Digital Gadgets Highlight Consumer Show

BERLIN -- Visitors attending the IFA consumer electronics show, which opens here on Friday, will have a tough time finding anything analog. Digital technology will dominate nearly every gadget on display, from the latest generation of LCD and plasma screens to new high-definition TV sets, mobile TV phones, and super multiformat HD-DVD recorders.

Interest in the show--from exhibitors and visitors alike--has grown noticeably as the lines between consumer electronics and information technology continue to blur.

Pioneering Event

Among the big-name IT manufacturers attending the six-day event, which takes place every two years, are Acer, Intel, and Siemens. Also present will be a long string of consumer electronic giants including Canon, Koninklijke Philips Electronics, LG Electronics, Matsushita Electric Industrial (better known by its Panasonic brand), Sony, and Samsung Electronics.

The number of exhibitors is up 15 percent to nearly 1200 from 40 countries, with more than a third of them attending for the first time. Around 280,000 consumers are expected to come. It will be the biggest ever IFA show, according to the organizers.

The trade fair, the second oldest in Germany, began more than 80 years ago when Germany was emerging as a force in the relatively young consumer electronics industry. The first event was opened by resident scientist Albert Einstein, who will be honored with a special exhibition staged by the Max Planck Institute.

So, what to expect at IFA? (The acronym stands for Internationale Funkausstellung, although the full name is rarely used these days.)

Product Announcements

One big theme will be high-definition (HD) TV. Although this technology has been on the drawing board for nearly 20 years, the high cost of the various components required to build the sets has undermined its take-up. This is changing, with several vendors exhibiting lower-cost HDTV sets and a number of European broadcasters, including German pay-TV channel Premier, planning to offer HDTV service in November.

Another attraction will be mobile phones that can receive TV signals beamed over the airwaves. Both Siemens and Nokia plan to show their mobile TV phones based on the new DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld) standard. The Berlin-based Heinrich-Hertz-Institute and the Fraunhofer Institute for Information Technology, which have both contributed to the development of mobile TV systems, will be demonstrating the technology on various devices.

Among some of the other expected highlights:

  • Hitachi will show the first multiformat DVD/HD recorder with 1 terabyte of storage capacity.
  • Philips will show a new Music Wireless Center. The unit, with a 40GB hard drive capable of storing 750 CDs as compressed MP3 files, can send music to up to five stations, or wireless hi-fi sets, located around the home. Philips will also show a new set-top box based on IP technology.
  • Samsung will exhibit a mobile phone that has a mini-hard drive capable of storing up to 3GB of data, ideal for game and music fans. The phone runs Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system.
  • Nokia has dropped hints of showing a phone with storage capacity of up to 4GB. The phone also offers WiFi connectivity and can receive radio broadcasts.
  • Thomson plans to unveil a new handset that combines Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) and Voice Over IP (VOIP) technologies.
  • The Fraunhofer Institute will display computers the size of a grain of wheat, based on a new "flip-chip" technique.
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