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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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