Category: Consumer Electronics Show (January – Las Vegas USA)

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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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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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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Consumer Electronics Show 2015–Part 3–Home Entertainment

In Part One of this series about the Consumer Electronics Show 2015, I covered the trends associated with personal computing while I covered the “Internet Of Everything” and connected living in Part 2. This part now touches on home audio and video entertainment technology which is being more about 4K ultra-high-definition video and high-resolution file-based audio.

TVs and Home Video

Sony slim 4K UHDTV press image courtesy of Sony America

One of Sony’s ultra-slim 4K UHDTVs being shown in Vegas

The 4K ultra-high-definition TV technology is starting to mature with more manufacturers running even 10 models with this resolution. But they are improving on this with cost-effective high-quality display technology with LG using Quantum Dot technology and Samsung using SUHDTV nanocrystal technology. As well, a lot of manufacturers are running with more of the curved or bendable 21:9 TVs in their lineup.

Sony have premiered their XBR900C series 4K UHDTVs available in 55” 65” and 75”, and being 4.9mm thick. They also are implementing the X1 processor for optimumly real colours across all their current 4K TV range. They also launched an ultra-short-throw 4K UHDTV projector at US$10000 which is bringing 4K closer to the bar.

Samsung is supplying a range of flat and curved 4K TVs with screen sizes ranging from 48” to 88”. These will appear across three model lines – the JS9500, the JS9000, and the JS8500 and is in addition to a curved 105” set which has the new nanocrystal display technology.

LG's 4K OLED curved TV press picture courtesy of LG America

LG’s 4K OLED curved TV

LG are running with 8 different 4K model lineups that are targeted at every price and room Sharp are implementing the Quattron yellow-dot technology in their 4K sets while TCL are putting their foot in the door for 4K UHDTV technology.

Another important trend is the control software for the smart TVs. Sony, along with Sharp and TPV Philips are intending to implement the new Android 5.0 operating system while Samsung is intending to run with Tizen and LG to implement a newer iteration of the WebOS operating system. Razer is even working on a games console that runs the Android 5.0 operating system. Panasonic are implementing the Life+ Screen smart-TV platform which is based on the Firefox OS operating system. In each effort, the companies are using established open-source operating-system code as part of their smart-TV platforms.

Dish Joey 4K set-top box press picture courtesy of Dish Networks America

Dish Joey set-top box – the first set-top box to support 4K UHDTV

Let’s not forget what will appear on these sets Dish Network are ready for 4K content with the first 4K-capable set-top device in the form of the Joey set-top box. These can connect to 4K UHDTV sets with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 . As well, they are offering a Sling IPTV service along with music-focused upgrades to their service delivery.

This is also being brought on by the UHD Alliance which is a group of big-name TV manufacturers and Hollywood content providers who are working together to provide high-quality 4K UHD video content. They have goals not just for high resolution but high dynamic range, a wider colour gamut and immersive sound as part of the content from creation to viewing on the customer’s TV set.

It has been augmented by the Blu-Ray Disc Association announcing that they were to start work on the Ultra HD Blu-Ray Disc specification. Panasonic have put a fair bit of input in to it and have even shown a prototype Blu-Ray player that plays 4K UHDTV content. As well, the Secure Content Storage Association have defined a secure-content-storage specification for consumers to store premium content on a hard disk or NAS and have established a “best-case” principle for selling 4K video content. This is where a customer buys a 4K-grade copy of content and they can have the best resolution that the playback equipment they are viewing it on can offer.

Cognitive Technology is working on a “Smart TV” content recommendation engine and wanting to partner with TV manufacturers and content studios to improve the concept of machine-assisted content recommendation.

As for the PlayStation Experience, Sony is providing the PlayStation Now streaming game service for the Smart TVs and their PlayStation consoles and offering at least 100 PS3 games to this service. This is in answer to them selling 10.5 million PS4s since model introduction and 4.1 million of them being sold through the past Christmas shopping season.

The doyen of streaming movies, Netflix, is working on a “Netflix Recommended” scheme for TV sets. The goal is to have certified TVs to switch to Netflix as quickly and as easily as changing TV channels. Here, the TV would have to have a dedicated Netflix button on its remote control, a suspend/resume function and to have Lilyhammer showing on Netflix within 2-3 seconds. This effort is being focused on the US market but will be rolled out around the world.

DirecTV are heading towards toe “over-the-top” path with the Yaveo Hispanic IPTV service. This will feature programming that has Latin-American Spanish dialogue and concepts focused at the Latin-American community.

Imaging

Sony FRD-AX33 4K HandyCam camcorder press picture courtesy of Sony America

Sony FDR-AX33 4K HandyCam camcorder

This year, there has been an increase in the number of consumer-grade video-cameras that can natively film in 4K UHDTV. Sony have put up a 4K lightweight handheld Wi-Fi-enabled Handycam along with a GoPro-style “action cam” that surprisingly works in this format. These implement various “steady-shot” so you can take better footage with the camera hand-held. The action cam can shoot 4K footage at 30 frames per second and also implements an ultra-wide-angle lens.

Panasonic has used this show to get their fingers wet with 4K UHDTV imaging and launched their first 4K camcorder which can also do high-dynamic-range filming. They also released the Lumix CM1 Android-powered digital camera which has a 1” sensor.

Kodak is now on to lens-style cameras that attach to smartphones like what Sony initially offered. But these are more lightweight than the Sony models so you can stuff them in your coat pocket without them being too bulky and use a Wi-Fi link to the host device and implement NFC-based setup for Android phones.

Networked Audio technology

LG Music Flow Wi-Fi multiroom speakers press picture courtesy of LG America

LG Music Flow Wi-Fi multiroom speakers

There is still a lot of interest in the networked audio technology whether in the form of music and home-theatre systems or in single-piece wireless-speaker setups.

LG are advancing a range of new Wi-Fi speakers that are directly targeted to answer Sonos’s market dominance. This include a battery-powered portable model along with their speaker range based around the Music Flow concept. It uses a mix of technologies that are similar to Sonos, Spotify Connect and Google Cast. It also implements Bluetooth NFC-based “touch-to-play” experience and allows you to create room zones with stereo/surround speaker clusters and a party-mode with music around the house. They come in the form of the H3. H4 Portable and H5 which are similar to the Sonos Play:1 and Sonos Play:3 but can run at a louder volume without distorting and clipping. The H6 Soundbar negates the need for a hub device and has its own bass abilities without the need of a subwoofer. LG is to field a variant of this soundbar to snap at the heels of the Sonos Playbar.

Technics R1 Reference hi-fi system press picture courtesy of Panasonic

Technics R1 hi-fi system symbolising the return of the hi-fi brand

Panasonic is using the CES 2015 to exhibit its line of Technics hi-fi components Stateside. This is to capitalise on the Technics name that was associated with some highly-capable hi-fi components through the 70s, 80s and 90s with memories of some classy amplifiers, turntables, CD players and cassette decks; and was reintroduced in to Europe during the IFA 2014. Here, they have the R1 Reference Class System with the SU-R1 network media player / control amplifier feeding the SE-R1 150w/channel digital  power amplifier which has those large power meters that Technics power amplifiers were known for and driving the SB-R1 3-way six-driver floorstanding speakers; along with the C700 Premium Class system which has a ST-C700 network media player / tuner serving the SU-C700 45w/channel integrated amplifier driving the SB-C700 coaxial 2-way 2-driver bookshelf speakers. It would be interesting to see how this renaissance picks up in areas like New York City – whether it has the same vim and vigour as what existed in the early 80s where hi-fi was really valued.

Samsung have launched their WAM-7500 and WAM6500 360 degree speakers which implement  Ring Radiator Technology. This leads to sound that is diffused around the listening area, but they have the look that would make them blend in to a “retro-future” environment typical of a 1960s or 1970s space-fiction movie. They can connect to regular AV gear, or be wireless speakers that support Wi-F home-network connectivity along with, Bluetooth connectivity. The WAM6500 is the portable one of the bunch while the WAM7500 is intended to exist on a table or bench.

They are also launching the Milk Music “online-radio” service as a music service that can work with their multiroom systems.

One of the main drivers has been Google Cast which is an app-based content-streaming technology that uses the home network to “pull up” content from your smartphone on TVs and stereo systems in a similar vein to Apple’s AirPlay setup. Here, it has been pitched at the Android TV platform but the audio aspect has been pitched at a few home-audio devices offered by different companies. This is also run alongside the Google Nexus Player which is based on the Android TV platform.

Cambridge Audio are releasing a range of network-audio devices that are manageable on their front panel or through a mobile-platform app. These use a highly-optimised digital-analogue path with Wolfson WM8740 DAC circuitry and can support sources from the home network via AirPlay, DLNA / UPnP AV, or online sources like Spotify Connect. The CXN is a network audio player that provides these services to an existing sound system while this function is integrated in to two 7.1 channel bridgeable surround-sound amplifiers – the CXR-120 rating at 60 watts / channel or 120 watts / channel when bridged to stereo; and the CXR-200 which comes in at 120 watts / channel or 200 watts / channel when bridged to stereo.

Sony NW-ZX2 Audiophile-Grade Android Walkman music player press picture courtesy of Sony America

Sony NW-ZX2 Audiophile-Grade Android Walkman music player

Sony have launched a pair of S-Trainer street-style headphones as wireless music players but also have sensors to help you with your workout. But they have focused on High Resolution Audio by releasing the NW-ZX2 Android Walkman MP3 player capable of playing Master-Grade audio files and has 128Gb storage on board infinitely expandable with a microSD card.

Sony STR-DN1060 home theatre receiver press picture courtesy of Sony America

Sony STR-DN1060 4K-ready network surround-sound AV receiver

They also released the HT-ST9, HT-NT3 and HT-XT3 soundbars with some being connected to the home network and the STR-DN1060, and STR-DN860 network-capable home-theatre receivers. These are all capable of working with High Resolution Audio which is, again the “Master Grade” audio content worked at 24-bit 96kHz or greater sampling rates, said to be close to the sound of the master tapes.

Massive are fielding a set of Doctor Who Bluetooth speakers which look like either a Dalek or a TARDIS. They have the classic effects associated with this show such as the “Exterminate” call or the TARDIS’s cloister bell. This is also alongside a pair of headphones with some Doctor Who iconography..

Gibson (who now have Philips Audio, Onkyo and TEAC) is now selling the Trainer exercise supra-aural Bluetooth headset as a way of being noticed that it has consumer-audio prowess rather than just Les-Paul-style musical-instrument prowess. This headset has an LED so you can be noticed at night and it also has a button to “duck” the audio so you can hear what is going on around or to talk with someone else. As well, the earpads are designed to be washable.

Audio Technica have refreshed their headphone lineup with some waterproof “sports-grade” intra-aural devices including a headset. They even pitched a set of intra-aural earphones that are “up-to-snuff” for audiophile applications. They also launched a set of noise-reducing headphones with one that could be sold in Europe for EUR€100 and a pair of gaming headsets – one being open-backed and one being closed-backed for different frequency response characteristics, but these headsets are pitched at the same price.and can serve as wired mobile headsets. Let’s not forget their other point of prowess with record-playing equipment where they released an entry-level fully-automatic turntable equipped with their own cartridge.

The final part of this series will cover some computer and smartphone peripherals of not but will also cover how the home network is to evolve courtesy of some new connectivity-technology improvements.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2015–Part 2

Previously, in Part 1, I covered the trends that are affecting personal computing which encompases laptops / notebooks, tablets including the “2-in-1” convertible or detachable units, and the smartphones.

As I continue coverage of the trends shown at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, I am highlighting what is being highlighted when we think of the connected world and the Internet Of Things. This is where devices we have on ourselves or use in the home, or the cars we drive, connect to each other and the Internet to acquire a range of impressive capabilites.

Wearable technology

There is an increasing number of smartwatches and other wearables being launched at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. These are based on the Android Wear platform along with Tizen and other proprietary wearable platforms. It is although Apple has their smartwatch close to launch as part of their iOS ecosystem. A question that often came to mind is whether the smartwatch is to be seen as a bridge device between your smartphone and other wearable devices.

Sony raised the bar for Android Wear by integrating a GPS in to the metal-look variant of their Smartwatch 3 Android Wear watch. It may be seen as a way to provide standalone navigation and distance measurement for this watch or to serve as a secondary GPS sensor for your smartphone.

LG had headed towards smartwatches by putting forward one that is to run WebOS. This is part of having their devices run the descendent of the Palm operating system which HP refashioned as WebOS.

Lenovo had jumped on the wearable bandwagon by offering the Vibe lineup of wearable products. At the moment, the first of these products is the Vibe Band which is a water-resistant fitness band that uses an e-ink display, allowing for this device to run longer on a single battery charge.

There have been a few weirdly wonderful wearable devices like some snowboard bindings that help you plough through the powder better. These bindings measure the forces you apply on your feet as you slide down the slope and an app uses your smartphone’s GPS and these sensors to assess your snowboarding prowess. There is the Misfit LED which works alongside the Misfit range of activity trackers to show how you are performing. But the most weird device is the Emiota Belty which is a men’s dress belt that records your waistline and reports it back to your smartphone.

Hyundai Blue Link smartwatch app press photo courtesy of Hyundai America

Hyundai Blue Link smartwatch app – your smartwatch is your keyfob

The smartwatch is becoming part of the “connected car” ecosystem thanks to some vehicle builders. As I will mention below, BMW uses the smartwatch as a key fob that is to be part of their self-parking setup that they are working on. But Hyundai has presented the Blue Link app for the Apple Watch and Android Wear platforms so you can use this watch like the typical button-equipped car keyfob. Think of this as being to touch your watch to start your Veloster from afar, open its doors or have that coupe flash its headlights so you can locate it in the car park.

The connected car

Speaking of which, the car that links to the home network and the Internet is being given a fair bit of airtime by most of the vehicle manufacturers. This is promoted by Mercedes-Benz who were exhibiting a capsule-style self-driving concept car, Ford demonstrating their idea of a self-driving car, and other vehicle builders talking about the self-driving idea for cars.

Smartwatch control surface for car press picture courtesy of BMW America

Smartwatch as control element of BMW car

BMW took the modest path by demonstrating a self-parking variant of the i3 car. This smartwatch-controlled car looks for a parking spot by itself and implements a map-based setup where it has pre-loaded maps of car parks. This is very like a valet-parking setup but without the car-park attendant parking your car for you in that car park.

BMW self-parking car press picture courtesy of BMW America

It parks itself

Ford launched the third iteration of their Sync connected-car technology which will implement a touchscreen as part of its control surface and use of Blackberry QNX technology. This is intended to be part of what will be offered for the 2016 model-year vehicles.

Even the chipset manufacturers have dipped their finger in the connected-car scene with NVIDIA announcing that they are purposing Tegra and similar processors to power the connected-car dashboards.

Next generation VW infotainment setup press picture courtesy of VW America

Next generation VW infotainment works with Apple Play, Android Auto or MirrorLink

As for infotainment, there is a trend to support both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in both factory-supply and aftermarket infotainment setups. This means that the advanced abilities of these systems can work in a system-native manner to both iPhone and Android users. The Volkswagen Group had put this forward in the latest factory-spec infotainment setups and were even involved in the level-playing-field idea of MirrorLink even when it was put forward.

Parrot have premiered the RNB6 which is a 2-DIN media unit which runs both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay but has 55 watts per channel output for all of the channels along with more options. Pioneer have launched this function in to some of their newer 2-DIN car radios. These efforts satisfy realities that exist in countries like Australia where people are likely to keep their cars on the road for a very long time.

Internet Of Everything

The Internet Of Everything has become a key feature of this show with companies either showcasing new gadgets that link with the Internet or showcasing improvements for existing gadgets with this kind of ability. Most of these devices are still pitched as a “system” of devices, cloud services and apps supplied by the same vendor that are dependent on each other and there haven’t been any devices that are pitched in a manner where they can work with other manufacturers’ devices, services or apps.

There have been some devices that are targeted at your baby’s health such as a smart baby bottle holder measures food intake. Another of these is a Bluetooth-connected infant thermometer that uses your smartphone as its display with this being developed by the company that is behind Moto’s smart temporary tattoo.

Parrot has launched houseplant water monitors that link to the home network. One is the H2O which is a sensor and automated watering system that you can use in-situ with your plants and the other is the Parrot Pot to put your plant into.

D-Link DCH-S160 myDLink water sensor press picture courtesy of D-Link America

D-Link myDLink water detector alerts you via your smartphone if your washing machine leaks or the bath overflows

BeeWi and D-Link are snapping at Belkin’s WeMo home-automation technology with their own technology. The latter have packaged it in as their myDLink package which is dependent on a home-automation hub even for the Wi-Fi devices. They have Z-Wave motion sensors and door magnet/reed sensors which interlink with this hub and also work as ambient temperature sensors.

They also have a Wi-Fi-based water-leak sensor that uses a wire to sense leaking water from that dribbling washing machine along with a Wi-Fi siren unit and smart plugs. This system is managed on your mobile device through an app that D-Link supplies. TRENDNet are running a HomePlug-based home automation package that links with their TPL-406E HomePlug AV500 adaptor and the THA-102PL appliance controller with both devices using the AC wiring to communicate to each other. They also have the THA-103AC which is a Wi-Fi-managed appliance controller that works as an AC750 Wi-Fi range extender and both these systems are controlled using an app for the iOS and Android platforms.

Kwikset Kevo cylindrical deadbolt in use - Kwikset press image

Kwikset Kevo Plus extends online monitoring and control to this Kwikset Kevo smart deadbolt

Two companies that are known for the common door lock have fielded some “smart-lock” products, but they are focused around the “bore-through” cylindrical deadbolt form-factor that is common on many American front doors. Firstly, Kwikset have provided an IP bridge and online service for their Kevo smart deadbolt. Here, the Bluetooth-IP bridge and online service allows for such functions as “remote unlock” for situations like when you have a friend or relative who doesn’t have a smartphone with the Kwikset Kevo app to come to your house to do some caretaking or fetch something for you or to have a repair technician visit your house to perform some repair works on an appliance while you are at work. The service is offered as an annually-billed service. August who offer a similar Bluetooth-driven smart lock have come up this path using their own IP bridge to provide “remote check / remote release” functionality.

Yale Real Living NFC-capable smart deadbolt - outside view (brass finish) press picture courtesy of Yale America

Yale Real Living smart deadbolt – enter using the code on the keypad or touch your open-frame smartphone to it

As well, Yale have launched an NFC-based smart lock that works to the Seos NFC-based smart locking platform that ASSA Abloy, the “Electrolux” of the door-hardware industry, have established. This is one that comes in the same form factor as the Kwikset Kevo but doesn’t use a key outside as a failover method. As well, it requires you to touch your NFC-capable Android smartphone to the outside keypad to unlock your door.

Tagg are working with Alarm.com to implement a tracker system for your pets. This will be based around a collar attachment that implements GPS to locate and uses 3G as a “report-back” mechanism.

The CES tech fair has given Roost some boost with their “smart battery” for existing smoke alarms. Here, they were able to show and demonstrate this battery in action as a monitoring device for the common smoke alarm.

Appliances

Unlike the Internationaler Funkaustellung where a home-appliance trade show had been merged with this consumer-electronics trade show, there has become an increasing de-facto presence of home appliances at the Consumer Electronics Show. This has been brought on by some of the Korean and Japanese consumer-electronics manufacturers wanting to show their appliances at this trade show along with appliances, both major-class “white-goods” and countertop “small-goods” and is demonstrating that home appliances are increasingly becoming part of the “Internet Of Things”.

Dacor used this show to premiere their Android-controlled ovens which used an “app-cessory” approach to controlling these ovens. This also goes alongside the use of a touchscreen as a local control surface and is representative of what is to come about for premium “white goods”.

LG Twin Wash System press photo courtesy of LG America

LG Twin Wash System – two washing machines in one

LG have fielded some interesting “white goods” at this show. The show-stopper for them in this department was the Twin Wash “drawer-load” second washing machine which is installed underneath their recent front-load washing machines. It works in a manner where you can wash a small load while the main machine is processing another load. The example often cited was for ladies to wash a change of delicate underwear on the delicate-wash cycle while the main machine runs a lot of normal-cycle washing. Another example from my experience would be to turn around two white shirts by themselves while a large quantity of coloured clothes is being washed, with everything being ready to dry at the same time. They also fielded a “double door-in-door” fridge for easier organisation of food in the fridge. Samsung were fielding some interesting appliances like a dual-cavity oven and their “ActiveWash’ washing machine which implements an advanced wash action.

The coffee making scene closes in to the home network more with Smarter running a “bean-to-cup” espresso machine for the US market which uses Wi-Fi technology to facilitate its app-cessory control surface.

In the next part of this series, I will be looking at what the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 is representing for entertainment in the connected home.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2015–Part 1–Personal Computing

No sooner than the Christmas shopping season is upon us that the hype machine for the Consumer Electronics Show starts to warm up. This is where the Internet is awash with rumours about what hot gadgets will be shown in Las Vegas during the first week of January.

This year, it is becoming the place to even show household appliances in a similar vein to what is happening in Europe when the Internationaler Funkaustellung takes place in Berlin during the first week of September. But certain technologies are being considered key drivers at this show such as more of 4K UHDTV including more content for this ultra-high-resolution technology, the Internet Of Everything being more pervasive with an increase in the number of gadgets that link to the Internet or our smartphones, along with highly-converged personal computing.

A key issue that will be worth remembering  through this year’s Consumer Electronics Show is how Sony has come out of its recent massive cyber-attack that nearly crippled Sony Pictures. The President of Sony Corporation, as part of the press conference, ran a speech about not caving in to that attack especially where it concerned “The Interview”. He was underscoring the key factors of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of association as being very important lifebloods and lifelines of Sony and their entertainment business. For me, it was very much like Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight On The Beaches” battle speech given to the UK Parliament on June 4 1940 during World War II with these memorable lines:

“…. we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…..

Personal Computing

It is hard to split apart the different classes of personal computing devices what with the “2-in-1” convertibles and detachables becoming a major part of manufacturers’ lineups while smaller tablets have the computing abilities of even low-end laptops. Some of these even run Windows or Android or even can boot between both operating systems. This is why I have classed them together as one heading because of the way the CES hype machine was coming up with these machines.

As well, it is coming to the point where a household will have multiple computer devices at different screen sizes and for different uses. For example a “2-in-1” convertible or detachable computer could serve as one’s highly-portable auxiliary computer whereas a 7”-8” tablet could become a personal reference device or a smartphone becomes your main communications device.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon press image - courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon – now refreshed with new hardware

An example of this is NVIDIA with their Tegra X1 ARM processor which is able to achieve a 1 teraflop throughput and work with 4K video at 60Hz. Sony had put in to the CES hype machine the idea of a 12” Android tablet that can work at 4K resolution.

Lenovo have refreshed most of their computer lineup like the Thinkpad X1 Carbon carbon-fibre-built Ultrabook. Their new equipment will be more slimline and there will be a new solid-state-drive-only Ultrabook in the form of the T450S. They have also built up a range of Ultrabook accessories that are designed to stack like Lego bricks such a an external battery pack, expansion module (docking station) and an external hard disk.

Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook press image courtesy of Dell

Dell XPS 13 negligable-bezel Ultrabook

Dell have released a negligable-bezel XPS 13 Ultrabook and an ultra-slim Venue 8 7000 coat-pocket Android tablet. This implements multiple-camera depth-sense technology along with, guess what, an OLED screen which I would expect to be a treat for your social-media pictures or what you took with your camera.

Toshiba Portégé Z20T detachable laptop press image courtesy of Toshiba

Toshiba Portégé Z20T detachable pitched at the business user

The “two-in-one” convertible or detachable computer is still alive with the Jide which is an 11” Surface-style tablet along with Toshiba’s Satellite Click Mini which is an 11” netbook-style detachable. Toshiba also released the Portégé Z20t which is a 12.5” 2-in-1 detachable pitched at the business user and is driven by the Intel Core M technology.

They are still pushing on with smartphones with Acer fielding the Liquid Z410 Android low-cost unit with 4.5” screen. Yezz is even pitching to the Windows Phone platform with the Billy S5 LTE model. The old dogs of consumer photography are vying for each other’s existence in the digital world through Kodak and Polaroid offering Android smartphones with Polaroid’s phone, a badge-engineered Oppo N1, known as the “Selfie” to court the selfie-taking craze. As well, ASUS have released the ZenFone Zoom which is the first smartphone to implement optical zoom in their rear camera. This Android phone also implements a 13-megapixel sensor and optical stabilisation on that camera.

LG G-Flex 2 curved Android smartphone - courtesy of LG

LG G-Flex 2 curved smartphone – to snap at Apple’s and Samsung’s heels

But the steal of the show is the LG G Flex 2 which is the first curved smartphone to get some real market traction. This sexy number implements a 5.5” Full HD OLED screen and is more durable than most flat phones. It is equipped with Gorilla Glass and a self-healing case that keeps looking anew. But it uses Snapdragon 810 64-bit horespower with 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage infinitely expandable by microSD cards. The camera implements laser-assisted auto focus and it runs Android 5 Lollipop. But do I see it knock Apple, HTC and Samsung off their perches when it comes to premium smartphones – if it becomes the next thing in cool.

In the next post, I will be looking at the trends for wearable technology and the Internet Of Everything

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Consumer Electronics Show 2014–Part 3 (Wearables, Home Automation and the Open Road)

This final instalment of my coverage of the Consumer Electronics Show will be focusing on some areas that have had high media coverage. This are the connected wearable devices that work with our smartphones, the connected home along with car-based technologies. The latter two are underscoring the idea that the online life is more than the home office or living room but more pervasive.

Connected Wearable Devices

The arrival of hardware and operating-system support for Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy for smartphones, tablets and laptops has opened up a flood of connected devices that we can wear.

This is primarily in the form of the smartwatch which is today’s connected iteration of the “nerdy” digital watch of the late 70s and early 80s. Some companies like Archos have started to join the smartwatch party by offering one that implements the e-paper display technology for US$85. This is while Samsung and Pebble came forth with newer smartwatch models.

Rather than have a smartwatch like the Galaxy Gear, Casio has gone down the path of premiering a Bluetooth-connected sports watch. Here, this one-time king of digital watches implemented a regular sports-watch design which uses a Bluetooth link to work with a fitness app and support a notification display on the watch. Another company also fielded a Bluetooth-linked notification watch that is equipped with an analogue dial, something that could come about for targeting the “dress watch” segment.

A similar device that is covering an increased amount of floor space is the “fitness band” which is a connected bracelet or wristband that measures physical activity and reports it to your smartphone or other computing device. They have been brought on by the success of the Nike FuelBand which provides this functionality when in use with the Apple iPhone.

LG even has developed the Lifeband Touch which is a hybrid device that serves as a  fitness band or a discreet smartwatch that works as an external display for your phone, courtesy of its touch-enabled OLED display. Herem the Lifeband uses sensors in the form of a 3-axis accelerometer and an altimeter. Razer also premiered the Nabu which is another of these fitness bands that double as a smartwatch.

Archos and Samsung have joined the fitness band party with the latter calling theirs the Galaxy Band to fit in with their Galaxy online lifestyle devices. Garmin even came forth with the Vivofit fitness band that is more about reminding us to be active rather than tracking actual activity. Pulsense even worked on a fitness band that also can “see through” skin to measure heartrate without the need for other awkward sensor requirements.

Sony Smart Band - Sony press image

Sony Smart Band – an example of the many connected wearables surfacing this year.

Sony has taken another path through the use of a “Core” wearable device that works with different accessories and works on what they call “Emotion” rather than activity.

Other sports and fitness applications that are being drawn out include a Bluetooth-connected basketball with its own motion sensors to measure basketball technique, LG’s in-ear headset that tracks heartrate, a connected headband with integrated speaker, a heart-rate monitor for swimming goggles along with a brain-sensing EEG headband for games with exercise and an impact monitor for sports injuries.

Eyewear is also becoming an important “connected-wearable” device class thanks to Google Glass with its “augmented reality” function. Epson have answered Google by offering an Android-based augmented-reality glasses system in the form of the Moverio BT-200.

Even the concept of making jewellery connected has not escaped a British chip-maker’s mind. Here, CSR who are known for the Bluetooth aptX audio codec for Bluetooth applications have released proof-of-concept designs where a Bluetooth Smart chipset can be integrated in to jewellery to give it software-driven notification abilities.

But from what I see, I would find that the smartwatches and the fitness bands, especially those that have smartwatch functionality would be the more credible class of connected wearable devices. Similarly, devices for personal healthcare monitoring may earn some credibility with fitness enthusiasts, sports people and those of us who are managing chronic illnesses.

Internet Of Things and the connected home

This year’s CES is showing that this trade fair could follow the same path as the Internationaler Funkaustellung where small and large household appliances acquire show floor space alongside consumer electronics and personal computing. This is being underscored by the “Internet Of Things” and the desire to see the “connected home” come to fruition in the name of energy efficiency, security and convenience.

Samsung and LG have been using their stands to premiere their advanced whitegoods which interlink with their communications and AV equipment in their product portfolios, using these devices as an extra control or monitoring point.

Of course, this is being underscored by the various home devices being connected to your home network via Wi-Fi and working on the “app-cessory” model where you install controller apps on your smartphone. This has been underscored heavily with a lot of LED-based “app-cessory” lightbulbs that are being marketed in the US due to that market moving away from the classic incandescent bulb towards more efficient lighting and the LED lighting can allow for highly-controllable lights that can change colour at the flick of a switch.

Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot slow-cooker - Belkin press image

Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot slow-cooker – an example of the app-cessory appliances surfacing this year

Belkin had shown more of their “Wemo” smartphone-based home-automation subsystem and added LED lightbulbs to this equation. They also partnered with Sunbeam Appliances to premiere a Wemo-enabled Crock-Pot slow cooker that can be managed from your smartphone. As well, they have the Wemo Maker which is a sensor or controller that links garage doors, sprinkler systems and the like in to the Wemo ecosystem.

The Lowe’s hardware-store chain have launched extras for their IRIS home-automation system with leak-detecting smart-shutoff valves, a sprinkler-control system, a garage-door controller, a voice-command interface along with smart-grid compatibility. This latest feature can allow for integration with off-peak tariffs or load-shedding practices that the grid may use.

Things were relatively quiet when it came to the “smart-lock” devices with two such devices being premiered as credible products. One of these was the Okidokeys smart-lock retrofit kit that adds NFC smartphone, touch-card and key-fob functionality to an existing tubular deadbolt. This kit has been based on Openways smartphone-enabled hotel room locks and has been pitched as a “wide-reaching” device while maintaining the user’s existing key as an entry path. Another deadbolt offered by Goji implements an integrated outside display, an integrated camera and implements Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology.

ADT who are well-known for service-based monitored security have joined in to the connected-home scene while keeping their service-driven business model alive. They have fielded the Pulse home security package which adds voice commands via a smartphone app along with the Canopy smartphone app which offers protection on the go. They also offered extra hardware in the form of remote controls for garage door openers and ceiling fans, along with a touchscreen controller for their alarm systems.

They are still underscoring the serviced-security model even by extending this to your computer and home network by partnering with McAfee Security (now Intel Security) for a home data-security solution. As well, they are working with Ford to provide dashboard integration for your monitored-security solution using the Sync technology that Ford offers.

Technology on the open road

This year, the Consumer Electronics Show has also been been a chance for vehicle builders to show the latest online technology for their vehicles.

Google and Apple have made steps to integrate their mobile operating systems in to motor vehicles and are partnering with vehicle builders to further this integration. For example, Google partnered with Audi to build an Android-driven infotainment system for the car and underscored this with a 10.1” Android tablet that docks in to the centre console of various new-issue Audis to become a display and control surface in that vehicle.This is while Apple had support from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, General Motors and Honda for iOS integration.

GM are underscoring this with some Chevrolet vehicles being equipped with 4G LTE mobile broadband as well as the creation of the OnStar AppShop where you can add extra functionality through apps. They even offered a telemetry recorder app for use with the Corvette Stingray.

Even the chipmakers are cashing in on the connected car with Qualcomm pitching the 602a connected-car CPU while NVIDIA offered a variant of their Tegra K1 for automotive use.

Advanced vehicle techologies were being pitches at this show such as Toyota presenting a concept vehicle that is powered by a fuel cell. As well, Ford integrated a solar panel in to the roof of their C-Max Energi Concept electric car which allows the vehicle to charge itself from that panel to add extra driving range. BMW even put up the idea of a parallel-parking “auto-pilot” for their i3 electric car where you can press a button to start your vehicle parking itself in that shopping-centre car park.

The aftermarket car infotainment scene is still kicking along with Alpine offering the X009 9” navigation receiver that fits in the dashboard of trucks and 4WDs and interlinks with smartphones including having MHL support for the Android phone. JVC also is supplying a double-DIN car stereo with MHL connectivity, touchscreen while app-link functionality and Siri Eyes Free is also appearing on cheaper JVC head units. Pioneer are even offering car AV equipment that “doesn’t miss your smartphone” by offering various methods of connectivity such as AVICSync, MirrorLink and AppRadio.

Sony has also gone about this in a different way. Here, they have a double-DIN CD receiver which works as a smartphone dock. Here, your Android smartphone can be set up with NFC paring and, with a companion app, becomes the control surface for the car stereo.

Conclusion

What I see of the Consumer Electronics Show this year is a strong foothold for connected wearable devices, increased presence by vehicle builders at the show, a blending of computer classes that aren’t really delineated by operating system or display size along with a make or break for 4K ultra-high-definition TV.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2014–Part 2 (Your computer, smartphone, tablet and network)

The second part of this series is about computing devices both for desktop use and for mobile use in all of the form factors along with the new equipment that you can use to buid out our home or other small network.

Computers and Mobile Devices

Previously, I used to see mobile computing devices like tablets and smartphones as their own device class but the situation is changing for this class of device.

This has been brought on with use of Windows 8.1 in smaller tablets that have lightweight and low-energy processors that implement the orthodox Intel microarchitecture used in regular-computers along with these regular computer products running the Android mobile operating system as a standalone operating system or in a dual-boot configuration.

This has caused us to blur the lines between the orthodox “regular” desktop or laptop computer that uses IA-32 or IA-64 microarchitecture rather than ARM RISC microarchitecture and running a desktop operating system like Windows or desktop Linux; and the primarily-battery-operated mobile computers like the smartphones and tablets that use ARM RISC microarchitecture and  use a mobile operating system like Android.

Computer devices that boot between Windows 8.1 and Android

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

This class of computer may be either running Windows or Android very soon

Intel and AMD have established computer reference designs that allow for switching between Windows 8.1 or Android 4.4 operating systems even when they are fully operational. This is to capitalise on the 7”-10” tablets appearing on the market that are running Windows 8.1 along with the desire for us to run Android programs on our regular laptops and Ultrabooks.

A clear example of this is ASUS’s Transformer Book Duet detachable tablet which has a hardware switch that allows you to switch between Windows 8.1 and Android. Think of this – on a long journey, switch to Windows to make some headway on a document you are creating with Microsoft Word, then, to while the time away on that journey after that, switch to Android to play Plants Versus Zombies, Candy Crush Saga or whatever is the latest mobile time-waster game.

Android and Chrome OS gain a foothold on the regular computer

Previously, we thought of Windows as the only open-frame operating system that runs on a “regular computer” i.e. a desktop or laptop. Now Google have pushed forward Chrome OS which is a cloud-based operating system along with Android with these kind of computers.

Nearly every laptop vendor, save for Sony, Panasonic and a few others are putting forward at least one “Chromebook” which are notebooks that run the Chrome OS environment. LG even premiered a “Chromebase” which is an all-in-one desktop computer that runs the Google Chrome OS. This implements Intel Celeron horsepower along with the Chrome OS specification for RAM and secondary storage (2Gb RAM, 16Gb SSD). These may have limited appeal due to software only available through Google and an always-online operation and may just work as Web terminals.

For Android, HP put up the Slate 21 Pro 21” tablet that runs on this operating system thus bringing the adaptive all-in-one to this operating system especially in the workplace. Similarly, Lenovo had launched a 19” all-in-one PC that runs Android and has an appealing price of US$450 along with the ThinkVision 28 which is a 28” 4K monitor that is an Android all-in-one PC. This is alongside HP also running with a Slate Pro all-in-one that runs Android and appeals to the business. Some of these computers are being pitched as inexpensive kiosk computers or communications terminals that go hand in glove with Viber, Skype, Facebook and the like.

Business-grade computing appears at CES 2014

Not often have I seen any of the Consumer Electronics Shows or similar consumer-electronics trade fairs become a platform to launch computer hardware pitched at business users. This year, HP, Lenovo and a few others are launching smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops pitch at this user class with the expected features like security, management abilities and system durability.

Could this be a sign that “business-targeted” computing trade fairs like CEBit and Interop start to focus on a narrower class of “big-business” computing equipment like large-scale servers and networking equipment while small-business office and computing equipment ends up being exhibited at consumer-focused computing and electronics trade fairs? Or could this be answering a reality where business computing equipment are working also as home computing equipment as in the typical “work-home” laptop that is used for personal and business computing tasks? As well, could this be in response to the so-called “BYOD” trend where employees are buying their own devices, perhaps with their employer subsidising the purchase and running costs of these devices, and using them at work?

This is augmented with Samsung, Lenovo and HP launching business-grade tablets and smartphones and operating environments that cater to the business’s operating needs.

HP even used this show to launch the 300 series 14” and 15” laptops that have hardware credentials for a business laptop like spill-resistant keyboards, anti-glare displays and fingerprint readers but don’t come with business-tier manageability software. These machines start from US$399 upwards. This is more about offering appropriate computer hardware for small businesses and community organisations at a price they can afford without the hard-to-understand “big-business” security and manageability software that can daunt operators who are effectively their organisation’s “chief cook and bottle-washer”.

They also released the Pro One 400 and HP205 all-in-one desktops and issued the second generation of the Z1 all-in-one desktop workstation which can he shoehorned as you see fit.

Newer hardware technologies

One key hardware technology that is being put forward is the arrival of highly-powerful ARM-based chips that are pitched for mobile computing. One trend has been the arrival of the 64-bit ARM mobile processor which was augmented by Samsung with their Exynos range. The other was NVIDIA who were putting up the Tegra K1 processor family that had 192 cores and the VCM variant being targeted at vehicle applications. The graphics capacity is about achieving smooth realistic rendering which comes in thandy for games and similar graphics-intensive applications that will be expected of the Android platform. This is an example of a high-power ARM processor that is being pitched across the board not just for the tablets but for the Android-driven computers, the smart TVs as well as the cars.

Similarly, Intel premiered the Edison microcomputer which is the same size as the standard SD memory card. This has a two-core microprocessor with a 400MHz primary core and a 50-200MHz secondary core along with 500Mb RAM and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interfaces. Here, they are pitching it at wearable application such as smartwatches but I would see a greater potential for this application.

As for memory, the magnetoresistive RAM and resistive RAM technologies have been premiered at this show. It s a non-volatile RAM technology that can lead to the creation of memory that isn’t just for primary on-hand storage or secondary long-term storage. The obvious applications that are being called include quick-start portable computers that don’t need to store their current state to secondary storage. But I see this likely to appear in devices like printers and faxes for power-safe job-queue handling.

As well, the IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless-network technology is appearing in a lot more as a client interface in this newly-released equipment. There has to be work on making sure that there are options for reduced-battery-load for smartphones and small tablets that are primarily battery-operated and these may stay on N technology at the moment.

Smartphones and Tablets

One major trend for smartphones and tablets is for the market to be full of affordable Android devices especially those that are positioned at the “value” segment where you gain best bang for your buck. Similarly, a lot more of these devices are being pitched at the business user with the necessary manageability features appearing.

Samsung have launched the Galaxy Note Pro range of Android tablets with some of these at 12”. Similarly, we are seeing Lenovo run a range of smartphones like the Vibe Z phablet along with a smartphone that has an 802.11ac wireless-network interface. They are even running an 8” business-grade tablet known as the ThinkPad 8 which runs Windows 8.1 and has Intel Bay Trail small-device horsepower.

Asus have previously run their Padfone range of smartphones which dock in to an accompanying tablet and are furthering this with the Padfone Mini 7 “coat-pocket” tablet / smartphone combo. They are also running the Zenfone range of standalone Android smartphones.They also premiered the VivoTAB Note 8 which is an 8” coat-pocket tablet with stylus that runs Win8.1 and uses Intel Atom horsepower.

Acer are even launching some more of the Iconia Windows and Android tablet range along with a budget-range phablet smartphone. At the same time, Polaroid have put their name to an affordable 8” Android tablet in the form of the Q8.

Panasonic is not left lying down when it comes to tablets with a ToughPad 7” tablet being premiered at this show.

Laptops, Ultrabooks and similar computers

This year has seen a great influx of detachable and convertible Ultrabooks with, for example HP bolstering their x2 family.This is brought in to affordable territory with the Pavilion x2 range being a “foot-in-the-door” and running on cheaper AMD or Intel Bay Trail horsepower. This is augmented with the Pro x2 which is pitched at business users and is powered by Intel Core i3 or i5 processors.

Lenovo have premiered their MIIX 2 detachable tablets which run Windows 8.1 with the 10” variant running an Intel Atom processor and the 11.6” variant running an Intel Core i5 processor. They also launched the latest iteration of the X1 Carbon Ultrabook which is finished in a carbon-fibre material.

LG has answered the slider convertible trend started with the Sony VAIO Duo 11 and released the Tab Book 2 slider convertible. Sony are still keeping on with their convertible notebooks with the new VAIO Fit 11a and Flip PC 13, 14 and 15 convertible notebooks and the latest iteration of the VAIO Duo 13 slider convertible along with the VAIO Tap 11 detachable tablet. Sony has also taken the time to refresh the VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one and sell it as the VAIO Tap 21.

Samsung have released the ATIV Book 9 which is a 15” Ultrabook that owes its small size to a very narrow screen bezel, making it look less like a regular 15” laptop. Toshiba has broken through the mould by offering the first laptop with a 4K resolution screen as well as a shape-shifting concept for a convertible portable computer.

The home or other small network

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become a time to show that 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking has matured ant to premiere the HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit powerline network technology. It also has been a chance for network hardware vendors to showcase some of the small business / contractor network hardware alongside consumer network hardware so as to expose this kind of hardware to the small-business and startup users.

802.11ac wireless network hardware

One major trend that is affecting equipment for the small network is the increased availability of 802.11ac Wi-Fi network connectivity equipment, especially now that the standard has been officially ratified and published by the IEEE. Here we are dealing with Wi-Fi wireless-network segments established in the 5GHz band and capable of operating at Gigabit speeds. Broadcom have come up with newer 802.11ac chipsets that improve wireless-network experience including one that has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and improved radio amplification in the same packaging.

The main class of devices offered here are routers or range extenders where some of the range extenders can work as client bridges for these networks. Examples of these include TrendNet’s newer AC1900 router and the ASUS RT-AC87U broadband router that has 1.7Gbps on 5GHz and 600Mbps on 2.4GHz using 4 x 4 MIMO and support for multiuser MIMO functionality. The old Linksys WRT54G with its distinctive style and user-evolvable open-source firmware has been released as a new iteration but equipped with 802.11ac wireless and Gigabit Ethernet network abilities and USB connectivity.

Even Engenius offered the ESR-2300 which is a 4 x 4 AC2300 wireless broadband router that is the first device of its type to offer “box-to-box” VPN endpoint functionality. NETGEAR also offered DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem routers with one of these having an 802.11ac 1700 wireless network segment.

Netgear’s latest 802.11ac wireless routers also have a firmware option for small businesses to turn their premises in to Wi-Fi hotspots using the Facebook Wi-Fi service. This is where clients who have Facebook presence can “check in” using Facebook to gain free Wi-Fi access but there is also an option to skip this requirement and use password-protected sign-up.

There are also the range extenders that perform their range-extending trick on an 802.11ac network and are available as wall-plugged or standalone units.

TrendNet amongst a few others are premiering business / contractor-grade wireless-networking hardware, especially access points for integrated installation. Some of these units also work with management software to allow you to have control over your Wi-Fi segment. TP-Link even offer the EAP-320 dual-band AC1750 Wi-Fi access point (enterprise grade) which has Power-Over-Ethernet, hotspot-style captive portal authentication and rogue access-point detection.

TrendNet also used this show to premiere a USB-connected high-gain 802.11ac wireless network adaptor so you can bridge existing computer equipment to a new 802.11ac wireless-network segment.

HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit power-line network hardware launched

This show also has seen TP-Link and TrendNet launch HomePlug adaptors that embody the latest iteration of the HomePlug AV2 specification. Initially there were plenty of the HomePlug AV2 devices that didn’t exploit the MIMO abilities of the specification allowing for Gigabit data-transfer speeds but the two latest devices do implement these speeds using all three AC wires.

As far as this standard is concerned, there haven’t been any other HomePlug AV2 devices in other form factors launched or premiered at this show. Of course, TrendNet and TP-Link have been able to premiere HomePlug AV500 Wi-Fi N300 access points as an alternative to using range extenders to build out 802.11n wireless-network segments.

IP-based video surveillance

Most of these manufacturers are offering IP-based video-surveillance cameras with some that even work on 802.11ac Wi-Fi. D-Link even issues one of these as a “baby monitor camera” which measures room temperature and plays soothing lullabies while TP-Link offers an N300 Wi-Fi cloud camera that also doubles as a range extender and can shoot at 720p.

D-Link and Buffalo both offer network video recorder devices that interlink with certain IP cameras and record on a stand-alone basis with these cameras.

NAS units

QNAP and Synology have used the Consumer Electronics Shows to premiere their small-business network-attached storage devices and Synology has used this year’s show to launch the DiskStation Manager 5 operating system which is their latest iteration of the Linux-based operating system. This one has both home and business capabilities like the ability to link with online storage and social-network services along with centralised management and scaled-out storage for evolving businesses. Now Thecus are using this year’s show to premiere their small-business NAS devices.

Lenovo also made this show the chance to offer their first consumer network-attached storage device which can also serve as a USB external hard disk or show multimedia on TV using its HDMI output. This is although they have taken over Iomega and rebranded it as Lenovo EMC to cover this product class and focus on small-business NAS units.

Buffalo even offers a wireless mobile NAS which has the DLNA media-server functionality which can come in handy with Internet radios or other DLNA-capable media players. This is alongside some increasingly-capable DiskStation single-disk and duel-disk NAS units.

Conclusion

Next I will be looking at a major trend that is captivating the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in the form of the “wearables”, brought on by the arrival of Bluetooth 4.0

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