As we head into CES 2011, it's time to take a look at where 2010's most notable award-winners and headline-grabbers are at.
Then: Panasonic's 3D Plasma HDTV won CNET's Best of CES Award, namely for being one of the first to offer a 1080p 3D picture, and for including a pair of glasses.
Now: Almost a year later, the jury is still out on whether or not 3D is a must-have feature. But there's no debate as to whether the the TC-PVT25 is an excellent television: it was one of only two TVs to earn the CNET Editors' Choice award in 2010.
Bottom line: "With both 2D and 3D sources, Panasonic's flagship TC-PVT20/25 series plasma TV delivers outstanding overall picture quality."
Then: CNET's laptops editors nominated Intel Wireless Display for one of the best products at CES, and it ended up winning the People's Voice award. Making it easy to wirelessly transmit 720p video and audio to a nearby TV, the technology seemed like a promising way for those using laptops in the living room to finally cut the cord and enjoy Hulu on a big screen.
Now: Intel Wireless Display has made its way into a number of laptops, but certainly not the majority. One continued annoyance: it requires a $99 box to display the AV signal on a TV, and that accessory still hasn't dropped in price--nor has the technology been built into any TVs, Blu-ray players, or Roku-style boxes. Meanwhile, a number of competing technologies have stolen Wi-Di's thunder a bit, including game consoles with Netflix and Hulu, TVs with Internet widgets, and a variety of set-top boxes and Blu-ray players. Still, Wi-Di remains the most versatile and self-contained way of streaming your laptop's video to a TV--and unlike the browsers built into Google TV and Boxee, the content can't be blocked.
Then: "Ford radically redesigned its cabin tech interface while at the same time adding new features and completely revamping its navigation systems, branding the whole shebang as MyFord."
Now: Ford sales are on a roll. There are a variety of reasons, to be sure--it was the only American automaker to turn down a government bailout--but the inclusion of the MyFord Touch technology in the full range of Ford vehicles has been a huge factor in distinguishing them competing models in the same price range.
Then: Motorola's flip-up, keyboarded Android smartphone was seen as one of the best of a rising batch of Android devices. "Another unique feature of the Backflip is the trackpad, which Moto calls Backtrack, located on the back of the display (when the phone is open)," said CNET's Bonnie Cha.
Now: The Backflip came out early in 2010 to mixed reviews. With its release overshadowed by the Nexus One (which was announced during CES, but not at CES) and a slew of other, better Android phones, the Backflip quickly became an afterthought in a smartphone-saturated market, and at the end of the year it's hardly mentioned in any best-of-the-year phone roundups. Still, that touch pad was an interesting idea.
Bottom line:"As AT&T's first Android phone, the Motorola Backflip offers a unique design but it's rather lackluster in the features and performance department. It's a decent choice if you're upgrading from a feature phone, but anyone looking for speed and power should look elsewhere."
Then: It seemed like a great idea at the time...why not combine everything that was great about a tablet and a laptop into one convertible device? The U1 concept laptop's top screen had its own CPU, battery, and Skylight operating system, and when docked to the base became a full-fledged laptop. Its design was eye-catching, too.
Now: The U1 never saw the light of day, although it may be revived in 2011. Like any concept device, its practicality suffers--and Lenovo dropped Skylight OS development earlier this year. And yet, the U1 remains a prescient idea. Conceived before the iPad and before tablets took off in 2010, Lenovo's idea could still be a great one if executed properly, and paired with a high-quality tablet and laptop.
Then: The size and power of the diminutive 11.6-inch Alienware M11x gaming laptop blew us away, and seemed like one of the truly original laptop concepts at CES 2010.
Now: We gave four-star reviews to both Alienware M11x configurations we tested in 2010, and still recommend them highly for anyone looking for a unique mix of higher-end graphics and a low-voltage CPU in a tiny, highly portable frame. Plus, these tiny laptops boast surprisingly powerful speakers. In the 11.6-inch laptop landscape, there's nothing like them.
Bottom line:"With its fusion of a low-voltage processor and high-end graphics, the 11.6-inch Alienware M11x is a unique and extremely compact hybrid gaming laptop with a few compromises for its size."
Then: Being able to rip CDs onto the BD590's included hard drive may seem like an outmoded way to enjoy music, but for those with large physical collections and a living room with great speakers, the BD590 presented a great all-in-one device that stood out from the competition.
Now: Blu-ray players have focused more on set-top-box features and Internet widgets such as Hulu Plus and Netflix, but the BD590 still stands alone for its added CD ripping and hard drive. With Blu-ray players becoming more commoditized, manufacturers will continue to need these sort of bells and whistles to distinguish high-end models--and to justify their higher prices.
Bottom line: "The LG BD590 deftly handles Blu-ray playback, CD ripping, and streaming media services like Netflix from a single box, but you'll have to pay for that simplicity."
Then: "Tenrehte Technologies has a grassroots vision for the smart grid. Instead of relying on a utility-installed smart meter to help consumers ratchet down their electricity bills, the Rochester, N.Y.-based start-up is building Wi-Fi-enabled smart plugs. A few strategically placed smart plugs, called a Picowatt, will provide many of the benefits promised to consumers by the smart grid, including a real-time read-out of electricity usage and the ability to control appliances from a central point." Read the rest of our CES 2010 coverage.
Now: Consumers still can't get their hands on these smart plugs, although they've apparently been available to business customers.
Then: a re-engineered improvement on wireless Eye-Fi SD cards for cameras, the Pro X2 excited for its faster speeds, ability to wirelessly send photos to multiple locations, and its automatic erasure of old photo files off the card once they've been uploaded, freeing up space.
Now: Eye-Fi cards are still a great way to enable a camera to connect to the internet for instant uploading, but ever-faster and more capable smartphones with better cameras and faster 4G network connectivity are proving just as viable a solution for those not concerned with image quality. The X2 remains a top choice for its expanding network of compatible free Wi-Fi hot spots and geotagging features.
Then: The Valups Tivit was touted as one of the first set of devices that would enable reception of Mobile DTV, a mostly free digital TV standard designed to deliver over-the-air (OTA) digital television to mobile devices (existing OTA transmissions often don't work well for receivers that are in motion). The Tivit was basically a "video Mi-Fi"--it would receive the MDTV signals and then beam them to an iPhone or iPod Touch via Wi-Fi, where they could be viewed using a free app.
Now: Another (mostly) vaporware device. The Tivit was redubbed the Tivizen, but it never really appeared for sale in the U.S. That said, it's apparently alive and well in Japan, and the iOS appis available. We expect to see similar devices at CES 2011, now that MDTV broadcasts are actually ramping up.
Then: CES 2010 was flooded with tablets, but it was equally beset with "smartbook" prototypes. Essentially thinner, smaller Netbooks with non-Windows operating systems and cellular data contracts, one of the more highly-profiled ones last year was the Lenovo Skylight, which had its own cloud-connected apps.
Now: Smartbooks have vanished, in part because of the success of the iPad and the growth in Android phones and tablets. Perhaps they're not gone forever, though: after all, Google Chrome essentially has the same model for cloud-based apps that Skylight did. Stay tuned...
Then: Armed with the guts of the PlayStation 3, the Cell processor-equipped ultra-premium Toshiba Cell TV promised processing power "ten times faster than an Intel Core 2 Duo chip found in desktop PCs." An included 1TB hard drive, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Blu-ray player would enable fast ripping, DLNA streaming, and even video conferencing.
Now: Cell TV is vaporware, with no actual product on the horizon. But some of these features--such as built-in Wi-Fi and videoconferencing--are already appearing on certain TV models.