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Next generation television dominates Berlin's IFA trade fair

Berlin's IFA trade fair is among the world's leading events for consumer electronics and home appliances. This year 3-D television and TVs that connect to the Internet are receiving the most attention.

Miss IFA poses with a new 3-D television

Visitors can browse the IFA trade fair until September 8

Representatives from the consumer electronics industry have been gathering in Berlin for the International Radio Exhibition, or IFA, trade show since 1924. While visitors back then were captivated by the latest in radio technology, the fair's first television demonstration in 1928- which featured a flickering screen no larger than today's mobile phone displays - gave crowd a glimpse into the future of home entertainment.

In 2010, two types of next generation televisions are expected to capture visitors' attention: ones that give you all the detail in 3-D and ones that let you get extra information for yourself online.

Give it to me in 3-D

"Every television manufacturer here is exhibiting some kind of 3-D solution," said IFA Director Jens Heithecker. "About half their display areas are dedicated to 3-D technology. Visitors can see how the various systems work, from projectors to televisions - even 3-D video cameras."

A man surrounded by TVs has on a pair of 3-D glasses

No one is sure consumers will want to watch TV with glasses in the long term

Market researchers have pointed to 3-D entertainment's promising future. Some 40,000 televisions capable of showing 3-D images have already been sold in Germany, and surveys have indicated that 40 percent of the population is considering buying one in the next three years.

But Rainer Hecker, head of the GFU society for entertainment and communications technology, isn't ready to pop open the champagne quite yet. Very few films are currently available in 3-D formats, plans for three dimensional television programming have barely reached the drawing board, and questions over consumers' attitude toward 3-D television abound, he said.

"Do they really want to wear these glasses at home? Do they really need this third dimension given the evolving quality of high definition television, and in future, Internet television?" he asked. "I think 3-D will mainly be a sort of add-on. It's not going to be a major revolution like the switch from analog to digital. It's a decision consumers will have to make for themselves."

Consumers will also have to decide how much they're willing to shell out to have the latest technology in their living rooms. Germans currently spend an average of 680 euros ($870) for a new flat-screen TV, but a television capable of displaying 3-D videos costs about 2,000 euros ($2,560).

YouTube on the boob tube

A man watching TV

New TVs could provide viewers with whatever shows they want

While 3-D is a getting a lot of hype right now, hybrid televisions that connect with the Internet and allow users to view content on-demand are set to change home entertainment forever, Hecker added. Indeed, nearly all the new TVs being unveiled this weekend have some kind of online capability.

That includes a hybrid broadcast broadband TV (HbbTV) produced by Toshiba. It will let viewers go online for extra information about the show they're watching or find something better to put on the tube, according to spokesperson Sascha Lange.

"Whether you want extra information about the show you're watching or to watch something you missed and forgot to record, the Internet can do all these things," Lange said. "Of course, it also has to be easy to use, and that's what HbbTV is."

Optimistic manufacturers like Toshiba were lining up for exhibition space at this year's IFA. More than 1,400 companies are showing off their wares - an increase of 22 percent from 2009. Globally the industry is set to grow 5 percent this year to 582 billion euros ($746 billion) in world sales, though European sales are lagging with growth of only 3 percent, according to GFU data.

"This year's visitor numbers are very respectable in international terms," said Christian Groeke, the manager of the Messe Berlin fairgrounds. "Last year we were the only trade fair for home entertainment and communications that didn't see attendance plummet, and this year we're looking at double-digit growth."

Author: Sabine Kinkartz, Manfred Boehm (sms)

Editor: Sam Edmonds

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