Category: Trade Shows

Consumer Electronics Show 2017–Accessories and the Home Network

In this article about the Consumer Electronics Show 2017 that occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada, I will be covering the trends affecting computer peripherals and accessories and the home network.

1: Computer Trends

2: Accessories And The Home Network

Peripherals and Accessories

A very dominant usage case being highlighted for laptops and 2-in-1 computers is the creation of a fully-fledged workstation at your main workspace or game-playing space. This involves connecting the portable computer to at least one larger-sized screen along with a desktop-grade full-size keyboard and mouse. Such workstations may even be the place where you connect extra non-portable storage devices like USB hard disks or optical drives or connect to your network via a blue Ethernet cable rather than the Wi-Fi wireless connection for improved reliability.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon USB-C Thunderbolt-3 detail image - press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports will be seen as the way to connect expansion docks, peripherals and the like to your laptop

The USB-C connector and its higher-speed variant, the Thunderbolt 3 connector have been valued as a way to provide a single-cable connection option between your laptop and the normally-sessile peripherals once you used an expansion module, commonly known as a docking station or dock. Here, you would connect all the peripherals to this expansion module then connect your laptop computer to that same device via USB-C or Thunderbolt. This is also underscored by a significant number of these devices being equipped with USB Power Delivery to power the portable computer from that same device, underscoring that “one cable to connect” goal.

Let’s not forget that some manufacturers are integrating this “dock” functionality in to some of their display monitors so that these screens are where you can connect your keyboard, mouse and external hard disk.

Lenovo had pitched the ThinkVision P24h and P27h monitors which have a qHD (2560×1440) display resolution and an sRGB high colour gamut “out of the box”. These monitors, with the super-narrow bezel, implement a USB-C connection to the host computer facilitating a DisplayPort 1.2 connection, the data connection, and a Power Delivery connection with a power budget of 45W, along with a four-port self-powered USB hub.

LG's 32" 4K monitor with HDR10 - press picture courtesy of LG USA

LG’s 32″ 4K monitor with HDR10

LG had teased a 32” 4K monitor which has the narrow bezel and can handle HDR10 video but also offer this similar USB-C connectivity and USB hub. They also tweaked the monitor’s integral speakers for that bit of extra “kick” from the bass. They also are pleasing the gamer clans by offering the UltraFine 34” 5K and 4K UHD gaming monitors with features like AMD’s FreeSync technology and 1ms motion-blur reduction.

Dell had advanced a range of monitors including the UltraSharp 32” 8K UHD model and the 27” Ultrathin monitor which has its electronics housed in its base. This monitor implements USB-C connectivity to the host along with a QHD display.

Dell UP3218K 8K 32" monitor press image courtesy of Dell

It’s not 4K resolution in this Dell 32″ monitor, it is 8K resolution

They even advanced the 24” Touch monitor with an integral 10-point touchscreen along with the 24” Video Conferencing Monitor which has an integral Full-HD IR Webcam that has a privacy shutter. This monitor’s camera also adds on support for facial-recognition login under Windows Hello while the sound is catered for with a pair of 5-watt speakers and a noise-cancelling microphone built in.

Dell S2718D 27" slimline monitor press image courtesy of Dell

Dell’s slimline 27″ monitor with its electronics in its base

Even households aren’t left out with a range of monitors from Dell that are designed with aesthetics and high-grade on-screen experiences. For example, the Dell 24 and 27 monitors (S2418HX / S2718HX) implement the ultra-narrow-bezel design being implemented in most of Dell’s laptops and all-in-ones plus the ability to support HDR along with Waves.Maxx sound tuning.

For those of us who have a screen that currently “ticks the boxes” for our computing experience at our desks, most of the manufacturers are offering highly-capable Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C docks. Remember that you can daisy-chain 6 Thunderbolt-3 peripherals from the same Thunderbolt-3 bus, which can open up a range of possibilities.

For example, Lenovo and Dell are offering these expansion modules as part of their official accessory lineups. Lenovo’s contribution is in the form of the ThinkPad Thunderbolt 3 dock (US279) with video connectivity in the form of 2 DisplayPort, HDMI and VGA ports; 5 USB 3.0 ports; audio jack for those speakers; a Gigabit Ethernet port; and USB Power Delivery for the host computer with a power budget of 60 watts. There is a USB-C variant that offers similar functionality for computers not equipped with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.  But Belkin have previewed the Thunderbolt 3 version of their original Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock, which will have 3 USB-3 connections, 2 Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C connections, two audio connections, a DisplayPort video connection and a Gigabit Ethernet connection. This device can supply a USB Power Deliver power-demand of 85 watts, again reducing the need for extra power supplies for your computer.

In the last post I wrote about CES 2017, I had cited Zotac’s external “card-cage” graphics module which uses Thunderbolt 3 connectivity as a way to enhance their “midget PC” product. This isn’t the only product of its kind to appear at this show. MSI also premiered the GUS (Graphics Upgrade System) “card-cage” external GPU system. This is styled for gaming and is a refresh of their original GUS external graphics module that they launched in 2012, but implementing the Thunderbolt 3 standard. It has a 500W power supply and USB 3.0 Type-C and Type-A connections.

Beyond the docking stations or, should I say, expansion modules, there have been a few other computer accessories with one being of note in the form of a Kingston 2Tb USB thumb drive.

The home network

A key trend affecting the home network this year at the CES 2017 is the concept of distributed Wi-Fi wireless systems. This consists of kits that use multiple devices to spread the Wi-Fi network’s coverage over a large area. They have appeared because most householders have run in to issues with their home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment not providing reliable wireless coverage everywhere in their house.

They are typically based on a single chipset and most of them implement a dedicated wireless backhaul between the slave devices and the master access point. A significant number of these devices implement a “mesh” topology where there is a “root” node that works as a router along with multiple access point “nodes” that connect with each other and the “root” node to provide Wi-Fi coverage, using multiple backhaul connections for load-balancing, fail-safe operation and increased bandwidth. Other systems implement the traditional router and range-extender method with a single upstream connection but have a simplified setup method and properly-simple roaming between the access points.

The problem with these systems is that you have to use equipment that is offered by the manufacturer as part of that same system. This means that there isn’t any of the interoperability available which, at the moment, is stifling innovation.

Qualcomm launched their Wi-Fi mesh chipsets which can implement Bluetooth, CSRMesh and Zigbee also to support the “Internet Of Things”. The software is based also around a dedicated software framework and cloud-services. But these systems also support wired backhauls and multiple-hop mesh setups.

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package press image courtesy of D-Link

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package

D-Link had premiered the Covr distributed Wi-Fi system which consists of a router and a wireless extender that implements the automatic setup and simplified roaming. For those of us with existing home networks, they also offered a Covr HomePlug system consisting of two wireless access points linked by a HomePlug AV2 powerline backbone. Another example that purely uses a Wi-Fi backbone is the NETGEAR Orbi which implements a router and a satellite extender device.

On the other hand, Linksys provided a true-mesh setup in the form of the Velop Wi-Fi system that implements multiple nodes. The Velop system even is able to work with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant such as controlling the guest Wi-Fi network or asking Alexa to quote your network’s credentials. Click or tap on this link to see a Linksys YouTube video which explains what Velop is about if you can’t see it below.

As well, Linksys have launched the WRT32X Gaming Router which implements the Rivet Networks Killer Wi-Fi chipset similar to what is implemented in the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook. Here, it is optimised to work with client devices that implement the Rivet Networks Killer chipsets but is a 3×3 802.11ac MU-MIMO system that supports 160kHz bandwidth. There is also the EA8300 Max-Stream AC2200 Tri-band MU-MIMO Gigabit Router which is a more affordable device based on a 2×2 802.11ac three-radio design. Both these routers are equipped with Gigabit Ethernet for LAN and WAN (Internet) connections.

Linksys even offered a WUSB400M dual-band MU-MIMO 802.11ac USB wireless network adaptor as a way to retrofit your existing laptop or desktop computer for the new-spec Wi-Fi segments. This network adaptor connects to the host computer via USB 3.0 and can work at a 2×2 AC1200 setup.

What Linksys have been offering is a representative of another trend affecting the home network’s Wi-Fi segment where Wi-Fi network infrastructure hardware is working on a simultaneous three-band approach, operating on the 2.4GHz, 5.0GHz and 5.8GHz wavebands at the same time. As well, Wi-Fi repeaters are even being setup to implement the 5GHz bands as the preferred backhaul. Amped Wireless is another company also offering the three-band Wi-Fi network-infrastructure equipment in the form of a router and an extender.

NETGEAR Nighthawk S8000 Gaming And Media Switch press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Nighthawk S8000 Gaming And Media Switch – for the home network or home entertainment unit

NETGEAR’s not silent here with the Nighthawk S8000 Media Switch which is a media-optimised Ethernet switch implementing some of the quality-of-service technologies in their managed switches but optimised for household use. As well, this house-friendly switch can support functions like link-aggregation for increased throughput on supported devices like desktop computers and NAS units with two Gigabit Ethernet connections supporting this mode.

This is also intended to complement the Nighthawk X10 gaming and media router which has an integrated Plex Media Server for USB Mass-Storage devices connected to this router’s USB ports. It is also one of the first few home routers to offer 802.11ad WiGig (60GHz) same-room wireless network LAN segment capable of a throughput three times that of the fastest 802.11ac Wi-Fi network; along with the 802.11ac 4×4 MU-MIMO three-band Wi-Fi wireless LAN segment.

As well, there are 8 Gigabit Ethernet ports which can also support port-trunking for failover or high-throughput operation like the Nighthawk S8000 switch along with the WAN (Internet) side being looked after by a Gigabit Ethernet connection. The processing horsepower in this performance router is looked after by a 1.7GHz four-core CPU and it can support VLAN setups of the port or 802.1q tag variety.

Both these devices are pitched at “core” online and VR gaming enthusiasts with those hotted-up gaming rigs along with people who are in to streaming 4K ultra-high-definition TV content. But they can also earn their keep with those of us who run our businesses from home and want “big-business-grade” connectivity for IP-based communications or cloud computing.

Another trend that is surfacing is security-optimised broadband routers for the home network. These offer the “unified threat management” abilities associated with business-grade Internet setups but in a manner that appeals to the ordinary household. The latest from this class of network-Internet “edge” device is the Norton Core router. This device implements content-filtering and security software that is also focused towards the Internet-of-Things devices in your household due to the increased awareness of security risks and poor software maintenance practices associated with these devices.

The self-updating router works with Symantec’s DNS service to prevent DNS hijacks as well as implementing deep-packet inspection on unencrypted traffic to screen for malware and network intrusions. As for encrypted traffic, the Norton Core router will inspect packet headers for and connections of this traffic class. It also comes with Norton Core Security Plus endpoint-protection software which is a variant of the business-grade Security Premium endpoint software and can be run on 20 devices running either Windows, MacOS, iOS or Android but the router is dependent on this endpoint software for the full protection..

Lenovo Smart Storage home NAS press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

Lenovo Smart Storage home NAS

Most of the network-attached-storage units were focused on the “personal cloud” trend with the device being the centre of your data-storage universe while software and services work to locate these devices from afar. Similarly, some of them are using rich media servers which can do things like obtain further data about your media content. One of these devices is one that Lenovo launched called the Smart Storage 6Tb NAS which implements facial image recognition along with event-driven recognition to make it easier to identify and organise pictures of people just like what Facebook and Windows Photo Gallery were about. This unit has 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi for portable use but can be connected to your home network via an Ethernet cable.

The next article about the 2017 CES will be highlighting the trends affecting home entertainment including the new smart TVs that will be showing up.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2017–Computer Trends

I am writing up a series of articles about the trends that have been put forward at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The first article in this series covers all of the trends affecting personal computers.

1: Computer Trends

2: Accessories And The Home Network

Computers

Most manufacturers were exhibiting refreshed versions of their product ranges. This is where the computers were being equipped with up-to-date chipsets and had their RAM, storage and other expectations brought up to date.

  • Key trends affecting mainstream computers included:
  • the use of Intel Kaby Lake processors for the computers’ horsepower
  • solid-state storage capacity in the order of up to 1 Terabyte
  • RAM capacity in the order of up to 16Gb
  • at least one USB Type-C socket on mainstream units with Thunderbolt 3 on premium units and / or ultraportables using just USB-C connections with some having 2 or more of these connectors

    Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon USB-C Thunderbolt-3 detail image - press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

    More of this year’s laptop computers will be equipped with these USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 sockets

  • Wi-Fi connectivity being 802.11ac multi-band with MU-MIMO operation

Another factor worth noticing is the increase in detachable or convertible “2-in-1” computers being offered by most, if not all, of the manufacturers; along with highly-stylish clamshell ultraportable computers. This class of computer is being brought on thanks to Microsoft’s Surface range of computers with some of of the computers in these classes also being about performance. The manufacturers are even offering a range of these “2-in-1” computers targeted towards business users with the security, manageability, durability and productivity features that this use case demands.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook press picture courtesy of Dell USA

More of these convertibles and detachable 2-in-1 computers will appear in manufacturers’ product ranges

Nearly every manufacturer had presented at least one high-performance gaming laptop with the Intel Core i7 processor, at least 16Gb RAM and 128Gb solid-state storage, dedicated graphics chipset. Most of these computers are even equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 connection to allow for use with external graphics docks, considered as a way for core gamers to “soup up” these machines for higher gaming acumen.

Lenovo had refreshed most of their laptop range, especially the ThinkPad business range. Here, this is a product range that makes no distinction between the small-business/SOHO user class where a few of these computers are managed and the large-business/government user class where you are talking of a large fleet of computers handling highly-sensitive data.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon has been refreshed to newer expectations

The new ThinkPads come in the form of a newer ThinkPad Yoga business convertible, a refreshed ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook and a refreshed ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible. For example, the ThinkPad Yoga 370 has the 13.3” Full HD screen, the classic ThinkPad TrackPoint button as a navigation option but is driven by Intel Kaby Lake horsepower. This machine can be specified up to 16Gb RAM and 1Tb solid-state storage and has a Thunderbolt 3 connection along with 2 USB 3.0 ports. Lenovo even designed in protection circuitry for the USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 port to protect the ThinkPad against those dodgy non-compliant USB-C cables and chargers. Like the rest of the new ThinkPad bunch, this computer comes with the Windows 10 Signature Edition software image which is about being free of the bloatware that fills most of today’s laptop computers. The computer will set you back US$1264.

Other ThinkPads will also come with either a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connection depending on their position in the model range. For example the T470 family and the T570 family will be equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connections. Let’s not forget how the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Yoga have been refreshed. The Carbon implements horsepower in the Intel Kaby Lake Core i family, a 14” Quad HD display, 16Gb RAM and 1Tb SSD storage, and an expected battery runtime of 15 hours along with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. The X1 Yoga has been given the similar treatment with similar RAM and secondary-storage capacity but can be outfitted with an LTE-A wireless-broadband modem as an option.

Lenovo Legion Y720 gaming laptop - press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

Lenovo Legion Y720 gaming laptop with Dolby Atmos sound

Gamers can relish in the fact that Lenovo has premiered the Legion range of affordable high-performance gaming laptops. The Legion Y720 is the first of its kind to be equipped with Dolby Atmos sound. The Y520 has a Full HD IPS screen driven by NVIDIA GeForce GTX1050Ti dedicated graphics chipset, the choice of an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM and hard disk storage between 500Gb and 1Tb or solid-state storage between 128Gb and 512Gb, and network connectivity in the form of 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. Peripheral connectivity is in the form of 1 x USB-C, 2 x USB 3.0 and 1 x USB 2.0 and an audio jack, with this computer asking for at least US$900. The better Y720, along with Dolby Atmos, has a bright IPS screen either as a Full HD or 4K resolution and driven by NVIDIA GeForce GTX1060 graphics chipset with 6Gb display memory. Lenovo was also offering a MIIX 720 creative-arts mobile workstation that eats at the Apple MacBook Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro lineup.

Dell XPS 15 Notebook press image courtesy of Dell USA

Dell XPS 15 ultraportable in a 15″ size

Dell had refreshed the XPS 13 lineup of Ultrabooks, known for offering the right combination of features, durability, comfort and price. But they also offered a convertible 2-in-1 variant of the XPS 13, again offering that right combination of features, durability, comfort and price. They also released the XPS 15 which is the smallest 15,6” laptop with Intel Kaby Lake processors, NVIDIA GeForce dedicated graphics and a fingerprint reader.

Dell XPS 27 all-in-one computer press image courtesy of Dell USA

Dell XPS 27 all-in-one computer with best bass response in its class

The XPS and Precision all-in-one desktop computers have had their sound quality improved rather than having it as an afterthought. This has led to audio quality from the XPS 27 and the Precision business equivalent being equivalent to that of a soundbar, thanks to the use of 10 speakers working at 50 watts per channel, including two downward-firing speakers to make the work surface augment the bass. Two passive radiators also augment the system’s bass response. Both have a 4K UHD touchscreen  while the Precision certified workstation can work with AMD Radeon graphics and Intel Xeon CPUs.

Like Lenovo, Dell had exhibited their business-grade computers at a trade fair typically associated with goods targeted at the consumer. This could underscore realities like people who use business-tier computers for “work-home” use including those of us who are running a business or practising a profession from our homes. Dell have been on a good wicket here because of themselves selling computers direct to the public and to business users for a long time.

Here, Dell had refreshed their XPS, Inspiron, Optiflex, Latitude and Precision computer lineups with new expectations. They would come with Kaby Lake horsepower under the bonnet, USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connectivity depending on the unit along with newer dedicated-graphics options from NVIDIA or AMD. The business machines would be equipped with Intel vPro manageability features to work with business-computer management software.

Dell Latitude 5285 business detachable 2-in-1 - press picture courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Latitude 5285 business detachable 2-in-1 – the most secure of its class

In the case of business computers, Dell had underscored a desire to integrate the aesthetics of consumer-tier ultraportable computers with the security, manageability and productivity wishes that the business community crave for. For example, the latest Latitude Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s show the looks but come up with the goods as a business “axe” computer. One of the systems in the Latitude lineup is the Latitude 7285 detachable 2-in-1s which implement WiTricity wireless charging and WiGig docking while the Latitude 5285 detachable 2-in-1 sells on a highly-strong security platform with Dell-developed data-protection / endpoint-protection software and the option for a fingerprint reader or smartcard reader.

Samsung had shown some Windows 10 tablets but they also presented the Notebook Odyssey gaming laptop, available as a 15” variant or a 17” higher-performing variant. Both of these implement “dual-storage” with a solid-state drive in the order of 256Gb for the 15” variant or 512Gb for the 17” variant along with a 1Tb traditional hard disk. RAM is in the order of 32Gb or 64Gb for the 17” variant while these are driven by Intel Core i7 CPUs. Graphics is looked after by NVIDIA GTX dedicated GPU with 2Gb or 4Gb display memory but the 17” variant also has a Thunderbolt 3 connection for external graphics units.

There is also the Notebook 9 which implements a 15” HD display driven by NVIDIA 940MX graphics processor and Core i7 processor. Of note, the Notebook 9 implements a Windows Hello fingerprint reader along with a USB-C port which is its power socket thanks to USB Power Delivery.

HP was not silent but had fielded the Spectre x360 15” convertible Ultrabook, one of the few 15” portable computers that can be a tablet or laptop. It is driven by Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake horsepower and has the quota of 16Gb RAM and either a 256Gb or 512Gb solid-state storage. The 15” 4K IPS screen is driven by an NVIDIA GeForce 940MX graphics processor with 2Gb display memory, but the sound-reproduction has been tuned by Bang & Olufsen while there is an HP-designed noise-cancelling microphone array. The Webcam is an HP infra-red type which is Windows Hello compatible for facial recognition login. Connectivity is in the form of an HDMI socket, 1 USB-C socket, 1 Thunderbolt 3 socket, 1 traditional USB Type-A socket and an SD-card drive. Expect this convertible’s battery to run for 12 hours and be ready to go after 90 minutes of quick charging. The expected price is US$1299 for the 256Gb variant and US$1499 for the 512Gb variant.

Another interesting trend highlighted at CES 2017 has been an increase in the number of “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers.  This is thanks to use cases like augmented-reality / virtual-reality gaming and an emphasis on aesthetics for desktop-based computing and has been brought about by the likes of the Intel Skull Canyon NUC. One of these was a range offered by Elitegroup with computers powered by Intel Braswell, Apollo Lake and Kaby Lake processors.

Zotac Mini PC press photo courtesy of Zotac

The latest Zotac Mini PC that is the hub of a “hi-fi” approach to computing

But Zotac approached the NUC trend in a manner not dissimilar to the “micro component” hi-fi systems, especially some of the premium offerings that emerged from Japan through the early 80s. These premium “micro-component” systems offered for their amplification needs a control amplifier and a power amplifier so as to provide more power output, along with their source components being a tuner and a cassette deck. In the case of Zotac, they offered the C-Series NUC midget computer which could be powered through its USB-C port thanks to USB Power Delivery. It came with the Intel Kaby Lake processors, NVIDIA GeForce dedicated graphics, a Thunderbolt 3 connector along with a few other features. The C-Series even has corporate manageability and security abilities such as Intel vPro and AMT system management along with the UNITE secure conferencing feature.

But Zotac offered an external “card-cage” graphics dock with a PCI Express x 16 expansion slot for graphics cards, 3 standard USB 3.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port supporting QuickCharge, but being able to supply power to the host computer via the Thunderbolt 3 port using USB Power Delivery. The graphics module’s power supply has a power budget of 400 watts and the module is known to be compatible with NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards.  They even offered their own NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Mini graphics card as a partner card for this dock.

The goal here was to supply a two-piece high-performance computer setup with a system unit and a module that can serve as its graphics subsystem and power supply. But users still had the ability to install better equipment when they felt like it. Or the graphics module could be purposed to provide extra graphics horsepower to portable, “all-in-one” and other small computers that are Thunderbolt-3-equipped as well as supplying necessary power through this port to host computers that honour USB Power Delivery.

Mobile Devices

Even though Samsung had suffered a deep blow with the exploding Galaxy Note 7 phablets, the mobile-computing platform has not died yet. It is although we may be hanging on to our smartphones for longer than the typical two-year contract period in order to save money.

At the moment, the phones that are being given an airing are the mid-tier Android smartphones like the Huawei Honor 6X with a dual camera and the ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom which is one of the first to have an optical zoom on the rear camera’s lens.

Samsung launched their Galaxy A3 and A5 Android smartphones which are still positioned in the mid-tier segment. This is while Sony came to the fore with the XPeria X2 premium smartphone which has a 5.5” 4K display and 5Gb RAM, just above the baseline expectations for RAM capacity in a desktop computer.

LG had launched a range of low-tier Android smartphones that are equipped with user-replaceable batteries. The K3 is a compact unit with a 4.5” display while the K4 comes with the standard 5” display. There is the K8 5” selfie smartphone which has a highly-optimised front camera for taking those selfies to appear on Instagram or Facebook. Then LG brought the 13 megapixel camera featured in the G series lineup to the K10 5.3” smartphone. They also offered a Stylus 3 phablet with an integrated fingerprint scanner.

The next in the series will cover high-resolution monitors, computer accessories and the home network including the distributed-WiFi trend.

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Australian Hi-Fi And AV Show 2016

Cambridge Audio / Rega hi-fi system

A Cambridge Audio / Rega hi-fi system representing all of the music sources – vinyl, CDs and file-based audio

The Australian Hi-Fi and AV Show, previously known as the Australian Audio and AV Show appeared this past weekend at the Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel. This attracted a significant number of hi-fi and home-AV names even though some of them had exhibited at another competing hotel-based hi-fi show that was held on July 1-3 at the Pullman Mercure Hotel near Albert Park.

Core trends

Most manufacturers were running equipment setups that had a turntable and a network media player and, in some cases, a CD player connected to the setup’s main integrated or control amplifier. This was to demonstrate their equipment’s prowess with both analogue and digital material while underscoring a reality with most of us heading between these different media for regular listening as some time in our lives.

Hi-Fi speaker designs

This year has been a chance for some manufacturers to showcase some interesting hi-fi speaker designs as these actually utter the music being played through the hi-fi system. There is still a strong interest in the traditional stereo setup rather than surround-sound audio, typically associated with watching Hollywood movies.

Active speakers

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 90 digital-active speakers

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 90 digital-active speakers

During the 2013 show, a few manufacturers were demonstrating active speakers that had integrated power amplifiers as viable pieces of hi-fi equipment, breaking the mould of “computer speakers, lifestyle audio and PA speakers” for this class of speaker. It included Linn even demonstrating “digital-active” speakers, a concept that Philips had pioneered with the DSS-930 and DSS-950 digital-active speakers that could be fed from an SP/DIF digital signal source.

This year, there were some more manufacturers presenting active-speaker designs including some “digital-active” designs coming from Linn and Bang & Olufsen. Here, this was more about proving that the speakers can house the amplification circuitry and, in some cases, digital-signal processing and conversion circuitry yet yield clear hi-fi sound without “stressing”.

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 18

The B&O Beolab 8000 “pencil” in a new form – the Beolab 18

For that matter, Bang & Olufsen had been a stranger to the hi-fi show circuit especially in Australia until this year where they occupied one of the banquet rooms to present their Beolab 90 digital-active speakers (14 ICEPower amplifiers and 4 Class-D amplifiers serving 18 speaker drivers)  along with the Beolab 18 which is the latest iteration of the Beolab 8000 “pencil-design” speakers and the Beovision 14 flat-screen TV. Typically, they didn’t want to compete with the traditional hi-fi industry and pitch towards the traditional “audiophile” mindset, but focus towards those who appreciated very good music and flim and those who valued the design they were known for.

A glass speaker housing

Spunc Sound presented a cube-shaped speaker design at this show. Here, it was using speaker drivers back-to-back to create a powerful clear sound for speakers in a glass housing rather than a traditional wooden housing that would normally require insulation to work against standing waves.

I even heard these speakers playing a Lady Ga Ga track from a CD to underscore how they responded with highly-rhythmic electronic-dance-music content as well as demonstrating the way they used sound-cancellation techniques to yield that clear sound. It underscored that rare possibility of being able to see through the back of the speaker that was in full flight.

Old speaker legends rediscovered

But some manufacturers have been rediscovering legendary speaker designs that have had a subsequent influence on how the stereo speaker was designed over the years.

The BBC influence

Harbeth speaker

The Harbeth speakers based on the legendary BBC monitor speakers

Two manufacturers had been demonstrating speakers that were based on their involvement with designing “near-field monitor” speakers for the BBC through the late 1960s. These were tools that came in to being for any radio or TV show that the BBC had a hand with, whether through the sound-production or the broadcast process.

One of these were the Harbeth speakers which were designed by the BBC as part of their R&D efforts and the first to implement polypropylene speaker cones. The other was the KEF LS50 50th Anniversary bookshelf speaker which was based on KEF’s LS 3/5 monitor speaker that was designed by the BBC to be used in their outside-broadcast vans, but implemented coaxial drivers which is something often associated with automotive sound.

Yamaha brings back their 70s-era speaker classic

Yamaha NS-5000 Speakers

Yamaha NS-5000 speakers that were based on the NS-1000M speakers launched in 1974

Yamaha had presented the NS-5000 floor/shelf speakers that were being launched at the show. These are a pair of speakers based on the NS-1000M speakers launched in 1974 when Supertramp released their “Crime Of The Century” album. But there have been a lot of today’s improvements built in to these speakers such as newer material for the speaker drivers.

I had heard these in action with Paul Simon’s “Late In The Evening” played from FLAC-based audio via a Yamaha CD player serving as a USB DAC, connected to one of Yamaha’s latest integrated amplifiers. Here, the song came through very clearly and underscored what the legendary design was about.

Open standards being used for network-based audio

FLAC files that can be created by Windows 10 Media Player handled by this network media player

FLAC files that can be created by Windows 10 Media Player handled by this network media player

There were two main paths for passing through computer-based audio – a Windows or Mac laptop connected to a DAC, CD player or digital amplifier which worked as a USB-based sound module; or a small network linking a NAS or other media server to one or more a network media players and implementing DLNA network media discovery technology.

Here, most of these setups were dealing with FLAC audio files which have effectively been “opened up” to Windows users through Windows 10 providing operating-system support for these files, whether for playback or “ripping” from regular CDs. It could be very feasible to use Windows 10’s Media Player software to play a high-grade FLAC file in to any USB DAC shown at this year’s show without the need to add extra software.

Bricasti M12 Dual Mono Source Controller

Bricasti M12 Dual-Mono Source Controller – an example of a USB-capable digital preamplifier

Some setups even exploited TiDAL as an online music source, even though there is the difficulty with running network-capable consumer AV equipment with a hotel network based around the notion of logging in via Web-based authentication. But IHG worked around this issue by providing the equivalent of a “home Internet connection” to most of these rooms for the duration of the show.

The fact that most of these setups implemented standards that aren’t owned by particular vendors meant that there was the ability for the companies to innovate. This was more so with the ability to focus on writing software and designing hardware that was about sound quality but without the need to reinvent the wheel.

Network-based lifestyle audio

There is still some interest amongst a few manufacturers in audio equipment that exploits the home network as a media-distribution path while fitting in with your lifestyle. But the idea of high-quality sound still exists for this class of equipment, whether in the form of a multiroom speaker system or a network CD receiver or network audio receiver that is the hub of a high-quality three-piece stereo system.

Denon had launched their latest generation of the Heos multiroom platform which included some speakers and network media players with one of these devices being able to stream audio content out from existing equipment to a cluster of Heos speakers.

Naim mu-so soundbar and mu-so Qb wireless speaker

Naim mu-so soundbar and mu-so Qb wireless speaker

Naim were also showing the mu-so multiroom speaker systems including the mu-so Qb which is a cube-shaped take on the original mu-so soundbar. As well, the latest iterations of their network media players can serve as master or client devices in a Naim-based multiroom setup.

But there is still the problem with the network-based multiroom audio scene where it is totally dependent on customers using equipment from the same equipment manufacturer or with the same chipset platform. There hasn’t been any effort in the AV industry to provide a standard for distributing real-time content like audio or video content in sync across a network to multiple endpoint devices of different types from different manufacturers.

Marantz CR-611 network CD receiver

Marantz CR-611 network CD receiver

There is still some interest in the high-quality lifestyle music system from some manufacturers. Marantz exhibited their CR611 network CD receiver which was paired up with a set of Jamo bookshelf speakers as their entry in to this scene, following from the previously-issued CR603 network CD receiver that was seen at the 2011 show. Here, it was highlighted with a Sound and Image award as the best “system solution” of the year for 2017, representing this class of equipment that can easily be sidelined by some peiple in the hi-fi scene.

Arcam Solo Music network CD receiver

Arcam Solo Music network CD receiver

Arcam used this show to premiere the Solo Music network CD receiver which is the follow-on to the Solo Neo and was previously mentioned on HomeNetworking01.info. This was a chance for me to try it out and I played one of the CDs from the ABC Classic 100 Swoon collection on it. I had “this unit play “The Lark Ascending” by Vaughan Williams and this unit, paired with the previously-mentioned KEF LS50 speakers, proved what these systems were about with this kind of music, something that would underscore one of the use cases that I highlighted for this class of equipment.

George Robertson, who represented Arcam even highlighted the way the Solo Music and its stablemates were built, underscoring the use of traditional electronics-building techniques along with Class-G amplification design. He even asked me to attempt to lift up the unit and I had found it very heavy, which showed how it was built to last.

Naim Uniti Atom and Uniti Core

Naim Uniti Atom network media receiver and Naim Uniti Core “ripping NAS” media server

Naim used this show to premiere the new Uniti range of lifestyle audio equipment. The first two products and the ones that were shown were the Uniti Core which is a media server or, should I say a “ripping NAS”; and the Uniti Atom which is a compact network media receiver that can be wired up to a pair of speakers. This even went as far as implementing a touchscreen user interface on the main unit along with a volume control located on top of that set – easy to find! But this doesn’t omit the high-quality sound associated with this brand.

BenQ treVolo electrostatic Bluetooth speaker

BenQ treVolo portable Bluetooth electrostatic speaker

I was even able to hear one of the BenQ treVolo Bluetooth electrostatic speakers that proved that the electrostatic speaker design isn’t just for the highly-esoteric hi-fi setup preferred by audiophiles with too much money to spend. Here, this setup yielded a very clear sound that could encompass all music types from your mobile computing device that is playing out those FLAC files.

Headphones

The “HeadZone” that existed during previous years where headphones were being premiered and demonstrated had gone but some manufacturers were still promoting premium headphones.

For example, BeyerDynamic had used their room to promote their newest range of headphones but the range they were exhibiting while Naim demonstrated a range of premium music headphones along with their headphone amplifier.

What was really becoming the case was that the headphone market has become very saturated with many different sets of “cans” on the market although there are some that do certain tasks well. Here, this show had focused on the headphones that were about listening to music through headphones at home rather than during your public-transport commute for example.

Conclusion

The Australian Hi-FI And AV Show kept the reality alive regarding how recorded music is played, whether through the familiar vinyl records or CDs, or file-based media streamed from a computer or NAS connected via a home network, or even a high-quality audio streaming service. But it has underscored that each of these music-reproduction paths can yield high-quality sound with the right equipment.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2016–Part 2 Accessories, Peripherals and the Home Network

I am continuing to write up about the trends that have been presented at the Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas, USA.

 

Just before, I had covered the trends affecting desktop and mobile computing with such things as 4K and OLED screens, narrow bezels, Intel Skylake internals, business computers appearing at a consumer-focused show, and gaming computers that are rated for Oculus Rift.

Now I will be covering various peripherals, accessories and how your home network will evolve.

Display Monitors

The display monitors for your computer are following a similar trend to what is happening for TV. This includes 4K ultra-high-resolution screens and curved displays. But a few manufacturers are rolling out OLED screens in their product lineup. This will mean that you could see the benefit of increased contrast and colour definition on your computer’s display whether it serves as a secondary or “desktop” monitor for your laptop or primary or secondary monitor for your desktop.

Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year's computers

Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year’s monitors and peripherals

One of tbe trends starting to appear is for a display monitor to have a USB Type-C connector, more so with DisplayPort over USB-C connectivity. This capitalises on the fact that the monitor will be connected to a suitably-equipped laptop, tablet or 2-in-1 and will be this cable is the one cable that will provide power to charge or run the portable along with a physical link for data and video. Most of these monitors will have a self-powered USB hub along with an integrated Webcam and speaker system. On the other hand, there are the 15”-19” portable monitors with USB-C connection and powered by the host computer which will serve as portable “extra-screens” to use with these computers.

ASUS has presented the latter type of these displays with their MB169C which is a 15” portable monitor that features a 15.6” Full HD LCD screen and connects to the host computer via a USB Type-C connector. They also launched the MX27UQ which is a 27” 4K UHDTV screen with Bang & Olufsen ICEPower amplification for the sound and can stream sound from your computer or smartphone via Bluetooth. This is available in an Icicle Gold finish. They also launched a 34” curved monitor with a UQWHD (3440×1440) resolution that has a Qi wireless charging base and has its sound amplified using B&O ICEPower technology.

Lenovo ThinkVision X1 4K monitor

Lenovo ThinkVision X1 4K monitor

Lenovo has added the ThinkVision X1 monitor to their premium “X1” computing product lineup with this one being equipped with a 27” 4K IPS screen set against a very narrow bezel. It is intended to be an “at-base” companion to the latest crop of laptops thanks to a USB Type-C connection that provides power to the laptop that it is connected to as well as being a USB hub. It also comes with a 1080p Webcam that has a microphone array, LED lighting and mechanical privacy filter; along with a stereo pair of 3W speakers. It can also be connected to other devices thanks to an HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.2 connector.

The Lenovo ThinkVision X24 Pro adds on an Intel RealSense camera and the option for a WiGIg connection bar for wireless connectivity with suitable laptops and tablets. Gamers will relish in the fact that Lenovo has catered for them with the Y27g Razer Edition curved gaming monitor which has a 27” Full HD display and RGB lighting on the back to providing interesting effects. This also can work tightly wiht G-Sync-capable display cards.

LG advanced the 27UD88 27” 4K gaming monitor that optimises itself to work with the latest AMD graphics subsystems.

Dell has not been quiet on the display monitor front with them offering a range of 21” and 23.8” wireless monitors that can work with Windows and Android devices. These also have a Qi / PMA wireless charging base with the smaller variant having 2 three-watt speakers and the larger variant having a narrow bezel and improved colour accuracy.

They alos premiered the UltraSharp 30 which is a 30” 4K OLED monitor that also uses a USB Type-C connector as a way to connect to the host device.

Computer Peripherals and Accessories

With the computer manufacturers releasing more devices that are equipped with USB Type-C connectors, especially as a way to power these devices, the peripherals and accessories scene has responded with a range of devices that have USB Type-C connections.

Lenovo will be fielding the WriteIT 2.0 which adds pen capabilities to any Windows-based tablet or 2-in-1 that implements a touchscreen. This could then allow you to benefit from pen-based operation without paying dearly for that function. Wacom are also selling this same stylus as the Bamboo Smart and thsi works with “active electrostatic” or capacitive touch screens.

The Lenovo Link 32Gb memory stick celebrates mobile and regular open-frame computing very finely by allowing you to connect your Windows and Android devices to each other. This allows you to mirror your Android phone’s display on your Windows computer and provides local file transfer between both platforms. It will work with Android 5.0, Windows 7 and newer versions of these operating systems and your smartphone will have to have a USB On-The-Go connection or USB Type-C connection.

Lenovo also added to the ThinkPad Stack an external battery pack and a pico projector.

Samsung 2Tb solid-state external storage device press picture courtesy of Samsung USA

Samsung 2Tb solid-state external storage device

Samsung used their expertise in developing solid-state flash storage to prepare a USB portable storage device that can hold up to 2Tb of data, the same quantity as a lot of USB hard disks. This connects to the host device using a USB 3.1 Type-C connection but you could connect it to existing devices using a USB Type-C adaptor cable.

Griffin are known for aftermarket accessories and peripherals that are typically pitched to the Apple ecosystem but, in a lot of cases, can work wiht omst computers. They have fronted up with the BreakSafe cable which gives USB Type-C connections the same “safe disconnect” abilities as Apple’s MagSafe connection, a boon to those of you who own the latest 12” Apple MacBook that uses this connection. They also launced an external battery pack that attaches to your keyring so you can charge up your Apple Watch when out and about. They also launched the Survivor Slim Case which is a ruggedised case for the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

Seagate have launched one of the slimmest USB external hard disks around in the form of the Backup Plus Ultra Slim external hard disk. This device has a thickness of 9.6mm and is about more data in a slimmer package. As required for Seagate external hard disks, this unit has backup software with one-touch or scheduled host-system backup. Similarly, LaCie have launched an external hard disk that has Porsche design and connects to your host computer via USB Type-C. But this unit has another USB Type-C connection so you can charge your MacBook or other USB Type-C computer without forfeiting hte ability to use the external hard disk.

Scosche have also launched a lineup of USB Type-C cables, port hubs / chargers and adaptors. One of these is the StrikePort USB-A + HDMI + USB-C adaptor which has a USB Type-C connector for charging while another of these is the StrikeDrive USB-C car adaptor which plugs in to your vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket so you can charge your USB-C devices – this can charge or power 2 12-watt USB-C devices. There is also a range of StrikeLine charge-and-sync (data) cables with ones that connect a USB-C device to a USB-A device and another that connects a USB-C device to a MicroUSB device.

Panasonic have established the case for BluRay optical discs as a “cold-storage” medium for archived data and this is based on what Facebook is storing those selfie snaps, holiday pictures and other images that you tender to the social network. They have started with 100Gb disks bot are moving towards 1 Terabyte disks which they are calling “Freeze Ray”.

Braven have come forth with a slew of accessories for your smarpthone or tablet. One of these is the BRV-BANK Pro LE which is an ultra-rugged modular battery pack . This pack has a 300-lumen LED torch and is built in aircraft-grade alumium housing and can charge devices via a 1.4A USB port and a 2.1A USB port. The device has a waterproof rating for IPx7 and houses a 6000mAH battery.

Braven BRV-PRO LE modular rugged power bank press picture courtesy of Braven

Braven BRV-PRO LE modular rugged power bank

But it is part of a Braven accessory ecosystem with a solar charging panel, speaker, multi-tool, GoPro action mount and a stacking plate. A smartphone app which links to this battery pack via Bluetooth supports a “Find Me” function which causes the torch to flash SOS in Morse code. Campers will also appreciate the “Bear mode” that uses the smartphone’s motion sensors to alert the BRV-BANK Pro LE and cause it to flash the torch light and sound an alarm if the phone is disturbed. Here, the idea is to pack the phone with your food supply and be alerted if the local wildlife starts raiding your food supply and is a problem that faces North American campers because of bears being too dependent on campers’ food supplies.

Razer have even provided Intel RealSense technology in to an add-on Webcam in the form of the Stargazer 3D Webcam. This can give existing desktop computers that don’t necessarily come with integrated RealSense abilities this kind of sensing and could open them towards Windows Hello facial recognition along with 3D scanning.

In an out-of-the-ordinary move, Black & Decker, know for those power drills, have integrated USB device-charging functionality in to their power-tool batteries. They also implement an app to support a “find-me” functionality along with the ability to support a “check-in / check-out” function and the ability to control when the batteries are used.

Your Home Network

Yhere are a few trends that are affecting the home network and how it is set up. One of these is 802.11ac Wave-2 Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO operation. The MU-MIMO function effectively creates dedicated bandwidth for each MU-MIMO device that uses the network but also frees up more bandwidth for ordinary Wi-Fi devices. This function is moving down towards the mid-tier routers and starting to appear in wireless range extenders with this function being about optimised bandwidth on the backhaul link and the device-side link.

It was also the time that the IEEE and Wi-FI Assocations have cemented the 802.11ah 900mHz “HaLow” wireless-network specification. This uses a lower frequency than 2.0GHz 802.11b/g Wi-Fi thus having a longer range and lower power but it doesn’t have the same data bandwidth as the Wi-Fi standards that we currently use for the home network. This will be pitched towards the “Internet Of Things” application case where a lot of sensors and allied devices will rely on batteries expected to run for a long time.

As far as HomePlug AV2 is concerned, the concept of the HomePlug access point which supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and HomePlug AV2 has finally hit American shores thanks to Netgear.

Linksys have released their EA9500 4×4 802.11ac MU-MIMO router with Gigabit WAN and 4 x switched Gigabit LAN. This uses eight antennas to provide the MU-MIMO function. There is also the EA7500 3×3 802.11ac MU-MIMO router which is similar to the EA9500 but has reduced MU-MIMO abilities.

The Linksys RE7000 4×4 MU-MIMO range extender optimises the bandwidth used for the downstream devices whin it is linked to a MU-MIMO access point. As well, this multifunction range extemder has a Gigabit Ethernet port and can be set up to serve as a wired client bridge for a wireless network or as a MU-MIMO wireless access point – the latter being a way to upgrade your wireless netowrk to MU-MIMO abilities without throwing out your existing router. They also offer a MU-MIMO USB wireless network adaptor so you can join MU-MIMO wireless netowrk segments using your existing laptop.

Linksys have released DOCSIS 3.0 cable-modem hardware including a cable modem-router. They also exhibited the X6200 which is an ADSL2/VDSL2 modem router works on the 802.11ac standard.

D-Link have sold the AC4300 MU-MIMO wireless router and AC1300 MU-MIMO range extender as a kit in order to appeal to those of us who have larger houses.

Netgear have released the R7800 Nighthawk X4S Smart Wi-Fi Router whcih handles MU-MIMO with four streams and a processor improved on the previous model. This device also has the ability to work on 160Mhz channel bandwidth.

They also released the C7000 which is an AC1900 cable modem router that is part of the Nighthawk router lineup.  For that matter, new firmware that will be available for the Nighthawk router lineup will offer native support for Netgear’s Arlos lineup of network cameras.

As for range extenders, the EX7300 Nighthawk X4 is a wall-plugged AC2200 unit with MU-MIMO for both the upstream and downstream paths. There is the EX6400 range extender which is the first wall-plug AC1900 range extender. Both these range extenders  can also serve as access points to work wiht Ethernet or HomePlug wired backbones or as client bridges to serve wired network devices like smart TVs.

The PLW1000 HomePlug AV2 wireless access point can establish an 802.11ac wireless segment and can provide a HomePlug AV2 SISO (two-wire) backbone to the router. This functionality was offered by Devolo and was available only within Europe. But now, the Netgear device is the first device of its kind that is offered by a major home-network name to offer this kind of functionality to the North American market.

TP-Link have demonstrated a router that may have ordinary capabilities but be a “smart home” hub. The SR20 offers a throughput of 1300Mbps on 5Ghz 802.11ac and 600Mbps on 2.4GHz 802.11n and implements beamforming along Gigabit Ethernet for WAN and LAN. But it can be a “smart home” hub for Z-Wave and Zigbee devices and works alongside the Kasa mobile-platform dashboard app. This is similar to the Securifi Almond series of routers which have this kind of functionality and is the first of such devices to be released by a major home-network name.

Conclusion

After seeing a USB-C-driven direction for peripherals, OLED starting to light up computer display monitors, along wiht MU-MIMO increasing the throughput on Wi-Fi home networks,  I will be covering in the next article about photography, audio and video trends from CES 2016.

Next, I will be covering the trends affecting digital photography and videography along with audio and video recording and reproduction technology.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2016–Part 1 Desktop and Mobile Computing

This article is part of a series about the trends that have been shown at the Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas in the USA.

Desktop and Mobile Computing

This encompasses personal computing systems ranging from desktop and laptop computers that run “regular” or “traditional” computer operating systems like Microsoft Windows or Google ChromeOS to smartphones and tablets that run a mobile operating system typically Android. Apple hasn’t been showing their equipment at CES because of the way they see themselves as their own unit.

The key trends

Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10 – influences how this year’s computers are being designed

Microsoft Windows 10 and the Intel Skylake processor / chipset family have become established as far as personal computing system is concerned. This has led to most of the manufacturers refreshing their desktop and laptop product lines to take advantage of the new microarchitecture and operating system with what it offers. It doesn’t matter whether you use these computers for work or play; or at home, the office or on the road.

Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year's computers

Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year’s computers

Feature that are being made available include the USB 3.1 Type-C connector which offers data transfer and laptop power on one cable, Thunderbolt 3 which uses the USB Type-C cable as an effective way to provide PCI-Express data throughput along with mobile-optimised design based around reduced heat output and reduced power demands.

This has led to a situation where most of the manufacturers have engaged in a race to see who is the first with the lightest 15” laptop and the most svelte 13” 2-in-1 convertible or detachable computer. The latter goal has been brought on because of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book 2-in-1s as something to emulate or beat where these systems are being offered as a credible alternative to the Apple MacBook lineup. This has been brought about because of the Intel Skylake processor family offering more options for mobile-focused processors that can lead to fanless cooling and improved battery runtime. The latter benefit benefits designers due to the ability to supply a smaller battery yet yield the same runtime.

The display is being seen as a tool to differentiate the premium-grade laptops. This is based on an increasing number of laptops and 2-in-1s having a 4K ultra-high-resolution display along with some manufacturers offering OLED displays as an option in their premium models. From my personal experience with my Samsung Galaxy Note phones and their AMOLED displays, I have noticed that photos and videos do come across more vividly due to the improved contrast that these displays offer. This could mean that the OLED-equipped laptops could woo photographers and video editors away from the Apple MacBook Pro as their tool of choice.

This year has also seen a larger number of business-grade laptops and tablets being exhibited by the manufacturers. Why show business-focused computers at a consumer-focused show? Firstly, there is the concept of “bring-your-own-device” appearing in a large number of workplaces where workers could choose their own devices, perhaps with the employer subsidising the cost of the equipment. Then there is the concept of the Internet-based “cottage industry” where your place of business is your home, perhaps with extra rented premises as a shopfront or storage where applicable.

All the computer names are offering gaming-optimised desktop and laptop computers with two significant trends showing up this year. One of these is to have gaming computers rated to work with the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset at best performance. Another is to have highly-compact gaming desktop computers in a manufacturer’s lineup rather than the traditional “gaming-rig” tower computers.

Some of what the brands offer

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1 - press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1

Acer has premiered the Aspire Switch 12S detachable which uses Intel Thunderbolt 3.1 via USB Type-C connectivity. As well, there is a 4K ultra-high-resolution screen in the lineup but these computers normally have a 12.5” Full HD (1080p) screen. These detachables use a magnetic docking mechanism which shouldn’t be about messing around with a latch; while they maintain 2 USB 3.0 connections, microHDMI external display connection and a microSD card slot.

Acer Travelmate P648 Business Notebook computer press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Acer Travelmate P648 Business Notebook computer

Acer’s TravelMate business notebooks have been brought up to date. One of these is the TravelMate P649 14-incher which come with WiGig short-throw Wi-Fi support, a USB Type-C port, NVIDIA GTX940M discrete graphics, start with 4Gb RAM but can be set up with 20Gb RAM, storage up to 512Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk, MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi for the latest routers, amongst other things. It seems like this computer could be called as an “all-rounder” work-home computer. They even offered the ProDock expansion module as a recommended “desktop-computing” accessory for this laptop, because this can provide 2 USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet wired network adaptor, and the ability to connect display devices via DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI or VGA.

The gaming scene didn’t miss out, thanks to Acer refreshing their Aspire Nitro range of gaming computers uprated to current expectations including Skylake technology. The Black Edition even sports an Intel Realsense camera for 3D scanning and Windows Hello facial recognition.

Acer Iconia Tab 8 Android tablet - press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Iconia Tab 8 family Android tablet with Kids’ Center

There is the Acer Liquid Jade Primo smartphone which is Acer’s entry in to the Windows 10 Mobile foray. This has the USB Type-C connectivity along with 3Gb RAM and 32Gb storage. But Acer hasn’t forgotten about Android with their Iconia One 8” family tablet that runs Android Lollipop 5.1, 9 hours battery runtime and has 16Gb storage and 1Gb RAM. Acer also added to this tablet the “Kids Center” software which is effectively an app corral for kids.

Acer has fielded a few Chrome OS computers to the foray with the Chromebook 11 which has 9 hours battery runtime, a Celeron processor and starts with 2Gb RAM but can go 4Gb RAM; and a Chromebase 24 all-in-one desktop which uses an Intel Core-family CPU and uses 8Gb RAM.

ASUS didn’t show up much in the way of laptop computers but presented their Zenfone Zoom which is a camera smartphone that uses a 10-element Hoya 3x optical-zoom lens. This phone is not as bulky as other camera-smartphone hybrid designs.

Dell revamped their Latitude range of business portable computers by offering the Latitude 11 500 series of business-focused tablets , the Latitude 13 7000 series of Ultrabooks and the Latitude 12 7000 series of detachable 2-in-1 tablets.

The Latitude 12 7000 series 12” tablets are effectively Dell’s answer to Microsoft’s Surface detachable tablet range, with an option to have the display resolution as 4K resolution as an option or Full HD (1080p) as standard; Intel Core M3, Core M5 0r Core M7 processors; 2 USB 3.1 Type-C ports with a USB Type-A adaptor supplied, 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity and an Intel RealSense camera. These 2-in-1s will offer 8Gb RAM and 512Gb storage. There is also the Latitude 11 5000 which is a closely-specced 11” variant of the Latitude 12 7000 2-in-1. The Latitude 13 7000 13” Ultrabooks will have the InfinityEdge “narrow-bezel” look, Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type-C and a fingerprint reader and NFC / RFID reader. Other members of the Latitude 5000 and 7000 business portable-computer lineup have been revamped to newer expectations with Intel Skylake technology, all USB connections being USB 3.0 or better, Thunderbolt 3.0 and 2560×1600 screen resolution at least. One of the systems even has support for WiGig short-throw high-bandwidth Wi-Fi wireless connectivity.

The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 is Dell’s entry to the bargain-basement laptop market with at least US$199 buying you a Windows laptop that has Celeron or Pentium processors, 2Gb or 4Gb RAM, 32Gb SSD storage and the 1366×768 display resolution.

For the gamers out there, Dell’s Alienware gaming brand has fronted up with some Oculus-ready gaming computers. They even put up the prospect of offering a gaming laptop with an OLED screen to improve those games graphics.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) have premiered their Phoenix x360 convertible notebook which has a variant equipped with a 15.6” display. This series implements the Intel Iris graphics engine and a 4K screen with OLED offered as an option. At the moment, HP are claiming this Skylake-equipped computer to he the thinnest  lightest 15” convertible notebook on the market. These computers are equipped with a USB Type-C connector and have their sound subsystem tuned by Bang & Olufsen which is part of a trend affecting HP laptops.

They have also released a larger version of the Pavilion x2  detachable tablet, which is another attempt to answer Microsoft’s Surface tablet range. It will come with low specs like a Core M or Atom CPU depending on the price range. The keyboard has a magnetic attachment mechanism rather than the usual mechanical latch used with most detachable tablets and the screen will come in at 12.1”.

HP Elitebook Folio laptop press picture courtesy of HP

The HP Elitebook Folio – as part of one’s office, whether that’s the main one or the café.

For business users, HP has released the Elitebook Folio whcih can lay flat for collabberation in the main or secondary office. This very thin Ultrabook has 2 USB Type-C connectors, a sound system that works well for voice communications, dedicated call-control keys, a piano hinge and, like a lot of this year’s computers, will have a 4K touchscreen option. As well, it is built on an aluminium chassis rather than a plastic chassis. You could achieve a good long workday and a few coffees from your favourite barista at your “second-office” café before the battery goes flat even if you go for the 4K touchscreen display variant or have the display at maximum brightness.

Other business computer options premiered by HP at this year’s CES include the Elitebook 1040 G3 14” notebook based on an aluminium chassis and using Core processors, Full HD or QHD displays. This is along with HP launching the Elitebook 800 family of business notebooks, available as 12.5”, 14” or 15” variants. HP have also added in a privacy filter feature to their latest Elitebook lineup as a deal-making option to prevent others like baristas or neighbouring aeroplane passengers from snooping on your work that is on the screen.

HP have not forgotten about the gamers and have premiered the Envy Phoenix performance gaming desktop which is pitched at today’s virtual-reality gamers.

Lenovo have come up with a large lineup of very interesting computer equipment.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet family - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet with additional options

Firstly, they have released the ThinkPad X1 as a family of portable computing devices rather than one notebook computer. The first of these is the ThinkPad X1 Tablet which is a highly-modular 12” detachable tablet set to answer Microsoft’s Surface. It has USB Type-C charging. Core M horsepower, up to 16Gb RAM and a 2K IPS screen. But its piece de resistance is the fact that there are clip-on modues that extend its functionality further. One of these is the Productivity Module which is a 15-hour external battery while another of these is the Presenter Module with a pico projector and HDMI video connectivity and the last of these is the 3D Imaging Module with an integrated Inntel Realsense 3D camera.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook (tent view) - press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook

The X1 Yoga is a 14” convertible notebook that carries through the Lenovo Yoga 360-degree hinged convertible design weighs in about 2.8lb and has a pen integrated in the tablet. This has a 2560×1440 OLED display as the top-shelf option or an LCD with similar resolution or a Full HD LCD at cheaper prices. It has that standard HDMI connector for external displays, uses Core M horsepower, is equipped with an Ethernet socket for Ethernet or HomePlug AV2 networks, and can have up to 16Gb RAM and 1Th SSD storage.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook (Skylake powered) press picture courtesy of Lenovo

The Skylake-driven iteration of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook

The X1 Carbon is a follow-on from the legendary business notebook which I reviewed that has a carbon-fibre housing. It comes with similar specifications to the X1 Yoga and has military-specification construction and there is the option to have it run with Intel i7 processors while you have the same “elasticity” that you have with RAM and storage types and capacities as the X1 Yoga.

Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one business desktop press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one business desktop

It is followed on with the ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one desktop computer that is as slim as one of today’s typical computer monitors. This has a 23.8” Full HD screen; Intel i7 Skylake processor; 16Gb RAM and an option of 500Gb or 1Tb hard disk, 512Gb solid-state drive or a 512Gb self-encrypting drive or OPAL self-encrypting drive for storage; 1080p Webcam; DisplayPort input and output; SD card reader and 5 USB 3.0 sockets. It connects to home or business networks via Ethernet.

There are some more of the ThinkCentre and ThinkPad product families being offered for business users. One of these is the ThinkCentre Tiny which is Lenovo’s latest small-footprint computer but this is designed to be able to be attached to one of their monitors as part of a “ThinkCentre-In-One” all-in-one computer design.

Lenovo ThinkPad T560 business notebook - press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad T560 business notebook

The ThinkPad T Series manifests this year in the form of the T460 and T560 laptops, which continue the heritage that this series embodied. The T460s is a lightweight durable Ultrabook with a 14” screen while the T460p is equipped with improved graphics in the form of discrete graphics and WQHD screen. The ThinkPad X260 is a 12” Ultrabook that has an option of an add-on battery pack that gives this machine a runtime of 21 hours – enough for a long-haul flight to the other side of the world. The ThinkPad L460 and L560 are focused on military-specification durability.

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 notebook - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 durable budget notebook – can be supplied with Chrome OS or Windows 10

But the ThinkPad 13 budget notebook is the shining star when it comes to a purely secondary computer although it is pitched at the education market. It is available as a version which runs on Windows 10 or as a version that runs on Google Chrome OS. This unit implements military-specification durability, Intel Core i5 horsepower and up to 16Gb RAM and 512Gb storage. The Windows 10 variant has the IBM/Lenovo thumbstick on the keyboard, an HDMI external-video port, 3 USB connectors as well as a USB Type-C connector. This is while the Chrome OS variant has 1 USB connector along with 2 USB Type-C connectors. Personally, I would see this as a budget small-enough “portable typewriter” computer that is comfortable for answering emails, writing blog posts or completing that magnum opus while away from home or office – think of your favourite café or bar.

Lenovo Yoga 900 - stand mode press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga 900 – now available as a Business Edition computer

Let’s not forget that Lenovo also offered the Business Editions of both the Yoga 900 and MIIX 700. These add on features that allow for improved security and allow for management by a business’s own IT department or IT contractor. This will also mean that they may be available at value-added IT resellers that pitch to the business community.

Lenovo Yoga 900S watchband hinge detail press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Improved watchband hinge in the Lenovo Yoga 900S Series

Speaking of the Yoga 900 Series, there is the Yoga 900S which is a deluxe edition of the Yoga 900 with an improved watchband hinge and is available in that “Champagne Gold” finish reminiscent of early-1980s Marantz hi-fi equipment or a platinum-silver finish. Lenovo says that the Yoga 900S is the thinnest 360-degree convertible laptop on the market.

Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one – aimed squarely at the Apple iMac

Lenovo is taking aim at the iMac by offering the IdeaCentre 510s 23” touchscreen all-in-one with narrow bezel which is equipped with a drop-down module that houses some USB ports and a Webcam. This comes in wiht Intel Skylake Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GT930a discrete graphics and has up to 1 Tb hard disk and a 256Gb solid-state drive for storage.

Lenovo Y Series Razer Edition gaming desktop press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Y Series Razer Edition gaming desktop

Lenovo are trying their best to conquer the US gaming market by offering a run of gaming-focused computer equipment. This is in conjunction with them developing and publishing a game that would appeal to the core-level games. The Ideapad Y900 17” gaming laptop, which I reckon is a desknote, has the Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GTX980M discrete graphics, and up to 64Gb of DDR4 RAM. The IdeaCentre Y900 Razer Edition, which comes with a Razer mouse and keyboard, has the multi-colour lighting effects and Robocop look that will appeal at that frag-fest. It comes in with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 32Gb RAM, NVIDIA GTX750Ti discrete graphics and up to 2Tb hard disk and 256Gb solid-state drive capacity.

The IdeaCentre 610s small-form-factor desktop looks like a home appliance or wireless speaker and has a micro projector that docks on to it. This again comes with an Intel Core i7 Skylake CPU, NVIDIA GTX750Ti discrete graphics and up to 16Gb RAM.

Let’s not forget that Lenovo are showing the Vibe S1 Lite metal-body smartphone to the American market. This implemtns a 1080p Full HD screen and a selfie flash.

Samsung are not just offering Android smartphones and tablets but are introducing Windows 10 tablets to the US market. For that matter, they are applying the Galaxy Tab Pro model name also to tablets that run Windows 10 and have offered the Galaxy Tab Pro S which is a Windows 10 2-in-1 tablet that looks like the Microsoft Surface Pro, implements a Super AMOLED display, Intel Core M processor, and can fast-charge its battery in 2.5 hours to lead to a 10.5 hours runtime.

They have also shown the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge Android smartphones which will be equipped with a microSD card slot.

As for laptops, they are offering the Notebook 9 in 13” and 15” variants with a choise of Intel Skylake Core i5 or i7 processors, Full HD displays, 2 USB Type-C connections, and have them in metallic housings. Their Chromebook is the Chromebook 3 which will be equipped wiht an 11.6” 1366×768 display, a dual-core Intel Celeron processor, a choice of 2Gb or 4Gb RAM, and 16Gb storage.

LG Gram 15 laptop CES press shot courtesy of LG

LG Gram 15 laptop – how lightweight it is

Their South Korean rival, LG,  are offering some computing equipment of their own.  They have launched a pair of budget smartphones in the form of the K10 and K7 smartphones. As well, they launched the ultra-light Gram 15 laptop which they say is the lightest 15” laptop. It has the Full HD IPS display, a choice of an Intel Core i5 or i7 Haswell CPU, a USB Type-C connector and a Cirrus Logic audio DAC for its sound. They also launched the 15U560 15” mainstream home laptop which has a 15” 4K display driven by NVIDIA 940M discrete graphics, 8Gb RAM, and powered by Intel Skylake Core i3, i5 or i7 processors. Storage is up to 512Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk and this laptop comes in a white finish.

Huawei have introduced fingerprint sensors across its phone and tablet range for this year. Examples of these include the Mate 6P 6” phablet and the Mate 8 6” phablet which is highly tuned for performance. There is also the MediaPad 10” 1920×1200 Android tablet which runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. This iPad alternative comes with 2Gb or 3Gb RAM and 16Gb or 48Gb storage.

Yezz Sfera have shown up with a smartphone that implements a 360-degree camera but could this catch on? Another newcomer called E.Fun fronted up to Las Vegas with a pair of budiget-priced laptop computers – a 14” notebook with a 1366×768 display, 32Gb onboard storage and a microSD slot, along wiht an 11” convertible notebook with similar specs except for 64Gb onboard storage.

Alcatel have fielded a small tablet in the form of the One Touch Pixi 3 which can work wiht 4G LTE mobile broadband. This 8” tablet works using Windows 10 Mobile, similar to what the Windows smartphones work on and it will support Contunuum for Mobile when it is used with a keyboard and mouse.

This is while Archos have presented a US$50 entry-level smartphone in the form of the Archos 40 Power 4” Android unit. This will have an 800×480 screen, 512Mb RAM, 8Gb storage, a microSD card slot and runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. Archos expects that this phone will run for 2 days before the battery dies but this depends on how many apps are running at once.

Nextbook have also fielded a range of entry-level detachable-tablet 2-in-1s driven by Atom x5 horsepower and equipped with 2Gb RAM and an HD touchscreen. Other features that are common include a microSD card slot, 802.11g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, the mobile-phone-standard microUSB port and a microHDMI port. The 9” 9A and 10” 10A units come with 32Gb storage while the 11” 11A comes with 64Gb storage.

Maingear have fronted up with a gaming computer that is based on an all-in-one design. As well Gigabyte have refreshed their Aorus X5 gaming notebook lineup with Skylake internals, Fusion keyboard, 4K display option, USB-C connectivity.

Razer have proven the concept of using Intel Thunderbolt 3 over a USB Type-C connection to work with user-attachable outboard graphics modules. This is by demonstrating their Razer Blade gaming laptop being hooked up to and working with a card-cage that houses a performance graphics card.

Intel have come up with their own consumer hardware in the form of a smartphone under their own brand and equipped wiht a RealSense camera. They also revamped their line up of Compute Sticks that plug in to a display’s HDMI port by releasing an entry level variant with an Atom x5 CPU, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage; along with better models that implement Core M3 or M5 CPUs and have 4Gb RAM and 64Gb storage. These units use a power adaptor which is actually a USB hub, thus making sure you are not forfeiting a USB port for power.

MSI are flexing their muscles amongst the gaming community by offering the Gaming 27XT all-in-one gaming computer which has an outboard card cage for a desktop-grade graphics card. This lets gamers and video enthusiasts upgrade the display card at any time without the need to take the computer apart. The computer cam put up 330W of power to the display card.

They also released the GT72 Dominator gaming laptop with a Tobii EyeX eye-tracking sensor which allows game players to control the action wiht their eyes. There is also the Vortex Compact Gaming PC which is a cylindrical modular small-form-factor gaming PC with dual NVIDIA GTX 980 SLI display cards and implements 360-degree Silent Storm airflow cooling. This is demonstrative of a trend towards highly-compact but powerful gaming computers rather than the large towers thar have always represented the gaming rigs.

Conclusion

What is being highlighted in this year’s Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas is that everyone is offering personal-computing devices that are pitched at every user class and wallet. This is underscored with the goal to benefit from what the new chipsets offer thus leading to slimmer and lighter-weight laptop and 2-in-1 computers along wiht higher-resolution displays.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015-Part 4-Home Automation and the Internet Of Things

IFA LogoPreviously, in my series about the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015 fair in Berlin, I had covered computing and home network trends like Intel Skylake chips leading to improved performance for desktop and portable computers and the steady rise of 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi wireless and HomePlug AV2 powerline networks. This was followed up with home entertainment technology which was centered around 4K UHDTV becoming more mainstream, the arrival of 4K UHD Blu-Ray Discs and HDR TV technology.

Home Automation

There has been a rise in the number of home-automation systems appearing on the European market with companies offering a new home-automation platform or building out their existing platform with new sensor and control devices. Most of these systems implement Zigbee or Z-Wave and use a hub or central unit that links to your home network to allow monitoring and management of these systems from your smartphone or Web-connected computer.  Some of these systems may have some sensor or output devices work with your home network’s Wi-Fi segment rather than Zigbee or Z-Wave.

Devolo Home Control Central Unit (Zentrale) press photo courtesy of Devolo

Devolo Home Control Central unit connected to router

Devolo have built out the Devolo Home Control platform with more devices. This Z-Wave system started off with a central unit, a wall-mount room thermostat, a thermostatic radiator valve, a smoke alarm and a plug-in appliance module which turns appliances on and off and reports their power consumption. The central unit can link with your home network via an Ethernet or, thankfully, a HomePlug AV 500 connection both of which are more realistic in this application than Wi-Fi wireless. Now they have built it out with a motion detector, a reed-switch-based door/window contact sensor, a water sensor to detect leaky washing machines or flooded basements, and a humidity sensor. They also added an indoor siren to provide an audible alert to user-defined events; along with a wall-mount switch, light dimmer and blind/shutter controller that have to be installed by an electrician and connected to AC wiring. This system is managed by a mobile-platform app and can signal events by email or SMS text messaging.

D-Link have also built out their myDLink home-automation platform which uses Wi-Fi for some applications and Z-Wave for others. This system is based around a Connected Home Hub which connects to your home network via Wi-FI or Ethernet and connects to the Z-Wave-based devices. Here, they have an appliance module and motion sensor that connects directly via Wi-Fi along with a smoke alarm, siren, water sensor, 3-in-1 magnet/reed door sensor which also senses room temperature and light level, 3-in-1 motion sensor which also senses room temperature and light level, and smoke alarm.

Samsung just lately took over the SmartThings home automation initiative and brought it under their banner. This system again is based around a home-automation hub which works with Z-Wave or Zigbee along with your home network but can work with devices from other vendors like the Yale Real Living deadbolts or the Honeywell Lyric thermostats. They have also shown the SleepSense bed sensor which slips under your mattress and registers how much sleep you are getting.

Philips are building out the Hue LED-based lighting range with the Hue+ lighting strip which is effectively a string of lights. Here, you can adjust colour and control the light from your smartphone like you can with other Philips Hue devices and this can be built out to 10 metres by adding a 1-metre extension strip.

Appliances

Increasing more of the appliance manufacturers are working towards an increasingly-sophisticated “app-cessory” approach to online enablement where your smartphone or tablet becomes an extra control surface that exposes increased functionality like notifying you on your smartphone when the laundry is done so you can start the next load as quickly as possible. But it is also driven by the manufacturers implementing an interlink with their resources to facilitate assisted cooking and similar functionality.

Miele CM7 countertop bean-to-cup coffee machine press picture courtesy of Miele

Miele CM7 countertop bean-to-cup coffee machine

Miele has brought in the Edition Con@ct washing machine and dryer which implements an automatic detergent dispensing system and lets users know using their smartphone and the Internet if they need more of the detergent cartridges. As well, they are extending this concept to dishwashers so the app reminds you when to get dishwasher powder or tablets. They also are releasing the US-sized ovens and range-style cookers in to Europe because of the fact these bring out the “gourmet” in some European cultures. Their new CM7 touch-operated bean-to-cup superautomatic espresso coffee machine has been released as their foray in to the countertop coffee machine space and implements a “jug” function for making large quantities of coffee or milk as well as a cartridge-based automatic descaler. Miele’s newer electric induction cooktops are implementing the TempControl function for frying so you can get those eggs, sausages or “best of the kitchen” fry-up just right.

AEG Pro Combi Plus Smart Oven press picture courtesy of the Electrolux Group

AEG Pro Combi Plus smart oven – you can see how it’s cooking from your iPad

Electrolux have been showing their vision for the Internet Of Everything at this year’s IFA as far as their appliance brands are concerned. One application that they want to underscore with AllJoyn and the AllSeen Alliance is assisted cooking. One of their brands, AEG, has come forward with some connected cooking ideas including the ProCombi Plus Smart Oven. This takes the “app-cessory” concept further by using an integrated camera so you can peek at what is cooking in that oven using your smartphone or tablet which is connected via Wi-Fi.  The mobile device app will have access to their recipe catalogue which is searchable and sortable by diet, cost, occasion, ingredients and technique along with access to AEG’s social-Web channels. The ProCombi Plus Smart Oven is one of those ovens that implements wet and dry cooking in the same space so you can steam-cook the fish and roast some potatoes in the same space. The Hob2Hood rangehood is one of the first rangehoods that uses the hob or cooker as a control surface and will work with AEG’s cooktops.

Bosch Home Connect press picture courtesy of Robert Bosch AG

You can see in your Bosch fridge using your smartphone courtesy of Home Connect

Bosch Home Appliances has also headed down the connected appliance path with a fridge that has an integrated camera so you can see what is in there on your smartphone or tablet. As well, they also have other “app-cessory” functionality including system diagnostics across all of the appliance classes including their built-in bean-to-cup coffee machine. Let’s not forget that Bosch are releasing cooktops that are equipped with sensors for optmum cooking.

KitchenAid used the IFA 2015 to capitalise on the fad for sous-vide cooking by launching the Chef Touch Sous-Vide collection. This consists of a vacuum sealer, steam oven and freezer pitched for this technique with an ask of approximately EUR€10000. It isn’t just about that famous electric mixer anymore., W

Whirlpool are launching their Bauknecht sub-brand which is pitched at a “life-balanced” lifestyle for the millenial generation. This courts households with a family and career focused lifestyle and encompasses washing machines, dryers and fridges controlled by the BLive mobile app. For example, you can tell your Bauknecht washing machine what material your clothes in your washload are and the machine determines the best cycle for that job.

Samsung AddWash washing machine press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung AddWash washing machine – you can add that sock mid-cycle

Samsung had fielded a front-load washing machine that has a door which you can open during its cycle so you can add laundry that had missed the start of the cycle like a sock’s mate. Here, you can pause the cycle and this small door unlocks while the water stays in the machine when you add that item. It also is a connected appliance which supports smartphone notification.

Philips has introduced a range of devices that work with your smartphone and tablet for “cradle to grave” personal wellbeing. For example, they have an ultrasound scanner so you can scan yourself during pregnancy and see how the new baby comes up on your mobile device. They also have the uGrow in-ear thermometer to measure baby’s temperature and show it on your smartphone as well as a baby monitor. The SoniCare electric toothbrush uses your mobile device to show you how to best clean your teeth wile the Smart Shaver 7000 system becomes an electric shaver, skin buffer or beard trimmer. They even provide a location tracking device for seniors who have the wanders.

Other brands have come to the fore like Haier with a fridge that has a door that becomes a window to what’s in there and the Neato Botvac which is a robot vacuum cleaner that connects to your home Wi-Fi network and uses your smartphone or tablet as its control surface.

What is showing up here is that the Internet Of Things is being seen as an essential product differentiator for large and small appliances while some manufacturers are building out home-automation platforms to get us going in this field. These goals will be centered around smartphones and tablets being control surfaces. Who knows what next year will bring.

Part 1 – Personal Computing Trends

Part 2 – Wearables and the Home Network

Part 3 – Home Entertainment

Part 4 – Home Automation and the Internet Of Things

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015–Part 3–Home Entertainment

IFA LogoPreviously in my series on IFA 2015, I have covered the trends affecting personal and mobile computing like the arrival of the Intel Skylake silicon which raises the performance of portable computers along with trends affecting the home network such as 802.11ac Wave-2 Wi-Fi wireless. Now I am covering the technologies affecting home entertainment.

TV technology

There have been major strides forward with TV technology especially 4K ultra-high-definition TV.

Firstly, the cost of these sets is gradually reducing in such a way where they could start to appear in discount stores and supermarkets.

But another technology is appearing in the form of High Dynamic Range for video-content display. This is intended to create a more realistic image by preserving a high level of contrast between the brightest parts and the darkest parts. Here, the image would look like what you would see in real life like when you see the sun reflecting off the surface of the sea. Colour shades would be represented close to what they were to be, including the ability to handle bright exotic reds properly.

LG OLED TVs pres picture courtesy of LG

LG OLED TVs being launched at IFA 2015

LG have launched some flat OLED 4K TVs in the form of the EF9500 (65” and 55”) series and the EG9200 (55”) which are HDR-ready. With these sets, the flat-screen feature is underscored as being important for group viewing and whenever one is viewing on an angle which is something that curved screens cannot excel at. They also released a curved OLED 4K model in the form of the EG9100 series but this model omits the HDR feature. All these Smart TVs implement the WebOS 2.0 platform.

Samsung have covered all their bases when it comes to 4K TV technology by offering sets from 32” to 105”. They have announced that their UHDTV sets can be able to work with HDR material and these sets will benefit from this capability courtesy of a firmware update.

Panasonic have launched the CZ950 which is the first 4K OLED-based UHDTV to be launched by this brand. This 65” curved-screen set is tuned by Hollywood colourist Mike Sowia and is HDR ready.

Sony haven’t been quiet but launched their Bravia X91C series TV to Europe and Australia. This is while Philips launched their Ambilux TVs which use pico projectors to project images on to the surrounding wall to effectively enlarge the viewing area.

As for sources that supply video content in UHDTV, there has been some action lately on this front.

The 4K UHD Blu-Ray format has been launched as a way to cost-effectively deliver 4K material on Blu-Ray optical discs. It also has the ability to work with Dolby Atmos and other object-based sound-mix formats as well as supporting a digital media bridge function. Samsung has launched the first player capable of this format at IFA 2015.

As for broadcast content, Germany is moving towards DVB-T2 and implementing the HEVC codecs as part of this format which makes for traditional terrestrial broadcast TV being capable of being delivered in 4K UHDTV.

But there is more activity on the satellite-TV front with Eutelsat and SES Astra have been building out bouquets of 4K television content to be delivered this way. One example of this is the Fashion TV 4K channel that is being delivered by SES Astra satellites. CanalPlus is in on the 4K act as is Pearl TV, a German shopping channel. This is while Hessicher Rundfunk who is part of ARD is running demo transmissions via the Eutelsat Hotbird satellites. Sky Deutschland and a Scandinavian broadcaster have registered intent to establish 4K satellite content.

Audio Technology

When a consumer-electronics show has computing and TV as activities of focus, it is easy to forget about what is happening with audio technology. This is as the technology is being more focused around file-based audio and wireless multiroom audio setups of which there has been a lot of activity in this department.

LG Music Flow P5 speakers press picture courtesy of LG

LG Music Flow P5 speakers

LG has built out their MusicFlow Bluetooth audio platform with the MusicFlow P5 speaker that supports Automatic Music Play that starts playing your music when you come in range.This device can run on its own battery for 15 hours.  They also launched the SoundPop 360 which is a Bluetooth speaker that is the shape and size of a coffee cup and fires the music out around it. It has a playing time of 20 hours on its own battery.

LG SoundPop 360 Bluetooth speakers press picture courtesy of LG

LG SoundPop 360 Bluetooth speakers

These Bluetooth speakers support LG’s MusicPoint functionality which is effectively multipoint for Bluetooth speakers where you can connect two Bluetooth phones to the one speaker and play music through that speaker. There is also the DualPlay functionality where you can connect one phone to two LG Bluetooth speakers and set it up for improved stereo separation or many-speaker party-mode playback. The TV Sound Sync functionality allows you to link the Bluetooth speakers to a Bluetooth-capable TV and set up for better stereo or surround home-theatre separation or a private listening experience.

Samsung has answered LG on the Korean wireless-speaker front by offering 360-degree wireless speakers in the form of the R1, R3 and R5. These are cylindrically-shaped speakers rather than the previous egg shape and have a touch-based control surface so you can skip or recall tracks or “duck” the volume easily and they work with your Wi-Fi home network. Samsung’s Gear S and S2 smartwatches come with software to make them be remote controls for these speakers.

Philips have fronted up with the “Izzy” BMS range of Bluetooth speakers which can be synced to each other for a party-mode playback setup. These implement a pair of 2.5” full-range drivers in a bass-reflex enclosure.

Bang & Olufsen have fronted up at the IFA this year to show the BeoPlay A6 multiroom speaker which implements an unorthodox shape in order to fill a room with sound. The fact to remember about the way B&O speaker designs is that it isn’t just about their distinct looks but that these looks are to achieve improved sound dispersion across the frequency bands.This Danish-built speaker can work with B&O’s wireless iteration of the Beolink multiroom system or can cover all bases by working with Bluetooth or a Wi-FI home network supporting AirPlay or DLNA.

There is a desire by manufacturers and consumers to gang multiple wireless speakers together to play the same source. This is to permit improved stereo separation with that wider sound or to allow for “party mode” playback where all the speakers play the same music over a larger area. This extends to integrating subwoofers in to the equation to bring out that deeper bass, allowing the bass guitar or drum kit to come forward in popular music for example.

But there is a problem with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth setups where these networks are packet-based in the way they move data and there is a desire to keep the audio content in proper sync. This is limited due to chipset manufacturers and speaker / multiroom-system manufacturers designing their products so they can’t work with other products. There has been an effort in the right direction with Qualcomm’s AllPlay Wi-Fi-based system being implemented by different brands. Bluetooth could work harder on this goal for speakers that work in that domain while the Wi-Fi Alliance, IEEE Forum, the UPnP Forum and other alliances can work together to achieve this goal over IP-based local networks.

There is always a bit of action when it comes to new headphones and earphones to connect to your laptop, smartphone or tablet when on the train or plane. This is because most of us want to hear good sound from these devices to make our travel more easier and, in a lot of cases, these double as communications headsets for whenever we make and take phone calls on the go using the classic mobile or VoIP services.

Sony hear.on high-resolution stereo headphones press picture courtesy of Sony Europe

Sony hear.on high-resolution stereo headphones

Sony have released their h.ear series of “cans” which come in different colours and are optimised for high-resolution sound. The first of these is the h.ear on which is a pair of closed-back circum-aural headphones that have a 5Hz-60kHz frequency range and are efficient for battery-operated devices by having a low impedance and 103dB/mW sensitivity. There is also a pair of h.ear in noise-cancelling earbuds that are part of the range.

These are pitched to go with their NW-ZX100 noise-cancelling Walkman file-audio player and the NW-A25 and NW-A26HN Walkman file-audio players with this model having noise-cancelling headphones.

Onkyo has used IFA 2015 to advance a pair of wireless earbuds which look larger than your typical earphones. Personally I see these earbuds a bit like a stereo take of those mono Bluetooth headsets that you slip over your ear to take calls in a hands-free manner while on the go.

Bose have used the IFA 2015 to premiere their Soundlink AroundEar Wireless Headphones 2 which are a pair of Bluetooth circumaural headphones based on their QuietComfort range of active-noise-cancelling “cans”.

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server press image courtesy of Panasonic

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server

The traditional hi-fi hasn’t been forgotten about courtesy of Panasonic who are staging an aggressive comeback for the Technics hi-fi brand. For vinyl, they are revealing a prototype direct-drive turntable that is modelled on the classic SP-10 turntable and the SL-1200 “Wheels Of Steel” DJ turntable. This will come with an improved direct-drive motor. They have also fielded a pair of hi-fi headphones in the form of the EAH-T700 closed-back headphones which implement a two-way speaker design based around a 50mm main drive and a 14mm super-tweeter for each channel.

But they also have built out their stereo equipment range further with the Grand Class G30 hi-fi which is based around the SU-G30 network media player / integrated amplifier and the ST-G30 music server which rips CDs to solid-state disk in a bit-perfect manner, more the reason to buy your music on CDs. This device serves the music out to your home network using DLNA technology and uses FLAC or WAV files to store the music. They have also fielded a single-piece hi-fi system with integrated CD player which can also draw in music from your home network in the form of the Ottava Premium Class C500 system. As well, they showed the C700 speakers to go with that above system.

Next in this series, I will be covering the Internet Of Things which will encompass home automation and home appliances. Stay tuned!

Part 1 – Personal Computing Trends

Part 2 – Wearables and the Home Network

Part 3 – Home Entertainment

Part 4 – Home Automation and the Internet Of Things

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015–Part 2–Wearables and the Home Network

IFA LogoPreviously, in Part 1 of my series about the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015 in Berlin, I had covered the trends affecting regular computers, tablets and smartphones especially with Intel just releasing the Skylake processor silicon which yields better performance for the same amount of power used. This has caused manufacturers to effectively refresh their desktop and portable computer lineups. As well, nearly every computer manufacturer is offering a lineup of desktop or portable computers that shine on gaming-grade performance to appeal to the core gamer and e-sports communities.

Wearables

ASUS ZenWatch 2 press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS ZenWatch 2

The smartwatch scene is slowly maturing with manufacturers offering more of these watches in their product lineups. The key trends here are about smartwatches that are designed to “look right” for the user and occasion. Here, we are seeing premium smartwatches that would look the part if you are to “dress to impress” on that date or in the corporate boardroom, but there are a few sports smartwatches with the rugged look along with a few “ladies’ watches” that look the part on her wrist.

Samsung had just launched the latest Tizen-based Gear S2 which has a traditional-looking round face and they have co-opted Alessandro Mendini, a well known Italian designer, to design accessory bands and watch faces for this watch.

ASUS has come along with the Zenwatch 2 Android Wear which uses an OLED display and Gorilla Glass protection and comes in 2 different sizes. It even has an add-on battery pack for if you want to get that more runtime out of the watch. Fossil has come up with another Android Wear watch as part of their range.

 

Moto 360 ladies smartwatches press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Motorola 360 smartwatches for her

Motorola have built out their Moto 360 range of Android Wear smartwatches with the Moto 360 Sport which is their smartwatch equivalent of the sports watch along with a slender “ladies’ watch” variant that will look good on her wrist. There are different finishes available such as a rose-gold look, a gold look, a silver look and a black-metal look with these watches up for preorder. This is also accompanied with a 1” TV commercial which they used to promote this watch.

LG Watch Urbane Luxe press picture courtesy of LG

LG Watch Urbane Luxe – fit for the boardroom

LG have also brought out the LG Watch Urbane Luxe which is a more premium variant of the LG Watch Urbane. This comes with an OLEP flexible display that works like the OLED displays and has a 24-carat gold finish. Huawei’s Android Wear watch can be had gold plated for US$800, gold with a leather band for US$649, black metal for US$449 and a stainless steel look for US$349.

The home network

The main trend affecting the home network is the availability of 802.11ac Wave 2 wireless-network technology which implements the MU-MIMO multi-path technology. This has led to some very powerful routers hitting the European market lately which have four MIMO streams and support the “multi-user” feature that effectively creates a Wi-Fi “switch” out of the access point.

ASUS RT-AC5300 router press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS RT-AC5300 router

ASUS has launched the RT-AC5300  which is considered the world’s fastest Wi-Fi router. This router, which uses spike-shaped antennas can run 1Gbps over the 2.4GHz band and 2.167Gbps over the 5GHz bands.

NETGEAR also fielded the 7800 Nighthawk X4S which is the first modem router to offer this kind of performance. This modem router has a DSL modem on the WAN (Internet) side that can work with ADSL2 or VDSL2 (fibre-copper) networks alongside a Gigabit Ethernet connection for fibre-to-the-premises, fibre-coaxial or Ethernet-based fibre-copper networks; and has on the LAN side, Wi-Fi capable to AC2600 4×4 MU-MIMO dual-band standards along with 4 Gigabit Ethernet connections. It is available in Europe and Australia for a recommended price of AUD$529, EUR€299 or GBP£269. The American press were moaning that they didn’t get this modem router first but they work on a service provisioning method very different to Europe and Australasia where self-install or BYO-modem provisioning of DSL based services is the norm.

D-Link have fielded some home-network hardware in the form of the DIR-885L router which supports 4×4 MU-MIMO AC3150 for its Wi-Fi functionality. They even fielded a USB Wi-Fi network adaptor which can allow any computer to work with an 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless network. This device’s best-case abilities is to work with Wi-Fi network segments up to 3×3 MIMO AC1900 standards.

AVM Fritz!Box 6820 LTE "Mi-Fi" press picture courtesy of AVM

AVM Fritz!Box 6820 LTE “Mi-Fi”

AVM has been very productive with its home-network hardware although this has been very much “in the comfort zone” with existing technology. They have launched the Fritz!Box 4020 which is a small Internet gateway with an N300 dual-stream single-band Wi-Fi access point along with the Fritz!Box 7430 VDSL Internet gateway that has an N450 three-stream single-band Wi-Fi access point. They also launched the Fritz!Box 6820 which is a “Mi-Fi” that can work with LTE mobile-broadband services and implements 802.11n Wi-Fi and a Gigabit Ethernet connection on the LAN side.

AVM Fritz!Powerline 1220 HomePlug AV2 adaptor press photo courtesy of AVM

AVM Fritz!Powerline 1220 – AVM enters the HomePlug AV2 fray

They have bought in to the HomePlug AV2 MIMO arena by offering the Fritz!Powerline 1240E HomePlug wireless access point along with the Fritz!Powerline 1220E HomePlug adaptor with pass-through AC outlet. This is in conjunction with the Fritz!WLANRepeater 1160 which is a dual-band Wi-Fi repeater.

Devolo haven’t been quiet lately. Here, they are pitching custoem HomePlug-based powerline solutions including HomePlug access points to ISPs and telcos so they can provision these devices to customers for optimum Wi-Fi coverage. They intend to sell these solutions more likely on an OEM basis. As well, they have launched the dLAN 550 WiFi which is a HomePlug AV500 wireless access point that can establish a single-band N300 Wi-Fi segment. They also used this show to exhibit their existing dLAN 1200 HomePlug AV2 hardware including the dLAN 1200+ WiFi AC which is a wireless access point that answers to the HomePlug AV2 MIMO and 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi.

Next I will be talking about the home-entertainment trends that are expected to cover Europe and Australasia such as the ultra-high-resolution TV and networked audio. Stay tuned!

Part 1 – Personal Computing Trends

Part 2 – Wearables and the Home Network

Part 3 – Home Entertainment

Part 4 – Home Automation and the Internet Of Things

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015–Part 1–Personal Computing Trends

IFA LogoI am reporting on the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015 in Berlin which effectively is the show that determines the consumer electronics, personal IT and appliance technology trends that will affect Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia. It is also the time to publicly launch technologies that have been ready for prime time by the middle of the year.

Personal Computing

This year has become a year where smartphones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers are seen as one force where hardware and software vendors are working across these devices as of they are simply personal-computing devices.These are primarily based around operating systems which allow people and companies to develop the software that suits different users’ needs.

Desktop, Laptops and Tablets

Intel, Microsoft and others have caused a huge refresh to this class of device thanks to new hardware, software and standards.

Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10

Microsoft had just launched Windows 10 while Intel replaced their existing processor silicon with the new Skylake range. These new chipsets are focused on increased performance for the same amount of energy used. This allows for manufacturers to create a granular lineup of products that suit different needs and budgets while assuring “best bang for the buck” in this context. As for peripheral connectivity, the USB 3.1 and Type-C standards along with the Intel Thunderbolt 3 standard had been made firm and more systems honouring these standards were being launched. Acer stands behind the Thunderbolt 3 standard with USB Type-C connectivity because they want to allow users to enhance graphics performance on their computers using an outboard graphics expansion dock of the Alienware Graphics Amplifier or Sony VAIO Z Series Blu-Ray expansion module ilk..

USB Type C plug press image courtesy of USB Implementers Forum

USB Type-C plug – the way to go this year for multipurpose connectivity

Nearly every computer name has catered to the hardcore gamer market by offering high-performance  computers that are tuned to this class of user. Increasingly everyone is offering this kind of performance not just as a desktop or tower form-factor but as a laptop or notebook and some of these manufacturers are offering these products under a “performance” sub-brand like Acer Predator. Acer has even worked on the first Android-driven gaming-grade tablet and smartphone to cater for the mobile gaming community.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Y900 gaming tower PC - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo IdeaCentre Y-Series gaming tower PC – the first product Lenovo offers for core gamers

In some ways, this is the late 1960s and early 1970s where GM, Ford and Chrysler fielded to the American and Australian markets a lineup of highly-powerful aggressively-styled “muscle cars” targeted at younger buyers. Examples of these include the Dodge Challenger and  the Chevy Camaro released in the US and the Ford Falcon GT, the Holden Monaro and Valiant Charger released in Australia

It is part of a strategy common amongst this year’s exhibitors where they are offering different ranges of computer products to suit the different user groups in a similar way to how the common vehicle builders like Ford. GM and Toyota pitch vehicle ranges to different kinds of drivers. This factor has been more demonstrated by ASUS, Acer and Lenovo who are effectively “pure-play” personal-IT companies.

ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock - press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock

ASUS have built out their Zen Republic of Gamers sub-brand. One key example that ASUS had offered is the GX700 gaming laptop which is liquid-cooled when connected to a special dock that has an integrated radiator but is able to perform with less power when independent of this dock. As well, ASUS have fronted up with the Zenpad S 8” tablet which has a USB Type-C connector for power and data.

ASUS Zen AIO S Series all-in-one desktop computers press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS Zen AIO S Series all-in-one desktop computers

They also released the Zen AIO S Series of all-in-one desktop computers which are driven by Intel Skylake processors such as the i7-6100T, a 23” 4K screen or a 21” Full HD screen with both having touch as an option, NVIDIA discrete graphics, up to 32Gb RAM and 2Tb hard disk capacity and optional 128Gb SSD. These are endowed with connectivity in the form of 2×2 MIMO 802.11a/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet for your home network along with Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready wireless and USB connectivity in the form of 1 x USB 3.1 Type C, USB 3.0 x 4 and USB 2.0 x 1. These shows up a reality that the all-in-one can have the same kind of specification as a regular desktop computer.

They also fielded their VivoStick which is a direct competitor to Intel’s “Compute Stick” when it comes to a “PC-on-a-stick” that plugs in to a TV’s HDMI port. Here, the VIvoStick has two USB ports so you can use a keyboard and mouse without the need for a USB hub. They are still at the “toy” stage by using Intel Atom horsepower, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage.

Acer is building out their Predator gaming lineup of performance computing equipment. Here, they had pitched the first performance-grade Android gaming tablet known as the Predator 8 Tablet. This runs on an Intel Atom x7 processor and Intel Generation 8 graphics serving an 8” Full HD screen. It will have 2Gb RAM and 32Gb or 64Gb storage and a microSD expansion slot. It has 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi, tactile feedback, an aluminium housing and four front-facing speakers. This is estimated to arrive in North America on November 6 for US$299 and will arrive earlier in the rest of the world in October for EUR€349.

They also are running the Aspire V Nitro Series range of laptops as performance laptops without the aggressive “muscle-car” looks associated with gaming computers. These 15” and 17” laptops, along with the Aspire V 13 ultraportable are driven with the latest technology – Intel Skylake processors under the hood, USB Type-C connectivity, 802.11ac 2×2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi with the Black Edition variants offering Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type C.

Acer also fielded the first Chromebook R11 which is the first Chromebook to come in a 2-in-1 form factor rather than the cheaper “clamshell” style. This is also accompanied by another Yoga-style 360-degree convertible in the form of the 14” Aspire R14. They also demonstrated the Revo Build which is a modular personal computer where functionality is added on simply by one plugging extra modules on to the computer.

This year, Lenovo stepped into the gaming fray by offering the Y series of performance-grade computing equipment. They fielded the IdeaCentre Y900 and Y700 gaming towers which are based on the traditional ATX form factor. This allows for core gamers to improve these systems with the hardware that suits their performance curve, much like the way the “petrolheads” liked to “hot up” the Ford  and GM cars to turn them in to “street machines”. These use quad-core i7 horsepower and discrete graphics under the hood with the Y900 being able to work with 2 display cards. The IdeaPad Y700 range of gaming laptops can be based on Intel or AMD processors  but implements discrete graphics, a 10-point multitouch screen and a RealSense 3D camera. This is augmented with a surround-sound headset, precision mouse, mouse mat, laptop-optimised backpack, mousemat and a mechanical keyboard which is a brush with their former self due to the original IBM PC keyboards.

Lenovo MIIX 700 detachable tablet press pictue courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo MIIX 700 detachable tablet – to snap at the Surface Pro

Lenovo is snapping at Microsoft’s heels by offering the Miix 700 12” detachable tablet which is a spitting image of the Surface Pro lineup. It comes with the keyboard folio and has a 12” touchscreen with 2160×1440 resolution and runs Windows 10 Home.  Lenovo also entered in to the Chromebook game with the 100S Chromebook and fielded the IdeaCentre AIO 700 which is a range of all-in-one desktops that have a 24” or 27” screen with resolution up to 4K and upgradeable discrete graphics. These can come with Intel or AMD processors and a RealSense camera.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 3 press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 3 – the latest incarnation of the Yoga Tab lineup

The Yoga Tab series has been refreshed with these Android tablets fitted with features like rotating cameras along with new horsepower. The Yoga Tab 3 Pro still has the projector so you can throw a picture on the wall as big as one of today’s flat-screen TVs. These are being pitched more as entertainment devices rather than as general-purpose iPad-style tablets.

But they have come strong with more additions to the laptop range. Lenovo had shown 2 Xeon-driven mobile workstations along with their latest ThinkPad Yoga 2-in-1 laptops both driven by Skylake processors and having a silver finish. The ThinkPad Yoga 260 has a 12” Full HD screen, 16Gb RAM and 512Gb solid-state storage while the ThinkPad Yoga 460 comes with a 14” 2560×1440 screen, 8Gb RAM and either a 256Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk along with discrete graphics.

LG have launched the G Pad II which is a 10.1” Android 5.1 tablet that uses a Full HD screen. This has 2Gb RAM, 16Gb storage, microSD expansion and connects to your home network via 802.11a/g/n/ac Wi-Fi. It is also available with an LTE wireless-broadband modem as an option and comes with that brilliant bronze look.

Toshiba has been big on the 2-in-1 computers this year. They launched the Satellite Radius 12 which is the first 360-degree “Yoga-style” convertible notebook with a 4K screen. This convertible ticks the boxes when it comes to up-to-date requirements like having a USB 3.1 Type-C socket and a capable Intel i7-6500U Skylake processor, 8Gb RAM and 512Gb SSD storage. Some press reports called the 4K resolution a bit of overkill for a portable computer of that 12”-13” “portable-typewriter” form factor especially because of Windows not handling display scaling properly and these machines typically earn their keep as being the smallest size to comfortably type on.

There is the Satellite Radius 14 which is a 14” “Yoga-style” convertible with Full HD resolution and available with either Intel or AMD processors. Toshiba also offers the Satellite Click 10 detachable which is based around an Intel Atom CPU from the Skylake family, 4Gb RAM and 64Gb SSD storage. These 2-in-1 computers exploit Windows 10 to the fullest by working hand in glove with Continuum display switchover, a dedicated button to access Cortana and dual-array microphones to improve speech recognition.

Samsung and Apple have pushed the barriers for mobile-platform tablets with the former offering an 18.4”  Android tablet and the latter heating the rumour furnace with the intent of the 13” iPad Pro family of iOS tablets. Do I see these tablets as something that competes with the 13” 2-in-1 laptops that run Windows 10 as a mobile computing device for group browsing or composing new material?

The tablet you get to do mobile computing activities on doesn’t have to be an iPad anymore.

Handheld devices (smartphones and phablets)

There is a main trend affecting the European smartphone market where more Android devices are appearing from brands other than the usual smartphone market leaders. It is more so with devices that are pitched to the mid-range sector. This is because it is harder to cut in to the high-end sector because Apple and Samsung have cornered the market with the iPhone and Galaxy S / Note phones respectively.

One main trend affecting smartphones this year is the fact that Android 5.1 offers native support for dual-SIM operation and this function is becoming more mainstream in this year’s smartphones. The feature may have relevance for a person who roams between different countries and wants better call value or local mobile-number presence in both these countries or a person who has a “work” or “business” SIM card and a “private” SIM card in the same device. This is typically offered by having two card slots with one that takes the main SIM card and another that can take either a microSD card or a secondary SIM card.

There is also the fact that Microsoft is intending to launch the Windows 10 Mobile operating system very shortly and it is bringing forth an improved third contender for handheld operating systems.

Lenovo Phab Plus phablet press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo’s answer to the Samsung Galaxy Note products in the form of the Phab Plus

Lenovo is pushing in to the European market with its Vibe and Phab phones which are all Android based. An example of this is the Vibe P1 mid-tier phone with a 1.5GHz processor, 5.5” Full HD screen, 5000mAh battery and 16Gb storage. There is also the Phab range which is meant to join the phablet market  One of these is the Phab Plus which is a dual SIM / microSD phone having a 6.8” Full HD screen, Snapdragon 615 chipset. 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage.

Acer even has pitched an Android gaming-grade smartphone which is the first for a handheld device. This Android smartphone will use a deca-core MediaTek ARM system-on-chip with 4Gb RAM and a 6” Full-HD display.Some questions may be raised about how long it would last on its own battery especially if you play games on this phone or whether it even scales back on performance when you aren’t gaming.

They also fielded the Liquid Z630 mid-tier Android smartphone which also has MediaTek system-on-chip horsepower, 2Gb RAM, 16Gb storage, 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi and 8 megapixel cameras on the front and back. It also has a 4000mAh battery and runs for EUR€199.

They also are fielding entry-level smartphones that can be packaged with Windows 10 Mobile or Android Lollipop like the LIquid Z330 Series. There is also the Jade Primo Windows smartphone which has a USB Type-C connector and is made to take advantage of Windows Continuum display-mode switching courtesy of an accessory dock, keyboard and mouse. This is a 5.5” screen with Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

Archos is another company who are offering smartphones that can be specified with Windows 10 Mobile or Android. These dual-SIM phones will have the usual lineup of features like LTE, Wi-FI and Bluetooth Smart connectivity, microSD card slot. But they have 1Gb RAM and 8Gb storage which can be limiting.

Gigaset has risen to the European market with the ME series of smartphones. The ME phone is powerful but doesn’t go too far. having a 5” Full HD screen, USB Type-C connection, Snapdragon 810 processor and Adreno 430 graphics, 32Gb storage, microSD slot and 3000mAh battery. The ME Pure phone is considered a “foot in the door” phone having 16Gb storage and a Snapdragon 615 processor while the ME Pro has the larger 5.5” screen.

Marshall, known for their guitar amps used by many of the famous rock stars, have pitched a music-focused smartphone in the form of the London. This has a similar styling to their amps in that some of the controls have brass accents and the phone has a rubberised housing which has the same texture as these amps. The London 4.7” HD smartphone is one of a few smartphones that implements a discrete sound subsystem and the only app that Marshall furnishes with this phone is a DJ app. It will be sold in the Boxpark retail area in Shoreditch, London for GBP£375 and I would describe this as being a high-quality MP3 player with smartphone functionality attached to it.

The premium end of the market still hasn’t lost its ground despite the imminent arrival of Apple’s iPhone 6S and 6S plus phones. They also offered a clip-on keyboard for these phones as an optional accessory. Before the IFA 2015, Samsung had released the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ phones which are pitched on thinness. As well, Sony launched their XPeria Z5 family comprising of the XPeria Z5, Xperia Z5 Compact which is the smaller of the bunch and the Z5 Premium which has a 4K ultra-high-definition screen. They also offered the XPeria G8 which has the same camera abilities as Sony’s standalone digital cameras courtesy of improved focus abilities.

The next article in this series will cover the trends affecting wearable devices, display technology and the home network with subsequent articles covering home entertainment and appliances.

Part 1 – Personal Computing Trends

Part 2 – Wearables and the Home Network

Part 3 – Home Entertainment

Part 4 – Home Automation and the Internet Of Things

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Consumer Electronics Show 2015 – Part 4 – The Home Network

Over the past three days, I have covered some very interesting trends that were exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 in Las Vegas. Part 1 covered the changes concerning personal computing including smartphones and tablets whereas Part 2 covered the increasingly-connected lifestyle which is brought on by the Internet Of Things. Part 3 has covered home entertainment especially as 4K UHDTV, wireless multroom audio and high-resolution file-based audio via the home network approach points of market maturity.

Now I am covering computer peripherals including USB 3.1 with the Type C either-way connection along with the “glue that holds it all together” – the home network. This is brought on with the arrival of Wave 2 802.11ac (AC2600 and AC3200) wireless networks and the highly-resilient HomePlug AV2 MIMO powerline network technology.

Computer Peripherals

A major innovation that is taking place with computer peripherals and accessories is the implementation of USB 3.1 with Type C connectors, something I have covered regularly on this site. Here, it is living up to the promise of high throughput with setups clocking a real-world throughput of 800Mbps on a demonstrator. Nokia’s N1 tablet is the first tablet device to be marketed with USB 3.1 technology and Type C connectivity. MSI are pitching the G772 gaming notebook and X998 Gaming 9 ACK motherboard with the USB 3.1 and Type C connectivity along with regular USB connectivity and they are intended to be available in March. Creative Technologies have not taken computer audio lying down. Rather they fielded a USB digital amplifier in the form of the X7 which you can connect to some decent speakers. It uses Sound Blaster chipsets for the computer interface and has enough connectivity to amplify line-level or digital sound sources or provide the Sound Blaster goodness to other amplifiers, digital recorders or digital-analogue converters. It also has on-board Dolby Digital decoding along with enhanced sound processing to get the best out of anything from compressed MP3s to high-grade FLAC files.

As for displays, most of the monitor manufacturers are running at least a few 4K ultra-high-resolution models. HP are running an new monitor lineup including some 4K models and even a 5K model. Two of these monitors have curved displays like the TVs shown at this show while there is a “virtual-reality”display that works with 3D glasses. Samsung joined the party by premiering 34” curved monitor with 21:9 aspect ratio and WQHD+ (3440×1440) resolution – their TV-display knowledge fits in here on the desktop.

There is a huge run of Bluetooth-capable audio devices at this show. Braven have premiered the Braven Bridge portable conference-call device. This uses a microphone array and noise-cancelling technology for clearer and understandable voices and can even come clear in loud environments. It has that deluxe leather look that appeals to travelling executives and can serve as a powerful Bluetooth speaker and mobile charge bank.

They also fielded a series of deluxe-look Bluetooth speakers with TruWireless stereo pairing. These are known as the 2200b and the 2300b with the latter having improved sound output. Braven also pitched a wireless audio mixer that mixes the sound from two Bluetooth A2DP sources and distributes it to two Bluetooth speakers.

Samsung cracked the storage capacity ceiling for solid-state storage by offering a 1 Tb external solid-state storage device that connects to the host via USB 3.0. Ultra fast, Ultra large! SanDisk had come to the party by offering a “memory-key-type” external storage device that connects to “open-frame” smartphones via their microSD card slots or a regular computer (or other device) via its USB 3.0 socket. These are available at capacities up to 64Gb.

The very fast no-new-wires home network

D-Link DIR-895L AC5300 6 stream wireless router press picture courtesy of D-Link America

D-Link DIR-895L AC5300 6 stream wireless router – an example of what Wave 2 802.11ac is all about

One major technology that is being premiered at CES 2015 is the 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless segment, especially the faster variants that implement at least three input and output streams and use MU-MIMO technology. This has a theoretical media-level throughput of 2.6 Gbps or 3.2 Gbps. This technology has been “cemented” courtesy of IEEE releasing the Wave 2 set of specifications for the 802.11ac wireless network along with Qualcomm, Quantenna and Broadcomm releasing the chipsets for this specification.

MU-MIMO is a high-throughput variant of MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) wireless technology that can allow an access point to concurrently serve data to multiple client devices with best-case performance and reduced network congestion. The benefits that this provides also extend to non-MU-MIMO client devices because the higher-throughput devices aren’t taking up the lion’s share of the traffic.

It was also run alongside the Wi-Fi Aware proximity-based service discovery mechanism for the Wi-FI wireless network standard which is to come later this year. Working in the background, this setup allows a device to discover other Wi-Fi devices and what they offer before actually connecting to them. It is being pitched to be like what Bluetooth was known for where you could spontaneously discover a person to share a namecard or picture with in the same room or set up a multi-machine multi-player game with friends on the couch. It also would serve a similar function to the Bluetooth Beacons and orthodox Bluetooth “push” advertising as a way to reach mobile users..

All of the major home-network hardware vendors are releasing at least one premium-level router with this technology. This has also pushed down the availability of AC1750 and lower-spec 802.11ac routers to prices that most of us can afford and allow carriers to supply such gear to their customers.

D-Link DHP701AV HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor press picture courtesy of D-Link America

D-Link DHP701AV HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor

As for HomePlug AV2 powerline networking, each of the major home-network companies is releasing a HomePlug AV2 MIMO-capable adaptor package that allows you to start setting up a robust powerline network segment with a theoretical throughput of around 1.5 Gigabits per second. It gives legs to this “wired now-new-wires” technology when being used in commercial premises or multi-building home networks.

Amped Wireless have released their 802.11ac range with AC750-compliant routers and range extenders that use touch-screens as their control surfaces. Sadly, these are their low-tier models for this specification. They are also running more 802.11ac range extenders with two desktop models having a Gigabit Ethernet switch to make them work as wireless client bridges for many devices along with two wall-plugged models that have a Gigabit Ethernet port for wireless-client-bridge functionality. In each form-factor, there is a two-stream variant along with a three-stream variant.

Linksys launched their fastest 802.11ac home-network router which uses four streams with MU-MIMO(AC2600) and has Snapdragon horsepower, a four-port Gigabit Ethernet switch and USB and eSATA sockets to allow it to serve as a NAS. They also released the “AC1200” variant of their WRT1900AC “son of WRT54G” router along with the styled-alike WRT Network Storage Bay which is a dual-bay NAS enclosure with eSATA and USB external-disk connectivity. Oh year, it has DLNA network media server functionality.

D-Link have shown off their out-of-this-world 8-antenna MU-MIMO AC2600 router and also launched the AC1900 USB wireless network adaptor. This is so you can gain the benefits of a Wi-Fi wireless segment running to the latest 802.11ac wireless specification with your existing laptops or desktop computers. They have launched their HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (DHP701AV) and HomePlug AV2 SISO adaptor (DHP601AV), both having Gigabit Ethernet connections.

TRENDNet TPL-421E2K HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (US variant) with AC socket plugged in to typical US AC outlet - press picture courtesy of TRENDNet USA

TRENDNet TPL-421E2K HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (US variant) with AC socket

TRENDNet are also running one of the first “travel routers” to have 802.11ac technology. This unit implements AC750 single-stream technology along with the ability to be a USB file server as well as having Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. They also launched an AC3200 “tri-band” (all 5GHz band and 2.4GHz band) six-stream router with six antennas along with their AC2600 four-stream router, both having Gigabit Ethernet for WAN and LAN, USB file serving and IPv6.They haven’t forgotten about the HomePlug AV2 MIMO powerline network and are re-exhibiting their HomePlug AV2 adaptors and exhibiting a variant with an integrated power outlet.

TP-Link launched their Archer 2600 router with 4 x 4 AC Qualcomm Wi-Fi and Archer C3200 with 2 3-stream 5GHz front-ends and 1 3-stream 2.4GHz front-end and Broadcomm chipset. They also have launched a 3-stream AC1750 range extender and an AC750 range extender. As well they have contributed HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor which is the first of this product class to have a 3-port Gigabit Ethernet switch

Netgear have launched a lineup of range extenders including an AC1900 model, AC1200 model, AC750 model. These devices can use one band for their wireless backhaul while the other serves the downstream devices and can be set up to be access points with Ethernet (or HomePlug AV2 MIMO) wired backbones. They are the  EX7000 which is the AC1900 3 stream variant with a 5 port Gigabit Ethernet switch and a USB 3.0 file server, along with the EX6150 which is a 2-stream AC1200 wall plug that has a Gigabit Ethernet connection, and the EX3700 Essentials Edition which is a 1-stream AC750 wall plug.

NetGear GS108E 8-port Gigabit Ethernet "Click" swithch with power supply bracket press picture courtesy of NETGEAR America

NetGear GS108E 8-port Gigabit Ethernet “Click” swithch with power supply bracket

They also launched their PL1200 HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptors – the PL1200 and the PLP1200 which has an integrated AC outlet. Let’s not forget their value-priced unmanaged desktop Ethernet switches which Netgear have been well known for and is something I would specify, and they have shown up with a new device in this class. Here, they have launched a pair of these Gigabit switches which dock in to a power-supply bracket thus eliminating the need to use a wall-wart that falls out too easily. They have a 16-port variant along with an 8-port variant which comes with two USB gadget-charging ports.

NETGEAR ReadyNAS RN1040 NAS press picture courtesy of NETGEAR America

Latest generation of the Netgear ReadyNAS family

Netgear also launched the latest iteration of their ReadyNAS multi-function NAS units as the 100 and 200 Series ReadyNAS series. The 2-bay and 4-bay NAS units have improved processors for quicker throughput along with using ReadyNAS OS 8.2 as their operating system.

Around Town launched a 4G LTE 802.11g/n Mi-Fi router with a “boosting cradle”. This is a charging dock that has an Ethernet LAN socket, and 2 better MIMO antennas for 4G. This reminds me of some consumer-electronics devices released through the early 1980s like a portable VHS video cassette recorder setup that Hitachi implemented where the video recorder docked in to a large L-shaped tuner-timer base which had a full-function infra-red remote control, or some “ghetto-blaster” setups that had a tape unit that could be removed to become a Walkman.

The NAS is being seen by some vendors as being a “personal cloud”. But some of these vendors are taking an integrated approach with interlinking with existing online storage services like Dropbox along with acceptiance of the new BitTorrent Sync technology. This is being pushed more so by Seagate with their home NAS units.

QNAP had launched some AMD Steppe Eagle x86 powered NAS units which came in 4 bay, 6 bay and 8 bay variants. They had 4 gigabit Ethernet connections for throughput-bonding or serving multiple networks, a 10 Gigablt Ethernet upgrade option for small businesses and ran QTS 4.2 OS. This operating system provided various “connected-home” functions along with various business-focused snapshot backup options.

Conclusion

What I have seen of the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 is that certain technologies like 4K UHDTV, HomePlug AV2 MIMO, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and lightweight highly-capable personal computing have hit points of maturity in the marketplace or are close to achieving that goal.

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