Gadgets go greener, thinner, and wireless at Ceatec

As the consumer technology expo in Tokyo wraps up, we look at themes among the highly imaginative prototypes and new products. Which will make it to the upcoming CES?

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
3 min read
Ceatec TVs
TVs galore at Ceatec 2008. Erica Ogg/CNET News

TOKYO--The Ceatec 2008 circus is packing up the tent, but it won't be long until we see many of these same gadgets again. As the Japanese consumer tech showcase winds down, let's take a look at the major themes of this year's show and look forward to what will make it to the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Although the show was a bit smaller this year, it's still the place to see highly imaginative prototypes, as well as get a glimpse of what will actually be on U.S. stores shelves in the coming year.

The most prevalent theme among the electronics giants: thin TVs. Just like at CES in Las Vegas, IFA in Berlin, and CEDIA Expo this year, they're jostling with each other in a race to see who can make the largest screen on the skinniest panel.

Sony continued to push its current 11-inch OLED TV model, the XEL-1, and showed the prototype 27-inch version. But the company also showed an even thinner prototype, whose display is a mere .3 millimeters thin.

But those are small. In larger TVs, Hitachi showed off a 15-millimeter LCD and a 35-millimeter plasma set (see picture), as did Sharp, which announced its new 23-millimeter thin Aquos XS (for "extra slim") model. Toshiba also lined up to show off a concept Regza that looks and leans like an oversize piece of mirrored glass.

Hitachi TV thin Ceatec
Hitachi's super-thin LCD. Erica Ogg/CNET News
Hitachi Ceatec plasma
A slim and trim plasma TV from Hitachi. Erica Ogg/CNET News

Many companies also showed new types of interfaces, such as gesture-based technology. Panasonic showed its connected-home concept, which included an impressive video wall. Users could theoretically call up an exercise program onto the wall, and a video of an instructor would appear and respond to users' movements. Hitachi showed digital signage technology that used human gestures to play games and create interactive advertisements.

Panasonic also tried its hand at reinventing the TV remote control. It showed the EZ Button Remote, which removes most buttons from the face and utilizes two touch pads instead. It seemed to impress the gadget guru panel assembled by Ceatec, which awarded the Best in Show prize to the prototype remote.

3D displays are gaining in popularity, and it's something we'll definitely see more of at CES. Thankfully, more than a few companies are showing 3D displays that don't require plastic 3D glasses to get the stereoscopic effect. KDDI, Pioneer, and NEC had prototypes of small 3D displays, ranging from 3 inches to more than 10 inches in size and meant for small portable gadgets.

While those are still in development, Panasonic showed its 3D home theater concept, which still requires the glasses but is arguably closer to becoming an actual product than the others. The system consists of a plasma TV, a Blu-ray Disc player, and 3.1-channel audio.

And for the first time, we saw lots of wireless high-def in action. Panasonic and Sony are using WirelessHD, which sends high-definition video signals without the need for HDMI cables between a TV and a video source. Hitachi did a demonstration using ultra-wideband technology, which uses a different part of the wireless spectrum to send video signals between devices. WirelessHD's solution is best for use in a single room of a house, while UWB can be used in an entire home.

Panasonic Ceatec gesture
Visitors to Panasonic's booth try out its gesture-control system. Erica Ogg/CNET News

It's been a couple years since this technology was first promised, and most of the hurdles have been overcome. At CES, we'll see even more gadget makers employing either WirelessHD or WHDI.

This year at Ceatec, an entire pavilion was dedicated to green IT companies and products for the first time, but you could stay on the main show floor and see big guys like Toshiba, Hitachi, Panasonic, and others demonstrating TVs with drastically reduced power consumption.

But in the green-tech pavilion, carmakers, battery manufacturers, and appliance companies showed that green technology is far from a fad.

"Component manufacturers are making an active push globally and showcasing many of their products here at Ceatec for the first time, making it inexcusable for any CE or appliance manufacturer to not go green," said Auri Rahimzadeh, of The Auri Group.

But the best part of Ceatec is that it's a hyper-relevant showcase. According to analyst Richard Doherty, director of The Envisioneering Group, about two out of three products shown here (with the exception of the wonderful assortment of cell phones) will be ready for the U.S. market during 2009.