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I headed to Las Vegas recently to search for the future of photography at the Consumer Electronics Show. Every January, the world converges in Vegas and sets up an electronic city within the city. The fact that there were more people attending the CES inside the three giant halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center than there are living in my hometown was not lost on me.

The CES confirmed what seems all too obvious today… that age-old industry titans will crumble if they don’t continue to evolve. The CES also demonstrated that the future of photography will likely be defined by the visionaries in the TV and computer industries rather than by guys who have been grinding glass for a century.

3D Guitar Hero and the Future Of Photographyguitar_hero_3d_consumer_electronics_shownvidia_geforce_3d_consumer_electronics_show

For 30,000 years or so, mankind has been making flat images on flat surfaces. First, it was cave walls, then on animal skins, then on paper and cloth. More recently we’ve grown fond of images on screens: movie, TV, computer and, most recently, cell phone screens. Visually speaking, there’s not a lot of difference between the pre-historic Cauvet Cave paintings and the image on the latest iPhone. Both are two-dimensional representations of our three-dimensional world.

Interestingly, it was an exhibit of 3D Guitar Hero at the CES that caused me to realize that the basics are now in place for a new revolution in photography. Nvidia unveiled their GeForce 3D technology at the CES. Yes, we’ve had stereographs since the Victorian era and 3D movies for decades. What we haven’t had, and this makes all the difference, is high-def televisions. All Guitar Hero jokes aside, the potential for an explosion in 3D imaging is at hand. Nvidia had a 30-seat movie theater right behind the Guitar Hero demo. While I thought that the 3D games were novel, seeing still photos and movies in high-def 3D was amazing.

There’s no doubt that Hi-Def 3D TV is coming. Sony also had a demo of 3D TV at the CES. I wasn’t impressed or inspired by Sony’s effort. The Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision system made all the difference. The secret is in the high-tech wireless glasses (yes, they are battery operated and stylish). Nvidia describes them as “custom engineered active LCD shutter glasses with built-in electronics.” While GeForce 3D Vision is marketed towards PC-gamers (with a matching – think “affordable” – price point), I’ve no doubt that innovative photographers (still and motion) will begin to swarm over high-def 3D imaging like ants on sugar.

So, PixSylarians, you read it here first. “The future of photography is not bright. It’s high-def 3D.”

Other Surprises and Insights From CES

canon_consumer_electronics_showCanon had a huge display. Nikon did not exhibit… The enormity of Canon as an electronics company is often lost on still shooters. Canon had their full line of EOS DSLRs and lenses, SureShot point-and-shoots, Vixia camcorders, along with the ProGraf and Pixma printers in very hands-on displays. As the “C” in CES is “consumer”, Canon did not roll out their broadcast video, medical imaging or office electronics. The Nikon sales rep that I bumped into said that “they were there just to attend a sales meeting.” [Nikonians: No insights or inferences should be made.]

panasonic_consumer_electronics_showpanasonic_lumix_g1_consumer_electronics_show

Panasonic clearly understands the merger of photography and television. They literally had a live broadcast set going full time to demonstrate their high-def televisions. Panasonic also understands that there is a huge and largely untapped market of women who want a DSLR that works for them. I predict that the Lumix G1 will become a favorite of lady shooters. It’s small and comes in several colors other than black.

Given that nearly every consumer good has some sort of electronics in it, I should not have been surprised when I came upon the Swiss Army Knife company Victorinox. Yet I was surprised. “What’s electronic about a Swiss Army Knife?” I asked naively. Turns out the Swiss Army guys are now selling cool high-performance flash drives. I walked away with the 8gb SwissFlash and put it to good use that afternoon. (You’ll find good prices on them here.)

kodak_consumer_electronics_show

As a child of the Apollo-era, I had to find out if the photo giants of my childhood had anything new to offer. I came away with the impression that Kodak is trying to stay in the game and that Polaroid is dying a long, slow death. Kodak is making a big push on their OLED (organic light emitting diode) digital picture frames. OLED may be one of those ripples that becomes the wave of the future. In contrast to current LED frames and monitors that have a power-hungry backlight, OLED technology consumes very little power because there is no backlight. OLED displays are extremely thin for the same reason. Of course, early adopters will find that OLED gadgets are still very expensive. But then… weren’t high-def TVs outrageously priced just a few years ago? Learn more about OLED here.

The most interesting part of Polaroid’s booth was the historic display of Dr. Edwin Land’s inventions and a collection of Polaroid cameras. Cool factoid: Dr. Land is second only to Thomas Edison in the number of patents issued to a single individual. The big news in their booth is that Polaroid has teamed up with Zink (as in “zero ink’) to produce POGO cameras and printers that spit out prints instantly. Problem is… the Zink paper is small and expensive… just like the shots from my SX-70 twenty-fives years ago.

Next on PixSylated’s winter show tour is the PPA Imaging USA expo in Phoenix. A full report soon.

One Response to Searching For The Future of Photography At The 2009 Consumer Electronics Show

  1. Syl,

    Thank you for the thorough report on some of the highlights of the electronics show – lots of exciting development and inspiring new ideas. One thought on 3d: Being also an architect and in a profession that is three dimensional in its essence, I still find that in some cases a two-dimensional representation can be more informative and useful to convey an idea (and I am not thinking of plans as much as concept diagram or analyses of ideas…). It is exciting to see what 3d photography has for us, yet can it be that there is some similarity in photography to sitting down with a book vs. watching a screen where the former still has a depth and meaning that the latter cannot provide?
    Looking forward to your next report!

    Arpad

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