IFA Report 2009

Berlin, Germany—Think of the annual IFA electronics and appliance fair as a little bit CES, a little bit giant shopping mall. From September 4 through 9, over 1,200 exhibitors showed their latest wares to European retailers who cut deals so they can have the latest goodies on shelves in time for Christmas. Unlike the Consumer Electronics Show held annually in Las Vegas, IFA is open to the public for select days. Hoards visit the exhibits so they too can see and handle the latest cool gadgets. Also unlike CES, firms also show their appliances, large and small. So along with a zillion flat-screen HDTVs and cell phones, we strolled past refrigerators, washers, dryers and more coffee makers than you’d see in 10,000 Seattles.

All of the global big boys exhibit at IFA, from Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, LG, Toshiba and company down to small brands that’ll never cross the pond to the states. After attending over a dozen press conferences and walking seemingly miles of corridors, here are some of the highlights.

Samsung

Samsung’s Press Conference


CES 2010 Sneak Preview

If Sony and Panasonic have their way, the big news out of the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in January will be 3D HDTV. Both firms heavily hyped the nascent technology at IFA 2009 with Sir Howard Springer, Sony Chairman/CEO, sounding a clarion call at a press conference “that the 3D train is on the track, and we at Sony are ready to drive it home.” The press dutifully donned glasses to see a clip from the upcoming Sony Pictures 3D animated feature “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs” during the presentation. The demo was OK; the Sony “Monsters Versus Aliens” 3D preview at CES 2009 looked much better. Sir Howard noted 3D would have a much higher profile in the months ahead, with movies, video games and top sporting events in the offing. The soccer clip shown was a winner. The next morning, Panasonic trotted out Hollywood producer Jon Landau who hyped his upcoming James Cameron “Avatar” release. We had a chance to see the 3D preview with the obligatory glasses. It was pretty weak; the Formula 1 racing clip shown with it was much more impressive. Panasonic said they’d be a major player in the 3D game as well.

Sony 3D Exhibit

Sony’s 3D Exhibit

Helping pave the way for 3D HDTV at home was an announcement made at IFA by the Blu-ray Disc Association stating preliminary work on a BD-based 3D system was approved by the group. During a press conference in Berlin, Victor Matsuda of the BDA’s Global Promotion Committee said engineers were finalizing specs which should be done by December, paving the way for real products next year.

Now don’t expect to rush out and purchase a home 3D HDTV system in January 2010. Sony and Panasonic are committed to introducing hardware next year—but no specific dates or prices were announced. We guarantee it won’t be cheap. Realize you’ll need a 3D-ready 1080P television as well as new BD player along with the appropriate eye wear and specially encoded discs to have this experience in your living room.

Sony 3D Exhibit

Sony’s 3D Exhibit

Philips – which is a huge player in European CE – was decidedly noncommittal about 3D. Their execs didn’t know if people were ready to make the investment in new hardware, and if consumers would sit around the television in groups with everyone wearing dorky 3D glasses. That’s a very good question. We can see the technology as a winner for gamers—Ubisoft is working on a 3D version of Avatar and there are 3D version of Gran Turismo and Motorsport Pacific Rift in the works too. Yet many analysts wonder if this system as envisioned by Sony and Panasonic will fly with the general public as a focal point for home theater. All we do know is 3D will be the buzz at CES 2010.


More LED LCD HDTVs

This was great to see: LG, Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba took the wraps off a wide variety of LED-backlit televisions with local dimming. Many had already been introduced in the States, but new models like LG’s new Borderless SL9000 HDTVs were stunning, with ultra-thin panels and very high-quality screens. Picture quality of all the screens we inspected was outstanding, mirroring the results on sets already tested. It was kind of humorous seeing walls filled with hundreds of these televisions beaming away at giant exhibits while companies touted their eco friendliness. Whatever. That said, LED HDTVs do use far less power than plasmas and traditional CCFL backlit LCD TVs. This eco trend is rippling through the global television market, and it too will be major news throughout the year and into next. Some of these sets shown at IFA may even be announced at the CEDIA show next week. Stay tuned.

LG Exhibit

LG’s Exhibit

Dot, Dot, Dot

The upcoming launch of Windows 7 on October 22 caused a few problems as firms such as Sony, Samsung and Toshiba really couldn’t get into the details of their new notebook PCs, since Microsoft is keeping a lid on details until the big day. That said, we did see a few Windows 7 splash screens on display, breaking the embargo. At least we know it works! We got the chance to play with Panasonic’s just-announced Micro Four Thirds digicam that records 720p video. Look for a review soon… Philips has a beautiful 21:9 flat-panel HDTV that’s a perfect fit for many CinemaScope movies. Pity they won’t sell it in the states.

Toshiba Exhibit

Toshiba’s Exhibit

Weird Stuff—Philips is well known for its personal care appliances such as Sonicare electric toothbrushes and Norelco shavers in the U.S. In a rather awkward moment, the CEO of Philips Consumer Lifestyle division Andrea Ragnetti announced a new line of sensual massagers for couples as part of the company’s new “Relationship Platform.” Yes, we’re talking about vibrators and such. As photos of the devices were shown on a giant screen we definitely knew were weren’t in Kansas anymore.

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