Sony's PlayStation Vita has got me intrigued.
As much of the gaming world has moved toward smartphones and tablets, I've wondered if consumers (or myself as a gamer) would take to new handheld consoles the way they did with the Vita's predecessor, the PlayStation Portable.
But after spending a few minutes with the Vita in my hands at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, my interest has piqued.
If you've played video games on the PlayStation Portable, which affectionately became known to most as the PSP, then the Vita will look very familiar at first glance. Joysticks and buttons are placed to the left or right of a nice, wide display and the graphics produced by the system are detailed and sharp.
But unlike the PSP, there are many features of the Vita that better equip Sony's handheld formula for competition in a smartphone-riddled future. On the front of the Vita is a 5-inch OLED touchscreen and a similarly sized touch panel can be found on the back of the device.
I played a bit of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, one of the titles that will launch with the Vita during its U.S. release on Feb. 22, and the game used traditional controls and the touchscreen. And switching between the different control options was intuitive and easy.
The Vita can also be used as a controller for Sony's PlayStation 3 home console, which could bring touch controls to even more games if developers embrace this feature. Though I didn't get to spend a long time with Uncharted or the Vita, the potential for some really creative game-play options was obvious.
The Vita will also run a number of smartphone-like apps, including apps for the photo-sharing site Flickr and video-streaming service Netflix, local-discovery app FourSquare and social networks Facebook and Twitter.
There are also two cameras on the Vita, one on the front and one on the back, and in the few test shots I snapped on the CES showroom floor, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Photos didn't seem to be high quality and colors were washed out and not sharp. Sony wouldn't say what the resolution of the cameras would be for the U.S. release of the Vita, but the Japanese version (which went on sale on Dec. 17) featured VGA-quality cameras in front and back with a resolution of 640-by-480 pixels, which is about the same as an Apple iPad 2.
We'll be getting a review unit of the Vita in a few weeks, and I'll reserve final judgement for then, but after my hands-on time with the system, there's a lot to like and a few things that I'm not so excited about (aside from the camera). One of them is the pricing of Vita's new proprietary memory cards.
The Vita will sell for either $249 in a Wi-Fi-only version or $299 for a 3G/Wi-Fi model that runs on AT&T's network. AT&T is offering no-contract data plans for the Vita of $14.99 for 250 megabytes of data per month, or three gigabytes for $30. Games (on a new card format and not the UMDs found in the PSP) will sell for about $9.99 to $49.99, according to Sony. All of that seems to be pretty fair pricing in my opinion.
However, memory cards for the Vita — which you will definitely need if you want to store any apps, downloadable games, movies, music, photos or any other content on the Vita — are sold separately.
A four-gigabyte memory card will sell for $19.99. Not bad. An eight-gigabyte card will sell for $29.99 and a 16-gigabyte card will sell for $59.99. Getting a bit higher. And, a 32-gigabyte card will sell for a whopping $99.99.
It seems a bit painful to think you may end up spending an extra $100 after plunking down as much as $300 for a Vita, but this is the current reality, depending on how much stuff you'd like to store in the device. Ouch.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The game Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Sony PlayStation Vita. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
A company called 4moms has just released the Origami, a baby stroller packed with features that you never knew you needed.
Power folding with the push of a button? Done.
Daytime running lights and special pathway lights to help you see at night? Yup.
A digital dashboard that displays temperature, speed, miles covered during your current trip, total miles covered, and whether or not a baby is actually in the stroller? It's got that too.
The Origami debuted at CES 2012 and is already available at some fancy baby stores like Giggle and Right Start. A 4moms spokeswoman said it will be available at diapers.com and buybuybaby.com in the next few days, and at target.com in the next few weeks.
The stroller costs a cool $849, which may sound expensive to normal people, but is actually comfortably within the range of higher-end strollers. The standard Bugaboo Chameleon, for example, will set you back $880.
The power for the power-folding feature, the lights and even the cellphone charging is produced by an onboard generator that charges the stroller as you push it. You do have the option to plug the stroller into the wall if you need to, and to fold and unfold the stroller manually if you're desperate, but the company says even a short walk is enough to keep the stroller powered for days.
One drawback is that it is kind of heavy for a stroller — it weighs 32 pounds in toddler mode — but you know, it's got that onboard generator. You can't have everything.
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: The new Origami stroller by 4moms comes equipped with an online generator that allows parents to charge their cellphones while strolling with their baby. Credit: Courtesy of 4moms.
Beats Electronics and Monster Cable Products, two companies that together defined the current $1-billion headphone industry with the Beats by Dr. Dre line, are parting ways at the end of the year.
But before the two become competitors in a segment of consumer electronics that is just as much about fashion as it is technology, a wave of new Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and boom boxes (built by Monster) will hit store shelves.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, I caught up with Jimmy Iovine, Beats Electronics' chairman and CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, to talk about what products the Beats brand had planned for 2012 (you can see our interview in the video above).
First up will be the new Mixr headphones, designed by Grammy-winning producer and DJ David Guetta. The Mixr is a lightweight and strong design — I twisted and bent the headband, and it returned to form and never felt week — that offers the bass-heavy sound Beats is known for. At $279, the Mixr is set to hit U.S. stores in early February in black and white. They're already available in Europe.
February will also see a wireless release of the Solo headphones, also priced at $279. And due in mid-September are the $349 Executive headphones, which bring a sleeker and more understated look with a leather headband and aluminum ear cups.
Iovine was also proud of the new BeatBox, a follow-up to the first-generation (and much less portable) BeatBox, which will sell at a price of $399. A release date hasn't yet been set for the new battery- or AC-powered BeatBox, which plays music from smartphones and MP3 players docked on the speaker setup.
Since launching in 2009, Beats has teamed with Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga and Sean "Diddy" Combs for artist-sponsored headphones. The Mixr is the only artist-specific set of headphones planned for 2012, Iovine said.
But this year we will see more HTC smartphones paired with Beats headphones as a result of HTC purchasing a $300-million stake in the audio company late last year, he said. And Beats speakers will be found not just in the Chrysler 300, as they were in 2011, but also in the Dodge Charger. And, as we saw at CES, Beats speakers are making their way into more HP laptops this year too.
After the Monster manufacturing deal expires at the end of the year, Beats plans to go out on its own, Iovine told my colleague Gerrick D. Kennedy on our sister blog Pop & Hiss. Despite reports to the contrary, Iovine said, the split was always the audio start-up's intention.
"It was always planned. It was always a five-year deal," Iovine said. "It was a manufacturing distribution deal. We were with Monster for headphones and speakers. It was always a plan to turn into a freestanding company."
Image: The Beats Executive headphones from Beats by Dr. Dre. Credit: Beats Electronics/Monster Cable Products
The Lumia 710, Nokia's first Windows Phone to hit the U.S., barely went on sale on Jan. 11 and already Wal-Mart is undercutting other retailers by giving the new phone away for free on a two-year contract.
T-Mobile USA, which launched the phone, sells the Lumia 710 for $49.99 on a two-year data plan, as do other retailers such as Best Buy. The price drop by Wal-Mart is a fast one and it's unclear if other retailers or T-Mobile itself will follow suit.
But if we do see more price drops on the Lumia 710, they will probably be motivated in part by the pending arrival of the new Lumia 900 at AT&T, which is rumored for sometime in March. An official release date and price haven't yet been disclosed for the Lumia 900.
The Lumia 900, which made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, has a 4.3-inch display and a unique polycarbonate body.
But while the 900 packs a larger screen and a bit more style, it and the 710 are very similar on the inside, with both phones running Windows Phone 7.5 Mango on a 1.4-gigahertz Qualcomm processor and 512-megabytes of RAM.
The Lumia 710 has 8 gigabytes of built-in storage, while the Lumia 900 has 16 gigabytes. And the Lumia 710 features a 5-megapixel camera with a single-LED flash, while the Lumia 900 has an 8-megapixel camera with a dual-LED flash.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Nokia Lumia 710 Windows Phone from T-Mobile USA. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles TImes
The future of video games is increasingly shifting from discs to downloads over Internet-connected consoles, phones, tablets and PCs.
Microsoft Corp. is aware of this trend as much as any other player in the gaming industry and rolls out multiple promotions a year to bring attention to games available for download through its Xbox Live Arcade storefront on the Xbox 360 console. And next up for Microsoft is the Xbox Live Arcade House Party, which starts Feb. 15 and includes the launch of one game a week for four weeks.
At the Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas, I went hands-on with Alan Wake's American Nightmare, which will be the first game to roll out in the month-long promotion.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is a sequel to the on-disc game Alan Wake, which was released in 2010 to critical acclaim for story-driven game play that mixed a psychological thriller plotline with the action of a third-person shooter.
The game, which focused on a fictional fiction writer named Alan Wake and his quest to solve the mystery of his wife's disappearance in a small Washington town, was also praised for its inventive use of lighting, with Wake spending a lot of time running around in dark forests at night with a flashlight and a gun.
In Alan Wake's American Nightmare, the game's hero finds himself in the deserts of Arizona. The impressive lighting effects are back and shooting mechanics are solid. I tried my hand at the new title's Fight 'til Dawn survival mode, which pits players in a 10-minute scene with wave after wave of enemies attacking. (You can check out our hands-on with the new game above.)
The game play was intense and challenging, and it should be a satisfying experience for fans of the original Alan Wake game as well as those of shooting games such as Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil and the Call of Duty series' zombie modes.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare will also have a campaign of about four to five hours, depending on how much time a player spends exploring and digging into the game's story, said Oskari Hakinnen, a spokesman for Remedy Entertainment Ltd., the developer of the series.
For those who haven't played the original Alan Wake, there's no need to fret. Hakinnen said that the sequel will pick up where the first title left off story-wise, but it was written in a way that won't confuse those who are new to the world of Alan Wake. Pricing for the game hasn't yet been disclosed.
The other three titles coming out in this year's Xbox Live Arcade House Party are Warp, a new puzzle game from Electronic Arts; arena-based first-person shooter Nexuiz from THQ; and the eagerly anticipated I Am Alive, from Ubisoft, which follows a man searching for his wife and daughter a year after a worldwide disaster killed most humans on the planet.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot from Alan Wake's American Nightmare. Credit: Remedy Entertainment
The most interesting and impressive gadget I saw at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show this week was Nintendo's next video game console — the Wii U. It was also one of the riskiest products I saw, outside of Nokia's new Windows Phone handsets.
Despite not offering games with high-definition graphics, Nintendo's Wii home console changed the way people play video games, introducing motion sensing controllers called Wii remotes and a then-new level of casual games that appealed to millions of people who in the past didn't consider buying a gaming system. But since the Wii's launch in 2006, the gaming landscape changed as well.
Microsoft's Xbox has controller-free motion gaming with its Kinect technology. Sony has motion-sensing controllers with its PlayStation Move controllers for the PlayStation 3 console. Casual gaming is increasingly taking place on smartphones and not home consoles.
The Wii U intends to have an answer to all of its rivals, Nintendo of America's President Reggie Fils-Aime told me this week in an interview and hands-on demo of the new system in Las Vegas (you can see a video of our hands-on above). The demos we played were the same demos Nintendo showed off at the E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles last year.
The most obvious feature that separates the Wii U from rival hardware is the system's new tablet-like controller. Traditional buttons, triggers and joysticks are found in the Wii U controller, as is a 6.2-inch touchscreen in the middle of the unit that can be used by hand or with a stylus. The controller was 5.3 inches tall, 9 inches long and about 1 inch deep. There's also a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, with a front-facing camera, microphone, speakers and a motion-sensing strip to interact with the remotes introduced on the Wii.
So what can this new controller actually do? One gaming demo, called Chase Mii, was essentially video-game hide and seek. My character in the game was the one being chased and, with the Wii U controller's screen, I saw an entirely different view of the game then those I was playing against with an included map of the terrain I was using to hide from my chasers.
In another demo, Fils-Aime and Nintendo spokesman J.C. Rodrigo showed me a recording of a car driving around a street in Japan. The same image that was on the HDTV that the Wii U console was connected to showed up on the Wii U controller in my hands, but when I moved the controller to either side or above my head, the view changed. I could see the street in 360-degrees; the sky, the cars passing by, a rear view, all just by moving the controller around.
The potential that this sort of technology offers video game developers is hugely exciting if you love playing video games, as I do. The military shooter genre is hugely popular right now — how about the ability to see a digital battlefield in 360 degrees while not disrupting the view on your TV? Maps and menus on the Wii U's controller are an obvious choice as well.
The most important feature of the Wii U for video game developers, however, might be that it can handle high-definition gaming, up to 1080p in resolution. This can allow for developers to more easily develop games for Nintendo's new hardware alongside high-definition titles being made for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
We'll have to see whether or not Nintendo can actually get developers on board en masse to bring major titles to the Wii U, but adding HD gaming should make this option more attractive.
I saw a demo of a Legend of Zelda game in HD and it looked outstanding. The main character of the game, Link, had texture details in the fabric of his clothing that simply weren't possible on the Wii's lower-powered hardware. I was able to change major environmental details, such as being able to switch the scene from night to day and back, with just a tap on the Wii U controller's touchscreen.
The touchscreen also seemed to me to be a play to court developers who are building for smartphones and tablets. The Wii U's hardware will enable it to be a console that (if enough games are made) can offer something for the hardcore gaming crowd and something for the smartphone set. Angry Brids or Cut the Rope on a Wii U controller? Yeah, I'd love to see that and I'm sure Nintendo would too.
The Wii U controller's second screen can also act as the only screen for gameplay too. For example, if you're playing a game, and your roommate or partner wants to watch the latest episode of their favorite TV show, the Wii U can stream the game to the controller so you can keep gaming. Despite looking like a tablet, the Wii U controller isn't a tablet and isn't usable without the Wii U nearby.
But as impressive as the demo was, Fils-Aime and Nintendo didn't show up to CES with much new information about the Wii U. We still don't have a price for the system, launch titles haven't been announced and hardware specs are few and far between. The Wii U will play downloadable games and games on-disc. It will also be backwards compatible with Wii games. It will also have some undetermined amount of internal flash storage, four USB ports and at least one SD card slot will also be included for expanded storage. IBM is supplying a multi-core processor and AMD is supplying a graphics processor as well.
Fils-Aime also wouldn't say whether or not the Wii U will be able to support multiple Wii U controllers or not. This, in my opinion, is a huge question for an otherwise solid-looking piece of hardware. If the Wii U only supports one Wii U controller, I think Nintendo will be making a mistake. Unlike the Wii Remotes, the Wii U offers the experience of a traditional controller. Some games are better played by pushing buttons and using joysticks rather than flailing your arms. For example, with fighting games and shooters, many gamers prefer the precision and speed that a regular-old controller can offer. If only one person can use a Wii U controller at a time, playing the sorts of games with friends on the couch won't be as fun. Hopefully the new console will support multiple Wii U controllers and give gamers the ability to choose the gameplay set-up they prefer.
Nintendo still also hasn't offed any details on what it will offer in terms of online multiplayer. In my opnion, Microsoft's Xbox Live service is the best in console gaming and allows gamers to play with their friends online and talk in real time as they play in their respective homes. Online multiplayer has been something that so far Nintendo has flatly failed to include in a compelling or easy-to-use way with its home consoles. For that reason most games for the Wii are single-player games. I believe Nintendo has to get online gameplay right in order for the Wii U to succeed.
So, when will our questions be answered? Hopefully at E3 2012 in June, which will be the next time Nintendo makes a big push before the press with the Wii U.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: Zelda in HD on the Nintendo Wii U console. Credit: Nintendo
Nintendo is set to launch the Wii U, a new video game console, later this year. And while there is a lot of excitement around the Wii U, there are also a lot of questions hovering around the Japanese company, which seems to have its back against the wall despite a history of innovation and success in an industry it has helped define.
The company's current home gaming system, the Wii, is on the decline, selling about 4.5 million units in the U.S. in 2011, down from about 7 million sold in 2010.
Meanwhile, the 3DS, Nintendo's new hand-held console, started out selling slowly when it launched in March. But by the end of 2011, the system sold about 4 million units in the U.S., hitting that mark faster than the Wii when it first launched in 2006.
With all that in mind, I sat down with Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. You can see parts of our interview in the video above, but as expected, Fils-Aime said he didn't see sliding Wii sales as a negative but a positive leading into the release of the Wii U.
"The Wii is now approaching 40 million homes here in the United States, so from a penetration standpoint we're beginning to top out in terms of the total number of systems sold, and that's why it makes so much sense to prepare for the launch of the Wii U," he said.
The Wii U will still use the motion-sensing controller system introduced in the Wii, but will add to the mix a new tablet-like controller with a built-in 6-inch touch screen. Some have said that, so far, the Wii U's new controller is a winning idea, while others have questioned if it's already destined to fail.
Fils-Aime said Nintendo is on the path to breaking new ground again, just as it did when it added a joystick to a controller for the first time or when it was first to add motion and rumble feedback to controllers as well.
"The big innovation with the Wii U is the controller and the ability to have an interactive experience that leverages all of your traditional input buttons as well as a screen built right into the controller," Fils-Aime said. "Yes, the system is HD capable; it'll generate the most gorgeous pictures. But for us that's not enough.
"We need to continue pushing the overall experience forward. We need to bring new types of entertainment. New types of gaming and the combination of a big first screen — your home TV — coupled with a second screen in your hands, in our view, is going to bring gaming to a whole new experience and to continue driving the industry."
Fils-Aime offered little new information about the Wii U — we still don't know much about specs and Nintendo isn't announcing launch titles, pricing or release dates yet.
But for now, the Nintendo executive said hardware horsepower isn't the point as much as what the Wii U and its new controller will be able to do that rival gaming platforms — the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and even Apple's iPhone and iPad — can't.
"The system is capable to do the most complicated, the most HD-intensive types of games. But plus, now with a touch screen in your hands, all types of other gaming possibilities exist. So we want the full experience," Fils-Aime said, later adding, "One of the things that we think makes us different from all of the other companies here at CES is that we leverage technology for people to have fun."
Stay tuned to the Technology blog for more on the Wii U from CES. I also got to go hands-on with the Wii U, and on Saturday I'll offer my take on just how much fun the new system is.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: Nintendo's new Wii U controller. Credit: Nintendo
Eliza Dushku served as the official celebrity ambassador for the Entertainment Matters program at the Consumer Electronics Show this week.
We caught up with the actress — known for playing Faith on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and roles in movies including "Bring It On" — at the Wynn in Las Vegas, where she was hosting Spike TV's VIP CES party at Tryst nightclub. Her gig as ambassador was intended to promote the relationship between the tech and entertainment industries.
"You're seeing kids that watch all their programming on iPhones or whatever smartphones they have," Dushku said. "So it's important that we're on top of that."
Dushku said she planned to walk the show floor with her boyfriend, former Laker Rick Fox, and wanted to check out the 4K and 8K televisions. "I remember last year going home [from CES] and looking at my own televisions and feeling like it was completely Stone Age," she said.
Calling herself a bit of a techie, Dushku, who has done voice work for video games in the past, rattled off a long list of her favorite tech products, including her BlackBerry and iPad. But her No. 1 item is her Bug Vac, the kind you buy from those SkyMall airline shopping magazines, she said.
"If a bug's on the wall, you extend the telescope-y thing and you suck the bug and it pulls it in and it fries it on a little metal plate," she said. "I love that thing. I can't live without it."
And it works?
"Oh, full on, you smell the bugs burning on the plate," she said. "Sorry, but better than crawling up my face."
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Photo: Eliza Dushku at Tryst nightclub at the Wynn in Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
When Google TV first launched a little more than a year ago, it had few hardware partners and failed to resonate with a wide consumer market. But the technology was back at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, with major tech companies promoting the software and saying its time had come.
"You've got to reorient customers to look at TVs as an actual smart device, as a device just like a tablet or a PC or a phone," said Matthew McRae, chief technology officer at Vizio, during an interview with The Times. "It takes a little bit of time, but I think that bridge has been crossed."
At CES in Las Vegas this week, Vizio was showcasing its 65-inch, 55-inch and 47-inch V.I.A. Plus HDTVs with Theater 3D; the VBR430 Blu-ray player; and the VAP430 stream player — all of which incorporate Google TV's 2.0 platform. V.I.A. stands for Vizio Internet Apps.
The V.I.A. Plus experience features an app-centric interface on every device, "making it easy for consumers to understand and navigate as they move between devices," the company said in a news release. Users can also access thousands of apps from the Android Market.
McRae said the company was encouraged by the advances in the second generation of Google TV, saying the earlier version of the software "missed on the simplicity front."
"When people sit down at a TV, it's got to be intuitive, it's got to be a few button clicks to whatever you're looking for," McRae said. "If you make it any more complex than that, they'll just give up…. So the user interface I think is actually more challenging to get right on a TV than it is on a tablet or PC."
The prospects for Google TV — which combines traditional television, the Internet, apps and search capabilities — are growing rapidly among developers, who are rolling out thousands of apps built specifically for televisions.
Vizio was especially excited to show off its new VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced V.I.A. Plus smart TV. Vizio's stream player, a small black box about the size of a wallet, features built-in HDMI ports that let users connect existing components like gaming consoles or set-top boxes for unified access to all media sources through the V.I.A. Plus touchpad remote. It also supports 3-D content and 3-D streaming.
Vizio officials said the stream player was expected to be released in the first half of the year, but declined to say how much the device would cost. Sales of stream players are poised to pass Blu-ray players in unit volume sales by 2013, Vizio said, making the devices the "perfect solution" for media multitaskers.
LG is also showing off sets with Google TV software that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will include a "magic remote" with a built-in keyboard.
Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since last year's CES, LG said it had added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.
Sony too heavily hyped its Google TV products at CES and said it was expanding its line of devices that included the software.
The tech giant said it was rolling out two new set-top boxes powered by Google TV — one connected Blu-ray disc player and one Network Media Player. Enhanced features include access to the Android Market as well as a redesigned remote control for improved functionality, new linkage with the Sony Entertainment Network platform and a new mobile device interface that allows consumers to use smartphones and tablets as a content source.
"As a result more consumers will be able to enjoy multiple content sources from broadcast to streaming video and various apps through one easy-to-use seamless interface by connecting to any HDTV," Sony executive Kaz Hirai said during the company's CES news conference.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Upper photo: A Vizio HDTV shows off Google TV software, with live television and a panel of apps sharing space on the screen. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Lower photo: Vizio's VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced smart TV. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
As General Motors introduced its first efforts to bring apps from your smartphone into your dashboard at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, Ford expanded its Sync AppLink system — which does just that and launched about a year ago.
When AppLink made its debut, Pandora was the only app a Sync user could operate via in-dash touch screen. Later, Stitcher radio gained Sync compatibility, which includes voice control as well.
Ford announced at CES in Las Vegas this week that apps for iPhones, BlackBerrys and phones that Google's Android would be added to the AppLink-friendly list, including NPR News, Slacker Radio, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio and Ford's own Sync Destinations turn-by-turn navigation app.
To see NPR News and Slacker Radio in action in a new Ford Mustang GT, check out our video from CES above.
Ford says that more apps that work with Sync's voice recogniton software are on the way. Oddly enough, Sync (which was developed through a partnership between Ford and Microsoft) has no AppLink compatibility with Windows Phone apps.
Just as with GM's in-car-app systems — Chevrolet MyLink and Cadillac CUE — AppLink can use apps only if it’s connected to a smartphone with the app installed, and it accesses data through the phone. Ford isn't selling any AppLink data plans.
For now, AppLink is available only in Sync-equipped Fiestas, Mustangs, Fusions, F-150s and Econoline vans, but the U.S. automaker is considering pushing AppLink out to other Ford brands, such as Lincoln, as well as to vehicles running older versions of Sync.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Ford's Sync Destinations app. Credit: Ford
Connected devices were a top trend at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, as they have been for several years. But there's no point in having a television that displays Twitter feeds or a refrigerator that can send recipes to your oven if your home network is barely functional. Here are my favorite networking gadgets and technologies from this year's show, based on the dangerous assumption that they all will work as advertised when they actually hit the market later this year:
D-Link showed off several intriguing products, including a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that can share files on a thumb drive with the entire network and a sub-$50 router that's designed to bring home monitoring to the masses (by making it easy to access one's home network from anywhere via the Internet). But the one that I liked the most was the DHP-1565 router (shown at right), which offered a novel pairing of wireless and powerline networking. Other Wi-Fi routers have included powerline networking too, but this one monitors the signal quality on each side and automatically shifts data to the less noisy pathway. Nice.
It's due in stores in January at a suggested price of just under $160.
Netgear has been selling "network attached storage" devices — hard drives that can be accessed from anywhere on your home network — for years, but the category hasn't caught on with the masses. Still, I like the idea of consolidating all the pictures, videos and music scattered around the computers and smartphones in my home, and now Netgear has made the idea more appealing by integrating 2 Terabytes' worth of storage into a router, the WNDR4700. Not only can the router store and deliver all sorts of media to computers, smart TVs, tablets and other devices on a home network, the files on its hard drive can be read or played remotely through the Internet. It also acts as a backup device for the digital home.
Netgear said the router will arrive in the summer at an as-yet undisclosed price.
Qualcomm's Skifta is the software equivalent of a network attached storage device. Its software finds the music, video and image files that are stored on the devices connected to a home network, then enables you to play them on the connected device or devices of your choice. For example, you could use Skifta to create a slideshow on your TV of photos on your smartphone, or to have computers around your house play the same MP3 playlist. At CES, Skifta announced that it will offer manufacturers development kits for modules that can be used to turn products into Skifta-ready wirelessly connected devices. It also showed a reference design for an adapter that could connect existing stereos to the home network so they, too, could play the digital song files stored on other devices. That solves the biggest problem for the connected home: Many of the devices that people own weren't built for connectivity.
Skifta didn't announce a price for the module kits, which are expected to be available in the first half of the year.
– Jon Healey
Credits, top to bottom: D-Link, Netgear and Qualcomm
At a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, Mike Masnick of TechDirt noted that we typically don’t recognize disruptive technologies until after the fact. He’s probably right, but sometimes you really can see a technology rocking an industry in real time.
That’s the case today with gesture and voice recognition. These aren’t new technologies, but judging from CES, they are finally poised to metastasize. Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensors, of which more than 18 million have been sold, have prompted industries far removed from video games to rethink how people will use their products and services. Similarly, Apple’s Siri virtual assistant has taught manufacturers and software developers that voice recognition has moved beyond recognition and into comprehension.
Together, these developments reflect an accelerating shift from mechanical interfaces to natural ones — from typing on a keypad or thumbing a remote to pointing, asking and telling. And that’s happening largely as a consequence of the rapid increase in microchip processing power, said Aviad Maizels, founder and president of PrimeSense, which designed the Kinect’s chips.
“We didn’t have a technology when we started. We had an idea,” Maizels said. It took a while for chips to have enough horsepower to perform the near-instantaneous analysis of moving images that even basic gesture recognition requires. They’ve since crossed that threshold, and continued improvements in processing power are enabling more sophisticated gesture recognition tools.
“Moore’s Law works for us,” said Adi Berenson, PrimeSense’s vice president of business development and marketing.
The increase in processing power has also helped improve speech-recognition software, said Richard H. Mack Jr. of Nuance Communications, which makes some of the technology behind Siri. Another factor, he said, has been assembling the vast amount of data needed to understand what the speech means, and then respond accordingly. Of course, the ability to analyze all that data is also a function of processing power. “It’s only going to get better,” Mack said.
TV remotes offer a good illustration of the improvement thus far. Wands that could recognize a spoken command — say, “Channel 2″ or “power on” — have been around for more than a decade. The next wave, represented by Nuance’s Dragon TV and the forthcoming Vlingo TV app, will help people search through program guides, answer questions about shows and exchange messages with friends while they watch TV.
Berenson showed off PrimeSense’s next-generation product, which can recognize movement in three dimensions — not just up and down and side to side, but forward and back. A prototype program guide let Berenson pick out a movie from an on-screen list by reaching toward it, making a grabbing motion to start an audio preview, then pulling back to start the video. The sensor was notably more responsive to subtle movements than the current products are.
PrimeSense, one of several companies developing the enabling technology for gesture recognition, is keeping its focus on the living room. The idea has already caught on with several major TV manufacturers, which showed gesture-sensing sets at the show. Across the exhibition halls at CES, though, many other applications of gesture recognition were on display, particularly in healthcare. To cite just two examples, the ng Connect booth included prototypes of cloud-based fitness and physical therapy services built on Kinect sensors. And at the PrimeSense booth, Bodymetrics (pictured above) showed how it’s using the technology in high-tech dressing rooms that scan shoppers’ bodies, then let them try on clothes virtually to check their fit.
PrimeSense and Nuance are encouraging the spread of gesture and voice recognition by helping developers apply the technologies to new uses. Nuance has about 7,000 developers using its tools, Mack said, and there are more than 3,000 developers in OpenNI, a PrimeSense initiative to promote interoperability among “natural interaction” software and devices.
Maizels gives Microsoft credit for the snowballing momentum behind natural interaction. “Microsoft did a tremendous job of telling the world that something has to change,” he said. Judging from CES, the world listened.
– Jon Healey
Photo credit: Jon Healey / Los Angeles Times
Some of us just love to write on paper — even those devoted to digital devices.
As addicted as I am to tech, I'm an analog paper hog, with drawer after drawer filled with notebooks, notepads and empty journals. No matter how quick or proficient I get at tapping on my virtual keyboards, I'm not really a "screen writer." I still prefer to physically write to help me remember.
And my notepads and my tech tools never connect — unless I shoot a photo of what's on paper.
Targus plans to marry writing and technology on a new device, iNotebook, around June or July to let you write on regular paper and transfer what you've written onto your iPad. It's expected to cost $150.
The iNotebook itself really is the combination of an iPad app, the case, a transmitter/recorder and a special pen that connects with it.
How it works is that the transmitter sits above the page and watches you write with the special pen via infrared sensor and records what you write. Then through the app and a Bluetooth connection with your iPad, it shoots over your words — or doodles — in your very own hand almost simultaneously.
The downside: There's no optical character recognition. So what you write is what you get. As a result, there may be no visual character recognition either, depending on your handwriting.
Indeed, when Targus' marketing vice president Al Giazzon used it, he said the result was "exactly as bad as my handwriting is." Accuracy in motion. (If this takes off, we might see what a detrimental effect our ubiquitous typing and and tapping has had on penmanship.)
On the plus side for those of us still juggling iPads and notepads, you don't actually have to pull out your tablet from your bag unless you want to watch the near-instant transfer of your noodling and doodling. And really, you don't even have to have the iPad on hand. The small transmitter can store up what you've written in its memory buffer for transfer later.
"You would have to write a manuscript to fill the buffer," Giazzon said.
Targus expects to release a black leather portfolio first with plans to expand the color palette later. The special IR ink pen will have an iPad stylus on the other end. The photo above is a prototype, with style and usability tweaks to come from focus groups and designers over the next few months, Giazzon said.
Who's the target for iNotebook? Targus expects interest in the school and business markets — "Anywhere where writing is fast," Giazzon said.
– Michelle Maltais
General Motors, Ford, Mercedes, Subaru and even QNX (owned by Research In Motion) each showed off their respectively differing approaches to getting apps into the dashboards of our cars at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.
And while the idea of apps in the car is a dream for some, so far, most of the apps center around replicating smartphone or tablet experiences from the driver's seat.
OnStar, the GM-owned telematics company, has a slightly different idea to piggyback off the work developers are doing building apps for use in both smartphones and cars.
OnStar wants developers to create apps that use its wireless service to actually control cars in new ways that utilize what it already can do — automatic crash response, stolen vehicle tracking, turn-by-turn navigation and roadside assistance for subscribers of its wireless in-car assistance service.
OnStar RemoteLink enables users (who also own select 2010 or newer Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick or GMC vehicles) to view real-time data such as mileage, fuel in the gas tank, oil life and tire pressure from their car or truck. The app also allows users to remotely unlock doors, honk horns, shine lights, start the engine and, of course, contact a dealer.
It's these sorts of capabilities that OnStar is now offering developers through its API, and the first developer to build on that is RelayRides, a neighbor to car-sharing service. A new RelayRides app, which we got a preview of at CES (as seen int he video above), will launch later this year on Apple's iOS and allow car owners to unlock their cars remotely after the person renting their vehicle arrives, or even track where a renter has taken their car.
OnStar's API isn't yet available to all developers; company officials said that would take place in the first half of this year, but what RelayRides is working on shows a bit of its potential. GM said at CES that any developers interested in using the OnStar API should email the company at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RelayRides says its new OnStar integrated app, in both an iOS and Android-friendly HTML5 form, will launch "early this year."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screenshot of OnStar's RemoteLink app for Apple's iOS. Credit: OnStar
New televisions, laptops, all-in-one desktops and a "Stream Player" set-top box that can add Google TV software to any HDMI-equipped television set — Vizio had a lot of announcements to make at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show.
A bit more quietly, the Irvine company also previewed a new tablet that it says will launch this year as a follow-up to the 8-inch Vizio Tablet that launched late last year.
Vizio let us get a few minutes of hands-on time with its new tablet, but details on what the device would be made up of were few and far between.
The new tablet sports a 10-inch touch screen and front and rear cameras, and it felt a bit lighter than the current 8-inch model.
Rob Kermode, a senior product manager at Vizio, said the company was declining to say anything about the tablet's price or release dates or about what processor, how much RAM, how much storage or what screen resolution the tablet would be.
In my short time using the tablet, I felt a step up in performance compared with its 8-inch predecessor. The device reacted faster to my touch, launched apps more quickly and seemed not to stutter as much when it handled simple tasks such as playing animations Vizio has programmed into the operating system.
The prototype tablet was running Google's Android Honeycomb software with Vizio's VIA Plus user interface over the top of it, which looks very similar to the version of Android Gingerbread found on the 8-inch tablet. Kermode said Vizio was looking into Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Android, but wouldn't promise that the new tablet would ship running that OS.
To see the new tablet in action, check out our video from CES in Las Vegas above.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas
Photo: Vizio's 10-inch tablet. Credit: Vizio
50 Cent’s branding empire already includes energy shots, cologne and books, but his latest products are all about the music.
The rapper was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week to promote his new line of headphones: the wireless Sync by 50, the wired Street by 50 and the soon-to-be-released Street by 50 wired ear buds.
The audio products, he told The Times during an interview at the Las Vegas Convention Center, are “an extension of my passion for music.”
“I’ll spend 30 or 40 minutes when I’m really inspired and have an idea, and the song will be done. And then we’ll spend a week making sure it sounds right afterwards,” he said. ”Then to have it go out to the general public and them listen to it on things that don’t actually allow them to hear it with the same qualities –- not so cool. So I want to try to be a part of [how] they consume it the right way. And maybe they’ll feel like I’m as good as I think I am, when they hear it that way.”
Both headphones are already available in stores and online after a soft launch during the holiday season.
The $400 Sync by 50, which 50 Cent was wearing around his neck during our interview as “a fashion statement,” promises to give users “crystal-clear wireless sound” up to 50 feet away and the ability to sync as many as four pairs of headphones to a single audio source. The headphones are professionally tuned and feature 40-mm drivers, 16-bit lossless digital sound and on-board controls with bass boost, volume control and mute.
The Street by 50 headphones are priced at $300 and feature professional studio sound, enhanced bass, soft memory foam cushions, passive noise cancellation and a detachable cord.
The ear buds, expected to be launched later this year, have a professionally tuned 11-mm driver and an ergonomically designed Apple control mic with volume control and reinforced cables. The wires on the ear buds are flat, which 50 Cent said prevented tangling. They are expected to cost $130.
The products are made by 50 Cent’s SMS Audio; he created the company and is its chief executive. Down the line, he said, SMS Audio will expand its offerings to include home audio systems, professional audio equipment, speakers, iPod docks and DJ headsets.
“I love music,” he said. “Why would I not want to make the best possible way to hear it?”
The celebrity headphone market has taken off in recent years, led by the Beats by Dr. Dre line. Dr. Dre was in Las Vegas for CES, as were Ludacris and “Jersey Shore” star Snooki — both of them hyping headphones.
50 Cent signed autographs for fans Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at CES and said he was excited to check out the latest technology at the trade show.
“My girlfriend, in my office, she’s a massage chair. She doesn’t talk much, she just works,” he said. “And I’m interested to go see what the new version of that does.”
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Photo: 50 Cent wears a pair of his Sync by 50 headphones at CES in Las Vegas. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
Pick. Thrash. Wail. Let out your inner Jimmy Page, Jack White or Yngwie Malmsteen — with an iPad.
The Guitar Apprentice app and controller from Ion Audio, which we looked at during the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, aims to help students learn the basics of playing guitar before they drop some cash on a full guitar and amp setup. Although playing iPad guitar isn't as sexy as the real thing, this might reduce the number of Squier Strats and practice amps languishing in the closets of frustrated students who never pegged down barre chords.
The most obvious comparison is with the popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band video games, but Guitar Apprentice offers a more complex setup than the video game controllers, with buttons simulating the six strings on each of 14 frets on the neck, in a body similar to the classic Gibson SG. LEDs on the frets light up to show basic note or chord patterns, and students strum or pick simulated strings on the iPad screen. Effects such as delay, reverb and flanger are also available to customize distortion effects.
Guitar Apprentice is one in a series of music learning app-and-controller sets from Ion Audio, which also includes Piano Apprentice and Drum Apprentice, as well as Drum Master, which comes with a full-size electric drum kit. The plastic instruments connect to the iPad, and each shows students where or how to play, lighting up frets, piano keys or drum pads as appropriate. Teachers also appear on the apps to present basic lessons to users.
Apps are Core MIDI, which enables integration with other music apps such as GarageBand. The app and controller, when released, are to have a retail price of $99.
Just keep in mind: Although the frets on the controller are designed to simulate fretting real guitar strings, it doesn't look like the app will alleviate the sore fingers students will have if they ever move up to a real guitar.
– Armand Emamdjomeh
Photo: The fret board on the Ion Guitar Appretice. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Like television makers, leading automobile manufacturers want application developers to imbue cars with some of the energy and innovation seen in smartphones. And like their counterparts in the TV industry, they haven't settled on a standard way of doing so. The mishmash of approaches means that drivers may have to wait longer for their favorite apps to become available in the models of their choice, as different manufacturers follow divergent paths toward the connected car.
The differences surfaced at this week's Consumer Electronics Show, where a host of car brands demonstrated the entertainment and information offerings they're developing. Mercedes-Benz typified one approach, showing off a customized app platform built in-house and curated by its apps team in Silicon Valley. Subaru exemplified the opposite strategy; it chose the apps platform that Aha, a subsidiary of Harman, is developing for car makers and aftermarket car-stereo manufacturers.
Executives at both car companies say they want to take advantage of app developers' work on mobile phones. But they also note that their top priority is safety, which shapes their choices of apps to make available and the way drivers interact with them.
Mercedes is atypical in one important respect: It embeds the equivalent of a 3G Verizon phone into its cars, rather relying on the driver's smartphone for connectivity. The latest version of its telematics software, called mbrace2 and due in April, is the company's first that can be updated remotely. That means new apps can be added while they're still new, instead of subjecting them to the industry's torturous three-year development cycle — a delay that can render an app obsolete by the time it makes it into a car, said Sascha Simon, Mercedes' head of advanced product planning.
It's not an open platform, however, and Mercedes will not publish its programming interfaces for developers, Simon said in an interview this week. But it is making available through mbrace2 a wide variety of apps and services that are relevant and enhance the driving experience — 60 so far, and the number will grow.
These include a widget that lets owners send their car's navigation system points of interest they find while browsing on their PCs or smartphones (a new restaurant, for example), and a streamlined version of Facebook that can write its own status updates based on the car's location and its destination. "You can't stop people from doing it," even if you don't want them using Facebook behind the wheel, Simon said. "If folks will use it, let's make it as safe as humanly possible."
Mercedes also tries to compensate for the distractions that apps present by equipping their cars with technology that can apply the brakes automatically, guard against drifting across lanes and warn drivers about vehicles in their blind spots. But their vehicles are, ahem, more expensive than the average ride.
Connectivity to the car is a two-way street, and Mercedes sees a big opportunity to offer services based on data that apps glean from the car's diagnostic system. These include the ability to trouble-shoot problems remotely and recover stolen vehicles. There are obvious privacy trade-offs to having that kind of monitoring, though, which is why such services are opt-in only, Simon said.
Subaru relies on its drivers' cellphones to supply the in-car connectivity. Although it's using Aha's platform to integrate apps into its cars' built-in audio system and display, Subaru still controls what the user interface looks like and which apps to make available. "It's our car," said David Sullivan, a car line manager for Subaru. "At the end of the day, we answer to the customer."
Because Aha's software platform is online, not in the cars themselves, apps can be updated continuously after the cars are sold, said Robert L. Acker, Aha's general manager. Aha also gives drivers a single, simple set of controls for using all the apps, which include the MOG and Rhapsody on-demand music services, Slacker and Shoutcast online radio services, audio books, Facebook and Twitter news feeds and NPR podcasts. The apps are aggregated into a menu on the car's display, turning them into a "fourth band" alongside AM, FM and satellite radio.
When a driver tunes in one of these services, the car's audio system sends a link through the driver's smartphone to the Internet, pulling content from the driver's account with that service. For example, tuning in Slacker would provide access to the custom Slacker stations the driver created, as well as Slacker's own playlists. To limit the distraction, Sullivan said, Subaru plans to give drivers access just to five preselected favorites per screen. They'll be able to make their selections through voice commands as well as by using the display's touchscreen.
Acker said Aha's goal is to make it far easier for app developers to integrate with multiple car makers, rather than tailoring their software to meet the various manufacturers' technical requirements and design mandates. At this point, though, its only announced partners are Subaru and Honda. It's also available through the car stereos that Pioneer sells directly to consumers.
QNX Software Systems of Canada is another company making software platforms for connected cars. Kerry Johnson, a senior product manager for QNX, said the fragmentation in the industry was a real problem for developers. In his view, three things have to happen before cars routinely support a wide array of apps: Automakers have to give developers more guidance on how not to distract drivers; a software platform will have to emerge that gives developers the right tools and the incentive to use them; and there need to be enough cars with systems that can be upgraded to support apps.
"By 2013 at the earliest, you'll start seeing a base of vehicles that are upgradeable," Johnson said. Whether developers will be motivated enough to write apps for them, he added, is another question.
– Jon Healey
Photo: Subaru's interface. Credit: Harman / Aha
Some times the coolest new things you see at the Consumer Electronics Show aren't gadgets or apps or even 55-inch OLED TV sets (although, admittedly, those are cool). Sometimes they're just technologies, which is what digital stereoscopic displays and gesture recognition were before they became 3D TV sets and XBox Kinect.
A good example this year is Alljoyn, an open-source software project coming out of an innovation lab run by Qualcomm. Alljoyn enables nearby users of an app to interact with each other, even when there's no local data network. Multiple people in the room can join the activity, whether it be playing a game, taking turns in the virtual DJ booth or working on an electronic whiteboard. And unlike collaborating through a congested Internet, there's little or no delay — the users' devices are seamlessly synchronized.
The magic isn't in the short-range communications technology — Alljoyn runs on top of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. What's special is the ability it gives developers to quickly add proximity networking to just about any app, even if they have no expertise in radio communications. For example, it took programmers at Namco only a week to add Alljoyn capabilities to their Pacman Kart Rally game, according to Qualcomm's Liat Ben-zur.
The demos at the Qualcomm booth showed how nearby tablets, smartphones and even a tablet and a connected TV could join in games and productivity apps. Because Alljoyn connects apps, not devices, users can collaborate simultaneously with separate groups on different programs, with no overlap — for example, working on a virtual whiteboard with one team while collaborating on a document with another.
Ben-zur said the potential uses include a wide variety of entertainment, education and business applications. The breakthrough here, she said, is that any developer will be able to make apps that can seamlessly discover and interoperate with related apps nearby. She added, "I believe this is a new Pandora's box for mobile."
– Jon Healey in Las Vegas
Photo: Two tablets play an Alljoyn-equipped version of Spud-Ball by Signature Creative. Credit: Jon Healey
LL Cool J wanted to make one thing clear at the Consumer Electronics Show this week: He’s got a new product, and it’s not a line of celebrity headphones.
Instead, the rapper-actor wanted to talk about the Boomdizzle Virtual Recording Studio, which he said eliminated the need for an artist and his or her team to be in the same place to record music. LL Cool J co-founded Boomdizzle, an online community for artists, in 2008.
“The problem was: I’m in L.A.; my producer or my engineer’s in New York. I want to go in the studio tonight, but I want to collaborate,” LL Cool J said at a press gathering at the Las Vegas Convention Center. “I don’t want to email you my track and then you email me back your bass line, then I email you back a vocal and then you email me back a drum and then we email back and forth and back and forth.”
The Virtual Recording Studio provides the digital production, mixing and sound tools for artists to create music, LL Cool J said. To demonstrate the technology, he recorded a song Tuesday in front of an audience at CES while his engineer was in New York.
The platform will be completely Web-based and feature a “simple, accessible user interface,” he said. Users will be able to upload tracks and see each other over a video chat feature. He noted that the Virtual Recording Studio was not just for professional musicians, but for casual users as well — such as friends who wanted to get together online and sing karaoke.
“I think that that basically revolutionizes the world of music,” he said. ”If LL Cool J was 16, 17 years old and I was just starting out, I think I would grow vampire teeth to sink my teeth into this product.”
When the software launches, LL Cool J said, part of it will be free, another part will be pay-as-you-go and yet another portion will be subscription based. “I want to make sure that as many people have access to it as possible, and I also want to make sure that it does well as a business.”
The initial launch of the technology will be by invitation only.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Photo: LL Cool J announces Boomdizzle’s Virtual Recording Studio at CES. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
Most folks will tell you: Growing old ain't sexy.
And realizing you need bifocals? Even less alluring.
The reading lens is embedded in super-thin layer of liquid crystals and can focus within a fraction of a second — the time it would take you to blink. Inside the arms of the glasses are a computer chip, rechargeable battery and what the company touts as the world's smallest accelerometer.
You trigger the electronic bifocals by tapping and swiping the arm (manual mode) or simply by tilting your head down toward what you want to read (automatic).
The emPower lenses are available now in about 1,500 locations across the U.S., including a handful of optometrists selling them in the Los Angeles area. The will be in Europe in the spring.
They aren't cheap. About $1,200. This includes the lenses, frame and charging station. So you don't want to leave them lying around. And, unfortunately, the lenses and module can't be reprogrammed if your prescription changes.
I thought these glasses might appeal to my fortysomething husband who's dealing with the reality of getting bifocals. It would probably make him feel a bit like Bond — James Bond — even if, these days, he's a tad closer to Sean Connery's Bond than Daniel Craig's.
– Michelle Maltais
Image: You can tap and swipe your glasses to turn on the bifocals. Credit: PixelOptics
At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we saw a bit of a scramble by TV makers such as Samsung and LG to show off what they working on or releasing in the coming year that would allow us to control our TVs using voice, gesture and facial recognition.
Many technology pundits and analysts have said these sorts of announcements, which also took place at last year's CES, are in response to rumors that Apple is working on an "iTV" that will offer a new way of controlling a TV and maybe even how we pay for or watch channels and TV shows.
But as many video-game lovers out there know, TV voice recognition, gesture controls and facial recognition are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing camera, which is an accessory to the Xbox 360 home gaming console.
However, Kinect is just getting started, and currently has a small number of apps. And it's still a device that sells for about $150 and requires an Xbox 360, which starts at $200. Make no mistake, there will be a cost of entry to the future of TV.
At CES 2012, Microsoft showed off a bit of what the future may hold for Kinect, the Xbox and TV with demonstrations of its latest Kinect-enabled app for the Xbox, called Sesame Street Kinect (you can see our demonstration of the app in a video atop this article).
Sesame Street Kinect is what it sounds like, episodes of the long-running children's program tailored to use the Kinect camera. And what Kinect can do is really impressive.
Since 1969, children around the world have sat in front of TVs repeating back the alphabet, colors, words and numbers to characters on Sesame Street (I did it when I was a child). Until Sesame Street Kinect, which is set to release later this year at an unannounced price, the characters on the screen couldn't respond to the viewer's actions. Now, to a limited extent, they can.
The demonstration we saw featured the Grover, Elmo and Cookie Monster characters prompting viewers to interact by either saying certain words or moving in certain ways.
For example, we took part in a demonstration in which Grover drops a box of coconuts and asks that the viewer pick them up and throw them back to him.
I f the viewer stands up and moves in the way that they would throw an imaginary coconut (don't throw a real coconut unless your trying to break your TV) then Grover catches each one in his box, even reacting to how hard the Kinect interprets the viewer's throw to be.
The experience was a lot of fun for a room of four adults, and I imagine kids will enjoy this sort of thing too. Jose Pinero, am Xbox spokesman, said a similarly interactive app from National Geographic is coming this year as well.
Although Microsoft has sold more than 66 million Xbox consoles and more than 18 million Kinect cameras, the tech giant realizes it has something bigger than just video games on its hands with Kinect.
Both Kinect and Xbox Live are headed to Windows 8 later this year. Hopefully, that will mean more interactive "two-way TV" apps like Sesame Street Kinect, and more apps related to media outlets such as ESPN and National Geographic.
There are also rumors that the company is working to get Kinect built directly into TVs, which would very likely place Xbox Live and Kinect in direct competition with Google TV and Apple's expected entry into the TV market. That's a living-room showdown I'd like to see.
Photos: Sesame Street Kinect in action. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Broadband speeds have increased steadily in the United States, reaching an average of 5.8 Mbps in mid-2011. That's 50% faster than in mid-2009, and it's likely to keep going up. But aside from streaming movies and doing video chats on Skype, what will people do with all that bandwidth?
Alcatel-Lucent, a leading supplier of networking gear to telecommunications companies, is trying to give the public and broadband service providers a better idea of what connectivity can deliver. Just as important, it's trying to show DSL and cable-modem providers how they could offer new services, giving them more ability and incentive to invest in higher-capacity networks — and less incentive to cap their customers' usage or bill them by the gigabyte.
It's doing so through an inter-industry coalition it founded called ng Connect, which brings high-tech companies together to brainstorm and combine their technologies into new service concepts. It's been showing off some of those ideas this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, including new approaches to television, fitness, public safety, shopping and healthcare.
On Monday the coalition announced that it had expanded to more than 125 members. New additions include Fitting Reality, whose software creates virtual dressing rooms for retailers; MetaWatch, whose wireless watches can display Web data and alerts from the wearer's smartphone; and Zephyr Technology, which specializes in remote body- and health-monitoring.
The demonstrations at CES included some familiar concepts, such as using a smartphone in a store to gather more information about the products displayed there, or continuously connecting service and public-safety vehicles to all sorts of information sources and devices (see the "Striker" concept vehicle above). But there were also some intriguing new mash-ups of capabilities on display.
For example, there was a prototype of a table for bars or restaurants that combined Microsoft's Surface computing technology, Brass Monkey's cloud-based games, streaming video and advertising, and 4G wireless broadband. And the "Avatrainer" demo combined a fitness game with wireless heart-rate monitors into a cloud-based service that enables travelers to keep track of their workouts away from home.
Jason Collins, an Alcatel-Lucent vice president who leads ng Connect, said the point of the coalition is to help tech companies combine their specialties into services that improve the experience for broadband users. It's also to help broadband providers "become part of the value equation" of the services made possible by their networks.
The demand for what's already available through broadband is ever-increasing. The question is how telecommunications companies will afford the investments needed to keep up with that demand. Obviously, Alcatel-Lucent wants service providers to expand their capacity by buying more of the company's gear. But its interests — and ng Connect's — are aligned with consumers' when it comes to finding alternatives to bandwidth caps, metered pricing and similar strategies that broadband providers have been exploring.
– Jon Healey
Photo: The Striker concept public-safety vehicle. Credit: Alcatel-Lucent
Netflix, CinemaNow and Vudu seem ubiquitous on the smart TV sets and set-top boxes on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, but they're not the only companies bringing films on demand to the TV, tablets and smartphones. Among the others trying to drum up business here have been two smaller, evolving competitors, Film Fresh and Bigstar, each of which brings something unique to the mix.
Film Fresh began as an outlet for downloadable international films, which it made available for sale or rental. It eventually added films for sale from selected Hollywood studios — Sony, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate — because "we learned that you can't sell the long tail without the short-tail films," said founder Rick Bolton. "You need familiar films."
This week Film Fresh relaunched its site, switching to a more widely compatible format (dropping DivX in favor of Windows Media) that's more acceptable to the bigger studios. The switch enables Film Fresh to make those studios' movies available for rent, not just for purchase, and it opens a pathway to more devices. It added Roku's set-top boxes this week and plans to launch on Android tablets in a few weeks, followed eventually by Apple devices. It also opened a store this week on Facebook.
The company also added a nifty mood-based recommendation engine called "Film Finder" (pictured above). The first set of suggestions comes from the company's staff of film buffs, and the rest are generated by technology from The Filter. The recommendations help users navigate the company's library of nearly 6,000 films, most of which are titles you'd never see promoted on a bus or in a theatrical trailer. "For us, the holy grail is discovery," Bolton explained, adding that Film Finder is designed to give the site a "corner video store vibe."
With CinemaNow owned by Best Buy, Blockbuster owned by DISH and Vudu owned by Wal-Mart, Film Fresh is promoting itself to device makers as the Switzerland of online film retailers. "We're the last independent film download service with independents and Hollywood content," Bolton said. Miami-based Bigstar, meanwhile, is offering unlimited movie streaming for a monthly fee of just under $5 — the Netflix model, only cheaper.
It can afford to do that, founder Xavi Dalmau said, because it works only with indie film studios and distributors that are willing to forgo guarantees and advances. Instead, the site pays its 150 content partners half the revenue it collects from subscribers. (Most of its more than 4,000 titles are included in the subscription price, but a few hundred are available only on a pay-per-view basis.)
Bigstar has only about 5,000 paying members at this point, despite having attracted 300,000 potential subscribers over its history. It's had much more success winning a place on connected TVs and set-top boxes; it is or soon will be available on TVs by Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and Vizio, Roku players, iPads and devices that run the Android operating system.
As a result, only about 10% of the site's streams are delivered to Web browsers. "Our top platform is the iPad and the iPhone," Dalmau said, adding that the segment with the fastest growing usage is connected TVs. And unlike many of its competitors, Bigstar has the rights to stream most of its movies globally.
"We felt that the independent world was a way for us to prove our model," he said. The company hopes to gradually add deals with bigger studios, but not for blockbusters. The hits don't fit into a business model built around $4.99-a-month subscriptions. Instead, Bigstar is focused on overlooked titles — for example, indie movies that make a splash at film festivals but don't go on to a wide release. That's a common fate for festival fare, most of which never makes it to the multiplex, Dalmau said.
"All along we wanted to make the platform to give it to the filmmakers to be able to show the great movies that they make, year in and year out. A curated library has always been one of our goals. We spent a lot of time figuring out what to put in and what not to."
The privately held company's not making money yet, Dalmau said, but it hasn't been trying to. Instead, it's been building its platform and acquiring content, albeit "without spending the millions and hundreds of millions of dollars" on major Hollywood fare. With a huge supply of long-tail films gathering dust in archives, along with unheralded foreign films, documentaries and shorts, "there's a lot out there that we can get our hands on that we feel people want to watch," Dalmau said.
– Jon Healey
Credit: Film Fresh
After you get past checking every 30 seconds that your still and peaceful-sleeping baby is actually breathing, you may want to leave the room — for a few minutes anyway.
My household already has its share of useful tech gadgets that do video — times two. So the idea of paying yet again for something else to carry was not appealing. There aren't enough dollars and certainly not enough hands to carry all these devices.
There are some iOS-device-to-iOS-device apps out there that use the home WiFi network. But, really, who leaves an iPhone or iPad trained on their sleeping child? And the video, I found, left something to be desired. Very choppy.
Although we haven't had a chance to really put the product through its paces because it's still being tested, Y-cam promises a Wi-Fi monitor that communicates with iOS devices in the home via an app.
The camera uses your home network to transmit. What the company touts is that the app can run in the background, like traditional video monitor.
When the app detects crying, it will bring video up or issue an alert. It will also give an alert if the signal drops off.
The camera also has night vision with infrared LEDs that are undetectable, so no light on the camera is visible in the room.
The company hopes to get it to market in the spring or summer with a retail price of $199. It's now going to trial audiences in Britain, where the company is based.
Also vying for a little room in the nursery is Dropcam. This HD camera is a little more than a monitor.
Dropcam offers video via the cloud, so you can access the monitor remotely on a Mac, PC or an iOS or Android device. The company promises bank-level security through AES 256-bit encryption.
It too offers infrared night vision, automatically turning on when the light dims. The night vision shuts off again when the light returns.
Dropcam will alert you via email or iPhone alert when your baby stirs or cries. It allows you to respond via two-way audio with the click of a mouse or tap on the phone. You can invite friends or family to watch your camera as well — and turn off sharing with a click.
You can also pan, tilt and zoom the camera remotely for a closer look.
That all is to be included when you buy the camera for $149. For an additional monthly fee, you can upgrade to add a DVR function. Storage for seven days' worth of video costs $10 a month or $100 a year. (You can add other Dropcams for a reduced rate.) Or storage for a month's worth of video goes for $30 a month or $300 a year. It ships this month.
This one could probably double as a cam for Shiba Inu puppies as well.
– Michelle Maltais
Image at top: BabyPing by Y-cam is expected to hit U.S. markets around summer. Credit: Y-cam
Image in middle: Dropcam can send alerts to your iPhone when your baby starts to stir. Credit: Dropcam
A Motorola smartphone with Intel inside is due to arrive in the second half of 2012, the two companies announced at the Consumer Electronics Show.
The phone will be the first product of a multi-year agreement that will extend to not only smartphones but tablets too, Intel said.
Although the firms didn't disclose much about what the device would look like, how much it would cost or what it wouldd be called, Intel did say that the first of its processors used by Motorola would be the new Atom Z2460.
No word yet on which carrier the handset will make its way to either, but in a meeting Tuesday night, Motorola Chairman and Chief Executive Sanjay Jha said the new phone would run Google's Android operating system.
Hopefully that means the first Motorola and Intel smartphone will be running Android Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Atom Z2640 is a 1.6-gigahertz processor with integrated graphics capabilities and low power consumption, Intel said in a statement.
The partnership is an important one for both companies, especially Intel. Motorola currently uses processors from both Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, two chip suppliers that have found a lot of success in the smartphone and tablet market. Intel's mobile chips, meanwhile, have had a tough time catching on with hardware makers as many have chosen processors from rivals.
Though Intel, the world's largest processor maker, has so far failed to match its dominant positon in the laptop and desktop market on the mobile side, a deal with Motorola might help boost its influence in smartphones and tablets — particularly if Google's $12.5-billion purchase of Motorola Mobility is approved by federal regulators.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas
Images: (Top) Intel's smartphone reference design and (bottom) its Atom Z2460 processor. Credit: Intel
Move over Segway, and make room on the road for the Board of Awesomeness.
Chaotic Moon Labs' Kinect-controlled motorized skateboard zoomed through the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, showcasing a quirky mashup of technologies — one that hopefully won't end with the rider getting a mashed-up head.
By attaching a Samsung tablet to the Kinect, the Austin, Texas-based software laboratory set out to "make Kinect do everything it's not supposed to do," which includes helping accelerate a skateboard and its rider to 32 mph.
It did it by creating an electric skateboard with the Kinect as a built-in gesture sensor, so the rider can accelerate by pushing his hands forward, and slow down by pulling them back — a little bit like skateboarding with an invisible steering wheel.
The board has giant all-terrain tires, as well as an 800-watt electric motor, so you could probably skateboard up San Francisco's Lombard Street if you needed to. (Note to readers: Don't.)
The brain of the conveyance is a Samsung tablet powered by the new Windows 8 operating system, which you better hope doesn't crash — because if it does …
– David Sarno in Las Vegas
Like many celebrities, Robert Horry is at the Consumer Electronics Show this week to help promote a tech company. Problem is, when we sat down with him Tuesday to chat about Haier America, basketball's Big Shot Rob conceded he hadn't yet seen the appliance brand's latest products.
In fact, he says he's not much of a techie.
"I try to keep my life as simple as possible," he said. "[If] I get all this high-tech, I'm going to buy more stuff and more stuff."
No matter. The affable former Laker, who won three of his seven championships with the team, was happy to talk generally about the brand, which is a sponsor for the NBA, and his hopes for his partnership with the company: "Haier has a lot of good products, and I'm just trying to get in good with the family so they can remodel my kitchen," he joked.
He was also eager to chat about his basketball days, saying he still keeps in touch with Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. Although he's a Lakers fan, he said he sees challenges ahead for the team this year, including "a lot of young cats on their team," tough competition from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, and leftover issues from the trade drama at the start of the season.
"I just think sometimes, with the way the season started out with them and all the turmoil and the guys being traded and them trading guys and trades not going through, you put a wall up as a player," he said. "Even though you go out there and play, it's still not the same because in the back of your mind, you always got that fear of being traded, so you don't play as well."
These days, Horry works as a sports commentator and lives in Houston — though he noted that "everybody thinks I live in L.A."
"L.A. is just too expensive for me," he said. "That's one thing about me: I'm from the South and I'm cheap."
Horry said he goes to a lot of Houston Rockets games now that he's retired and has free time. "I try to keep my face in there just in case one day I want to try to venture into the coaching realm or the GM realm or something of that nature," he said. "I'm waiting for my son to turn 13 and go to high school, and then I want to get back into it."
But back to tech: Horry, who has attended CES a number of times in the past, said he loves coming to the show to see what new products are coming out. "My favorite part is going to booths and coming home with a bag of stuff," he said.
One device he won't be going home with: a 3-D television.
"I can't watch 3-D. It gives me a headache," he said. "I just saw a guy with a 3-D camera and that was cool, but after looking at it for 2, 3 seconds, my head started to hurt."
But Horry said he loves watching television shows — "The Closer" is a top choice — and has three Apple TVs in his home. As expected, he said Haier's TVs "are great." His favorite model?
"The big ones," he said. "The thing about them is they're slim and you can put them anywhere. Right now, I'm working on getting one to put in my bathroom. Sometimes you like to sit back and take a nice bubble bath and watch NBA TV."
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
On Tuesday, here on the Technology blog, we summed up a few of the TV-related highlights of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show from LG, Vizio and Sony. But make no mistake, Sharp and Samsung made some news of their own.
As noted by my colleague Jon Healey and myself, 4K TVs have been a major trend at CES in Las Vegas this year. The promise of 4K TVs is a display that offers up to four times higher the resolution of today's highest resolution high-definition TVs, which currently top out at 1080p.
A bit confused by all the terms? No problem — 1080p refers to TVs with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels with the 1,080 counting the number of lines of resolution on the vertical side of the TV. The newer 4K standard refers to displays with about 4,000 lines of resolution counted on the horizontal side of a screen.
Sharp, however, took the resolution jump further than its rivals and introduced a prototype 8K TV this year, which it says will offer double the resolution of a 4K TV set, or a resolution of about 16 times higher than a 1080p TV. Sharp's 8K TV is currently planned for retail, but the prototype at CES did come in a whopping 85-inch screen size. The screen resolution of the Sharp prototype does fall short of an actual 8,000 mark, despite the name, with a 7,680 x 4,320 resolution display being used.
Huge TVs are something Sharp has been into for the last few years, choosing to concentrate on the higher-end of the TV market. This year it also showed off an 80-inch LCD TV, with LED backlighting, that will playback 3-D video (viewable with 3-D glasses of course). Sharp said its 80-inch was equal to about the size of nine 32-inch TVs, or about 266 smartphones laid out next to each other.
The TV maker also said it was committed to its LCD TV business and plans to introduce 17 new LCD TVs over the next 90 days.
But not all of those 17 new TVs will be big-screen heavyweight sets. As noted by my colleague David Sarno, Sharp also introduced its line of Aquos Freestyle TVs at CES this year. The Aquos Freestyle is a series of TVs that are built thin and light and can actually be picked up and moved around a home.
The idea is maybe you'd want to take the TV out in the back yard for a couple hours, or maybe into another room for a bit for a party or other good reason.
As reported by Sarno, "Sharp's Aquos Freestyle flat-screens get their signal wirelessly, and as the models demonstrated by parading them down the showroom runway, they are light enough to be carried around the home, whether to the balcony, the kitchen or the powder room."
Portable? Yes. Mobile? Not really. The Aquos Freestyle sets were shown off in 20-inch, 31.5-inch, 40-inch and 60-inch sizes.
Like Sharp, Korean electronics giant Samsung had some prototypes to show off at CES too, including a 55-inch TV that it described as "Super OLED."
OLED, or organic light emitting diodes, are more energy efficient, thinner and provide better black-levels when compared with standard current LEDs used in TVs today. OLED is also more expensive to produce than LED backlighting. And just about every TV maker throws out claims at CES that its display, which is also 3-D capable, provides the best picture — Samsung's stance is no different with its Super OLED sets, promising in a statement that its prototype display offers "the ultimate in vividness, speed and thinness, with true-to-life picture quality, enhanced color accuracy and motion picture quality even in the fastest scenes."
Samsung also announced an update to its high-end Smart TV line, which runs apps such as Netflix on its TVs, that it says will allow users to control their sets with voice and motion control and facial-recognition technology.
"For example, users can turn the TV on or off, activate selected apps or search for content in the web browser simply by speaking in any of the 20 to 30 languages that are supported by the technology," Samsung said in a statement. "With a wave of their hand, they can browse and choose a link or content via the web browser."
A built-in camera in the top-of-the-line Smart TV sets "recognizes movement in the foreground and two unidirectional array microphones recognize voice at an incredibly accurate rate. Noise cancellation technology helps separate any background noise from the users commands."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: Samsung's LED 8000 Smart TV, which features built-in cameras and microphones for voice, gesture and facial recognition. Credit: Samsung
IRobot, the company that cribbed its name from the annals of sci-fi greatness, rolled out a drone at the Consumer Electronics Show designed to help engineers and developers explore how to get robots to do what we want, as well as things we never thought of but soon won’t be able to live without.
At first glance, iRobot's Ava looks like a Roomba vacuum cleaner jury-rigged with a Microsoft Kinect and an Apple iPad tablet. And, indeed, on a closer look, it is. But according to the company's brochure it is much more. It has a “comprehensive sensor arrays (laser, sonar, and 2-D/3-D imaging)…” The whole concept is that it is a development platform for the various technologies that make robots cool (or scary), so it is a very simple robot by itself, but it has the potential to do many thing you would expect from an autonomous robot, and possibly some you wouldn't.
The brochure also include some images of things you might want have your Ava do, like collaborative work, caregiver support, mobile kiosk or security. Mostly it shows things that you can already do with an iPad, but now it has legs of its own.
Other cool features include touch-sensitive skins, autonomous charging, speech recognition and omni-directional motion as well as Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity.
The idea is that if you’re the guy who designs robotic claws, or facial recognition software that allows a robot dog to follow its human boy to the bus stop in the morning and pick him out of the crowd of kids getting off the bus at the end of the day, the first thing you need before you can really get down to business is a robot. One that actually works. This can be somewhat of a barrier to entry for roboticists who don’t work for DARPA or Michael Bay.
Ava can move independently, navigating through crowded rooms using its sensor array, or it can just follow you around, all while being aware enough of its surroundings to stay out of trouble while it tags along. That might not sound like a lot, but a lot of different technology is needed to make that happen.
– Tim French
Surrounded by every electronic device imaginable at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, HP’s new Envy 14 Spectre is in a class by itself, mostly because the class it's in — “the premium consumer Ultrabook” – seems to have been invented just to have some place to put it. Let’s take a look.
The first descriptor used is “premium.” That’s a good one, and if you are paying $1,400 for something about the size and thickness of a place mat, whatever it is you are buying should be stamped with the word premium. Generally this would indicate a plethora of features, like Beats Audio for doctor-recommended sound quality (is Dr. Dre still licensed to practice in California?) and the HP Radiance Display that delivers 1600 x 900 lines of resolution. OK, the Spectre has all that. So far, so good.
Right after premium comes the word “consumer,” and that's a little odd because that usually indicates a dearth of features, where things are stripped out to make the product less confusing and cheaper or accessible to the masses, the opposite of premium. So that word makes the least sense, seeing as it has high-end video and audio (knob notwithstanding), a slew of inputs and outputs — including trusty old USB (though in it’s latest 3.0 variant), HDMI and Mini DisplyPort, and a $1,399.99 price tag on a laptop is enough to knock it out of the consumer arena and right back into premium land. It’s kind of like a rich kid who dresses in old clothes so he can make friends with the poor kids, then invites them to his birthday party at the country club with the strict dress code. Just because you add the “consumer” to something doesn’t make it any more affordable, it just makes it take longer to say.
Lastly, it’s an "Ultrabook" because it’s thin, and that’s what ultra means in computer-ese, and into its 20mm of thinness HP has crammed a good deal of stuff, like an Intel Core processor, HP Wireless Audio to stream your music throughout your home, a multitouch trackpad, an HD webcam and a battery that “boasts up to 9 hours” of life among other things. So maybe they are using “ultra” to mean “going beyond” because they amount of tech stuffed into this machine is beyond what one might expect in a package of its dimensions.
So, marketing lingo aside, the really interesting thing about the Envy 14 Spectre is the material used to build most of it: glass. Corning Gorilla Glass to be specific. Not surprisingly, the monitor is fronted with glass, but so is the rest of the lid. It’s almost as if they took a giant iPhone 4 and attached it with a hinge. So, right off the bat, half of the computer is built out of glass, then you have the palm rests and some of the chassis! All this makes for a more durable and lighter package, according to the company, though at about 4 pounds that last bit seems like we’re having our chocolate rations increased from 15 grams to 10 grams. But who cares what it weighs? It’s a laptop made out of glass! I’m not even sure what the advantage really would be for that, but I feel cooler just to have typed out that last sentence.
Perhaps the most telling thing about this device is who HP thinks would want it, and judging by the product photos in the company’s news release, they are aiming for the coveted “I’m far too cool to even acknowledge my expensive new computer sitting there” demographic.
– Tim French
Consumer electronics manufacturers have talked up the idea of sharing photos, videos and music across devices for the better part of a decade. At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, though, several of the major brands took the concept a step further, unveiling cloud-based services that pushed content-sharing beyond the boundaries of the home.
LG, for example, showed off "my CloudShare" with a feature called Familycast, which enables remote access from a connected TV set in one home to the digital content stored in another. Samsung displayed "allshare," which enables people to remotely access music, movies and pictures either from their home network or from copies stored online, and a "Family Story" app that shares pictures and messages across multiple homes through connected TVs, tablets and smartphones.
These capabilities reflect the work of the Digital Living Network Alliance, an inter-industry coalition formed in 2003 to promote interoperability among devices in the home. Before the alliance started working on its specifications, manufacturers used a hodgepodge of different and potentially incompatible technologies — some of them proprietary — to store information and send it from device to device. DLNA cleared the confusion by picking a common set of standards for file types and communications protocols for devices to support.
The DLNA specs enable TVs, camcorders, smartphones, tablets and other devices connected to a home network to be automatically discovered by and share content with one another. More than half a billion products that meet the DLNA specifications are now in use, by ABI Research's estimates, laying the groundwork for the services that the likes of LG and Samsung demonstrated at CES. (Notably absent from DLNA is Apple, which follows its own muse on home networking.)
The new wrinkle this year is the addition of cloud-based sharing, which manufacturers pitched as a way to share pictures and home movies with friends and distant family members, or to enjoy one's personal music and video collections when away from home. Consumers have been able to do such things for years through their computers; now, the big consumer electronics brands want to make sharing simpler and bring it to more devices.
For example, Samsung's "Family Story" enables people to store photos — including those snapped by the camera built into selected Samsung TVs — in the cloud, where they can be viewed by others who are authorized to see them. The Family Story app essentially creates a private social media group through the Internet, with new photo uploads automatically made available to each member.
The cloud-based services on display at CES have the potential to promote copyright infringement, but that's true of any online-sharing application. The manufacturers' main selling point also seems to be sharing family memories, not record collections or Hollywood movies.
For Samsung and LG, at least, there's no revenue attached to the services — they're free to users. So for now, cloud-based sharing is a feature aimed at selling more hardware, not a route to generating recurring revenue. But with Apple testing consumers' willingness to pay an annual fee for enhanced online storage, will their rivals in the consumer-electronics industry be far behind?
– Jon Healey in Las Vegas
Photo: Samsung President Boo-Keun Yoon discussing the company's connected TV strategy at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. Credit: Samsung
With surprisingly little fanfare, the major consumer electronics manufacturers introduced a new category of television at the Consumer Electronics Show this year: 4K TV sets, which cram four times as much picture information onto the screen as the best of the current high-definition models. That's a little over 8 million pixels, compared to about 2 million in a 1080P HDTV set.
LG showed off an 84-inch "ultra definition" LCD set (pictured above). Sony, which already has a 4K projector on the market, said it would continue to develop 4K TVs and promised Blu-ray disc players that upconvert HDTV to 4K. And Sharp took the wraps off not only a 4K LCD TV, but also an 8K prototype. No details were available on prices or release dates, although most manufacturers said they'd have 4K sets in stores this year.
The LG and Sharp sets offered stunningly good pictures, presenting a precisely defined yet silky smooth canvas of images. Yet with so many consumers more than happy with 1080P (and 720P, a less intensive level of high definition), why bother? 4K TV doesn't change the viewing experience as fundamentally as the shift from analog to HDTV, or from 2D to 3D. And although 3D sets are selling well, it's not clear that consumers are buying them because they want something better than HDTV — they may just see it as a way to future-proof their sizable investment in a flat-panel set.
To some degree, 4K is a natural reaction to the rapid decline in TV prices. Manufacturers are under pressure to offer new capabilities every year in order to push prices back up, at least at the high end of the market. LG spokesman John Taylor added a more practical consideration: On a very big screen, 1080P doesn't provide enough resolution.
4K probably won't come to 42-inch sets because it's not needed in that size, Taylor said. But over time, U.S. consumers have gravitated toward ever-larger sets, attracted by thinner and lighter designs and plunging prices. So while 42 inches may be the sweet spot now for many buyers, especially those who grew up on 25-inch analog sets, the demand for bigger displays is likely to grow.
The nontrivial problem for 4K, though, is that there's nothing to watch in that format. As bad as the shortage of 3D programming has been for home viewers, the supply of 3D dwarfs the availability of 4K material. That helps explain why the new 4K sets received so little attention during the manufacturers' press blitz Monday, even though they will be making their debut in 2012.
"There is no 4K broadcasting," noted Panasonic's chief technology officer, Eisuke Tsuyuzaki. And given that the quality of 4K is equivalent to a pristine copy of a 35mm film print, piracy-conscious studios may think twice before agreeing to let any truly valuable content be broadcast in that format, Tsuyuzaki said.
He envisioned a demand for a few thousand 4K displays for medical use (for example, assisting surgeons) and in computer graphics and design. But for the living room? "It's going to be a while," he said. "It's not a technical issue…. The biggest issue is the content."
Then again, TV stations don't broadcast in 1080P, either. That format is limited mainly to Blu-ray discs and video-on-demand services. So if upconverted broadcasts have been good enough for 1080P, perhaps that will be enough to justify the purchase of a 4K set — for those whose homes are big enough to fit one in.
– Jon Healey in Las Vegas
There are many things you can count on at the Consumer Electronics Show every year: a crushing mass of humanity; enough tech swag to open a retail store; and the oft-repeated line, "This will really take technology to the next level." Just as predictable: a slew of scheduled and surprise appearances by Hollywood celebs touting their own products (typically headphones) or partnerships with tech companies.
Unfortunately Lady Gaga — who showed up at CES 2011 sporting a black veil and light pink hair — won't be at the Las Vegas Convention Center this year, but there won't be a shortage of stars. Here's a look at who has shown up so far and who's scheduled to appear in the coming days:
Justin Timberlake made a surprise appearance at the Panasonic news conference on Monday to hype the brand's partnership with MySpace. In announcing a new MySpace app for televisions, the actor and singer said he hoped to make the television experience more social. "This is the evolution of one of our greatest inventions," he said.
Sony had a few surprise guests on Monday as well, bringing out Will Smith during its media event after giving reporters a 3-D sneak peek of Smith's summer blockbuster, "Men in Black 3." Sony Corp. Chairman Howard Stringer closed the event by having Kelly Clarkson sing an acoustic version of "Mr. Know It All" on stage.
50 Cent is promoting his new music company, SMS Audio, and a line of wireless and wired headphones. "It offers something that a lot of the other headset companies that are out right now don't have," he told me during an interview Tuesday. "It's an extension of my passion for music." The rapper will be signing autographs Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
LL Cool J introduced Boomdizzle, an online community he created that enables people to record, share and remix original music and video content. "If LL Cool J was 16, 17 years old and I was just starting out, I think I would grow vampire teeth to sink my teeth into this product because I think it's absolutely amazing," he said at a media gathering Tuesday.
Actress Eliza Dushku is at CES as a celebrity ambassador for the Entertainment Matters program, which aims to bridge the tech industry and Hollywood's film, television and digital community. As part of her ambassadorship, Dushku hosted Spike TV's VIP CES party on Tuesday at Tryst nightclub at the Wynn. During an interview, Dushku said she was excited to walk the show floor the next day and check out the 4K televisions.
Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi of MTV's "Jersey Shore" signed autographs and promoted a slew of audio products at iHip’s booth on Tuesday. She later hosted an iHip party at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino.
Fitness guru Jillian Michaels chatted about the marriage of tech and fitness on Tuesday and discussed the effect of digital innovation and her recent partnership with BodyMedia, an on-body monitor company.
Haier America hosted former Laker Robert Horry at its booth Tuesday and will have former NBA star John Salley on Wednesday to drum up publicity for the appliances brand. Oddly enough, when I asked Horry what his favorite tech product was, he said: "Apple TV."
Actor Greg Grunberg and actor and singer Wayne Brady are scheduled to appear Wednesday at OnStar for "Tweet House" sessions, the official social media track for CES.
Justin Bieber is set to appear with TOSY Robotics; the teen pop star is expected to help TOSY unveil its new entertainment robot on Wednesday afternoon.
Dennis Rodman is scheduled to be at Paltalk's booth on Thursday to promote the service, which allows users to explore the online world of chat sites with community chat rooms and webcam technology.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Upper photo: 50 Cent wears a pair of his new headphones at CES in Las Vegas. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
Lower photo: Eliza Dushku on the red carpet at Tryst nightclub. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
I recall before I had my baby the empathetic terror that shot through me as I watched my friend's child dragging her naked iPad by the power cable. It was story time. Great.
Now that I have my own child, enamored with all of my (expensive) tech toys and tools, the terror is all the more real. Keeping these tools away from their quick but not-yet-agile hands is quite a task. And sometimes, technology can be a great teaching tool.
M-Edge, the maker of cases for today's most popular handheld devices, has a case they say can withstand the rough treatment an iPad can get in the hands of kids and toddlers. We took a look at it at CES in Las Vegas.
The SuperShell is a super lightweight case made of closed-cell foam that's easy to grip, doesn't slip out of small hands and, if it does, will bounce back, almost literally, after a fall.
We watched the representatives toss the encased iPad 2 on the floor several times without damaging the tablet. (Check out the video above.)
Granted, if your kid takes his toy drumstick to the screen, it's not going to be protected here.
But if you've got a droolly teether, the case may even take an actual licking and still keep ticking.
Parent reviews on Amazon say the $30 bright lime-green color makes it easier to find the iPad after your child drops it like a hot potato and moves on to the next thing.
You can still access the front and back cameras of the iPad 2, its ports, speaker and most of the buttons. The volume buttons are covered, but then again do you really want little Chris or Christy blasting the repetitive music of kid-friendly apps?
Coming this year are SuperShell cases for iPhone and Kindle Fire.
– Michelle Maltais in Las Vegas
Image: SuperShell case for iPad 2. Credit: M-Edge
One of the more notable and surprising reveals so far at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show has been the debut of Vizio's line of laptops and all-in-one desktop PCs. Vizio declined to detail the specifications or release date of its new products, but gave us some hands-on time with the PCs.
The All-in-One, as the desktop version of Vizio's PC debut is known, comes in 27-inch and 24-inch models, both containing high-definition 1080p resolution panels. The general approach is similar to that of Apple's iMac, with nearly the entire device in one self-contained monitor/base unit. Unlike the iMac, however, which positions its processing hardware behind the screen, CPU and hardware connection ports on the All-in-One are all positioned at the base of the device, which still manages to be very thin and is connected to the monitor through an aluminum neck.
The base includes USB 3.0 connections and inputs for two HDMI cables, allowing you to connect your computer, Xbox or anything else that can output HDMI. Vizio's director of product development, Tim Almeda, said the desktops could be configured with up to quad-core processing and 1 terabyte hard drives.
But not all of the device is contained in the base. The power source and subwoofer for the PC are housed in a mash-up external unit that connects to the. This makes it not quite all-in-one, but helps provide a 2.1 stereo sound setup that Vizio says will be included with the computers. User input comes from a wireless keyboard, trackpad and TV-like remote.
Vizio's upcoming laptop line includes two Thin + Light computers, basically in the ultrabook genre, which come in at 14 inches and 15.6 inches, and one more robust 15.6-inch notebook. The full notebook is a little thicker and heavier, but boasts a dedicated graphics card and a hard drive and SSD options. The "Thin + Light" models carry an SSD, and are geared to compete against computers such as Apple's MacBook Air and similar recently released ultrabooks. None of the computers carry an optical drive, but an external CD/DVD drive is available (Vizio wouldn't specify whether an external drive would be available on the larger laptop by default or at an extra cost).
Overall, sleekness and simplicity embody the design of both sets of computers — clean lines, an aversion to design flairs that don't serve any useful function, a brushed metal exterior and a very integrated look between the series. Industrial chic, if you will.
This is apparent even in the font used on the keyboards, which almost looks as if it were built for speed and my colleague Nathan Olivarez-Giles compared to the lettering used by Porsche Design. One can't ignore the design cues taken from Apple in both sets of computers, but if Vizio is successful in creating a stylish, sleek and lower-cost alternative to the iMac, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, it could be a challenge for the computing giant.
– Armand Emamdjomeh in Las Vegas
Photo: From back to front, Vizio's new 14 inch and 15.6-inch Thin + Light and 15.6-inch notebook computers, and separate optical drive. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Nokia and Microsoft's first flagship smartphone for the U.S., the Lumia 900, made its official debut at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The new Windows Phone handset was first unveiled Monday by Nokia, and later that night Microsoft brought the new phone on stage in what was the final CES keynote speech from the tech giant best known for the powerhouse Windows PC operating system.
The Lumia 900 so far has been confirmed as running only on AT&T's 4G LTE network and picks up stylistically where the Lumia 800 left off, with an attractive rounded polycarbonate body and a flat, sliced-off-looking top and bottom.
However, the Lumia 900 will have a larger screen than the Lumia 800 — up to 4.3 inches from 3.7 inches. The resolution of the display will remain 480 by 800 pixels, as is standard for all Windows Phone handsets.
The new Nokia will be offered from AT&T in either cyan or matte black and feature a 1.4-gigahertz Qualcomm processor, 512 megabytes of RAM, 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, an 8-megapixel rear camera that can shoot up to 720p video and a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera for video chatting.
The Lumia 900 will be thinner than T-Mobile's Lumia 710, a 0.45-inches-thick 4G phone I reviewed last weekend.
Nokia officials also told me at CES that the Lumia 800 is finally going to get a U.S. launch as well, but it will be sold only as an unlocked phone. That means the Lumia 800 will sell without part of the cost of the phone being eaten up by a wireless carrier's subsidy, which may put it in the $500-range, though Nokia declined to specify.
Microsoft and Nokia also had no details to offer on pricing or a release date for the Lumia 900. As soon as we can, we'll get the phone in our hands for a full review. In the meantime, check out our hands-on video from CES with both the Nokia Lumia 900 above; and photos and of the Lumia 900 and Lumia 800 after the jump.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Nokia Lumia 900 in the foreground, with the Lumia 800 in the middle and an Apple iPhone 4S in the rear. Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times
General Motors is at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in a major way, showing of its new infotainment systems for Chevrolets and Cadillacs.
Both systems — Chevy's MyLink and Cadillac's CUE — will debut this year, and each brings touch screens and in-car apps like Pandora and Stitcher to GM's automobiles. For many cars, MyLink and CUE replace in the dashboard a big radio and CD player.
After getting some hands-on time with CUE and MyLink, I couldn't help but think that systems like these are yet another nail in the coffin of CDs and physical media in general.
And why not? It seems that for years CD sales and even DVD sales have been on the decline. With the rise of MP3 players and smartphones, many people are now plugging their digital devices into their dashboards to listen to music. Even GPS units have been replaced by navigation apps found in smartphones for many.
So what's GM doing about this change in consumer behavior? MyLink and CUE are aided by users who have smartphones. For example, both systems offer a Pandora app for listening to music streamed from the Web, but that app is unusable in the dashboard unless you have a smartphone with a Pandora app of its own.
When you're using Pandora with MyLink or CUE, you're consuming data on your smartphone's data plan as well. And MyLink and CUE can play music, video and even photos loaded on a smartphone, MP3 player or even a thumb drive.
Although the systems use the smartphone, they don't by any means replace the smartphone's role in a car. Instead, MyLink and CUE build off of this growing relationship between consumers and their phones.
Of course, MyLink and CUE are usable without the aid of a smartphone, for things like operating a car's air-conditioning system, tuning the ol' AM/FM radio or getting turn-by-turn navigation through OnStar (with an OnStar subscription of course).
Chevy's MyLink also comes in two flavors, so to speak. There is a lower-end version, built and supplied by LG, that will be found in the 2013 Sonic and Spark, Chevrolet's entry-level autos. In these models, MyLink will be devoid of a built-in CD player.
However, a different version of MyLink built by Panasonic for higher-end Chevrolets such as the Volt and the Equinox can be ordered with a CD player as an option. With Cadillac Cue, owners can get a CD player in their glove box as an option.
The two variations of MyLink perform the same actions but offer different user interfaces and perform tasks a bit differently. For example, although both can handle voice recognition for hands-free calling, LG's version uses voice recognition software found in a connected smartphone, and the Panasonic version has this feature built in.
GM has promised software upgrades and some more apps for MyLink and CUE after customers offer some feedback on what sort of apps they want.
To see CUE in action, check out our hands-on video above. For MyLink, check out the video from GM below.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas
Photo: Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system. Credit: General Motors
As always, the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has been filled with new TVs and home entertainment product announcements.
In fact, there have been so many announcements that it might be tough to keep up with them all if you're actually looking to CES to help you decide what your next TV set will be.
No worry, we're here to help sift through the noise. We'll have more on TVs and Google TV products coming, but here are some of the highlights from LG, Vizio and Sony thus far.
As we reported ahead of CES, LG had big-screen plans for this year's Vegas show with a new 55-inch OLED TV that is just 4 millimeters thick and an 84-inch LED-backlit LCD TV with 4K-display resolution.
For those who don't know, 4K resolution is what many in the TV industry believe will be the next bump up in high-definition standards for TVs and Web video. Current top-of-the-line HD TV sets available to consumers now are either 1080p or 720p — each number indicating the number of vertical pixel lines of resolution the HD sets can handle. The term 4K resolution identifies displays with about 4,000 horizontal lines of resolution. There isn't a ton of 4K video content out yet (most HD TV channels are 720p), but many filmmakers are moving toward shooting in 4K with newer digital cameras.
As promised, LG unveiled both the 55-inch and 84-inch sets at CES this year, each set falling into what LG is calling its Cinema 3D series of TVs, which will range in size between 55 and 84 inches and feature a super-thin bezel when they hit the market later this year. I saw both sets in person here at CES and they looked big, bright and clear.
Of course, how a TV looks on the showroom floor and how it looks in the living room can vary. But LG, as well as many other TV makers, seems to be producing thinner and lighter TVs with increasingly more detailed and accurate pictures displayed on screen.
Another announcement from LG this year was wider implementation of its Magic Remote, which was shown off at CES in 2011 too. As my colleague David Sarno noted in his reporting on CES, the Magic Remote acts much like the Wii remote used by Nintendo's Wii video game console.
With the motion-sensing Magic Remote in hand, a user can navigate on-screen TV menus, settings and even channel changes with a combination of gestures and button presses.
LG is also showing off Google TV sets that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will come with a Magic Remote with a built-in keyboard.
Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since 2011's CES, LG said it has added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.
Just as it was last year, 3-D is a major theme at CES this year, and LG also said that about 50% of its 2012 TV line would be made up of 3-D TVs. But like Vizio, and unlike many other TV rivals, LG's 3-D TVs won't use active-shutter 3-D glasses. Instead, LG's and Vizio's 3-D TVs will work with passive 3-D glasses that are more like the glasses often found in movie theaters.
Irvine-based Vizio also showed off a newer, wider vision for home TVs. Dubbed Cinema Wide, Vizio is releasing a line of new TVs with a 21:9 aspect ratio. Nearly all TVs currently being sold have a 16:9 aspect ratio.
However, if you're watching TV on a Cinema Wide set, you're almost guaranteed to see black bars running to the left and right of the screen, since most TV shows and sporting events nowadays are broadcast in a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Vizio says it will release its Cinema Wide sets (which will also be 3-D TVs) in both 50-inch and 58-inch sizes in the first six months of the year, with a 71-inch size to follow later.
The bargain-priced TV maker is also releasing a lineup of Google TV products including TVs running the Google TV software, Google TV Blu-Ray player and a set-top box called the Stream Player that will enable Google TV to run on any HD TV.
In 2012, Sony's Bravia line of TVs will be divided into three series — BX for entry-level models, EX at the mid range and HX at the top.
The high-end HX line will be made up of LED-backlit LCDs with 3-D and built-in Wi-Fi for Skype and Sony apps. The even higher-end HX850 series will also feature screens made of Coring's Gorilla Glass, which is easy to clean and scratch resistant, as well as thin and light. The HX series will be available in 46-inch and 55-inch sizes, each with a 1080p resolution.
The EX line won't have Gorilla Glass or 3-D, but these TVs will have built-in Wi-Fi and Sony apps and will be available in 40-inch, 46-inch and 55-inch sizes, each with a 1080p resolution.
The entry-level BX line from Sony will be made up of some pretty basic TVs. The BX450 series,will offer 1080p resolution in 46-inch and 40-inch sizes while the BX330 series will consist of one 31.5-inch set with a resolution of 720p, the lowest resolution that can still be classified as high definition.
Top photo: LG's press conference at CES 2012 in Las Vegas on Jan. 9. Credit: LG
Second image from top: LG's Google TV Smart TV set. Credit: LG
Third image from top: Vizio's Cinema Wide TV. Credit: Vizio
Bottom image: Sony's HX850 TV at an angle. Credit: Sony
How much is good sound worth to you? $1,300?
Well, then Harman Audio has a pair of earphones just for you. The AKG K3003 high-performance three-way in-ear headphones were on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Why would anyone need such pricey sound?
Ask Chris Dragon. He represents the target audience for this product.
Dragon is not only Harman's director of marketing; he qualifies as a bonafide audiophile. He owns about 20 pairs of headphones himself. He plays guitar — and has 16 of them with two more custom-made on the way. As a musician since childhood, he has a love of good sound.
In fact, he said, in a company of about 11,000 employees, there are many musicians in the bunch.
"We wanted to deliver best in-ear product out there. AKG — that's kind of the DNA of the company," Dragon said. "We like to build the best in class."
In addition to producing pristine sound, they are "tunable," meaning you can tweak the bass or the high-frequency sound. They come with a neutral diaphragm in place, and you can swap it out for either bass boost or high frequency. This swap isn't for thick thumbs or clumsy hands. The diaphragms are small and slip out of your fingers easily.
They also have controls integrated for Apple products.
Obviously, these aren't for everyone. You're not going to find them at Target or Best Buy. Launched in November, only 125 of them have been made so far. (The serial number etched in the one on display was 0125.) Each of the K3003 earphones are handmade in Vienna. Dragon said he expects that they will sell in the thousands.
So what does $1,300 worth of audio sound like?
Well, we still don't know. (I'm not chancing expensing those bad boys.) But Dragon answers as a guitarist might: You get the sense of being confined, but you don't feel like you're in a room the size of your head.
"When I finally laid my hands on a pair, I put on three pieces music," he said. "You won't believe me, but I heard nuances in these that I could only pick up before" on large speakers with sound that fills a room.
The "original price" listed on the site is $1,499. Sound like a bargain?
– Michelle Maltais in Las Vegas
It's all fun and games for one company at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
Seattle's Discovery Bay Games wanted to combine the modern iPad with the old-school arcade experience to give gamers the best of both worlds. The end result: Atari Arcade, a $60 console featuring a joystick and four push buttons that connects with an iPad or iPad 2, enabling users to play classic games such as Centipede, Pong and Asteroids using the tablet as a screen but the console as the controls.
"I think what people were missing was that real tactile experience of having the joystick and the buttons, because on the touchscreen you kind of lose the feeling," Discovery Bay Games spokeswoman Natalie Dent said. The tech and gaming company was giving demos of the device Monday at Digital Experience, a consumer electronics media event held in Las Vegas the night before the official opening of CES.
Created through a partnership with Apple and Atari, the Atari Arcade was released at Target, Toys R Us and Apple stores during the holiday season last year and was a bestseller for Discovery Bay Games, Dent said.
Consumers who buy the device have to download the Atari Greatest Hits app to their tablets to play the games; $9.99 gets you 99 classic arcade games.
Discovery Bay Games also released two other iPad-compatible devices, which the company calls "appcessories" on its website, over the holidays: the Duo Pop, a set of remote "poppers" (they look a bit like asthma inhalers) that operate as wireless game buzzers; and Duo Plink, a device geared toward younger children that sits on top of an iPad and acts as a scoring machine.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
DJ really doesn't mean disc jockey these days; it's more apt to call them digital jockeys.
Pro equipment can get really pricey and take a few trips from the truck to set up.
But IK Multimedia has an app that may put the power of a pro DJ in your pocket.
At CES in Las Vegas, the company announced that it will soon release DJ Rig, an iPhone app that brings smooth transitions, scratching, sampling and beat matching to the party.
The app includes features found in other DJ apps such as access to the on-board iPhone music library and playlists, auto-sync technology, interactive waveform display and auto looping.
What makes IK Multimedia suggest this app may be a game-changer are features such as detection and adjustment for volume and cross-fading equalizing, a sync mode that detects beats per minute from external devices in real time and automatically syncs the tempo of internal decks to external decks. It has an on-the-fly sampler and live sampling capabilities.
And, if you want to go a little old school, the new DJ Rig app has a scratching engine that is supposed to emulate the behavior of real decks. The app also promises to include several output configurations, so you can adapt to different audio setups.
The regular version will cost about $10; there will be a scaled-down free version, expandable through in-app purchase. A universal iPad app is also in the works.
Among other coming-soon announcements for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad from the company out of CES: a mobile mixer (iRig Mix, $100), a live-performance stompbox guitar/bass interface (iRig Stomp, $60) and a compact voice-recording mic (iRig Mic Cast, $40).
– Michelle Maltais in Las Vegas
Photo: Professor Stephen Webber, background, watches students practice turntable techniques at Berklee College of Music in 2004. Credit: Adam Hunger / Associated Press
This week Fitbit debuted the Wi-Fi-enabled Aria Smart Scale — a scale that lets users weigh themselves and then digitally send that information to a website where it can be made public for their friends and family and strangers to see.
Some people might consider having a weight audience to be motivating. Others might see it as plain embarrassing.
To be fair, the raison d'etre of the Wi-Fi scale is not to help you broadcast your weight to the world, but rather to send weight readings to Fitbit's website where the company's technology will make fancy charts and graphs to help you understand how you are progressing with your weight-loss goals. And although you are certainly welcome to set this information to be public, it is also possible to keep it private. In fact, private is the default setting.
Fitbit has a history of making electronic tools to help consumers keep track of fitness and weight goals, including the Fitbit Ultra — a pedometer about the length of two quarters that fits in your pocket and tracks how many steps you've taken, how many stairs you've climbed, and how many calories you've burned doing it all.
The Aria Smart Scale, which also measures BMI and fat percentage, will be available for purchase Tuesday and will start shipping in April. It costs $129.95.
Fitbit is not the first company to venture into the weight sharing space.
Back in 2009, the forward-thinking French company Withings introduced a Wi-Fi-enabled scale that had Twitter capabilities — allowing the user to automatically tweet weight and fat info. In a news release, Withings declared the Twitter function would be a great help to users, "further motivating them by sharing their progress with followers."
As you may have noticed from the lack of public weight announcements in your Twitter feed, it never really took off in a big way.
Image credit: Fitbit
At the Consumer Electronics Show, models carried around wireless flat-screen TVs playing vivid nature films, executives waved next generation “magic” remote controls and audiences were treated to demonstrations of massive, wall-size TVs.
Also, Apple’s stock hit a record high.
Though the Cupertino, Calif., iPhone giant doesn’t attend the show, rumors are spreading that it has its own TV in the works, and analysts say established TV companies like Samsung Electronics, LG and Sony are struggling to make their TVs more user-friendly and better able to find music, movies and online video from across the Internet.
“The TV hasn’t gone quite through the big revolutionary change that we’ve seen on those other screens,” said Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee. “These other players are trying to jockey for position ahead of Apple.”
But with industry observers expecting an “iTV” from Apple that will turn the industry on its head, not all observers were impressed with the latest TV improvements.
“They’re just throwing spaghetti up against the wall right now,” said Peter Misek, an analyst at Jefferies & Co. “I think Apple’s going to force a big change in the industry — and it’s hard for the companies to respond when they don’t know what iTV looks like yet.”
At the CES on Monday, LG showed off its “Magic Remote,” a device with few buttons that resembles a Nintendo Wii controller –- enabling the viewer to point at and select different images and buttons on the screen.
Sharp’s Aquos Freestyle flat-screens get their signal wirelessly, and as the models demonstrated by parading them down the showroom runway, they are light enough to be carried around the home, whether to the balcony, the kitchen or the powder room.
Samsung showed off a new line of smarter televisions with a suite of games and Web applications built in. The company, a major rival of Apple's in both the smartphone and tablet sectors, did hint at a gesture and voice control system for its upcoming TVs, but did not show those features in action.
Vizio Inc. unveiled three new high-definition sets that feature Google TV, the search-giant’s TV navigation software that will also run on TVs from Samsung Electronics and LG, and which comes with dozens of built-in apps that users can use on-screen to fetch sports scores, watch movies and play games.
Meanwhile, Google has had trouble getting its Google TV software to take off. Launched on a small number of devices last year, the product was coolly received by reviewers and failed to gain wide traction with consumers.
Logitech Inc., which made one of the original Google TV set-top boxes, discontinued the device in November, calling it a “big mistake.”
Still, Google has recruited a new cast of the biggest TV makers — Samsung, LG and Vizio — to test the waters with a suite of Google–powered TV sets.
“The manufacturers have no choice but to turn to Google because there’s no one else,” Misek said. But until Google can make its phones, tablets, and personal computers all talk to each other, the way Apple’s do, Google and its TV partners “won’t be able to catch up.”
– David Sarno in Las Vegas
Photo: LG Electronics televisions on display at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Credit: Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images
It used to be that only "real" cameras had the cool lens accessories. But more and more are coming for the camera on your phone. One that caught my eye at CES gave a new perspective to iPhone video.
GoPano Micro — which really made me want to yell "up periscope!" — is a lens by EyeSee360 that lets your iPhone 4 and 4S shoot real-time 360-degree video. You attach it over the iPhone's camera using the case that comes with it. And in conjunction with a free app, you can shoot the scene around you with minimal effort.
The video isn't just panoramic. It's also interactive. You can tap the screen — or click in the video on your computer — to shift perspective and see what's on the other side of the camera. You can also flatten out the image to see all angles at the same time.
GoPano Micro sells for about $80.
– Michelle Maltais in Las Vegas
Are you the kind of person who loses your keys all the time but always seems to have your phone nearby?
Treehouse Labs has a leash for you. Its new lost-and-found system, Bikn (pronounced "beacon"), is basically two low-powered radios talking. One is on the case you put on your iPhone; the other is on the tags you attach to your stuff — or your people. Then the Bikn app connects them.
Some folks consider the ubiquitous smartphone a kind of leash. Now you can actually "leash" your favorite devices — and your two- and four-legged family members who might wander off — using the same device.
The kit performs two functions — tracking and "leashing." You can set a perimeter of near, medium or far. When your tagged person or item moves out of the established perimeter, an alarm sounds.
The $99 kit comes with two tags and the case. Additional kits come in pairs of two tags for $49. You can "leash" up to eight items.
Of course, you have to keep track of your iPhone — but I suppose that's what Find My Phone is for.
– Michelle Maltais in Las Vegas
Vizio is hoping to find the same success it’s had in the TV business in the competitive market of personal computing.
At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Vizio is showing off its lineup of PCs, which consists of two all-in-one desktops and three laptop computers all running Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system.
The Irvine company is planning on taking the same retail approach with its PCs that it used with its TV and home-theater products, selling its devices at lower prices than most rivals, said Jim Noyd, a Vizio spokesman.
On the laptop side of Vizio’s offerings will be a 15.6-inch-screen laptop and two thin and light laptops in both a 15.6-inch screen size and a 14-inch size. The thin and light laptops will be lower-cost alternatives to Apple’s MacBook Air and Ultrabook laptops from the likes of Dell, Lenovo and HP.
Desktop-wise, Vizio is planning on releasing two all-in-one models to challenge the likes of Apple’s iMac. The desktops will be built in both 24- and 27-inch screen sizes.
So far, Vizio isn’t offering any details on the specs of its PCs or its processor partners, though the company says it is set to release its PCs sometime this spring.
We’ll go hands-on with Vizio’s PC lineup later at CES, but for now check out the media photos Vizio sent to the Technology blog to see some detailed shots of how these new Windows machines will look.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas
Photos: Vizio’s laptop (top) and desktop (bottom) PCs. Credit: Vizio
Sports fans are familiar with the yellow first-down line that appears on the television screen while watching football games, but tech companies now want to bring augmented reality technology to everyday consumers.
Known as AR, augmented reality is a view of a physical, real-world environment that is altered by overlaying the image with digital photos, videos or text.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Sunday, Autonomy — a tech company that was acquired by Hewlett-Packard last year — was showing off its AR platform, Aurasma. Lauren Offers, director of marketing at Autonomy, held her business card in one hand and used her iPhone's camera to point at the card with her other hand. On the screen of the iPhone, a video of the rep appeared in which she introduced herself. Later, Offers pointed her phone at a physical copy of GQ magazine; that issue's articles and photos began appearing on the smartphone's screen over the live image of the magazine's cover.
With AR technology, a consumer simply uses a camera-equipped smartphone or tablet to point at an object to get information — aim at a jar of pasta sauce, and recommendations for what kinds of wine to pair it with will appear over the real-life image of the jar; point to a house for sale, and information about its asking price, number of bedrooms and contact info will pop up on the screen.
Aurasma's technology "allows smart devices to see, recognize and understand real-life images and objects in much the same way as the human brain does," the company said in a news release. "Aurasma then uses this fundamental understanding of the real world to seamlessly augment the scene with virtual content such as videos, animations and 3-D objects called 'auras.' No bar codes, visual tags or special glasses are required for Aurasma to work."
Autonomy has already tagged thousands of buildings in London with AR technology. If you're standing outside Buckingham Palace and point your smart device at it, for instance, dinosaurs will appear to come out of the building. The company has also tagged everyday items such as a $20 bill — point your phone or tablet at the image of the White House on the back and its elements will come to life: the building appears to turn white, the little flag grows in size, the numbers wiggle and appear to float.
"It's changing the way we access information," said Tamara Roukaerts, head of marketing for Aurasma. "You blend off-line and online: this is the beginning of the outernet; it's actually woven into the real world. And that's how you want your information."
In a recent Times article, my colleague Shan Li wrote that about 6 million AR apps were downloaded in 2010, according to ABI Research — still a small fraction of the overall app market. But the number is projected to increase to 19 million downloads in 2011 and balloon to nearly a billion by 2016. The firm forecasts the mobile AR industry will see $3 billion in global revenue by 2016, up from $87 million this year and $21 million in 2010.
More than 2 million users have downloaded Aurasma and Aurasma-enabled apps since its launch six months ago. The Aurasma app is available for free on the iPhone3GS, 4, 4S, iPad2 and Android devices.
Aurasma will be competing in the final of the CES Mobile Apps Showdown at the Wynn on Thursday.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Ever watch in slow-motion horror as your pricey smartphone leaves your hand too quickly and drops into water? Or maybe you forgot to take it out of your pocket after a workout or workday. The stories of toilet tragedies are myriad.
But, according to a Santa Ana start-up company at CES in Las Vegas, it doesn't mean your phone has to go down the drain. And maybe you can save the rice for dinner instead of for trying to save your phone.
With an iPhone sitting in a cylinder of cascading water, representatives from Liquipel were showing off their patent-pending coating that provides invisible armor against accidental water exposure at Start-up Debut at the Consumer Electronics Show.
This doesn't mean you can take you iPhone in the pool with you, but it might be a little more safe sitting on a towel nearby.
They were dunking iPhones nonstop. But for some reason, the tissue demonstration is the one that got my attention. (Although dropping an iPhone into water without warning is dramatic, the tissue example is more tangible.) Two dry tissues — one treated with Liquipel — are placed into a dish of water. You quickly see the difference.
They pushed it in the water, poured water on it. The thing refused to get wet. When you touch it, you feel that the treated tissue is just as nose-friendly as it should be.
I got some video of the demo. (Sorry, it's a little dark. The mood lighting in the Foundation Room might be conducive to meaningless connections, but it's a tad challenging when you're really trying to get to know the score.)
Danny McPhail, co-president of Liquipel, says the coating will outlast your phone. It permanently bonds with your device on a molecular level.
The company is "talking with manufacturers," according to McPhail. I asked whether the fact that the demo was exclusively with iPhones was any indication of where we might see the first treated phones for sale, but there was no confirmation.
While we have to wait to see which phones come packaged with it, the average clumsy consumer can have his or her phone treated for $59. The only challenge for the perpetually connected is that you have to give up your phone for a couple of days for treatment. I had to take oxygen because my phone was out for a few hours. They do offer a priority service for $10 more.
The Liquipel site lists 11 different kinds of phones (Apple iPhone 3G through 4S; HTC Evo 4G, Shift 4G, MyTouch 4G and Thunderbolt; Motorola Droid X and X2; and Samsung Charge) that can be treated with the vapor.
Frankly, it'd be great to not feel as if your phone might melt, like that green gal from Oz.
– Michelle Maltais in Las Vegas
The capacity of today's hard drives is so enormous, the average consumer might have a tough time figuring out what to do with it. Dish Network has an idea: How about giving TV viewers the chance to watch every prime-time program on the four major networks that they missed in the last week?
The satellite operator, which is the third-largest pay-TV provider in the United States, announced at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday that its new Hopper digital video recorder will have an extra tuner dedicated to capturing all the prime-time programs broadcast by ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. It also will have a 2-Terabyte hard drive, giving it enough room to hold on to all those recordings for eight days — along with hundreds of hours of movies and shows chosen by each Hopper's owner.
It's a gimmick, sure, but a potentially useful one — both for Dish and for its customers. Dish rival Time Warner Cable offers a "look back" service that enables subscribers to watch a broad range of prime-time programming from the previous three days, although the recordings are stored at the cable company's central office, not in subscribers' homes. Unlike a digital video recorder, however, the service doesn't let viewers fast-forward through commercials, which is one of the most appealing features of a DVR like the Hopper.
In addition, the Hopper helps close the gap between the time a show is broadcast and when it becomes available online through Hulu and other authorized sites. Networks routinely hold programs back until the day after they're broadcast; Fox delays them for eight days, although Dish subscribers can get those programs within a day. With a Hopper, there is no waiting.
The ultra-roomy hard drive also enables Dish to store a large supply of movies and shows for on-demand viewing, albeit not to the extent that cable operators can. On-demand service has long been cable's big advantage over satellite; cable is a two-way network that can send programming on request to individual homes, but satellite is a one-way system that broadcasts programming to entire regions.
Satellite operators have tried to overcome that technological disadvantage by teaming up with broadband providers to offer on-demand services through the Internet, and by caching programs on their subscribers' DVRs that can be unlocked for viewing on demand. The larger the capacity of the DVR, the larger the library of programs that can be cached.
The Hopper is designed to feed smaller set-top boxes, called Joeys, in other rooms of the home. According to Dish, a home equipped with a Hopper and three Joeys can watch four different recorded shows simultaneously.
– Jon Healey
Image: A Hopper digital video recorder. Credit: Dish Network
LG introduced the Spectrum, a new high-end smartphone coming this month to Verizon, at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday morning.
The new handset checks nearly all (but not all) the boxes a consumer might want from a current top-of-the-line smartphone.
The Spectrum features a 4.5-inch scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass touchscreen with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels (yes, that's a high-definition display) and a pixel density of 329 pixels per inch.
That pixel density is important because it could offer something similar in look to Apple's retina display on the iPhone 4 and 4S, which both feature a pixel density of more than 300 per inch. Any display with a ppi of 300 or greater is said be so dense that pixels are indistinguishable from one another to the human eye at a distance of 10 to 12 inches.
Inside, the Spectrum will come with 16 gigabytes of storage on a microSD card, and run on a 1.5-gigahertz dual core processor from Qualcomm.
The Spectrum will run Google's Android Gingerbread operating system which is, for now, the one area on paper where the Spectrum is a bit behind as it's not running the newer Android Ice Cream Sandwich software out of the box. But LG did say on Monday that an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich would arrive sometime after the Spectrum's release Jan. 19.
For $199.99 on a two-year contract, the Spectrum will also offer up an 8-megapixel camera that can shoot up to 1080p video, paired with a single LED flash. Up front is a 1.3-megapixel camera for video chatting.
ESPN will also provide high-definition streaming video to its Score Center app, which will come preloaded on the Spectrum, so sports fans can take advantage of the phones' HD display.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas
Images: The LG Spectrum smartphone. Credit: LG
What attendees and analysts are looking for right now is that sought-after, life-changing digital device that will define the show. Not going to happen, some analysts have said. Still, the show does have devices that could change, if not the world, your small corner of creation.
Gaze-interaction technology, which tracks eye movements, allows a user to navigate the Web using just his or her eyes. The technology obviously has wider implications than the Asteroids video game that Tobii Technology was using at the convention to demonstrate its software.
Allure Energy Inc.'s "wireless energy network" is part of the intelligent-home movement. You can use your mobile phone to communicate with your house, such as heating it or cooling it for when you get home. Automating energy use by hooking up appliances, thermostats, etc., to the Internet can help cut down on costs.
Hundreds of new TVs, smartphones and tablet computers are expected to be announced this week by exhibitors.
Still, enthusiasm for the show has been dampened as top firms — including Verizon Wireless, Motorola Mobility and T-Mobile, have scaled back their presence. Microsoft has its exit planned too, saying it wants to announce its products on its own timetable. And the absence of Apple has long spurred manufacturers to bring out Apple-type products, many of which quickly fade from the marketplace.
"If you really take all the big guys out of there, all you have is a bazaar," Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc., told The Times' David Sarno.
Yet a huge number of exhibitors and attendees are expected this year. Organizers said there were about 2,700 exhibitors and more than 150,000 people who would attend — the highest number since 2006. That turnout is in keeping with the estimated $1 trillion — yes, trillion — expected to be spent globally on tech devices in 2012.
"You're talking about a market of 3 1/2 billion people that all want TVs … phones," Steve Koenig of the Consumer Electronics Assn. told The Times' Andrea Chang. It's a huge opportunity, he said.
– Amy Hubbard
Photo: Nick Laperle displays SonoFit custom-fitted earphones at the Consumer Electronics Show on Sunday. Credit: Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Monday, Rovi Corp. announced what appears to be the first legal tool to convert consumers' DVD collections into digital files that can be played from on online library. It's not exactly iTunes Match for movies, but it's a step in the right direction, with caveats — lots of them.
One of the main benefits of the digital revolution has been to release music, photos, books and video from their physical bindings, enabling consumers to access their media collections any time, anywhere, on a variety of devices. Those benefits haven't extended to DVDs, however; the discs' anti-piracy software deters people from making functional digital copies of the movies on the discs.
That's "deters," not "stops." It's technically possible to circumvent a DVD's safeguards and copy it, and the software exists to do so. But under federal law, it's illegal to make, sell or distribute such circumvention tools, even if the copy is being made for a legal use. And the Hollywood studios have mounted legal assaults against a series of companies (e.g., 321 Studios and RealNetworks) that have put DVD copying software on the market.
Unlike their ill-fated predecessors, Rovi isn't actually creating copies of DVD movies. Instead, it has created an app for Internet-connected Blu-ray disc players that can read the unique identifier on each DVD or Blu-ray disc, then offer the disc owner the chance to store a copy of that movie online. It won't be free, however; Richard Bullwinkle, Rovi’s chief evangelist, said the studios participating in the service plan to charge a small fee for the stored copy. The fee will be higher for high-definition copies than for standard-definition ones.
The fee is just the first of the caveats. The second is that Rovi's disc identification will work only on Blu-ray players capable of downloading and running a new Rovi application. Bullwinkle wouldn't name the manufacturers that will support Rovi's app, but the possibilities include disc players from Samsung and LG and Microsoft's XBox 360.
The third is that the stored movies will be protected by some form of digital rights management software that limits which devices can stream or download the files. Users won't be able to use the online locker of their choice; instead, they'll have to rely on a service blessed by the studios. Again, Rovi isn't identifying any specific partners yet, but a good bet would be Best Buy's CinemaNow and others that use Rovi's e-commerce technology.
In sum, here's what Rovi Digital Copy offers: the chance to buy a discounted digital copy of a movie you've already paid for that can be played on many computers, tablets, game consoles, smartphones and set-top boxes, but won't necessarily be accessible from or compatible with all of your devices.
As limited as it is, this offer may still appeal to the same people who think it's worth paying Apple $25 a year for an online copy of their digital music collection, or who bought CD copies of the vinyl albums on their bookshelves. And as demonstrated by the popularity of online photo sites, there is something powerfully appealing about being able to shift a media collection from one's living room or home computer to the cloud, where it can be enjoyed from just about anywhere.
Even the relatively small step forward represented by Rovi Digital Copy is still a leap for the piracy-phobic Hollywood studios. Their main argument against other approaches to DVD copying has been that they enabled people to copy movies rented from Netflix or borrowed from friends, creating permanent collections on the cheap. Rovi's software can't stop that sort of behavior, either; instead, it minimizes the effect by allowing only one digital copy to be bought per disc. Nevertheless, that curb was enough to satisfy Rovi's studio partners.
Rovi's service helps plug a gaping hole in Hollywood's UltraViolet initiative, which encourages people to buy Blu-ray discs by including access to a digital copy of that movie in the cloud. So far, however, UltraViolet only works for selected new Blu-ray releases. As a result, it's trying to sell people on the benefits of movie ownership — in particular, the ability to enjoy a film anywhere, any time, and on a variety of devices — that applies only to a fraction of the titles in their collection. Rovi's solution can extend those benefits potentially to a movie lover's entire DVD and Blu-ray collection — for a fee, unfortunately, and with non-trivial caveats.
– Jon Healey in Las Vegas
Image: A chart showing how Rovi Digital Copy would work. Credit: Rovi
When the iPad came out, the mouse — long the king of all pointing devices — was dethroned by the power of the tablet's touchscreen.
But if looks could kill, then the touchscreen may be the next victim in the pointer war.
Tobii Technology's "gaze interaction" system enables users to control their computer screens with their eyes, scrolling through Web pages and photo slide shows with mere glances, blowing up asteroids by staring at them and giving new meaning to the idea of looking something up.
The technology from the Swedish company is a descendant of a 2001 research project at Stockholm University, first conducted by Tobii's founders. But gaze interaction may soon be going mainstream.
In a display booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the company showed Tobii software hooked up to Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system. Booth-goers could sit in front of a screen and optically swipe through Windows screens, "thumb" through photographs, or go into a Word document and "click" on even the tiniest buttons (think the "B" button for bold) using just their peepers.
On another computer, a man played a game of the arcade classic Asteroids. But instead of rotating his gun turrets with a joystick or the keyboard, he simply looked at the asteroid he wanted to destroy, and a split second later it exploded into smithereens. It was a feat worthy of Superman and his laser-heat vision. In a manner of speaking.
Tobii says it wants to expand beyond consumer applications and use the eye-tracking technology for medical purposes, such as allowing technicians to use their eyes to move through photographs, scans or X-rays, potentially while using their hands to operate medical machinery, make notes or physically examine a patient.
When it comes to the way we interact with our computers, the Tobii software is definitely a peek into the future.
– David Sarno
"It underscores just the magnitude of this marketplace," said Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Assn. "When you're talking about a market of 3 1/2 billion people that all want TVs, that all want phones, that's a huge market opportunity…. I don't know when we're going to hit $2 trillion, but with the pace of growth in these emerging economies, it probably won't take long."
As people around the world buy more tech gadgets, the industry is entering the second phase of the digital revolution. Consumers should expect the newest devices to become even more seamless in their lives; tech companies will be keenly focused on rolling out new smartphones and tablets that are multifunctional and can replace old-school products (sorry, camcorders).
Those findings were shared in two back-to-back news conferences Sunday during the media preview day at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the first on the state of the industry and trends to look out for at CES, and the second on global market figures.
Tech experts told an overflow crowd of reporters — nearly all of them clicking away on laptops and tablets and snapping photos on their smartphones — that they expected slower growth in tech spending in developed countries like the U.S. but an explosion of spending in countries such as China and Brazil. One "sweet spot" in emerging markets will be low-cost smartphones; LCD televisions are also expected to do well.
Among the big trends expected to be seen at CES include devices that are geared more toward personalization and customization, said Shawn Dubravac, the Consumer Electronics Assn.'s chief economist and director of research.
He said he expected to see 20,000 new products launched during this year's show, one of the world's largest consumer electronics trade shows. Many of the products will be smartphones, and phone makers will be aiming to make the "pocketable devices more and more like full-fledged computers," Dubravac said.
Also expected at CES: 30 to 50 new ultrabooks, or super-thin and light laptops, as PC makers try to take share away from Apple's popular MacBook Air.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Photo: An ice sculpture at CES Unveiled at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
This post has been updated. See note below for details.
The annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show has begun. Team LAT is getting into place, and our coverage has started.
I'm still en route.This year, instead of flying as I usually do, I'm road tripping it. In fact, I'm cruising along Interstate 15 as I type — riding, not driving. And I'm traveling a little lighter than in years past. My bag is smaller, so are my computer and camera. But they're all more powerful.
The bag is as much a part of the story as what's in it. I'll be checking whether it's more than just a pretty purple package. I got this raspberry-colored Powerbag for Christmas. (My family knows I have power issues — I mean with all of my devices.) So I plan to put it through its paces, charging its contents during CES. Although I believe in redundancy, since technology can and does fail on you when you most need it, I'm carrying only one laptop this CES. That's mostly because I can file text, photos and video from my phone more easily than in years past if I need to. (I'm writing this on my iPhone on the ride into Las Vegas from Los Angeles.)
In the main compartment, I have my 13-inch MacBook Pro, its power cable and my magic folder with analog materials — important printouts and my CES pass. I am using a removable pouch for USB cables, a hub, an SD card reader, earphones, my glasses, pens and quick-grab snacks.I can also store the many flash drives we collect throughout CES with product details and photos.
In the middle compartment, a 1TB external hard drive fits next to a tiny tripod for the small HD video camera I have in there, since I'll be one-man-banding it. The small video camera will also double as a still camera. Inside the camera is an 8 GB Eye-Fi SD card to quickly transfer photos to either my iPhone or laptop so I can blog or Tweet from either device.
I have an iRig mic to connect with my iPhone if I need to shoot video with it. (Unfortunately, it doesn't work with the camcorder.) Having a more powerful directional mic should help cut the din of the convention center.
The front pocket of the bag is for my iPhone and BlackBerry, which will need charging sooner than later. I carry both because AT&T works in places T-Mobile doesn't and vice versa.
I've also got my brace for weak and weary wrists, hand wipes and the power cable for the bag. There's also a power strip hanging around, but I'm still on the fence about carrying it. We'll see how well the Powerbag holds up. Stay tuned for a review of the bag later in the week.
[Updated 4:20 p.m.: Times videographer Armand Emamdjomeh and tech reporter writer Nathan Olivarez-Giles share below what gear they're using this year to cover CES.]
As a disclaimer, I'm a big fan of Canon and Apple, so this equipment list might not hold any surprises. That being said…
Since I'm focusing on video, the centerpiece of my setup is a Canon 5D MkII. I've called this "a photographer's camera that shoots beautiful video," and even though the model is a few years old by now, it certainly never disappoints with either. The 24-105m f/4 lens isn't quite as good as the 24-70mm f/2.8, which boasts a wider aperture and is a better all around lens, but the extra focal length is good for closeups and interviews, and the image stabilization makes up for the slower aperture. In terms of glass, I also packed a 50mm f/1.4 lens, just in case we get into some really poor lighting. With the 5D's maximum ISO of 25,600, and shooting fairly clean up to 3200 ISO, putting the 50mm lens on on the camera really lets you shoot just about anywhere.
For audio, I have a RODE shotgun mic that mounts on the camera hotshoe, and for more precise sound we have a set of wireless lavalieres and a handheld microphone for interviews. To get all that sound into the camera there's the Beachtek XLR adapter, which mounts on the bottom of the camera.
To hold that rig I have a Manfrotto 680B monopod – it's small, light and maneuverable enough to keep shots steady even in a crowded space.
The hub is my 15" MacBook Pro. Enough battery life and processing power to make video processing in the field not a complete nightmare. And obviously, there's a pen and notepad.
Other things in my bag, AA batteries and Clif bars, for refueling.
And of course, the lynch pin of all this, that which could serve as a backup for every single one of the above devices should any of them fail, is my iPhone 4s. Plus, what would a tech conference be without Instagram?
This year, my bag for CES is a lot different than the set-up I took with me to Vegas last year.
The biggest change might be my lack of a camera. Last year I had with me a Sony HDR-SR7 video camera, spare batteries and a shot-gun microphone for shooting video. This year, I'll be spending more time in front of the camera instead of behind the camera, so the video that will go along with what I write will be shot by my colleague Armand Emamdjomeh, who shoots the gadget review videos we do every Saturday on the Technology blog.
My laptop this year is also lighter. Gone is my 2007, 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro. Instead, this year I'm using a thin and light Apple MacBook Air that's only a few months old. Along with that of course comes its charger. I also have a thumb-drive for transferring files from one computer to another quickly when an Internet connection is slow our not available.
I've also got a paper notepad and three pens for note taking I'll be doing and my iPhone 4S will be used for recording audio of interviews, which I'm planning on uploading to my SoundCloud account, and for a few photos of some of the new gadgets making their debut at CES this year. Along with the iPhone 4S comes its charger and a set of Apple headphones as well.
A Nintendo 3DS, its charger, and copies of the games Super Mario 3D Land, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Mario Kart 7 are also packed inside in preparation for an interview later this week I have scheduled with Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America Inc.
The bag I'm throwing all of this stuff in is a Powerbag that was sent to me as a review unit. So far, I haven't gotten the bag working but Michelle Maltais is writing up a review of her Powerbag for the Technology blog, so maybe she'll help me figure out what I'm doing wrong or if it's broken.
– Michelle Maltais
Five years ago, Samsung unveiled a digital TV broadcasting technology that was optimized for mobile devices. It's still waiting to sell its first broadcast-enabled smartphones in the United States, just as the TV industry is still waiting for the notion of mobile DTV to take off. But there are signs that the wait may be coming to an end.
On Wednesday, a coalition of TV stations and networks announced a partnership with mobile phone company MetroPCS that will enable the latter's customers in Los Angeles and 13 other markets to tune in the stations' mobile DTV signals later this year. The first compatible device will be an Android smartphone made by Samsung, which will use a telescoping antenna for better reception. In the meantime, RCA plans to show off an Android-based flat-panel TV (shown above) that can tune in the coalition stations' service (called Dyle) at next week's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The coalition's formal name is the Mobile Content Venture, and its membership includes Fox, NBC, Univision, Telemundo, ION Television and about a dozen large station ownership groups. Their members have been installing mobile DTV transmission equipment at 72 stations in 32 markets, which reach half of the U.S. population, according to Erik Moreno, a senior vice president at Fox Networks Group and the co-general manager of the coalition. "We needed to make that first move to convince someone like MetroPCS" to offer mobile DTV service to its customers, Moreno said.
That investment by the coalition's members helps overcome the chicken-and-egg problem faced by mobile DTV. But it remains an open question whether consumers will tune in. Qualcomm's high-profile effort to broadcast TV programming to specially equipped cellphones attracted few viewers, in part because it offered only a limited selection of programming. The company eventually abandoned the venture and sold the airwaves to AT&T.
Part of the problem for Qualcomm's Flo TV service was that local stations developed a standard for delivering TV signals to mobile devices over a portion of their own digital channels, cutting out the middleman. Although the standard was adopted in late 2009, however, only 120 of the 1,600 stations in the United States are transmitting mobile DTV signals today. One reason is that few consumers have a device capable of tuning in to those signals — the industry is starting from scratch. Another reason is the lack of a credible way to determine how many people are watching the mobile signals, making it hard for stations to charge advertisers for commercial time.
The members of Mobile Content Venture have taken the mobile DTV standard one step further, encrypting the signals to control their availability. That might sound counter-intuitive for an industry that has long relied on reaching the largest possible audience on the widest array of devices. But Moreno's counterpart Salil Dalvi, a senior vice president at NBC Universal, said that encryption serves two important purposes.
First, it enables stations to identify each mobile tuner and track (anonymously) what's being watched, giving it the kind of credible data about audience sizes and locations that advertisers demand. And second, it gives stations the ability to charge for the programs or services they offer mobile users, or to make their content available only to subscribers, in addition to their usual ad-supported business model. Those alternatives give broadcasters multiple ways to get a return on their mobile investment.
"We don't have to decide today exactly which business model is going to be available five years from now," Dalvi said.
On the other hand, Dyle faces two of the same steep hurdles that felled FloTV: Consumers have to buy new equipment in order to tune in to the programs, and some of the most popular TV content won't be available through the service. Among the missing content: ABC, CBS, ESPN and a panoply of other top cable TV networks.
Then there's the question of whether the stations that aren't members of Mobile Content Venture will deploy technology that's compatible with Dyle, or if they'll start the kind of format war that plagued the music industry in the early days of digital downloads. Many of those stations have joined forces in a group called the Mobile500 Alliance, which wants to develop a multi-channel mobile TV service.
Moreno contended that the risk of dueling, incompatible services was low because there's a broad understanding among broadcasters that such a split doesn't help anyone. There may be competing offerings, he said, but the applications and devices are likely to be interoperable.
Salvi noted mobile devices are far better now than when Flo TV debuted, and there's a much larger base of customers accustomed to using those devices for entertainment. "We have seen strong indicators that consumers want video on their devices, and they want live video on their devices," he said, adding, "We look at consumers here in the United States, and their live TV consumption today, and our experience providing live programming on the phone before — this is a product that will have resonance with consumers."
– Jon Healey
Photo: RCA's Android-based flat-panel TV can tune in to mobile DTV signals. Credit: RCA
The lineup is mostly familiar, with LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio producing Google TV products. Sony has released Google TV television sets and set-top boxes, and Samsung and Vizio both showed off prototype Google TV products at CES last year that never made it to market.
Absent from the Google TV hardware lineup this year is Logitech, which gave up on the Internet-connected TV software after its Google TV products failed to catch on with consumers, resulting in more returns than sales in the second quarter of 2011.
LG "will showcase a new line of TVs powered by Google TV running on their own L9 chipset at CES," Google said, also noting that Samsung and Sony will have new Google TV devices on the market this year. LG said in its own statement that some of its Google TV sets will be 3-D.
Vizio will hold "private demos at CES showcasing their new line of Google TV-powered products," Google said.
The Technology blog will be at CES next week looking at Google TV products and other new gadgets, games and technologies, so stay tuned.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Sony's first-generation Internet-connected LCD television powered by Google's Android-based Google TV platform. Credit: Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg
LG Electronics offered a few more details of its new 55-inch Organic-LED TV set ahead of its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week.
The new display will be the world's largest OLED TV, LG said, and will feature a minimally-small bezel on the edges, a thickness of 4 millimeters (which is thinner than most smartphones) and a weight of about 16.5 pounds.
The massive set, which hasn't been officially announced as coming to the consumer market, was manufactured using new technologies that enabled LG to bring down production costs, the company said in a blog post.
"We have a product which not only delivers on all the advantages of OLED over LCD but at a significantly lower cost than what could be achieved using existing OLED manufacturing technologies," said Havis Kwon, president and chief executive of LG's home entertainment division.
Among the advantages that OLED promises over the current LCD displays on the market are truer colors and deeper black levels, as well as lower power consumption.
Just what is this new lower-cost production technology? LG didn't say in its blog post and company officials weren't available for comment Tuesday, but we'll make sure to ask next week when we're at CES in person.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A model shows off LG Electronics' new 55-inch Organic-LED TV set. Credit: LG Electronics
LG Electronics is set to debut an 84-inch "ultra definition" 4K television at next month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
And yes, the new TV set will be a 3-D TV as well. LG is calling the new 4K display "ultra definition" or "UD," to signal that this set can output a higher resolution image than current high-definition televisions.
So what is 4K exactly? It's the resolution that many believe will be the next step in high-definition standards for TVs and Web video. Today's current HD TV sets are either 1080p or 720p — each number indicating the amount of vertical pixel lines of resolution the HD sets can handle.
As the name suggests, 4K resolution images have 4,000 lines of resolution, but this time the name refrences horizontal resolution. Many of today's top digital cameras used by filmmakers are shooting in 4K.
"LG is pushing the limits of home entertainment innovation with this 3D UD TV," said Havis Kwon, the president and CEO of LG's home entertainment division, in a statement.
LG 84-inch 3-D TV will actually offer a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, which by some standards is considered worthy of being called 4K.
The huge TV will also run apps using LG's Smart TV software, which offers more than 1,200 apps, such as Netflix, Hulu and Major League Baseball, and it will make use of LG's motion-sensing TV Magic Remote, which allows users to operate the TV using voice recognition or motion gestures.
The so-called UD TV will debut alongside two other massive LG sets at CES: a 55-inch organic-LED TV and a 72-inch LED-backlit 3-D TV. LG hasn't yet offered prices or details on when these TV will make it to store shelves.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A model next to LG Electronic's 84-inch "ultra definition" 4K television. Credit: LG Electronics
LG is bringing some big TVs to January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Specifically, the world's largest Organic-LED TV, at 55 inches, and the world's largest 3D LED TV with a screen size of 72 inches.
The new television sets may or may not be considered affordable, but they surely will be large and probably will attract attention at the show to Korea's second-largest electronics maker, behind rival Samsung.
"Our objective has always been to actively define and lead emerging display technology markets," Sang Beom Han, chief executive and executive vice president of LG Display, told the Times of India newspaper about the massive new Organic-LED, or OLED, TV set that will debut at CES.
"Although OLED technology is seen as the future of TV display, the technology has been limited to smaller display sizes and by high costs, until now. LG Display's 55-inch OLED TV panel has overcome these barriers," Han told the newspaper.
The website Engadget reported that a prototype of LG's new OLED set came in at just 5-millimeters thick. LG hasn't yet said how much its new large-screen TVs will cost, but big screens don't come cheap, especially when they make use of OLED technology. As noted by the website Gizmodo, in 2009, LG introduced a a 15-inch OLED TV priced at $3,000.
Sony is also currently selling a wearable TV headset that contains two OLED displays that are just 0.7 inch big for $800.
[Updated, Dec. 28, 8:59 a.m.: An earlier version of this post incorecctly stated that LG released a 15-inch OLED TV for $2,500. That TV was priced at 3,000, as reported by the website Gizmodo. This post has been updated to correct this error.]
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: LG's 72-inch LZ9700 3D LED-backlit television. Credit: LG
Microsoft Corp., a 20-year stalwart of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, has decided to fold up its booth and move on after the 2012 show in January.
The company, which for years highlighted its own products and broader tech trends at the show's main keynote, said it felt that it would be better to make announcements on its own time. The company will no longer give the keynote or host a booth on the trade show floor.
"Our industry moves fast and changes faster," the company said in a statement. "And so the way we communicate with our customers must change in equally speedy ways."
The company said its decision had come after it asked itself, "Are we doing something because it’s the right thing to do, or because 'it’s the way we’ve always done it'?"
CES is one of the world's largest trade shows and annually attracts more than 100,000 visitors from far flung parts of the electronics industry. This year the show will have close to 2,700 exhibitors and more than 1.8 million square feet of floor space.
But the show, once a marquee launchpad for some of the biggest new technologies, has struggled to stay in the headlines as big companies increasingly announce new products on their own timeline. In 2011, no eye-openingly new products were announced at the Las Vegas show, and most companies chose to introduce televisions, tablets and smartphones that largely resembled existing products.
Apple Inc., arguably the industry's most popular and innovative company, does not participate in the show.
Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer will give the final keynote Jan. 9.
– David Sarno
Steve Ballmer speaks about the Xbox 360 system during his 2011 CES keynote. Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg