A glimpse of the possible

A demonstrator plays a game of roulette on Lenovo's IdeaCentre Horizon 27-inch "table PC" at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
A demonstrator plays a game of roulette on Lenovo's IdeaCentre Horizon 27-inch "table PC" at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (JULIE JACOBSON / Associated Press)

Vegas exhibit features no-glasses 3D TV and more.

Posted: January 14, 2013

LAS VEGAS - Lenovo's widely touted IdeaCentre Horizon "table PC" shared "Last Gadget Standing" honors at last week's International Consumer Electronics Show with a tiny Idaho start-up's creation: Luminae, a curved-glass keyboard that can be mapped to whatever layout a manufacturer or end user desires.

Consider it just one more example of the enduring yin and yang of this 45-year-old event that for one week each winter turns Sin City into Geek Town.

The Chinese technology giant, which seven years ago swallowed up IBM's famed PC business, wowed conference-goers all week with its sleek, 27-inch, all-in-one Windows PC. When laid flat on a table, it just might be the ideal device for multiplayer games - until something better comes along, such as Lenovo's planned 39-inch version.

TransluSense's Luminae, which traces its roots to the start-up's Kickstarter fund-raising project a year ago, might help solve a major source of disease transmission at hospitals and other medical facilities: germy, hard-to-sanitize keyboards. The company says some have already voiced interest at the promise of a keyboard that can be wiped clean with an alcohol swab.

"The only limit to this product is the imagination of the user," said Mark Collins, whose Swiss software technology company, SST, learned of the glass keyboard project through Kickstarter, invested $3 million, and is now all aboard with the idea of an infinitely morphable interface that can be a keyboard, trackpad, or any other sort of touch-sensitive controller. "Calling it a keyboard really doesn't do it justice."

Is the Luminae "really going to change our lives" - the standard pronounced at the start of Thursday's Last Gadget Standing finals by Robin Raskin, founder of Living in Digital Times, which sponsors the contest?

Only time will tell - in part because the Luminae isn't yet past the "vaporware" stage, the tech world's dismissive tag for undelivered inventions. Only a prototype was ready for this year's show.

Last year's Last Gadget Standing, Lytro, a true advance in photography that allows photos to be focused after they are taken, is still a breakthrough waiting for a market.

Nor, to be sure, is the Luminae the first glass touchscreen keyboard, as any iPad user would recognize. Oddly, Luminae appears to rely on one of the same advances crucial to the Horizon: "multi-touch" technology that can process touchscreen information either from a crowd of gamers or a touch typist's racing fingers.

If the Luminae skyrockets, fizzles, or just hovers around for a bit, it will hardly be without precedent among the new products touted at CES, which is part massive trade show, part idea fair, and part gigantic meetup for entrepreneurs and inventors seeking attention, partners, or cash.

For example, Philadelphia's Stream TV Networks was back this year with a large exhibit showing off its 3D-without-glasses technology, which someday may be coming to a TV in your home.

Widely hyped in recent years, and still a big part of some of CES's largest and most impressive displays, 3D TV was eclipsed this year by the introduction of so-called 4K Ultra High Definition TV. With four times the number of pixels, Ultra HD enables sharp displays on huge screens of 80 to 100 inches or more, albeit with huge prices to match.

Raja Rajan, Stream's chief operating officer, said the company had invested more than $25 million in the project and had been ramping up research and development efforts to take advantage of the additional data 4K video files provide. The technology it showed off last week had noticeably less of the in-your-face "pop" typical of theatrical 3D with glasses, but Stream was also demonstrating a real-time converter box capable of adding depth to 2D images that it hopes will give it an extra edge.

Rajan said Stream already counted Hisense, a leading Chinese TV-maker, among its partners. A key goal at CES 2013 was to lure other manufacturers to choose its glasses-free 3D over competing versions from companies such as Dolby.

"Every one of them believes that 3D TV without glasses is the future," Rajan said. "Everyone who comes through here has said this is the best so far." He said Stream's goal was "to be like 'Intel Inside' " for a new generation of 3D-enabled sets.

The race to be first and the competition to be best are continual themes at CES, which is closely watched even by big companies that don't exhibit there, such as Apple. This year's iLounge Pavilion, a specially designated "TechZone" for Apple accessory- and app-makers, was home to about 500 of the show's 3,260 exhibitors, four times as many as when it was launched in 2010, Consumer Electronics Association spokeswoman Tara Dunion said.

What else was big?

Auto technology, such as new third-party app integration into Ford's voice-activated Sync System and a new advanced pre-collision system available on high-end Lexus vehicles, was a growing segment. Eight of the 10 largest automakers, more than ever before, exhibited at CES 2013 just days ahead of this week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Also expanding are health and fitness technologies, including many that capitalize on the computer and sensor power now routinely offered by smartphones and tablets. Dunion said the segment grew nearly 30 percent this year, to 220 exhibitors.

Contact Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776 or jgelles@phillynews.com.

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