3-D TV, Apple tablet, Google phone among next-generation devices on the way

The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show has started in Las Vegas as the electronics industry hopes to rebound from the recession with new high-tech offerings including 3D TVs.
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The 21st century may finally be starting, one decade late.

A raft of sci-fi-inspired gadgets and technologies are being announced this month, promising a future of 3-D television, super-smart phones and next-generation electronic tablets that wrap the features of a laptop and a digital book into one wafer-thin package.

If you think you've heard all this before, well, you have. Moviegoers were donning 3-D glasses in the 1950s, and legions of gee-whiz devices have come and gone, with little discernible improvement of the human condition.

What makes this month notable is the sheer number of pitches being shouted by tech and media giants ranging from Apple to Google to Sony to Discovery Communications, in the hope that recession-weary Americans are ready to start spending their discretionary income again. These corporate goliaths maintain large cash balances, enabling them to spend money on product development during downturns while smaller rivals struggle to stay afloat.

The buzz kicked off Tuesday with the rollout of Google's Nexus One smartphone, which marks the search-engine giant's first foray into hardware and represents a broadside aimed at Apple's popular iPhone.

A flurry of announcements is coming before the Thursday kickoff of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, the tech industry's annual bacchanalia of personal-jet-pack futurism and gadget fetishization. If these devices and technologies pan out, they may represent significant steps forward, rather than just refinements of existing technology.

Also on Tuesday, broadcasting giants ESPN and Discovery each said they will launch 3-D television networks; ESPN's this year, Discovery's in 2011. To create the unnamed 3-D channel, Silver Spring's Discovery is forming a joint venture with 3-D theater pioneer Imax and Sony, which makes cameras that film in 3-D.

Like "Avatar," the blockbuster film currently in theaters, programming on these two new channels would require special glasses to achieve the you-are-there benefit of 3-D.

Special glasses? To watch TV at home? Really?

"Consumers seem quite willing to put on glasses in a movie theater," Imax chief executive Richard Gelfond said in a conference call Tuesday. "We're going to create something compelling for consumers, and they're going to want to put on glasses."

Sony chief executive Howard Stringer envisioned 3-D TV without the need for glasses "in three to five years."

Set makers, such as Sony, hope 3-D programming will drive demand for new televisions in the same way that high-definition broadcasts pushed consumers to junk their old analog TVs. South Korea's LG Electronics, the world's second-biggest TV maker, said last month that it hopes to sell 400,000 3-D TVs this year and 3.4 million next year. Any manufacturer's 3-D set is likely to cost at least $3,000.

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