New flat-panel displays and televisions that leave LCD and plasma in the digital dust, colour-matching software that can replicate electronic images in true colours under any sort of lighting, and collaborative technologies that allow images to be manipulated on a screen with a mere hand gesture.

These are but a few of the advances in imaging technology that businesses and consumers can expect to be using in the next few years. They come courtesy of Canon Inc., the giant Japanese maker of imaging, print and photographic equipment, which showed off a wide assortment of next-generation products during its Canon Expo 2005 held recently in New York City.

Scratching the Surface

Among the most impressive and talked-about innovations at the conference was Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Displays (SEDs) that render video and digital images in stunning detail. Seeing was definitely believing, as visitors were treated to a demonstration of identical sets of video images fed into SED, plasma and LCD displays. The SED display was in a class by itself, in terms of the vivid colours and the detail of the images.

Canon says SED technology has been in development since 1986, and next year the company plans to market a large-screen SED product that will be “far superior to plasma and LCD.” According to Canon CEO and president Fujio Mitarai, in 2007 a new facility will produce 75,000 SED TVs.

Colour management software called Kyuanos showed how colours and textures on real fabrics can be replicated to precisely match those shown on-screen in a digital illustration. This colour-matching capability is vitally important in industries such as clothing manufacturing, where a designer starts with an idea, mocks it up on a computer, then has the image sent to various other collaborators such as fabric makers, tailors and other designers to create the real thing.

The problem is that different light sources and screen properties can distort colours and textures: what appears as a colour shade in natural sunlight can look radically different under fluorescent lighting. The Kyuanos colour management application can recreate an accurate digital reproduction of colour and texture on video displays, compensating for the light source, including various shades of natural or artificial lighting.

In the world of fashion, the rendering of exactly coloured and textured images is critical, and to do these things in a virtual high-tech way makes the design process highly efficient and collaborative. But Canon’s Kyuanos technology is also a tool for the masses. It will be incorporated in Windows Vista, Microsoft’s next-generation 64-bit operating system software, formerly called Longhorn, due for release late next year, as its colour management technology.

In fact, many of the imaging technologies previewed at the expo are expected to find their way into the hands of workers at small and medium businesses before too long. Mason Olds, vice-president of Canon’s digital imaging group, cited an example of five years ago when small businesses might have purchased a limited-function copier, but can today affordably buy an all-in-one multifunction, high-quality printer, copier, fax and scanner.

Many of the cutting-edge products on display in New York will, over a relatively short time, become affordable equipment for the average workplace, Olds predicts.

And those products will likely be interconnected by high-speed and wireless technologies. Canon officials say they are expecting an increasingly “connected” world that will drive imaging technology to new heights, and there were plenty of demonstrations, from images downloaded wirelessly from a camera to a nearby computer or printer, to photos transmitted across the country to a remote wireless printer. There was even a camera that had the ability to take the happiest of group photographs, with the camera shutter being triggered by each individual as he or she smiled.

During his keynote address, Mitarai pointed out that forecasts expect there will be approximately 440 million broadband subscribers worldwide by 2010, up from a total of 190 million now. This ubiquity will spur the use of advanced video conferencing and video to the home and office, he says, adding that these trends will present a new opportunity, and Canon is focusing on display technology to take advantage of broadband.

Innovative technology is more rapidly than ever becoming affordable and finding a path to small business and consumers. Just wait and see what’s going to happen to imaging — we’re in store for some eye-popping stuff.

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