attempts at high-quality 3D screens. The Discovery Channel could even announce plans to launch a 3D TV channel next year.
The Las Vegas show is where the world’s most powerful electronics brands fight for top billing: launches in the past include the DVD, the Xbox games console and the puzzle game Tetris.
Last night’s launch of the Nexus One phone – Google’s rival to Apple’s iPhone – sought to upstage the start of CES and the next big moment will come tomorrow night with a keynote speech from Microsoft’s forceful chief executive, Steve Ballmer.
The company has opened CES in the past by outlining a vision of where Microsoft believes the future is headed. Two years ago billionaire founder Bill Gates demonstrated a table with a built-in touch sensitive computer, the Surface, while last year Ballmer showed off Windows 7.
Announcements likely this year include new mobile phones, concepts for home entertainment – perhaps even a launch date for Project Natal, the motion-sensitive video gaming system unveiled last summer. Whatever Ballmer has up his sleeve, he will have to compete with announcements from rivals such as Sony, Samsung, and Google.
Microsoft is not alone in looking for wow factor. Others include Nokia, the beleaguered mobile phone maker whose chief executive, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, will attempt to excite Friday’s crowds with a new slate of gadgets. Alan Mulally, boss of car maker Ford, is expected to show off hi-tech concepts aimed at changing the future of driving.
“We expect them to say something fairly significant,” said Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, which organises the show. “They are positioning themselves as a tech company rather than a car company.”
It is on the show’s extensive floors that most surprises are likely. With more than 2,500 exhibitors and acres of floor space, weird and wonderful ideas have plenty of room to thrive. Exploding on the scene this year are tablet computers – touchscreen devices pitched between a laptop and a mobile phone. With Apple – which is not at CES itself – set to make an announcement later this month, rivals are hoping they can break into the market. Among these is Freescale, a US company which has announceda machine combining tablet and smartbook features. “We believe the tablet will emerge as a popular form factor for the next generation of smartbooks,” said Henri Richard of Freescale