Jan 9, 2009

Tech - Sony making video bifocals and bendable televisions

Glen Chapman

LAS VEGAS, (AFP) – Sony chief executive Sir Howard Stringer unveiled prototypes of video bifocals and bendable televisions as he kicked off a gadget-rich Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Stringer, with help from film celebrity Tom Hanks, unveiled the future products after Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) chief Gary Shapiro called on president-elect Barack Obama to support the industry.

"Obama is the first digital president," Shapiro said while outlining the association's political agenda.

"We don't seek a hand-out. We say embrace us. Let us innovate. Let us create. Our economy will flourish. Innovation is the best medicine to end economic stagnation."

The CEA expects the market for televisions and gadgets to rebound in 2010 after a rocky 2009.

Obama should get more visas issued so US technology firms can import much-needed talent and champion free trade pacts to clear paths for exporting creations, according to Shapiro.

"The need to protect and promote innovation has never been greater," he said. "In short, do the consumer electronics industry no harm."

The CES opening presentation veered from political to comic as movie-star Hanks strode on stage and poked fun at Shapiro and Sony before introducing the main act -- Stringer.

"Sir Howard Stringer is an old buddy," Hanks said after joking that the only reason he was there is because Sony studios keeps mandating CES appearances in his movie contracts.

"If Blu-ray works out, he will be known as Lord Howard Stringer," said Hanks.

Sony Blu-ray technology has been riding high after it won a format war with Toshiba-backed HD-DVD systems a year ago.

Stringer enlisted Hanks to demonstrate video bifocals being developed by Sony.

The glasses enable wearers to observe the world around them while video is streamed on mini-screens crafted into bottom corners of the lenses.

"When wearing these glasses you can actually watch a movie and watch Tom Hanks at the same time," Stringer said while doing just that.

Hanks tried on a pair and remarked they would benefit from some fine tuning to prevent real-world scenes from blurring as one's head moves.

"Generally thinking, a plus," Stringer said after Hanks backed off stage firing quips as he went. "This is the third time I've done this, and it may be the last."

Stringer showed off new Sony gadgets including a Cybershot camera with built-in wireless capabilities that let users upload images to the Internet using "hot spots."

He also unveiled a picture-frame size "alarm clock" that wakes users with images, music or video of their choosing and then serves up news, weather, sports or other day-starting data from the Internet.

A video replica of London's famed Big Ben clock tower chimed from the new generation digital alarm clock Stringer had on stage.

"Wouldn't you like to wake up to Big Ben?" Stringer asked rhetorically before finishing with a quip. "The clock, I mean."

He treated his audience to a peek at a Flex OLED television so thin and malleable that he was able to bend one while it played a video of singer Beyonce' performing.

"How many people get the chance to squeeze Beyonce'?" Stringer queried playfully.

Stringer wrapped his presentation with a clip of a 3-D animated movie being made with new Sony cinematic equipment.

"I love this technology," famed film producer John Lasseter of Pixar said in a cameo appearance on stage with Stringer. "The future of this technology is pretty amazing.

Lasseter added that all Pixar's future films will be in 3-D.

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