UPDATE: Check out our IFA 2011 page for news on this year's show.
Every September, Berlin plays host to Europe's biggest gadget show, the Internationale Funkausstellung (aka IFA).
The gargantuan halls of the Messe Berlin are transformed into an Aladdin's cave of gadgetry you can look at, but rarely buy – 3D TVs, tablet computers, laptops, more 3D TVs, portable media players, Blu-ray players and even more 3D TVs.
No prizes for guessing what the dominant trend this year is...
All hail 3D TV!
Back in 2009, the big tech companies were desperate to convince us that 3D TV was more than just a techno-fad. It was a difficult sell, especially when 3D content was thin on the ground – no 3D telly channels available, no 3D gaming, no 3D Blu-ray.
A year on, the flag-waving for 3D TV is just as vigorous. Sky is inching towards the launch of its first 3D channel, while Eurosport has announced that a dedicated 3D sports channel is on the way. The PlayStation 3 will finally get its Blu-ray 3D update by Christmas, while Blu-ray 3D players and HDMI 1.4-compliant cables are becoming readily available.
Every HD TV-builder worth its salt now has a premium 3D ready range with a premium price tag to match. But only a few stand truly out from the crowd. Philips, for example, has upgraded its 9000-series HD TVs to make them 3D friendly. But it's the company's unique Cinema 21:9 model that catches the eye.
Similarly, while LED backlighting is becoming the norm, LG's LEX8 'Nano LED' 3D TV uses a thin film punctured with tiny holes to more evenly diffuse the light from the LED array. Meanwhile, Sharp has evolved its quad-pixel Quattron model to include 3D compatibility.
There's also more of an interest in 'glasses-free' 3D TV this year. Philips has long championed the lenticular technology and has another impressive demo at IFA this year. Toshiba is also reportedly taking an interest in the glasses-free approach. Nintendo is using similar lenticular lenses in the forthcoming 3DS handheld, while engineering firm Rockchip has incorporated the technology into a 3D tablet PC prototype.
Internet TV cometh
Not only will your next TV be 3D ready, it will also be able to access the Internet, play YouTube videos, display your Twitter account and stream content from the BBC iPlayer. You can already buy HD TVs with this technology built-in. However, the web widgets are often sluggish, rudimentary and hardly comparable with the internet experience you can get on a computer or smartphone.
That's going to change. Web-connectivity has the potential to change the way we watch television in the future. Google, for example, is attempting to integrate its own Google TV solution into TVs, while Apple's relaunch of its Apple TV product takes a different technology tack. Both, however, have the same aim in mind: to enable users to search, browse and stream content, on demand to their living rooms.
Content is key. Apple is well positioned with iTunes; Panasonic is ambitiously expanding its Viera Cast system; while Sony's forthcoming Qriocity portal will offer music and movie streaming. Google TV has the potential to be as successful as Google Docs or as forgettable as Google Wave. The fact that it runs the Android OS opens up a whole range of dizzying possibilities as apps can be the gateway to video and audio content, games and utilities.
Tablet PCs and iPad-jostlers
The Apple iPad has set the benchmark for every tablet PC, slate computer and smartpad to follow. It's not perfect, but the announcement of iOS4.2 will add new features and, while the current iPad might not feature a built-in camera for 'FaceTime', Apple will undoubtedly include it in version 2. Steve Jobs is the undisputed master of leaving his audience wanting more.
So rival tablet PC builders like Samsung, ViewSonic, Toshiba, Acer, LG and others don't have very long to design, test and launch their own keyboard-less devices. Samsung has taken the lead with The Galaxy Tab. Compared to the iPad, it has a smaller, lower resolution screen, but the good-looking tablet offers several advantages, including a memory card slot, two integrated cameras and Flash 10.1 support.
ViewSonic unveiled its ViewPad 7 and ViewPad 100 models at IFA, with the latter offering a dual boot feature for Android and Windows 7 Home Premium. Toshiba also revealed a tablet, dubbed the Folio 100, while Sony launched an updated version of its Reader device with a touch-sensitive display. There are more iPad wannabes to come.
Gadgets, gadgets, gadgets
Last year, IFA was much more fragmented and there were many more identifiable tech trends: wireless HD streaming; improved screen technologies like OLED and LED backlighting; web-connected TVs; 3D TVs; eco-friendliness and the end of the megapixel wars.
It's obvious from our coverage this year that 3D TVs and 3D Blu-ray players have dominated the show, with web connectivity and a new breed of tablet devices close behind. As for other gadgetry, several of the tech giants have launched new mini camcorders – Sony outed the Bloggie Touch, Samsung debuted the HMX-T10 and Toshiba has been showing off the Camileo S30 and P20.
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