By 2009 wireless data transfer is a very robust area. However, so far sending high resolution video in real time wirelessly isn’t exactly a straightforward matter. Since many users prefer to avoid ugly wires in their living rooms and bedrooms, finding a solution to wirelessly transmit HDMI is an impotent task. Several companies (including TZero Technologies and SiBEAM) are already manufacturing wireless HDMI chips which have been (or will be) integrated into products by several OEMs (including Gefen, GIGABYTE, ASUS, and others). While TZero Technologies uses UWB (ultra-wideband) technology as part of the WiMedia Alliance, other companies take a different route. At CES 2009 we had a chance to meet the Israeli company Amimon, which is working on its own wireless HDMI technology. Amimon claims to have longer ranges and faster connections than UWB based technologies and it has already been able to gain support from giants such as Sony, Sharp, and Mitsubishi, which had Amimon based products on display at the Amimon suite at CES.
Netbooks where a hit in 2008 and at CES 2009 all large notebook manufacturers showcased new netbook models. Since the netbook market is highly competitive, manufacturers have to fight hard to distinguish their new models from those of their competitors. Among other things, we have seen touch screen based netbooks like the ASUS T101H EeePC which was showcased at the ASUS booth. This upcoming netbook (which shall be available, according to the company, in two models: 8.9” and 10”) will be the company’s first touch screen capable netbook/tablet. ASUS is still developing the unique interface, which will be based entirely on touch (as we could see on the video displayed on the company’s booth). The 8.9” model should be out around March 2009 and will also include a GPS and a TV tuner; the 10” which will be out about two months later will not include these features. Pricing was not available for both models at CES.
MSI also showed its first touch screen netbook (no tablet-like display on this one) designated U120H. The netbook is similar to the current MSI U120 in form but adds a resistive touch display (no multitouch). Unlike the ASUS, it doesn’t seem to support any special GUI designed specifically for touch (which is a shame since many icons on Windows XP can be too small to comfortably use with fingers). MSI also showcased two other innovative netbooks – the first was the U115 Hybrid, which combines SSD and HDD for storage. The U115 uses both 8/16GB SSD and 120/160GB HHD. The idea is to use the SSD most of the time to keep power consumption low, making the system more shock resistant and quiet, and using the the conventional HHD only when needed. It will take some testing to see if this configuration actually brings in any real world advantages over an all SSD based device or a regular HHD based netbook. The final innovative netbook from MSI at CES was the MSI X-Slim 320. This ultra slim device (think Macbook Air slim) is actually not a netbook but rather a very cheap super light/thin notebook with a 13.4” display (optimized for 16:9). The X-Slim 320 will be priced at around $800 (considerably lower than a Macbook Air) when it arrives in the second quarter of 2009.
Sony also entered the netbook market at CES 2009 with their new Sony Vaio P. Actually, the company asked us not to call the Vaio P a netbook but rather a miniature notebook. To be honest, it is a strange little device which differs quite considerably from most of the netbooks we came across. It has an 8” LED display with an extremely high 1600 x 768 resolution designed specifically for 720p video playback (most netbooks has 1024×600 at best). However, according to early reviews with the Intel Atom Z520 clocked at 1.33GHz and the less than impressive Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500, the Vaio P running Windows Vista (according to Microsoft’s license it has too much RAM and its resolution is too high to use XP) was less then impressive trying to run HD movies. Some stores around the world have started offering Vaio P with Intel Atom Z530 (1.6GHz) / Z540 (1.86GHz) processors, which might help a bit. The Vaio P, which is already available, comes with either a 60GB HHD or a choice of 64GB or 128GB of SSD alongside its integrated GPS and 2GB RAM. Its price starts at around $900 (and goes way up depending on the configuration).
One thing we didn’t see at CES was a netbook with some real graphic capabilities. Yes netbooks are not meant to be gaming machines and many people will not even consider them for HD playback given their small displays; but for may users a half decent graphic is all that stands between them and throwing away their old laptop/desktop in favor of a brand new netbook. Many analysts have already written about the problem Intel is facing here – if its next version Atom processor and chipset will be too capable it will drive business off its more lucrative regular mobile processor line.
Finally, for this part of future technology trends we want to say a few words about the future of USB. During CES 2009 we had a chance to see two USB technologies which are going to influence our lives in the next few years. Actually, our first meeting of CES 2009 was with the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) – a non profit organization which promotes and supports the Universal Serial Bus standard. The USB-IF was formed in 1995 by the group of companies including, among others, Hewlett-Packard, NEC, Microsoft, Intel, and even Apple. At CES 2009 TFOT had a chance to talk to Jeff Ravencraft, President and Chairman of the USB-IF. Most of the talk concentrated on Wireless USB, and Mr. Ravencraft mentioned that there are currently 132 different wireless USB products already on the market. We were actually fairly surprised to hear this number as we only know of a handful of wireless USB consumer products on the market (mostly wireless USB hubs from several companies). Among the products mentioned where laptops, cell phones (we were actually shown a mockup Samsung D880 with wireless USB), external hard drives, projector adapters, and wireless USB hubs.
In an interesting coincidence, our last meeting at CES was with Symwave, which is currently working on developing the second USB related technology we saw at CES – USB 3.0. TFOT has covered USB 3.0 extensively since 2007 (although things took a bit more time than we predicted), more recently in November 2008, and finally when the final specifications were released on November 17th. At CES we had a chance to meet John O’Neill, the vice president of marketing for Symwave, who demonstrated file transfer to a USB 3.0 device at a speed of 80MB/s (640Mb/s or about 1.5 times the max theoretical limit of USB 2.0). The demonstration rig was still very delicate and it is clear that some optimization is still needed before any actual end-user products could reach the market, but Symwave was fairly confident that it will be able to deliver to its clients (i.e. OEM manufacturers, etc.) the technology which could be integrated into commercial products by the end of 2009.