13 January 2012 by Paul Dempsey
So, as we continue to slog through this year's International Consumer Electronics Show, a word of warning. I'm not about to anoint any of this clutch of innovators that I met as NBTs. In one case, the company is already an established player, but has done something which is being overlooked. But more generally, this wasn't an NBT show, as we saw yesterday.
Perhaps when the global economy lifts for real - and you have to be sceptical about that given some recent financial results - some enterprise will emerge as a massive player that made its debut in 2012. Instead, though, this is cool, interesting and innovative technology and let's not start loading it with any more baggage than that.
After a period of development work with Panasonic in Japan, PixelOptics has been rolling out its emPower technology in the US for a few months already, but it's just now preparing to come to Europe - France initially - with a nifty approach to bifocals. Yes, this is cool stuff that's also for us older folk.
Bifocals, split or progressive, make life much easier for millions of people but there are sacrifices, even some risks. The 'reading' portion of a lens, typically the lower half, is blurred in normal use, reducing the field of view. Sad to note, it can even lead to trips and falls when the wearer doesn't quite spot an obstacle or misplaces a step.
PixelVision's idea is simple yet clever. It creates lenses that have a liquid crystal layer embedded within their lower half. In normal operation these are 'off', so the entire lens is set to the user's prescription for short-sightedness. However, by tapping a button on the side of the frame, the crystals can be activated and instantly change their molecular structure to match the 'prescription' of the lens' bottom half to an 'electronic reading zone'.
A single overnight charge provides enough power to use the glasses for two or three days. They focus faster than you can blink and are available to correct all ranges of presbyopia covered by traditional bifocals. Other than the LCD inlay, the system is made up of an ASIC, accelerometer and batteries that all fit within a traditional frame without significantly adding to its weight.
We'll keep you posted as to when the technology arrives in the UK.
Valley TV technology firm Atlona is best known for its cable and video standards conversion products, but it came to this year's CES with a very nifty looking wireless HDMI product capable of streaming TV from one device to another over ranges of up to 45ft for full resolution (more, if you don't need or want an HD signal).
The LinkCast Wireless HD Audio/Video System caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, it operates at up to full 1080p resolution, even for 3D, with less than 1ms of latency - those are very chunky numbers. Second, my guess is that while there have been other wireless streaming products, this one is also reaching the market at the right time. And timing is the often neglected side of innovation.
The last couple of years have seen prices for LCD and LED displays tumble to the point where many families have invested in second screens, alongside the big HD panel in the living room. The problem is that this often means getting a second HD box, a second BluRay player and maybe even a second Internet media box. The costs can quickly mount up, and then there's all those cables.
The Atlona product, which has picked up an Innovations Design and Engineering Award at CES, does away with all that. You can connect up to five devices - most other systems are single point-to-point - over simple plug-and-play dongles. And this is its own network; it doesn't gobble up all the bandwidth on your traditional WiFi.
The LinkCast launches in the US next month at $299 and the company hopes to bring it to the UK soon.
OK, so we've saved the best till last, partly for rewarding your persistence but also, I'll admit, because I'll be talking a bit more about this one in our print CES round-up in the next edition of E&T.
Corel is an established name in the print and video editing and manipulation software market, but its new AfterShot Pro product is something else.
If you dabble in digital SLR photography, you'll know that managing and editing RAW files can be an incredibly slow process. If you don't, I'll just say that these are huge 20MB files and just getting them off your camera or memory card is usually the cue for a very leisurely cup of tea.
AfterShot Pro is a photographic workflow for Windows, Mac OS and Linux allowing you to view, rate, sort, edit and export these beasts - and it runs like the clappers. And the reason for that is that it has been optimised, in partnership with MPU vendor AMD, for multicore platforms.
And by optimised, I mean exactly that. One of the greater challenges facing software engineers today is writing programmes that properly exploit distributed processing across multiple cores in today's chips. There are few rules, few tools and only a small knowledge base to pull upon.
Corel built its own scheduler for the new software pretty much from the ground up. It had to. Analysis of the task management across the cores in the AMD eight-core CPU running the software at CES showed that this effort has paid off. It was even and it achieved extremely good loads across each of the threads. At the same time, you can run AfterShot Pro on a netbook.
This isn't just innovation; it's potentially vital. Corel's priority is now to take what it has learned with its new product and apply it to its existing and more established tools such as PaintShop Pro. The company is claiming an 8X speed up for AfterShot over Adobe Creative Suite, so there's obviously a battle that will extend there. Fair enough; it's Corel's secret sauce.
But the company remains open to sharing some of its war stories with the wider software community. Make no mistake, every sector of that faces a serious multicore programming challenge and will welcome all the help it can get.
For users too, this is good news. Multicore systems are already delivering major performance gains, but the feeling persists that much of their potential remains untapped.
As I said, more of this anon. However, it is a genuinely big deal.
Anyway, that ends today's data dump from Las Vegas. Innovation is alive and well (we'll also be looking at these and some other companies in the magazine), and delivering practical solutions. Whatismore, all of these products retain strong attractions even in today's recession - they meet needs, perhaps not the most essential, but enough to still grab some share of mind from consumers. And in Corel's case, from industry as well.
Edited: 13 January 2012 at 07:45 PM by Paul Dempsey
Posted By: Paul Dempsey @ 13 January 2012 12:50 AM General
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