Top tech trends at CES 2012

We put our blinkers on and strided down the Las Vegas strip towards CES, to stick or twist on the tech trends that will shake up 2012.

The annual CES show in Las Vegas is arguably the greatest gadget show on earth. Traditionally many of the biggest names in tech use it to launch their key products for the coming year.

CES 2012 may not have had one dominant theme in the way that 3D TVs stole the show in 2011, and tablets the year before, but there was still tonnes of interesting tech strewn across the ample exhibition space. Here's what we think were the key trends of the show.

OLED stole the show

Most definitely one of the stand-out technologies at the show this year was OLED TVs. This display technology is self-illuminating, so unlike LCD or LED TVs, OLED sets don't use a backlight. This means they can produce astoundingly deep black levels, which in turn helps them to deliver hugely impressive contrast performance. Colours are scorchingly bright too, and on the whole their pictures have a lot more visual impact.

Previous OLED TVs that have reached the market have only been available in very small screen sizes. However, this year both LG and Samsung showed off 55-inch models. Undoubtedly LG's 55EM960V was the most drool-inducing of the two. Its screen is incredibly slim, measuring a mere 4mm deep, while the bezel framing is just 1mm wide. It was so admired that it walked off with CNET's coveted Best of Show award.

The incredible slimness of the 55EM960V, which will be out in the UK in the second half of the year, took some of the sheen off Samsung's 55-inch Super OLED model, as it's slightly thicker at 8mm. Nevertheless, the fact that two companies were showing off OLED models suggests that the technology may soon be ready for the mainstream.

LG 55EM9600 TV

We weren't allowed to get any closer to LG's Best of Show OLED TV for fear of short-circuiting it with drool.

These new OLED screens won't come cheap though. LG wouldn't officially confirm a price for its set, but the word on the CES floor was that it would come in at around $8,000 (£5,222). However, that's cheap compared to LG's previous, tiny 15-inch OLED TV , which was priced at £1,500.

Smarter TVs

OLED wasn't the only exciting technology on show from the major TV manufacturers. This year is also set to be one where TVs get even smarter. Samsung was showing off a number of tellies with built-in cameras and microphones integrated into their remote controls.

This allow you to control the set using either hand gestures via the camera or by speaking voice commands into the remote's mic. For example, saying "hi TV" turns on the set, and you can then utter "web browser" to quickly go online.

LG has upgraded the wand controller that we first saw on some of last year's models. The new device includes a microphone for voice control and a scroll wheel to help make traversing the company's Netcast Smart TV platform quicker. LG also showed off an add-on Kinect-style camera that it says will allow you to play games or control the channel and volume changes on your TV just by waving your arms around in front of the telly.

Social media is going to play a bigger role on this year's TVs. Sony, Panasonic, LG and Samsung were all showing off improved Facebook and Twitter features. These allow you to view updates and tweets from your friends overlaid on the screen while watching TV shows. Panasonic also brought Justin Timberlake onstage to debut its Myspace TV app , which allows users to message each other in real-time as they watch a TV show, or to share links for other online content via their TV, smart phone or laptop.

And while Google TV may have got off to a shaky start, Google has managed to convince a few of the big-name companies to give it another try. Sony was showing off two boxes -- the NSZ-GP7 Network Media Player and NSZ-GP9 Blu-ray disc player -- that use version two of the Google TV software, while LG was demoing a TV running the same operating system. Sadly, the Google representative that we talked to said Google TV won't be reaching the UK until 2013 .

Sony NSZ-GP9

The big guns are giving Google TV tech another try, including this Sony NSZ-GP9 Blu-ray player.

Cars are becoming more connected

This year CES was invaded by six of the top 10 car companies, despite the fact that the Detroit motor show was running during the same week. That goes some way towards indicating just how serious car companies are getting about in-car tech.

Audi , Mercedes and Kia were showing off sci-fi style head-up display systems that overlay graphics and text on a normal windscreen. They can be used to show you the nearest car park or to pop up information about businesses, entertainment and tourist spots nearby.

Driver aids were also a big deal this year. For example, Kia said it will be adding cameras and motion sensing technology to some models. This will allow the cars to monitor the driver and detect their mood. If they're getting agitated or distracted it can reduce the amount of information shown on the car's virtual dash. If it detects that they might be starting to feel tired they'll encourage the driver to take a break.

And you don't have to buy a brand new car to be able to experience these new types of driver aids. A company called Pickitup was demoing its iOnRoad Android app , which acts as a driving assistant. You simply mount your phone on the windscreen with its camera facing towards the road. The app will monitor traffic ahead and warn you if you're approaching another car at too high a closing rate or if you're drifting between lanes.

iOnRoad Android app

The iOnRoad Android app will help you avoid collisions by monitoring traffic in front of you -- useful for when you get overwhelmed by the glut of car tech hitting your cabin.

Ford was getting in on the action too. It showed off an updated version of its Sync Destination system, which is a satnav app for Android and iOS devices that can be controlled via voice. Just tell it the destination you want to travel to and it'll guide you along the route. It forms part of Ford's overall Sync system that allows iOS and Android devices to be controlled both by voice and the buttons on the car's steering wheel.

Sync can also be used for other stuff. For example, it can read out text messages, control music like Pandora Radio by voice, and even call the emergency services automatically if it detects an airbag has been deployed.

Ultrabooks point the way forward for laptops

Another hot topic at the show was ultrabooks . This is the moniker that Intel is applying to new thin and light laptops. To be classed as an ultrabook a laptop must be less than 21mm thick, weigh in at under 1.4kg, have 5 hours or longer of battery life and use one of Intel's new ultra-low voltage processors.

However, initially Intel seems to be waiving some of the weight and thickness restrictions on the first generation of products. Some of the ultrabooks on show weren't quite as thin and light as expected. HP's Envy 14 Spectre and Samsung's Series 9 didn't look any different to a normal notebook, in fact.

Nevertheless, there were some other exciting models on show, including Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga , which has a screen that can be flipped 360 degrees to turn it into a tablet. It's only 17mm thick, but a tad heavy at 1.47kg. LG was also getting in on the ultrabook action with its Z330, a sexy silver-clad machine that has a 13-inch screen. It's pretty thin, measuring just 14.7mm thick.

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga

The flexible Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga's screen can be flipped 360 degrees, transforming it from laptop to tablet.

At the cheaper end of the market, HP has its Folio 13 , which is expect to come in at under £600. It's slightly thicker at 18mm, but it'll be powered by a fairly speedy Core i5 processor. There are plenty of ultrabooks to come too, as Intel said that it expects 75 ultrabook models to be on the market by the end of the year.

Conclusion

Some may say this wasn't a vintage year at CES. Roaming the stands on the show floor, it's still the best place to be if you want a preview of the products that are going to make an impact throughout the year, especially in home cinema and laptops.

While there's plenty to look forward to when it comes to this year's TVs, car tech and laptop technology, the consumer tech market has changed enormously in the last few years. Tablets and especially smart phones are now the most popular products around. They have their own show -- Mobile World Congress in February -- where we're sure to see far more of the mobile products that will make a splash in the UK in 2012. We can't wait.

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Gadgets
About the author

Niall has been writing about technology for over 10 years, working for the UK's most prestigious newspapers, magazines and websites in the process. What he doesn't know about TVs and laptops isn't worth worrying about. It's a little known fact that if you stacked all the TVs and laptops he has ever reviewed on top of each other, the pile would reach all the way to the moon and back four times.

 

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