SLIDESHOW

2011 CES Best of Innovations Honorees

Take a look at some of the most innovative tech of the year--and the most innovative tech of the near future. Here are the 2011 Best of Innovations honorees.

2011 CES Best of Innovations Honorees

The Consumer Electronics Association has been rewarding forward-thinking technology with its Innovations Design and Engineering Awards for 35 years, honoring hardware and software products that do things differently. This year, 35 separate panels of judges rated existing and upcoming products in 35 categories, and the gear on the following pages earned the highest scores across the entire field of nominees. The 2011 Best of Innovations honorees were announced this week at the CES Press Preview in New York, and this year PCWorld is the proud sponsor of the Innovations Awards.

Here's a look back at some of the best of what 2010 had to offer, as well as an early peek at what we'll see at January's 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Meet the Best of Innovations honorees for 2011.

Joos Orange

Category: Eco-Design and Sustainable Technology

Honoree: Solar Components Joos Orange

The Solar Components Joos Orange travel charger is a portable, sun-powered outlet. You leave it in the sun (or connect it to any USB power source), it soaks up the rays (even on rainy days or in the shade), and it stores that energy for charging your gadgets' batteries later. Connected via a USB cable and a range of adapter tips, it can charge phones, media players, iPads, cameras, e-readers, and most other portable devices--no laptops, however. Solar Components claims that the Joos Orange converts 1 hour of sunbathing time to 2 hours of cell-phone talk time, that it can charge devices 3.5 times more quickly than competing solar chargers, and that it's tough enough to withstand drops or a dip underwater.

Recon Transcend Goggles

Category: Personal Electronics

Honoree: Recon Instruments Transcend

Even though they look like ordinary skiing/snowboarding goggles from the outside, these GPS-enabled goggles can practically turn you into a cyborg. The Recon Instruments/Zeal Optics Transcend goggles are equipped with a real-time display that works sort of like a car dashboard: If you look down with your right eye while wearing them, you'll see your current speed, altitude, and latitude and longitude, as well as the current temperature and time. You can switch the display mode to show a stopwatch. After you're done with your excursion, you can download your stats to a computer via a side-mounted USB port, and then share and compare your data with other users via Recon's Online HQ social network.

Recon Transcend's Real-Time Display

Here's an inside-out look at the Transcend's real-time display.

Trane ComfortLink II Thermostat

Category: Integrated Home Systems

Honoree: Trane ComfortLink II Thermostat

Your home's heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning system (HVAC) is all about teamwork, and Trane's 7-inch, tablet-like touchscreen interface is the ultimate play-calling weapon. This Web-connected slate doesn't just let you kick up the heating or cooling a few notches; it also displays temperature information for separate rooms in your home, plus weather forecasts so that you can set your in-home temperature accordingly. It even doubles as a digital photo frame when you're not using it as a thermostat. Additionally, the ComfortLink II system has a browser-based interface that lets you adjust in-home temperatures from any local-network-connected device in the house.

HP Photosmart eStation

Category: Computer Peripherals

Honoree: Hewlett-Packard Photosmart eStation

Not many Android-based tablets are available yet, but if you're itching for one, you can get a tablet that comes bundled with a multifunction printer. The marquee feature of HP's Photosmart eStation printer, scanner, and fax machine is its detachable 7-inch tablet/control panel, which offers Wi-Fi access, allows you to bring up Web pages and print them without a computer, and doubles as a digital photo frame when you're not actively using it.

HP Photosmart eStation's Detachable Tablet

The touchscreen tablet/control panel charges while docked in a tray on the front of the printer, but it maintains a connection to the printer and the Web even when detached.

Sony Internet TV & Blu-ray Player Powered by Google TV

Category: Online Audio/Video Content

Honoree: Sony Internet TV Blu-ray Disc Player With Google TV

One of the first Google TV-powered devices to hit the market, this Sony set-top beast is a combination Blu-ray player and wireless media streamer, complete with search functionality for both TV and Web, downloadable Android apps, and one of the most powerful remote controls in history. Like the box itself, the remote is designed to do pretty much anything; it packs in a thumb-operated QWERTY keyboard and mouselike control pads. If you'd rather use a touchscreen, the system also lets you use a mobile phone as a remote control and for voice-enabled searches.

Microsoft Kinect

Category: Electronic Gaming Hardware

Honoree: Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360

This could be the beginning of the end for couch potatoes--or at least those who spend most of their couch time playing video games. The $150 Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360 eliminates any need for a hardware game controller, using cameras and motion sensors to turn a player's body movement into on-screen controls. The Kinect hardware and the first wave of Kinect-friendly games are out now.

Dynamics Card 2.0

Category: Personal Electronics

Honoree: Dynamics Card 2.0

Believe it or not, the credit card in this picture is its own computing platform. Dynamics' Card 2.0 payment cards are designed to work with existing magnetic-stripe readers, but they offer a number of futuristic applications. You can switch between accounts by pressing buttons on the card, mask the account number on the front until you enter a code on the card, and dynamically create new codes and magnetic-stripe properties for each payment. The Card 2.0 platform supports button-based controls on the card itself and the ability to add a low-power display, and Dynamics claims that the cards are designed to last more than three years for each charge of the on-board battery.

GE WattStation

Category: Portable Power

Honoree: GE WattStation

As electric cars become more commonplace, the GE WattStation car charger may become as ubiquitous as the gas pump. These roadside vehicle chargers are designed to tap into a smart electrical grid and charge cars quickly while they're parked. The WattStation's smartgrid-optimized design would allow utility companies to monitor and meter the energy consumption for each charger.

Kenmore Elite Dishwasher With Interactive Color LCD

Category: Major Home Appliances

Honoree: Kenmore Elite Dishwasher with Interactive Color LCD Controls

Finally, a machine that might have your kids clamoring to call dibs on doing the dishes. This Kenmore Dishwasher has a top-mounted touchscreen LCD that not only lets you select wash settings manually but also gives you advice on how to load the dishwasher and save energy, asks you what kind of dish detergent you're using so that it can fine-tune its settings, and lets you program your wash times so that you'll always have fresh, warm dishes on Sloppy Joe night. Unfortunately, loading and unloading the dishwasher is still up to you.

Kodak PlaySport Video Camera

Category: Digital Imaging

Honoree: Kodak PlaySport Video Camera

Even without its waterproof, ruggedized charms, Kodak's PlaySport would be a standout performer in the realm of HD pocket camcorders. It shoots 1080p high-definition video, snaps 5-megapixel still images, offers digital image stabilization, stores video and photos to removable SDHC cards, and eliminates screen glare in direct sunlight via display-based filters. Not too shabby for a pocketable powerhouse that you can also bring 10 feet underwater.

HTC EVO 4G

Category: Wireless Handsets

Honoree: HTC EVO 4G

In addition to its groundbreaking 4G connectivity and voice/data multitasking in 4G coverage areas, HTC's first-gen 4G Android phone also started a growing trend in the smartphone world: It offers a larger-than-normal 4.3-inch display, which helps showcase its powerful multimedia performance. And this phone isn't just about consuming media--it's also about creating it, thanks to an 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash, 720p video-recording capabilities, and a front-facing camera for video chats.

Black Ops With 3D Vision Surround Technology

Category: Computer Hardware

Honoree: Digital Storm Black Ops with 3D Vision Surround Technology

Digital Storm seems at home on the bleeding edge, where the PCs in its Black Ops line vie for the affection of well-heeled gamers. But these liquid-cooled, overclocked monoliths have a trick (or three) up their sleeves: Nvidia's 3D Vision Surround technology. Three 120Hz monitors and a pair of Nvidia's graphics cards serve up an immersive 3D experience, bringing you right into the game--provided that your desk is as expansive as your bankroll.

DroneMobile

Category: In-Vehicle Accessories

Honoree: Firstech DroneMobile

You shouldn't use your phone while you're driving, but Firstech's DroneMobile system lets you use your phone for nearly everything involving your car when you're not behind the wheel. Once the Drone DR-1000 GPS-enabled hardware module is installed in your car (the company suggests having that done professionally), you can use an Android phone, iPhone, or BlackBerry to unlock your doors remotely, start your engine, figure out where you parked, find out when your car battery is slated to die, determine if your kids are driving around after curfew, pop the trunk, roll down the windows, and receive diagnostic and security alerts from your ride.

DisplayLink SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Chip

Category: Enabling Technologies

Honoree: DisplayLink SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Chip

One of the major benefits of USB 3.0 is its blazing, bidirectional speed: It can shuttle data between devices at a rate of 4.8 gigabits per second, which is 10 times faster than the maximum transfer rate of USB 2.0. In real-world terms, that's plenty fast enough to stream full high-def video and graphics-heavy games smoothly to an external display over a USB 3.0 cable. DisplayLink's SuperSpeed USB 3.0 chip is an internal air-traffic controller for monitors, docking stations, and adapters that could end up being the secret sauce for smooth HD video feeds over USB 3.0 to big-screen monitors and HDTVs. The technology can handle bandwidth-intensive 1080p video feeds to multiple displays at once, and the chips adjust compression settings dynamically to manage the load.

Monster Cable Max 3D Glasses

Category: Home Theater Accessories

Honoree: Monster Cable Max 3D Glasses

A compatibility war is brewing in the world of 3D TV: Most of the major 3DTV manufacturers' active-shutter glasses work properly only with the same company's sets, and no one knows which flavor of active-shutter technology (if any) will win out in the end. If that sort of thing worries you, Monster's Max 3D universal shutter glasses might offer you peace of mind, as they promise to work with any 3D-capable HDTV on the market. The technology uses a transmitter/decoder unit to convert a TV's infrared active-shutter signal into an RF signal, relay the information to the glasses, and create the on-screen 3D effect accordingly.

GoldenEar SuperCinema 3

Category: Home Theater Speakers

Honoree: GoldenEar Technology SuperCinema 3

GoldenEar's six-unit SuperCinema 3 home-theater speaker system is designed not to sound like a speaker system. It uses a 1000-watt-amp subwoofer, four satellite speakers, and a center speaker to pump out 5.1-channel surround sound that mimics the clarity and depth of a live performance. This system's specialty is an extremely wide dynamic range: The small but powerful speakers use a unique, fast-moving, accordion-like ribbon tweeter to create sharp high-end audio, while the subwoofer takes care of the booming, well-defined bass.

Sleek Audio SA7 Wireless Hybrid Earphones

Category: Headphones

Honoree: Sleek Audio SA7 Wireless Hybrid Earphones

The durable, versatile, and aptly named Sleek SA7 earbuds offer multifaceted appeal. You can convert them from wired to wireless earbuds simply by removing their detachable cables; without the cables, they use a lossless wireless technology called Kleer to stream from an audio source. You can fine-tune your audio from the tips of the earbuds themselves, too, and they're designed to block out ambient noise while you're listening. They aren't likely to fall apart or get damaged in your bag, thanks to a carbon-fiber outer shell surrounding an aluminum frame that in turn encases a protective layer of silicone that shields the drivers.

Etymotic Electronic BlastPLG Earplugs

Category: Health and Wellness

Honoree: Etymotic Research Electronic BlastPLG Earplugs

These supersmart Etymotic earplugs achieve the seemingly impossible: They amplify hard-to-hear sounds (such as the person next to you talking in a loud environment) while blocking out very loud, potentially ear-damaging noises (such as explosions, gunfire, and Ke$ha). As such, they're a powerful ear-preserving tool for soldiers, hunters, construction workers, and concert security personnel...and they come with a headband!

Jabra Stone2 Bluetooth Headset

Category: Wireless Handset Accessories

Honoree: Jabra Stone2

The Jabra Stone2 Bluetooth headset looks slick even when it's docked in its rock-shaped charger, and the headset's unique, lightweight design wraps over the top of your ear. Its hands-free interface lets you accept or reject incoming calls via voice commands. The headset itself talks, too, letting you know if the Bluetooth connection to your phone is weak or if the battery is running low.

Classe Delta Series CA-M600 Power Amplifier

Category: Audio Components

Honoree: Classe Audio Delta Series CA-M600 Power Amplifier

Home-theater aficionados need power amplifiers to drive unpowered speaker setups and beef up the sound they crank out. For serious home-theater systems with bone-jarring audio, all that power can lead to an overheated amp and a very expensive problem to fix. The sharp-looking Classe Delta Series CA-M600 Power Amplifier is designed to stay cool, thanks to an internal cooling system that the company says was inspired by the heatsinks used in high-powered lasers. Once you turn it on, the amplifier reaches its ideal operating temperature within 15 minutes, and the internal cooling system maintains that temperature while the amps power deep, booming sound out of the speakers.

Audiovox Mobile MultiView Cam With Pedestrian Warning

Category: In-Vehicle Audio/Video

Honoree: Audiovox Mobile MultiView Cam with Pedestrian Warning

We can put a man on the moon, but we've yet to build a car without blind spots. Audiovox's MultiView Cam with Pedestrian Warning goes several steps further than your average car rear-view camera system, offering a 180-degree lens and low-light capabilities that help you see what's coming from side angles when you're backing up. The system even gives audio alerts to let you know if a car, bike, or pedestrian is approaching from the rear sides of your car.

Belkin Grip 360° + Stand

Category: Portable Multimedia Accessories

Honoree: Belkin Grip 360° + Stand

Belkin's Grip 360° + Stand for Apple's iPad is a triple-duty protective case. Not only does it protect the tablet, but it also offers a back-mounted kickstand that props the iPad up like a photo frame. When you're on the go, you can swap out the kickstand for the case's included Velcro handstrap, which secures the iPad in your hand and lets you rotate the screen 360 degrees for switching between portrait and landscape orientation.