The last time I saw Berlin - and the Internationale Funkausstellung electronics trade show - the east side of the long-divided city was still under construction. News conferences were held in German. Most product introductions were for European consumption only.
Eight years later, the city looked beautifully unified - except for the symbolic path of blocks where the Wall stood. News conferences were in English.
And although many of the kitchen/laundry wares I frothed about in last week's column are not coming to the States, a goodly share of other gadgets in the video, audio, computer and health realms will be landing here without those steep, Euro VAT (Value Added Taxes) - like, 17 percent.
It's an Ultra-High Definition blitzkrieg: Panasonic will join LG in supporting OLED screen technology in new generation ultra-high-def TVs, ultra-sharp displays with four times the pixel count of ye old high-definition TV. But Panny's gorgeous, curved 65-inch set is landing at a doozie of a price, maybe $12,000.
Samsung used IFA to announce the first ultra-HD Blu-ray player. And 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment president Mike Dunn said the studio will be there from day one (early 2016) with 4K UHD titles, starting with Kingsman: The Secret Service. Some UHD discs may be encoded in 2K (high definition) resolution - there's talk of Disney leaning that way - but will boast other format upgrades: Namely, "high-dynamic range," which expands the range of lights and darks, a wider color palette, and a 60 frames per second refresh rate more demonstrable (at a distance) than 4K resolution.
The first global ultra-HD channel, Fashion One 4K, also was announced at IFA.
360-degree action cameras. Building on the popularity of tiny, all-weather action cameras, the next generation use multiple lenses to stitch together a full 360-degree view of the world in motion. What you record is then readily played back on a growing array of VR goggles (even View-Master is getting into the act), shareable on Facebook, Twitter and Tumbler or postable on Google Maps, Google+ and the YouTube 360 channel. Look up or down! Look all around!
At IFA, GoPro previewed two "globe" shaped arrays (with six or 16 itty bitty cameras) that collectively do the wrap-around job. 360fly, Kodak and Ricoh introduced new and more affordable ($400 and up) variants that capture a spherical world view with just two fish-eye lenses. The easily gripped Ricoh Theta S is the one I'm hankering to try to shoot immersive travelogues.
FYI: Juniper Research predicts wearable VR displays for video and gaming applications will hit three million units in 2016, 30 million in 2020.
Computer building blocks. Acer's nifty Revo Build Series (M1-601) Mini PCs start with a small, square core, an Intel Pentium or Celeron processor-based block 'o computer.
You can then neatly stack more pin-and magnet-connected modules on top, such as hard drives that expand functions with no external cables or need to open the case. Europe gets it first.
Lenovo touted five different Yoga Tab 3 series tablets with multi-channel Dolby Atmos sound that "flows above and around the user." Dolby Atmos also is a happening thing in home theater sound, using extra speakers firing up to (or down from) the ceiling to create great fly-over effects.
At the U.S.-spawned ShowStoppers @ IFA (a one-night show within the show), there was no missing the screen improvements on a new Toshiba 2-in-1 laptop (Satellite Radius 12) boasting a 4K display fine-tuned by Technicolor Labs.
IFA phone home. Kudos to Sony for the Xperia Z5 Premium, the first smartphone with a 4K screen. The model should take terrific videos and stills, too, with an imager so big (23 megapixels) that even 5x digital zooms (using just a small portion of the image chip) still look sharp. Boasts a two-day (!) battery, too.
Chinese phone giant Huawei has nifty features in the Mate S - including a rear-positioned touchpad to keep the screen fully visible during page scrolling and selfie snaps. Also has force touch on the front screen and the skill to respond (audibly and visibly) when its owner shouts out "Hey, phone, where are you?"
Speak to me only. In a world of look-alike speakers, the self-amplified, user-tunable Les Paul Reference Monitors (from Gibson Pro Audio) rock out of the pack, finished in the same sunburst wooden finishes as LP guitars. Three sizes, $499 to $999 each.
To your health. One of the more stylish of (many) high-tech sleep aids at IFA, a Withings Aura Wake Up Light and Sound System ($189.95) uses light and custom sounds from Spotify to help you fall asleep faster and wake up energized. Craving more feedback? $299.95 (at Amazon or Withings.com) buys the Aura Total Sleep System, adding an under-the-mattress biometric sensor. Night, night.