New Tech Gadgets Debut at 2007 Trade Shows

Technology guru Mario Armstrong is on location at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. He talks with Farai Chideya about the latest in electronic gadgets.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

How about a nice 108-inch Plasma screen that's 9 feet diagonally to go with your favorite TV show? Well, that's just one of the new toys our tech expert, Mario Armstrong, saw at this year's Consumer Electronic Show, or CES in Las Vegas. The event is huge. Exhibits take up the space equivalent to 35 football fields. CES started in 1967 and Mario says there's as much history there as there is cutting-edge innovation.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: This is where back in the day the VHS or the VCR was actually launched. This is where all the new products from Microsoft to Sony to little companies that haven't really hit the mainstream yet all announce their new devices, new gadgets, new technology that's supposed to impact us in 2007 and for years to come.

CHIDEYA: What's your personal favorite?

ARMSTRONG: Oh, it's so hard. There's so much good stuff here: the world's largest 108-inch LCD television that was shown off. It's a prototype. It can't fit in anyone's house just yet but, nonetheless, that's a type of stuff that I saw here that's interesting to me so far.

CHIDEYA: Are there any other products you've seen that could change people's lives?

ARMSTRONG: You know a couple of things. One was a major announcement that came out from Microsoft, you know, Bill Gates. He comes here each and every year to make some major announcements. And one of the major announcements that he made that I think will change how people interact with their vehicles was a partnership announced with Ford and it's called Sync. The name of the product is called Sync.

But, basically, it will allow you to take, for instance, driving in your car and have your text messages being read to you in your vehicle. It can even translate like instant messaging language. You can connect all types of other devices that allow you to do voice commands. And so they were looking at technologies that would not only make driving safer but make more use of that driving or of that commute time.

I'm also looking for some things that can help us in the home. And I did see some things that were, I don't know, on some spectrum, it's kind of like, do we really need this? Like for one thing I saw there's a countertop where you could actually have a recipe show up as an overlay, like a graphic overlay, on your counter in your kitchen and it would show the recipe. And as you would place, like, the bucket of flour on the table, it would recognize that that ingredient is now part of the recipe and it would remove that ingredient for you.

So it help people that can't cook be able to cook and that's someone like me. So I don't know if this is going to be cost-effective but I certainly can't cook. I'd rather rely on the computer maybe to help me with my next meal than for me to try to wing it myself.

CHIDEYA: All right, all I have to say is that for your little son, Christopher, tell daddy to get take out. But -

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: It would probably taste better.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. What about the things that were completely ludicrous and just beyond?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, there's always, you know, Vegas is just known for this over-the-top stuff and they do it with the technology as well. And I saw one thing, I don't know, some people may think that this is actually useful. But there was a product from a company named Cobra that has a red-light camera. And you, essentially, attach this device in your vehicle and it has downloaded on it all the major intersections that have red lights. So it has a way of notifying you if you're getting ready to approach an interaction that has a red-light camera. You know, for me it's just, like, drive safe. Do I really need that type of camera?

CHIDEYA: So it was the red-light cameras are the ones that will take a picture of your vehicle as you run to the red light. So basically, and I don't like that. It could be seen as an encouraging some bad behavior.

ARMSTRONG: Exactly. So it's like do we really need that type of technology? I thought that was a little over-the-top. I've seen other things, too, that I wish would advance a little bit further like the eBook Reader. I know a lot of people love their books. They love their book collection. I know a lot of our NPR listeners love to read, and we're trying to move to a digital era now. Of now, walking around with electronic books. And we've seen some advances from Sony and others but I would like to see this move along a little bit better. I thought that would be something that I would really be gung-ho about this year. But I'm still kind of - I don't know if it's quite there yet.

The only other thing that I thought, you know, is it kind of wacky but maybe useful, LG announced a mobile television phone. So the last time that I talked to your, Farai, from South Korea, we did that report about how technology is changing in Seoul, Korea and how maybe that might start to impact the U.S. So you can actually watch live television, not a delay, not in on-demand TV experiences, live TV on a cell phone. And I got to say the experience wasn't that bad.

CHIDEYA: From what I understand though, this is picking up signals the way that TV's, you know, without cable do. So is it a little choppy and fuzzy or does it look -

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, it's a great question because it is still riding on a cellular connection. And they have made some investments in making that cellular connection very high-speed and - so you don't have some of that latency. Of course, here in the testing environment, everything works great. So you get to see it at CES working lovely.

It would be nice if I could take that phone out and go into some places where I think the signal maybe degraded and see how it reacts. But sure, even in Seoul, Korea, I saw some changes where every now and then you would see a little bit of latency. So you're not going to get that perfect experience. But it does allow you, if you want to, to be able to view mobile television right on your handset.

CHIDEYA: I'm sure what you'd really like to take home and give a test drive is that 108-inch screen.

ARMSTRONG: Can you believe that, a 108-inch LCD here. So it's like the battle of how big can you get. That's coming out from Sharp. Now this is a prototype, it's not available yet. But they are showing it that it's possible, that's doable. And I tell you, I don't know where you're going to fit this thing. I need a bigger house in order to have a 108-inch LCD TV in my house. But the reality is these products are coming.

The only other thing that's neat about television, and I know you're big in some multimedia content, Farai. Sony announced a new television set called, well, they have this television set called BRAVIA. But this new BRAVIA televisions are now Internet-connected. And so now they have partnerships with online networks like Grouper and AOL and other content providers where now you can watch your television in your living room or basement but be connected to the Internet.

So forget about watching YouTube videos on your computer. You can now use a simple TV remote and pull up YouTube right on your television screen. This, I think, is going to change how we view traditional TV and I think it's really going to shake up the traditional content providers.

CHIDEYA: Until CES show something where you can implant the MP3 player in my brain, I think that's all, Mario.

ARMSTRONG: That's going to be she wrote, Farai. I'll see you next time, CES 2007, if I make it out of here alive.

CHIDEYA: All right, Mario Armstrong is NEWS AND NOTES tech contributor. He also covers technology for Baltimore area NPR member stations, WYPR and WEAA.

(Soundbite of music)

That's our show for today. Thanks for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS AND NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS AND NOTES.

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