The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) trade group recently released its 2006 Five Technologies to Watch. The annual publication examines prominent technology trends poised to influence the consumer electronics industry in the year ahead.

First, cheaper HDTV sets and more HD programming will spur demand for such recordable high-definition devices as Blu-Ray Disc, HD-DVD and HD-DVR. About 10% of American homes have digital video recorders and that number is expected to climb next year as more cable and satellite providers offer HDVR service. Blu-Ray Disc and HD-DVD both have the ability to record and transport HD content. But it remains unclear which format will become the industry "standard." Copy protection and video-on-demand may also undermine growth of recordable HD devices.

Robots have yet to duplicate human flexibility, mobility, and dexterity. But specialized, single-purpose robots are beginning to have an impact. For example, half a million American homes have robotic vacuums. And domestic robots that can sort laundry or scrub the kitchen floor are not far off. But to appeal to mass markets, future robots must be relatively inexpensive, reliable, and effective.

Consumers creating their own digital home studios will spend about $14 billion this year on digital cameras, camcorders, audio players, software, and printers.

Sales of electronic-game consoles and portable platforms are expected to rise 18% to $3.7 billion this year. In addition, PC-based gaming has developed into a multibillion dollar industry of its own and spawned new segments such as PDA and cell-phone gaming. Next-generation consoles from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo set to launch late this year and in early 2006 could underpin the digital home. Such consoles incorporate high-definition movie playback, online game play, digital-camera and camcorder connectivity, as well as provide access to computer files stored on a PC. On the console and PC-gaming front, plans are in the works for on-demand game services offered through cable, satellite, and IPTV. Mobile gaming also continues to grow and is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2008.

Finally, with the transition to digital well underway, flat-panel displays such as plasma, LCD, and DLP have become increasingly popular. Sales will continue to grow even as the average wholesale TV price rises from $323 to $533, according to CEA forecasts. Still on the horizon are even thinner display technologies such as surfaceconduction electron emitter and organic light-emitting diodes. These could succeed today's flat-panel displays and become the next upgrade TVs.

CEA represents more than 2,000 corporate members involved in the design, development, manufacturing, distribution, and integration of audio, video, mobile electronics, wireless, and landline communications, information technology, home networking, multimedia, and accessory products, as well as related services that are sold through consumer channels. Combined, CEA members account for more than $121 billion in sales annually.


Smaller, faster, cheaper

Fourth-generation silicon-germanium foundry technology from IBM dubbed 8HP boosts performance twofold over the company's previous 180-nm technology. Circuits made with the smaller 130-nm bipolar complementary metaloxide semiconductor (BiCMOS) process combine enhanced RF communications and analog functions with core digital computing capabilities of standard CMOS chips. A lower-cost variation of 8HP called 8WL extends battery life in cellular handsets and gives them more functions.

8HP targets applications that run at tens of gigahertz such as automotive radar for blindside detection and collision warning or advanced cruise control. Other potential applications include Wi-Fi chips for next-generation wireless personal-area networks and backbone nets, software-defined radios for cellular handsets that convert signals from the antenna directly into digital form, high-speed a/d and d/a converters for data acquisition, direct-to-baseband radio receivers, and signal synthesis. The technology is compatible with IBM's ASIC platform so it works with a wide range of proprietary circuit blocks and standard-cell library elements.


HDTV image makeover

HDTV picture quality may not be any better than that of a standard TV set in some cases. This is because most programming is still delivered as Standard Definition. Even true HDTV transmissions, Blu-Ray, and HD-DVD sources often are interlaced or have significant noise and compression artifacts. Moreover, Standard Definition images must be enlarged to fill high-resolution HDTV screens, which also magnifies any flaws in the original images.

But plasma displays equipped with Vantage-HD scaler/switcher chipsets from Saelig Co. Inc., Pittsford, N.Y., get around the problem. They use special algorithms to rid images of inherent noise and grayscale irregularities. Projection displays benefit from what is being billed as the sharpest, mostflexible keystone correction available. Keystone correction adjusts for trapezoidal image distortions caused by projectors that illuminate screens at an angle to the screen surface.

Signals from DVD and digital cable/satellite get real-time MPEG artifact reduction that leaves picture detail intact. Conventional external scalers lack real-time processing power to run their full deinterlace algorithms on HD signals and reduce MPEG noise. Vantage-HD uses a speedy 1-teraflop DSP to perform deinterlacing at a level said to be on par with high-end studios. It also automatically detects scene changes for clean cuts between scenes, processes mixed film/video sequences, and corrects lip-sync errors that can otherwise degrade the home-theater experience.

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