Curves are in

Curves are in

If this year's IFA electronics showcase in Berlin can be summed up in a sentence, it would be: "Expect the unexpected."

Consumers who laugh at the gimmickry of a curved TV screen may frown on hearing that more global brands will add curved screens to even more devices. Fancy a curved smartwatch or a curved smartphone offering a dual-screen display?

And yes, more brands, aside from Samsung and LG, are also making curved TV screens.

That much is clear from IFA (in full, Internationale Funkaustellung) in Berlin.

The highly anticipated Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is also hitting the market a little earlier than expected, in the form of the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR goggles being developed to work with its upcoming Galaxy Note 4 phablet smartphone.

There is no launch date set for the Oculus Rift, while the Gear VR is expected to go on sale next month.

Having launched two wireless lens mounts for smartphones last year, Sony is adding a QX1 mount, effectively a mirrorless camera that ships minus a lens.

Here are highlights of the recent global trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances, held in Berlin, Germany.


Creative Sound BlasterX7

Available at end of the year

Look closely at what some users have linked to their smartphones while they are listening to their music. That attachment is not a battery pack but a portable digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) with a headphone amplifier.

Turning a digital file into an analogue track is what makes listening to MP3 songs via a portable player and a pair of headphones possible. But this hardware is not a priority for most smartphone makers, which means that some devices are better built to handle digital songs.

Thus, audiophiles have resorted to portable DAC and amplifier for a better quality audio experience from a smartphone.

Having designed and made three types of portable DAC and amplifier devices, Singapore's Creative Technology is now looking at the Creative Sound Blaster X7 as a companion device meant for the living room.

With outputs for conventional wired speakers and input via traditional RCA and optical connectors, the X7 can link laptops, computers, smartphones and even game consoles directly to dedicated speakers.

The X7 has a 100-watt amplifier that does all the hard work so that tracks can be played back in their original high-definition glory, even if the music is stored in a tablet or laptop which is unable to process the content efficiently.

Homeowners can play back music from their laptops to dedicated speakers via the X7, while gamers can look forward to better sound quality coming from gaming computers and game consoles, to their headphones.

Samsung Gear VR

Available at the end of the year

A headset worn over the eyes to recreate a large screen display is not new, but how about one that recognises the motion of the head as it turns?

In this way, the headset can also alter the video to mirror the same turning motion, thereby creating a self-contained 3-D environment that responds to head movements.

Oculus, a Facebook acquisition, has been teasing gamers with its upcoming Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with just that proposition, and the developer has worked with Samsung to create the Oculus-powered Gear VR headset for users of the upcoming Galaxy Note 4 smartphone.

Users insert the entire phone into the front of the headset and lock in the device. The Note 4's 5.7-inch screen becomes the display of the Gear VR and lenses within the headset create the virtual world.

A control knob at the top of the headset focuses the image for those who wear prescription spectacles. A track pad and Back button on the right side of the screen lets users control the Note 4, without needing to touch the screen.

Such a 3-D virtual world for viewers would naturally require specialised content. Samsung says it is working with partners on this, especially for video games.

In a demo at IFA, it showed off the powerful potential of the headset in video games, a concert and wildlife videos.

One hopes the Gear VR can be linked directly to the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One game consoles, for a more realistic and immersive gaming world.

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

Available from next month

There are curved TV screens that show off a manufacturer's skill in crafting a flexible display. And there is the curved smartphone screen that creates a two-sided display, each with its own menu of items.

Samsung can claim both. Both LG and Samsung launched smartphones with curved screens last year, but those screens were concave and offered only a single window of information.

The benefits of a multi-display curved screen had been promised since January last year, when Samsung showed off its YOUM flexible screen prototype. With the Galaxy Note Edge, Samsung is now the first mainstream manufacturer to produce a handset with a two-sided screen.

The Edge is a variant of its successful Galaxy Note phablet phones that support a stylus. It has an ultra-sharp 5.6-inch quad high-definition display that folds in on the right edge of the device, to cover the right side of the phone.

The thin, curved window strip on the right edge serves as a secondary display when the larger primary screen is in use. For example, an incoming SMS message can now scroll across the smaller display, while a user is busy watching a video or writing an e-mail message.

When viewing a video, all playback controls appear on the smaller window on the edge, so that they do not appear over the video and affect the viewing experience.

Samsung has tied up with Yahoo to use the curved window to display news headlines, and it has made its own apps, such as the weather one that displays the temperature for the day.

A small handful of customisable Edge window apps are available out of the box and the company is opening up the software development kit for this smaller window and leaving it to the app developers to decide if the use of the curve gives them an edge over the competition.

Those with raised eyebrows over this curved addition can breathe easy, as Samsung will also offer a regular flat screen Galaxy Note 4. The regular version will sport a 5.7-inch QHD screen, and both will use the same 16MP rear camera lens and 3.7MP front camera lens.

Among its updated features is a wide-screen selfie mode that allows more faces to be included in photos taken with the front-facing camera.

Artists and calligraphers will enjoy the updated stylus which is more sensitive to pressure.

The remaining hardware for both devices is similar and, as in earlier devices, will be available in variations that differ according to processor type and internal memory capacity.

Samsung says the phone will start shipping next month, but has not indicated if both devices will be available at the same time.

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