WAVE Report

CEATEC 2001
By John Latta
WAVE Issue #0200 1/4/02



CEATEC Tokyo, Japan
October 2-5, 2001

CEATEC is a uniquely Japanese show. It is the premier electronics technology showcase from component parts to consumer electronics to IT. It also offers a preview of technology that is likely to show up on the world market in the next year.

CEATEC is at the Mecca of CE (consumer electronics). The PC is only a tangent in this market and the show reflected this. CE is about mass markets with prices below $200. Here are some of our top-level impressions after working the show for 4 days.

It was open battle for competitive intelligence. Everybody is collecting information on everyone else. Cameras are everywhere. Open notebooks take down every detail. Since the playing field is level all of this was normal.

Japanese CE companies will pick and choose the PC and related technology they want to use on their own terms. The Video HDD (hard disk drive), MPEG 4, Internet, 1394 and now Bluetooth are excellent examples. The PC has only a remote connection to this market.

The television is a key home component. It is easy to get excited about showing digital pictures or the Internet on the television set. No big deal to the CE companies - they will just integrate the functionality into their products. As a result the niche products addressing these side markets will get buried. This is already the case with the video HDD. Boxes that show digital pictures on a television set are in the sights of the CE companies - Sharp had a very effective demonstration of this.

PC related companies just do not understand CE. Two of the major factors are use and price. When PC related companies try and enter the CE market to date, it has been marked by failure.

Organic displays represent a quantum shift in display technology. Sony showed what is possible. This is early in the product life cycle but what lies ahead will represent a huge shift.

PDAs are not making it in Japan. They just cannot replace paper in spite of Jeff Hawkins attempt to do so with Palm.

3G cellular services are happening in Japan now. It is another shift in the market and DoCoMo is leading the way with FOMA (Freedom of Multimedia Access).

Japan has a significant advantage, vis--vis Porter's Competitive Advantage of Nations. That is, this is an electronics "try it dump it" market. Nothing stays around for long as electronics. One just does not see the Generation -1 cell phones being carried here. Once products make it on the home market in Japan the rest of the world is relatively easy.

If Bluetooth is struggling for a position in the market someone forgot to ask the Japanese what they think. Every single major Japanese CE company had Bluetooth present in either products or chips. DoCoMo was showing a complete Bluetooth suite of products as part of its 3G services. There is a whole booth in the form of a theater showing Bluetooth products for the home.

Bluetooth will get adopted big time here and it has only tangential association with the PC. The Japanese will drive volume and ubiquity. As with 1394 they do not care about what the PC industry does with Bluetooth.

Internet integration is just beginning with CE products. We are already seeing 2nd generation products and the progress is very significant. The CE industry and cell phone usage could shape the Internet in ways the PC industry could not.

The movement of television to LCD (liquid crystal display) panels is a huge opportunity for the CE companies. It now provides an opportunity to integrate much more into the display, which now becomes a key piece of home electronics. CEATEC showed early signs of this trend.

Display panels were everywhere. A major driver are panels for cell phones including high quality for imaging and video display on phones.

There is no doubt that the economy is having a big impact here. The floor was populated but nothing like what I have seen at similar shows here in Japan in the past. Japan is in a recession and the recent events have made it even worse.

Highlights by Company and Technology

Sony - OLED Panel

Running 3+ deep all the time, in the most crowded section of any exhibit, were two operating EL (electro luminescent) Display Panels by Sony. If you can believe it, the most photographed part of the exhibit was the back of the panels, which were totally blank. These panels had the usual fantastic color of organic displays but I doubt they were more than 1/8" thick. The backs were totally smooth. This was right out of Houdini. Each panel was under continual watch by Sony personnel and in a glass case. The sign above the display called these Organic EL.

Sony Integration - Video Camera

Sony has shown impressive Internet integration. This is based on the very slick model DCR IP 120 all digital video camera. The camera fits in the palm of ones hand. It is linked via Bluetooth to a cell phone, PC or home gateway. The camera can download images or video to the net via the cell phone. One can also surf the Internet with the display panel on the video camera. Sony was also showing a LCD watch, which uses Memory Stick - the new Duo version.

We continue to come away impressed with the underlying engineering in these products. Many have a complete product dissection to the flex circuit level. Sony had one camcorder in a very carefully laid out dissection. Further, optics is increasingly a part of these products. Sanyo was showing a display phone. Very well done.

Sony - Air Board

The Air Board first shown at COMDEX last year is a ground-breaking product. It is both a web pad and a portable television screen. It uses 802.11b and showed the potential of integration of CE and the Internet in a way not shown by others. Sony was also showing the 2nd generation Air Board in a glass case. This was not an announcement and Sony would only say that the following has been changed: design, hardware and software. Everything. The new styling is very well done. The unit also has a remote docking station for battery charging.

Sony - DVD Walkman

Again Sony was turning heads with a Walkman version of a DVD player. The DVD drive is independent of the display, which is about 3" in diagonal. This product is not the same as the portable DVD players but much more along the lines of a personal device like the original Walkman.

Sharp - LCD television

Sharp has been pushing its Aquos line of LCD televisions. They are all over retail here. We saw a very well done demo with a digital camera. They took pictures, pulled the media out of the camera and put into the side of the television. Up popped a gallery of photos that could be managed and seen from the television. Very well done.

Sharp - Flat Panel Displays

Sharp had the most complete display of flat panels. One of the most outstanding were plastic LCDs in custom shapes. One was in the shape of a heart to be worn as jewelry. Some of the high-resolution LCDs were incredible in quality.

Sharp was also demonstrating an incredible 1280 X 768 LCD display was showing two full web pages in only 7". See the tip of my finger at the bottom of the display.

Hitachi - Prius

Hitachi has taken a totally different approach and integrated video functions into a PC. The high-end unit the Prius Deck 750V even supports DVD-RAM/R. Thus the unit will show television in a window, play back DVD and make DVDs. There was a family of Prius machines on display.

NTT DoCoMo - FOMA

On October 1 NTT DoCoMo launched its 3G service, the first in the world. At CEATEC they were lined up to see FOMA - Freedom of Multimedia Access. We watched a number of phones with color displays operating between individuals. Impressive.

DoCoMo had a Coke vending machine operating which could be used from a cell phone. This corner of the exhibit was also always packed. The Bluetooth exhibit, in this booth, had all of the following connected together: video camera, cell phone, notebook computer and Toshiba PDA.

Pioneer - Flexible Displays

Pioneer was showing flexible, one-color Organic EL panels that were sewn into clothing. Part of the exhibit had the panels curved at a sharp radius and still operating.

Pioneer - Cyberboard This is a 50" plasma panel with an IR (Infrared) touch screen detection panel. Further, there is a pen used to write on the screen that is touch sensitive to screen contact. One can also write on the screen with a finger. Pioneer has written an application called CB Meeting that allows for the user interface. This is one fantastic product. The usage just flows. We watched many demonstrations and come away with how easy it operates. There is a PC included.

The Cyberboard will work in a network of similar boards and supports Microsoft's Net Meeting. If one included video windows on the surface this could be a powerful product with many applications in a business environment. The combination of Sony's touch surface PC interface and the Pioneer Cyberboard, brings writing and hand interaction to another level on both the desktop and workgroup. So far Cyberboard is only sold in Japan but it is capable of being sold anywhere. The down side is price Yen 2.5m.

One can write on the screen with a finger but it is much more effective to use the pen. We got a very good shot of the pen which is no more than a holder of a big felt tip. It communicates with the panel using ultrasound and only works when the pen is pressed on the surface. There are also buttons on the pen for control of the menu and pen functions. Again very well done. We also found out that the Cyberboard will not allow video windows on the screen. However, the screen will play video full screen. Not having a video screen is a disappointment but should not be a major technical issue. The concept should be that one could put multiple windows from a videoconference on the screen while also using it as a Cyberboard.

Panasonic - 802.11a

Panasonic is making a major push into home networking and connectivity. There are showing: a multichannel 5GHz wireless system for the home based on 802.11a, a video transmission system for the home based on similar technology, an ADSL gateway, a broadband STB (set-top box) which supports FTTH (fiber-to-the-home), Biometrics for home security, a home gateway that operates with IPv6 and a home VoIP (voice over IP) and FoIP (fax over IP) terminal. The line up was very impressive. They also have wireless headset using Bluetooth.

Panasonic - Cell Phone with Full Web Page Display

This was a technology display, however, it shows what can be done with the new display technology. Impressive.

Epson - LCD panel drivers

Epson was showing a very innovative means of connecting LCD panel drivers to the panels. It is a flex circuit which bonds directly to the panel as is only 50microns in depth and with components on it. They were also promoting LCD panels as personal items including as a watch.

MuRata - Bluetooth robot

Playing to a packed crowd was a stage demonstration of a robot commanded by Bluetooth. I could only get a picture with camera well overhead. Impossible to actually see the robot moves but the crowd loved it. Great publicity for Bluetooth.

PDAs - Genio and Zaurus

In Japan small is beautiful and one would think that PDAs would be a hot item here. We did not see it. Cell phones were everywhere and one hardly ever sees a PDA being pulled out. This was certainly reflected in the show. There were only 2 PDAs: Toshiba Genio e and Sharp Zaurus. We erred in an early report and called this a media controller. This same form factor had been used for this purpose but it appears that either there are two products or the earlier one has morphed into Zaurus. The Compaq iPaq is on the floor as a demonstration item in a number of booths but otherwise Palm and the PocketPC PDAs are seen only as a buyer of components.

Head Mounted Displays

These were all over with products being shown by Hitachi, Shimadzu. Kopin (US), and Sanyo. The demos were always crowded. It seems that many see these as an easy way to watch television.

Video Hard Disk

As the US companies that originated the PVR (personal video recorders) for video storage crash and burn, the Japanese CE companies integrate the concepts in a way that suits their markets. All the major companies had video HDDs as they described them. This is but another example where the concept may not begin in Japan but the CE companies are the ones that make it a commercial reality. The reason, quite simply, is that they control the market to the consumer. We have said that ultimately the value of this technology will come when it is integrated into the TV. However, for now it is a separate box and for practical purposes, the source of additional revenue independent of a mainline product - the television set.

Bluetooth

We gave up counting companies with Bluetooth products or components. With each new pass of the floor there was another company we missed. The Japanese will play a major role in using Bluetooth in products. They do not need the PC to make Bluetooth work. In much the same way that 1394 has been adopted here, the Japanese companies applied this standard and ignored the PC industry and especially Intel's obstinacies.

Japanese Bluetooth Vision

In a poster shown in many places on the show floor the Japanese were illustrating what they regard as the Bluetooth vision.

You can also tell the Japanese are serious when the Bluetooth spec has been translated into Japanese. It was being shown in a glass case promoting its sale in at least 2 locations at the show.

http://www.ceatec.com/english/

1/4/02