Consumer Electronics Show and Macworld

By van Horn, Royal | Phi Delta Kappan, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Consumer Electronics Show and Macworld


van Horn, Royal, Phi Delta Kappan


THE CONSUMER Electronics Show (CES) and Macworld, both held in January, are always a rich source of information about where the electronics industry is headed. Based on this year's shows, it appears that the future will be wireless, thin, high-definition, and chic.

One of the annual events at CES is the "last gadget standing," an informal contest sponsored by Yahoo. The winner of this year's competition was the Eye-Fi wireless SD (secure digital) card. The Eye-Fi card is a two-GB memory card with a built-in wireless Wi-Fi transmitter. With the software included, you can wirelessly transfer photos to your computer or even to an Internet photo-sharing site. The card is available from Wal-Mart and other retailers for about $100.

Speaking of wireless, several new technologies are becoming available that can help eliminate wires. Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 has become the ubiquitous standard for computer interfaces. Now, there is Wireless USB. Wireless USB is essentially an "in-room" technology that creates a wireless interface between devices over a distance from 3 to 10 meters. At 3 meters, the data transfer rate is as high as 480 Mbps (megabits per second). At 10 meters, the transfer rate drops to 110 Mbps. These rates make it possible to connect printers and other peripherals and transfer photos and music, but they are not fast enough to transmit high-resolution video very well. If you hate wires, the under-$50 price tag is appealing. However, you will need an adapter for every device.

Recently an industry trade group formed called Certified Wireless USB. The group has an informative website at www.usb.org. Of course, before you buy any Wireless USB devices, it is wise to be sure the company has drivers for your computer's operating system and for your printers. Recent reports have come in that drivers are slow in coming for Microsoft Windows Vista.

Another industry trade group dedicated to developing wireless networks capable of streaming high-definition video and surround sound is called WirelessHD (WiHD). Members of the group include LG Electronics, Matsushita, NEC, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba. If you want to beam high-definition video (HDTV) with surround sound all through the house--something I have wanted to do for years--things get tricky. Beaming four streams of HDTV is ideal, since different people in different rooms could then watch different programming. But unlike Web browsing and other wireless uses, even small interruptions in a video stream are objectionable. This means that the gear used must have what is known as a QoS (quality of service) function that guarantees a certain throughput. By comparison to Wireless USB, WirelessHD has data transfer rates of between 2 and 5 Gbps (gigabits per second). WiHD is definitely an "in-room" technology, but that may be a benefit. You won't be beaming your video around the neighborhood.

If you are interested in learning more about WirelessHD, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org) has good explanations and comparisons of various approaches. I suspect that, by the end of 2008, both Wireless USB and WirelessHD will have become common.

They say that "thin is in," and in the IT world, thin was readily apparent at this year's shows. For example, LG previewed a super-thin 42" LCD HDTV that is only 1.7" thick. Not to be outdone, Sony unveiled an 11" television that is only 3 mm thick. Sony's super-thin TV uses an OLED (organic light emitting diode), a technology that requires very little power. By contrast, LCD and plasma displays consume a lot of electricity, so OLED is a step toward "greener" displays.

The ASUS Eee PC is a sub-notebook or ultra-compact PC that has received a lot of attention at CES and in the tech press. The Eee is the size of a hardback book and has a 7" diagonal screen with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. A distinguishing feature of the Eee is that it uses memory chips instead of a hard drive. …

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