3D TV LOOMS LARGE at this year's Gadget Show Live, with both Sony and Panasonic demonstrating systems on massive screens. But with the 3D glasses alone costing around £100 a pair, it does not come cheap.
Sony pointed out that you do get two pairs 'free' with its 52-inch Bravia TV, which will cost upwards of £2,000 when it is released later this year. The effectiveness of the 3D varies a lot with the subject but it works very well with games, as NVidia demonstrated at the show.
PC-based 3D system are also much more affordable that these high-end consumer systems. NVidia was offering a 22-inch Viewsonic VX2268wn monitor, 3D glasses and a copy of the Avatar game, at a show price of £345. It also showed a virtual-reality car-racing system (left) using three screens and 3D glasses.
Flip used the show, at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre, to launch the latest of its miniature video cameras. The Mino HD with a 1080x720 display is the first in Flip's smaller format to support high-definition. It costs £159 complete with rechargeable battery and 8GB of memory, enough for two hours of video, according to the specifications given out at the show, although the website says it has only 4GB of memory.
The remote-control Align helicopter pictured below left might look like a toy but it has lift enough to carry a camera, and so can be used for aerial still and video photography and for inspecting hard-to-reach places such as roofs and chimneys.
A build-it-yourself kit costs £1,200 from the UK distributor SJM Helicopters (email firstname.lastname@example.org website not yet active), which can potentially save a lot of money in helicopter hires for people who need this class of work. But be warned that it does take some skill to fly and insurance for it will likely be rather hard to get.
Sadly health-and-safety rules prohibited a demonstration at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre, where the Gadget Show runs until Sunday - tickets are already sold out.
An instant WiFi hotspot for cars does not immediately sound like a winner but it could save you having to mess with two SIM cards and two mobile data cards if you want an Internet link for both a phone and a laptop.
Operator 3 has been selling this Huawei 3g wireless modem seen at right for a while to pay-as-you-go customers but is now bundling it with a holder and charging cable for use in cars for £59.99, complete with 1GB of data transfer. You connect with the modem by WiFi, as in any hotspot, and the web link is completed using 3G. The modem can also, of course, be used away from the car. A range of portable cellular routers was also shown by Portable Power Solutions.
Packard-Bell, which has been trying to reinvent itself as the stylish arm of Acer, showed a range of new notebooks, including this twist-screen tablet convertible, dubbed the £499.99 EasyNote Butterfly Touch Edition because, says the company, it is inspired by the grace and beauty of a butterfly.
It packs an 11.6-inch display, weighs 1.6kg, has a full-sized keyboard, and is preloaded with Windows 7 Home Premium.
A company called PSI PDA showed this rather curious Atom-powered PC at right, which has a 5-inch TFT screen, measures just 17.4 x 8.4 x 2.5cm and is driven by a 1.1GHz Intel Atom Z510 processor. It supports Bluetooth, WiFi and 3G connectivity, and the touchpad and click buttons are on opposite sides of the screen so that they can be operated by the thumbs. Prices start at £449.
Designers of equipment for severely disabled people have long known that the body's own control signals can be used to take command of machines. But setting up even relatively simply EEG scans of the brain's electrical activity can by time consuming, with the need to stick electrodes on to the skin at various places on the head.
A Californian company called NeuroSky, which designs chips for EEG scans, has developed a headset that could encourage wider use of EEG control. The version shown at NEC reads only from one point, near the eye, showing a distinct spike when you blink, but it is very easy to use.
The headset has already been used in games designed to help children who have difficulty in concentrating in class, as it can register when you are paying attention. The idea is not new, and headsets with more terminals have been developed, but the NeuroSky device might bring the technology closer to the mainstream.
The ultimate application is something approaching mind reading. If you think of something to say without actually saying it, you still send the relevant control signals to your throat. In principle these could be captured and analysed statistically to translate your thoughts into written text, in a similar way to standard speech recognition.
On the subject of brainwaves, the prize for the best one at the Gadget Show must go to New Zealander Grant Ryan, who has completely rethought the bicycle, or more specifically the moped. His YikeBike folds up small enough to take on a train in less than 20 seconds and weighs 10kg, including a motor and a battery giving it a range of 10km and a top speed of 25km/hr.
The rider actually sits on the handlebars as seen at left, and it has a 20-inch wheel at the front and a 6-inch one at the back. How well it rides in practice remains to be seen but it certainly looks a lot more practical than the Segway personal transporter, which inspired it and was also on show at the Gadget Show. It now has a UK distributor.
Prices of the YikeBike will start at around £2,000 when it becomes available in June. But Ryan says cheaper materials could bring the price to below £500.
Now all he needs to do is redesign cities so that cyclists will have a fair chance of surviving their journeys. µ