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Future of Visual Gadgets Rolled Out

SEATTLE (AP) _ A television sewn into your shirt sleeve. A dashboard screen to monitor the kids in the back seat. A 3-D computer monitor sharp enough to make a hardcore gamer's heart stop _ or help a surgeon start one. The gizmo-packed exhibition hall at the Society for Information Display's international symposium offers a tantalizing vision of what's to come.

This week's meeting was all about extremes _ monitors that are very big or very small, very thin, very light and very, very high-resolution.

Another big focus: making the cutting-edge technology very low cost.

While some tech enthusiasts are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for the next new thing, whether and how soon more mainstream versions of these gadgets will appear in your living rooms _ or even clothing _ will depend largely on the price.

Few can afford to pay about $12,000 for a stunningly detailed 3-D computer monitor from SeeReal Technologies GmbH. The screen has two built-in cameras that track eye movement, so the viewer can move about and still see the 3-D display in focus.

For now, the product is aimed at government officials who pore over detailed maps or doctors who perform delicate surgery. But its tiny German maker recently introduced a lower-end version _ sans the eye-tracking system _ for about $3,600.

In perhaps a year, SeeReal hopes it can offer a consumer version _ ideal for video game enthusiasts _ for about $500.

While many companies were promoting super-slim screens for use in cell phones and other handheld devices, researchers from Royal Philips Electronics were showing off technology that would make screens as thin and flexible as plastic.

The ultra-lightweight displays, still in development, also promise to be rugged but easier to cut to size, potentially making them much easier for manufacturers to work with, said Henri Jagt, a researcher with Philips in the Netherlands.

The screens could be used for ``wearable displays'' sewn onto jeans or a sweater, or to create a low-cost curved computer monitor. But Jagt said such products won't hit the market for at least three years.

Eastman Kodak Co. touted its thin, high-resolution screens made with ``organic light-emitting diodes'' as being better than liquid-crystal displays because they don't need a backlight.

The technology, already found in digital cameras, cell phones and car stereos, could be incorporated into a dashboard monitor to police the kids or a rearview mirror display to offer directions to the hotel, the Rochester, N.Y.-based company said.

Korea's Samsung SDI Co. Ltd. is working at what might appear to be cross-purposes. Its massive 80-inch plasma screen is designed to provide high resolution at a low cost, while its tiny 1.8-inch LCD screen aims to wow users with little regard to cost.

Spokesman Bryan Sohn said enthusiasts who would buy the small screens are concerned less with the price tag and more with the experience _ whether they can watch a graphically complex movie like ``The Matrix'' on a cell phone. He wouldn't say how much that experience might cost.

For companies such as Samsung and Kodak, a big selling point for their new screens is their ability to produce sharp and clear images even when seen from an angle.

But 3M Co. says the advantage of one of its screens is that data can't be seen from the side, thus protecting confidential information from the prying eyes of strangers.

The St. Paul, Minn.-based company has for years offered shields that could be installed over computer screens, said engineer Ken Miller. Now, it is building the shields into the displays.

The company says it already has some interest from financial services companies, and it's hoping to sell the product to makers of ATMs and other kiosks that ask for confidential information.
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