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Mega tech fair IFA dives head-first into virtual reality
By Marie JULIEN, Hui Min NEO
Berlin (AFP) Sept 4, 2016

Oval TVs, smart kitchen hoods: top trends at IFA tech fair
Berlin (AFP) Sept 2, 2016 - Berlin's mega consumer electronics fair IFA opens its doors to the public Friday, offering a dizzying array of high-tech goods from home robots to surround sound systems to drones.

Some tech giants are also seeking to define what they believe will be the next gizmos and digital must-haves to drive the industry.

- The future of TV is... -

Oval. Or any shape, says Sharp, which showed off what it called the "future of TV displays" using its new IGZO technology, during previews before the public opening.

IGZO is the acronym for indium, gallium, zinc and oxygen, and Sharp says the technology has allowed it to build TVs that are frameless, have outstanding image quality and consume little power.

But what's wrong with a rectangular frame? Do we really need oval or odd-shaped televisions?

Yes, says Sharp, explaining that the beauty of such screens is that they can be integrated anywhere -- in a car, in the kitchen or in the bathroom mirror.

The company plans to introduce TVs with IGZO displays to Europe within the next two years.

- The world through 3D glasses -

The 3D experience first began in cinemas, but virtual reality is increasingly entering homes with video-gamers jumping in.

Unveiling a new VR headset in Berlin, Acer chief executive Jason Chen said the lines are blurring between movies and video games, and converging to a more dynamic, immersive form of storytelling, with VR to feature prominently

South Korean giant Samsung also did not miss a chance to tout its Gear VR headset when it presented its latest smartwatch on Wednesday, as it offered a tour in the Russian mountains with the reality-altering glasses.

Experts believe that VR offers many untapped opportunities -- tour agencies can give customers a glimpse of their upcoming holidays, spectators can enjoy the live concert experience or football game from the comfort of their homes, and even news can be viewed in 3D format.

"The list of possibilities is growing each day," said Hans-Joachim Kamp, who heads the German federation for electronics companies, gFu.

- Tick tock, emails -

They began life as mostly square or rectangular blocks on wrists. But the latest generation of smartwatches have had their edges smoothed out, and are now mostly round-faced as their makers seek to broaden their reach to the wider public.

Samsung's latest Gear S3 and ZenWatch3 by Asus unveiled at IFA are both cases in point.

"We believe that the smartwatch market will double in two years, but to really popularise these intelligent watches, one needs to break into the world of watches," said Guillaume Berlemont, marketing director of mobile products at Samsung France.

Gartner estimates that sales of smartwatches will reach 67 million units in 2017, compared to 30 million in 2015.

- When the hob talks to the hood -

From the coffee maker, which can be told to make one's favourite blend from a distance to the dishwasher that picks the best programme, electronics giants Siemens and Bosch believe these smart appliances should feature in every kitchen.

There's also a ventilation hood that turns itself up when the cooking gets intense and a fridge that can take a selfie so users know exactly what's missing while dashing around the supermarket.

Always wanted to know what it would be like to watch a TV talkshow in the studio? Or zoom in on a particular player in a Bundesliga game rather than see a wideshot of the field?

The technology is there for such "live" 3D television experiences from the comfort of your home, according to the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, one of many exhibitors at Berlin's mega consumer electronics show IFA touting the latest in virtual and augmented reality technology.

From VR headsets and 360-degree cameras to AR glasses, tech giants like Samsung, Qualcomm and Acer are offering visitors a glimpse of reality-altering experience.

Don a pair of VR glasses at Fraunhofer's stand and you are plunged straight into a TV talkshow. Turn your head to the left to see the crew filming the presenter, while on the right, there are spectators sitting next to you and beyond, the producer with her clipboard. Look up and you see the studio lights.

With its OmniCam-360, the institute has filmed live events that can be replayed back in 3D mode by a viewer wearing VR goggles.

"You can feel the roar of the crowd in the stadium, or see what the television crew is doing, it's the live experience," said Fraunhofer HHI's spokesman Andre Groeger.

- The year for VR -

Goldman Sachs predicted earlier this year that the virtual reality and augmented reality markets will reach $80 billion (72 billion euros) by 2025.

The difference between the two is that while virtual reality blocks the user's view of the real world through special glasses, augmented reality blends real life with virtual reality.

At German optical giant Zeiss' stand, senior product manager Franz Troppenhagen is showing off the company's new VR headset to curious visitors.

"Since 2016, the market has really started to grow because people are now seeing the benefits of using VR," he told AFP.

One key factor is the increasing popularity of 360-degree cameras, which are allowing people to take 3D "panorama pictures while on vacation," he said, adding that the images can be easily shared with friends.

- 'Technology not there yet' -

A few halls down, a man was waving his arms around, trying to catch avatars on a screen in front of him -- giving a glimpse of what a living room could look like once augmented reality invades.

Marek Maciejewski, product development director at Chinese TV maker TCL, said the AR game was just one example of how screens would be used in the future.

"In the next five to eight years, you will look at the screen, which will be on your wall, and you won't be able to tell if it is reality or the screen," he said.

If VR is seeing a boom in 2016, AR is only in its nascent stages of development, even if Pokemon Go has given a foretaste of the potential of the market.

The AR gaming app has been a runaway hit, sending millions of people across the world into the streets to catch digital monsters.

While many VR headsets can also be used with AR apps, industry experts believe that as the sectors mature, manufacturers will develop distinct gadgets for each area.

"In the medium term, the development of these two trends may converge," said Klaus Boehm of consultancy Deloitte, noting that new offerings such as Microsoft's HoloLens can offer VR on top of AR.

"But even for these mixed reality glasses, specific applications will be developed for new goggle types perfectly," he said.

And that spells more opportunities for the industry.

"AR is a market with a very high potential but the technology is not there yet, and apps are missing but this is something that will come," said Zeiss' Troppenhagen.

"I think if you come to IFA 5 years from now, you'll see very nice AR applications."









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Previous Report
Berlin's IFA fair dons virtual reality headsets
Berlin (AFP) Aug 31, 2016
Virtual and augmented reality gadgets are expected to hog the limelight at Berlin's mega consumer electronics show IFA this week, as Pokemon Go gave a tantalising preview of the appetite for reality-altering technologies. VR headsets and cameras will jostle for attention, while analysts expect smartphone makers to also unveil new models compatible with the latest in such technologies. Th ... read more

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