CES 2011 Press Events: CES Unveiled, Sony & Panasonic

Barely had we finished the tidying up from New Years Eve when we found ourselves rubbing shoulders with press and senior members of the tech industry on-board a plane headed for this year’s CES in Las Vegas (baby!).

After a day of wondering around the strip and watching people gamble at breakfast, we were grateful to attend the show’s official press preview events and keynotes. The first day’s programme included talks on the state of the consumer and global consumer electronics industry as well as CES Unveiled – a crammed packed (in every sense) preview of products being launched at the show – some of which we will look at in more detail in our next article.

The second pre-show press day (held on Wednesday) featured press conferences by the majority of the world’s largest consumer electronics companies. The result of which meant that the Venetian now resembled the scene at an airport when all the flights are cancelled. People on laptops lined the floors, the previously tranquil press room appeared to have been hit by an Apple laptop flash mob and long lines of impatient press snaked around every corridor, queuing for rooms called things like ‘Galileo 1006’ and ‘Casanova 605’.

Nevertheless, and after around forty minutes of queuing, we eventually made it in to the Panasonic press conference. We know everyone loves a sound bite, so here’s one to keep you going. According to the firm, 3D TVs will account for 32% of total TV sales by 2014. They also announced they will launch five new 3D camcorders this year – presumably so we all have something to actually watch if and when we replace our perfectly good HD flat-screens with the 3D variety.

Panasonic’s other major announcement was its growing focus on ‘web connected’ (IPTV) televisions – demand for which they predict will grow rapidly over the next three years. As part of this increased focused on IPTV, the company announced that Viera Cast will be renamed to Viera Connect and will feature a marketplace with an extended choice of in-house and 3rd party apps. The company also announced the launch of an Android powered tablet (in three sizes) which can be used to interact and stream content to a compatible Panasonic TV.

Leaving the crowded corridors of the Venetian behind, we jumped on to the Las Vegas monorail to attend Sony’s press event at the main convention centre. Upon arrival we were given a pair of 3D glasses – a pretty obvious indication of what to expect in the presentation!

Things kicked off with a bit of showbiz as the company showcased the forthcoming ‘Green Hornet’ movie (yes, you guessed it – in 3D!) complete with the movie’s stars Seth Rogen and Jay Chou appearing on stage in a car.

Razzmatazz out of the way, Sony outlined its vision of “3D World” by showcasing a range of forthcoming 3D products such as 3D Blu-ray players, 3D Bloggie, 3D Cybershots, 3D… we think you get the idea! They also announced the launch of the forthcoming Xperia Arc smartphone which is the company’s first to feature the mobile version of the Bravia Engine and comes with a 4.2” ‘Reality Display’.

Sony’s ‘Future 3D Technologies’ section included a pair of futuristic (or retro, depending on your view point!) wrap-around 3D goggles and also, more impressively, a working demo of a glasses-free 10.1” portable 3D Blu-ray player. Picture of both can be seen by clicking on the thumbnails above.

Apart from their new products and apparent aim to add “3D” to their entire product range, Sony’s other message was their focus on leveraging the power of their network of products and to allow them to seamlessly connect to each other. They also announced that there were over 60m accounts in the Sony Network and that ‘network services’ represents a key new business area for the firm.

Stay tuned for our round-up of the products, both good and bad, that caught our eye as we racked up the miles pounding the exhibition floors. Links will appear below in due course.

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“From the laptop to the living room”: The Smartbox 8000

Sky and IP Vision invited us to have a look at the range of content that the Fetch Smartbox 8000 Freeview+ box gave access to. The key feature they wanted to highlight was of course, access to the Sky Player that the Fetch Box enables. If you didn’t know, Sky Player is Sky’s online TV service that allows access to a range of live channels and on-demand services such as sport, movies and Ross Kemp documentaries.

Box

The Smartbox 8000 box has an Ethernet port and wireless built-in and the quality over a standard broadband connection was impressive (you wouldn’t be able to tell it wasn’t regular TV playing). You can also pause Live TV.

The Smartbox 8000 attempts feel like me the night before my History A-Level – cram in as much as possible However, here the results are a lot more successful. Featuring a Twin-Tuner DVR, Connection to Sky Player, iPlayer Access, Video on Demand and a Media Centre, the Fetch Box is a noble attempt to be the one box you ever need. Assuming you have no Blu-rays. This one box approach extends to the actual box, which not only contains the unit and remote but also batteries and all the leads you could desire. A small but classy move.

Set up is simply plugging into a TV, (it has an HDMI out) and adding an aerial and Internet connection. No more waiting for the Sky engineers to work their magic. The Smartbox 8000 also provides access to the BBC iPlayer, bringing online content “from the laptop to the living room”. Of course, there are other ways to do this – on the Wii for example, but it’s great to see the iPlayer built into a set-top box.

It gets better. With a twin-tuner and built in 160 Gb HDD it is trivial to record material from the Electronic Program Guide at the touch of a button – and even to record programs at the same time. And with access to On-Demand TV services, the need to actually record programs diminishes significantly. And even if you do record masses of content there are not one but two USB ports that you can attach external HDDs to store content on.

And in true Ginzu fashion, there’s more. The unit has basic but functional Media Centre abilities. Whilst this appears to be just “thrown in” the Smartbox 8000 can access a home network running a Windows Media server (or a Mac running a UPnP server) and playback music, pictures or video files – even high definition *.mkv files and stream them over the network. Or play them back via a USB key. Whilst the interface lacks the slickness of, say the Apple TV or the Boxee Box it trumps both those in terms of playback range (the former) or the ability to be purchased in the UK (the latter)

With a bit of something for everyone the FetchTV SmartBox 8000 with Freeview+ is “full of win” as the kids would say. Yours for £219 from John Lewis, Carphone Warehouse and Currys online.