This year still has several weeks left on the calendar, but it's not too early to look back at the past 10 months and evaluate how we've progressed on the consumer tech front. Rather than look at the best products of the year, however, I decided to focus on the ones that were the most cutting-edge. As such, I've looked back at everything we've covered this year, and I've done my best to winnow down the list and come up with 10 products I think are at the cusp of... something. They may not be fully baked, and they may be overpriced, but they're at the forefront of their respective categories. Of course, I've surely missed some worthy products, so feel free to agree or disagree and add your own selections in the comments section below.
1. Digital SLR: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
With both excellent still capture and HD video capture, the 5D Mark II may just revolutionize photojournalism--and journalism in general.
>> Read the CNET first take of the Canon EOS Mark II
>> Check out the video sample (canon.com)
2. LED-backlit LCD TV: Sony KDL-55XBR8
A few weeks ago Senior Editor David Katzmaier reviewed Samsung's LN46A950 LED-backlit LCD TV and declared it, "The most advanced television money can buy." He also said it "represents the peak of flat-panel LCD performance and picture quality." But then the Sony KDL-55XBR8 arrived and stole the crown from the Samsung.
In the world of LCD TVs, the hot feature is LED-backlighting--and it doesn't come cheap. The Sony KDL-55XBR8 costs a whopping $7,000. Samsung's A950 series, which contains the aforementioned 46-inch model and a 55-inch model, retail for more than double what typical LCDs of their size cost. And LG will be joining the LED crowd with its upcoming 47LG90. They incorporate something called "local dimming," a bit of circuitry that allows individual LEDs behind the screen to be dimmed or turned off as needed. That tech wizardry produces extremely deep black levels that are closer to those produced by the best plasma displays. Until now, of course, LCDs have had a reputation for mediocre black-level performance compared to that of plasma.
At $5,000, Sony's 46-inch model is even more expensive than the Samsung. (LG's 47-incher will list for $3,700.) We're not sure how many takers there will be at these prices, but in a couple of years, we can expect to see these top-of-the-line LCD TVs at more midrange prices.
>> Read the full CNET review of the Sony KDL-55XBR8
>> Read David Katzmaier's blog on LED-backlit LCD TVs
3. Network media streamer: Sling Media SlingCatcher
>> Read the CNET first take of the SlingCatcher
4. Wi-Fi radio: Logitech Squeezebox Boom
Here's a snippet from our full review: "One of our favorite streaming-audio products in recent years is the Logitech Squeezebox Duet. That unit makes it fairly simple to access a wide range of Internet- and PC-based digital audio sources, and listen to them in any room of your home. But the Duet is a two-part product--a base station, plus an iPod-like remote control--the former of which needs to be hooked up to an amplifier of some sort to actually hear any music. Wouldn't it be great if you could just shrink all that down into a single all-in-one device? That, in a nutshell, is exactly what the Logitech Squeezebox Boom is."
>> Read the full review of the Squeezebox Boom
5. Digital photo frame: Kodak OLED picture frame
>> Read the CNET first take of Kodak's OLED digital photo frame
6. Green surge protector: Belkin Conserve
>> Watch the CNET First Look video of the Belkin Conserve surge protector
7. Netflix Watch Instantly players
>>Read the reviews of the Netflix Player by Roku and the LG BD300.
8. Netbook PCs: Dell Inspiron Mini 9
Some people call them Netbooks. Some people call them mini laptops. I call them cheap, lightweight laptops--and several have hit the market this year. It's hard to single out one model over another because they all have their pluses and minuses but--for the moment, anyway--Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 seems to have a struck the decent balance between price, performance and features. Look for this segment of the laptop market to get even hotter as prices get trimmed, included storage capacity increases, and Intel comes out with a speedier version of its Atom chip.
>> Read the CNET review of the Dell Inspiron Mini 9
>> Read Dan Ackerman's "Building the perfect Netbook" blogpost
>> Read "The search for the perfect Netbook" comparison
9. Smartphone: T-Mobile G1 with Google Android OS
Apple fans, don't assault me. Yeah, the iPhone's cutting-edge. I know, you know it, but that's old news. The T-Mobile G1--or simply the Google Phone, as some people call it--was finally unveiled and the reception wasn't wholly enthusiastic (bottom line: the iPhone is better). But while the G1 certainly has its drawbacks (no integrated headphone jack, no stereo Bluetooth, no video capture, no support for corporate email--yet), the concept of a more democratic "open source" phone that runs on a Linux-based OS has the potential to shake up the cell phone and mobile Internet markets and help transform smartphones into smarter devices. That said, the smart bet, is to wait for the G2. All cutting-edge stuff takes a generation or two to work out the kinks.
>> Read the CNET review of the T-Mobile G1 and watch the hands-on video
>> BlackBerry Storm (new touch-screen BlackBerry due out soon)
>> Motorola ZN5 (5-megapixel camera phone with Kodak Gallery integration)
10. Sony PSP 3000
The next iteration of Sony's Playstation Portable may not be a huge leap forward but the addition of a brighter, glare-resistant screen, a built-in mic, and better video-out support does take the system up a notch and raises the bar for portable gaming. For its part, Nintendo will launch the DSi in Japan in November, with a worlwide release planned for early 2009. The DSi is 12 percent thinner than the DS, has a built-in 3-megapixel camera, an SD card slot, and slightly larger displays. As happy as that makes Nintendo fans, we're giving the cutting-edge nod to the PSP 3000 in the mobile gaming category--at least until we start seeing a better gaming selection on the iPhone/iPod Touch.
>> Read the CNET review of the Sony PSP 3000 and watch the hands-on video