Consumer Electronics Show (January – Las Vegas USA) Archive

Consumer Electronics Show 2011–Part 2

The Android technology doesn’t stop at handsets or tablets anymore at this year’s CES.

In the car

Parrot are premiering the “Asteroid” which is an Android-powered car radio / multimedia player. It has USB for connectivity to iOS devices, USB flash memory, wireless-broadband modems and GPS pucks at the moment as well as line input for regular audio devices. I am not sure what Bluetooth or hands-free calling abilities it has at the moment but this could change by the time it is released. Of course it has FM radio and, through the 3G connectivity and an Android app, could support Internet radio in the car as well as being a media player and GPS navigation device. It has a power output of 55W x 4 but also has three preamplifier outputs (front, rear, subwoofer) so it can be the head unit for the most tricked-out sound system on the street. Oh yeah, boys!

Similarly, Fujitsu Ten are previewing an satellite-navigation unit which is powered by the Android operating system. The main issue with these Android systems at the moment is that the Google “Android Marketplace” doesn’t support them because they use an interface that is dissimilar to the handset or tablet devices. Here, Parrot or Fujitsu Ten will either have to contract with an Android app store to supply applications to these devices and this app store would have to support the user interfaces provided by automotive Android devices.

In other car-tech news, Ford have developed an AppLink system so that specific iOS apps can be operated from the car’s dashboard. As well, General Motors have developed an IOS link to their OnStar vehicle telematics system but the main problem with these systems is that they necessitate an extra app on the smartphone for each marque. This is compared to Terminal Mode which the European vehicle builders are implementing, which allows one piece of software on the smartphone for many different vehicles and suits the reality that most of us will drive different vehicle marques through our driving life and even have regular access to two or more different vehicles.

As well, GM are intending to implement the PowerMat wireless-charging system in the  American-market vehicles from model-year 2011 onwards. This allows devices with Powermat charging circuitry, whether integrated or as an add-on module to be charged or powered on a special mat wirelessly. I have wondered whether this announcement will then apply to GM nameplates other than Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet or GMC or other markets.

Networked Home Entertainment

Video Entertainment and the Home Theatre

As far as video-based home entertainment goes, 3D video still rules the roost with every one of the major camera names from Japan with a 3D camera or camcorder in their model lineup. As well, every major TV brand that serves the US market is selling a 3D flatscreen TV in their model lineup. Most of the manufacturers are working on 3D viewing technologies that either don’t need glasses or can work with lightweight glasses. This also includes some manufacturers establishing design partnerships with glasses-frame designers to make attractive 3D-viewing glasses.

But there is a lot more action when it comes to network-enabled TVs and video peripherals This is again driven by the supply of  “over-the-top” Internet video services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. It is also being helped along by manufacturers building up “app platforms” which allow the user to download apps to the TV as if it was like one of the smartphones. It can capture the reality of interactive TV as well as use of common Internet services like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook from the comfort of your couch. As well, programs like Skype are being implemented on these TVs in order to make them become large-screen video-conferencing units for the home or small business.

LG have supplied the ST600 Smart TV kit, which is an add-on kit for selected (or all?) LG TVs to link them to the Internet and the DLNA Home Media Network. As well, one of their pico-projectors that they had on show is equipped with an digital-TV tuner and can stream content from a DLNA Media Server.

Sony now has it that all of their new Blu-Ray players are all DLNA and Gracenote enabled/ They all can quickly start a Blu-Ray movie and have support for the “Media Remote” RF link with Wi-Fi-enabled iOS or Android device running a specific app. These same features are also available to their Blu-Ray home theatre systems.

As well, most of the Sony BRAVIA TV range released this year will be network-enabled with DLNA, Internet TV, Skype large-screen videophone and similar functionality. Some models will have integral 802.11n Wi-Fi functionality while the lower-cost models will require a dongle to connect to the Wi-Fi network. This really shouldn’t worry most users because they could use direct Ethernet or HomePlug AV links to connect the TV to the home network.

The Skype videophone function will work with an optional USB webcam / microphone kit that will be available from Sony.

As well, most of the TVs and home-theatre systems honour the full HDMI 1.4 expectation with Audio Return Channel. This means that the sound from the TV’s integrated sources like the digital TV tuner travel back to the home theatre amplifier using the same HDMI cable used to connect the TV to that amplifier. There is no need to use extra digital cable runs to have properly-decoded surround sound from TV broadcasts received via the TV’s tuner.

As well, Sony has released a network-audio product that makes Apple squirm when it comes to their Airport Express and AirPlay subsystem. This product which comes in the form of the HomeShare speakers connects to a Wi-Fi home network and can play out audio content under the control of a UPnP AV (DLNA) Control Point like Windows 7 or TwonkyMedia Manager. This same control functionality is also available in Sony’s latest Blu-Ray Players as well as the NAS-SV20 and NAS-SV10i iPhone docks.

Samsung have come around with a Blu-Ray player that is the thinnest such player ever. This Wi-Fi-enabled player can be wall-mounted and, in my honest opinion, is cutting in on Bang & Olufsen’s “design AV” territory.

They also are releasing the D6000 TVs  which work with RVU compliant pay-TV gateways. This standard, which is a superset of DLNA for pay TV applications). enables access to the full pay-TV feature suite like pay-per-view or video-on-demand without the TV being connected to the pay-TV operator’s set-top box/ This concept has been proven to works with an RVU server box that links to DirecTV’s satellite pay-TV service.

Iomega have also released a Boxee TV set-top box which is similar to D-Link’s unit. But the similarity stops here because it has integrated NAS functionality with DLNA Media Server. It is capable of working with Ethernet wired or 802.11n Wi-Fi networks and uses a double-side remote with QWERTY keyboard. It is available as an enclosue or with a 1Tb or 2Tb hard disk.

Vizio, a low-cost TV brand in the US similar to Kogan, is to implement Via Plus (Google TV) in their Internet-enabled TVs. They will be providing apps that link to Hulu Plus, Blockbuster On Demand, and other popular “over-the-top” TV services. These sets will also have Skype functionality when used with a USB webcam. Vizio will also be implementing glasses-free 3DTV and are dabbling in 21:9 ultra-widescreen TV

Cisco have been focusing on the interactive TV front but in a different way. They sell  the Scientific Atlanta set-top boxes on contract to cable and satellite providers and are implementing an app platform on their newer boxes. This also means that they are providing a “VideoScape” content-selection experience so that users can find the content they are after or look for related content easily.

JVC have released the first “soundbar” speaker system which implements the HDMI 1.4 Audio Return Channel. Here, this technology comes in to its own with these speakers because the sound from the TV emerges through the easy-to-set-up soundbar unit.

Internet radios

Grace Digital have released three Internet radios that have a similar user interface to the Grundig TrioTouch stereo Internet radio or the Revo IKON stereo Internet radio. Here, these sets use as their primary user interface a colour LCD display with icons laid out in a grid not dissimilar to a smartphone or tablet. The Mondo is designed to be a full-on clock radio for the bedside and has a 3.5” display, Ethernet and line-out connectivity and a remote. The Solo Touch is a tuner that connects to one’s favourite music system and has a large 4/3” touchscreen. It connects to the home network via Ethernet. The Bravado X is a stereo table radio with line in / out and has a 2.7” display. These units can also be controllable via a smartphone app which is available for the iOS only at the moment.

As well, Vizio have jumped on the Android bandwagon by providing a stereo table radio which operates on the Android platform. This one is controlled by a colour LCD touchscreen like the typical smartphone. It would most likely would have an Internet-radio app and also pull in music from a DLNA Media Server device.

The next article in the series will focus on network-infrastructure technologies for the small network and what is being offered here.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2011–Part 1

I am reporting on the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 which is currently running in Las Vegas. This year, the show is focused around the connected home and lifestyle and I am intending to run the report as a series due to the many trends occurring at this show.

Mobile Handsets and tablets

Most of the activity this year is centred around the smartphone and the tablet-based multifunction internet device (a.k.a. a tablet computer or “fondle-pad”). Here, the main operating system of choice is Google Android. There are two major versions being promoted at this show – Version 2.3 for the smartphones (and other devices) and Version 3.0 for the tablet devices.

This is also augmented by the fact that the US mobile-phone carriers are rolling out 4G wireless-broadband networks. These are either based on LTE technology or WiMAX technology and offer greater bandwidth than the current 3G technology used to serve the typical smartphone user with Facebook data. This leads to quicker content loading for the phone and access to IP-based multimedia.

Infact the “big call” that is being run by these carriers when promoting their devices is the “4G Android smartphone” as being the preferred device to start a mobile service contract on. This is more noticeable with Sprint who are using the “4G Android Smartphone” in their graphics for their online ads.

The Android handsets are coming thick and fast, especially from Samsung, HTC (Evo Shift 4G / Thunderbolt 4G) and Motorola (Cliq 2). The Motorola is also intended to support “call-via-WiFi” so as to offload call traffic via Wi-Fi networks including T-Mobile’s hotspots. This is achieved through the use of the “Kineto” app.

The HTC Evo Shift and Thunderbolt phones are also known to implement a slider design similar to some Nokia phones and use this design to expose a hard keyboard for text entry.

Samsung are going “tit for tat” with Apple by issuing an Android smartphone, MID or tablet device in response to Apple releasing an iOS device. Their answer to the iPod Touch was a Galaxy Player which is Android powered and uses a Super Clear LCD for its display.

Sony have also come up with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc mobile phone which has a display and experience as good is the iPhone 4 – the phone to be “seen” with.

As far as phones go, there hasn’t been any Windows Phone 7 action through this CES, but there have been some general innovations happening. One is to design a multi-core processor for handsets, tablets and similar devices. This design would have to be focused around power conservation in order to gain longer battery runtime for these devices. This has manifested in three “dual-core” smartphones being released by Motorola.

Similarly, there have been 40-80 of the tablet computer models being launched. This number may not account for different memory sizes for particular models or whether some models will come with wireless broadband or not. This is also the time that Google are putting the “Honeycomb” version of the Android operating system on the map. This version, Android 3.0, is optimised for the tablet user interface and uses more impressive user interfaces than what was used for Android 2.x in the tablet context. It therefore now sets the cat amongst the pigeons when it comes to a showdown concerning the iPad versus the Android 3.0 tablets.

Stay tuned to HomeNetworking01.info for more posts about the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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A digital camera that can be controlled by a smartphone

Article

CES: Samsung SH100 camera wants to be BFF with your smartphone – CES 2011 CNET Blogs

My Comments

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung had demonstrated a compact digital camera which has integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi functionality. It would have the usual benefits like uploading pictures to a computer or cloud-based storage service; and exhibiting pictures on a DLNA-compliant video-display device.

But this camera has a feature that has impressed me very much. It is to use the Samsung Galaxy S smartphone as an external viewfinder and control surface. This has been a function that I have been wishing for with digital photography and cinematography.

Here, this would work well with a photography situation that most of us encounter. When we are at a party or nightclub, we may want to take a picture of everyone on that dance floor dancing to that dance hit thumping through the speakers. Similarly, we may want to get a picture of the live band playing at that pub gig which is packed out. When we are outdoors, we may want to grab a picture of the floats that are part of the parade for example.

In these situations, you may need to lift the camera over your head but you won’t get a fair idea of what you are to photograph due to a small screen size or viewing the screen at an “off angle”. Here, you just end up taking a large number of “rough shots” that you will end up editing out for example.

Similarly, if you use your camera for wildlife photography for example, you will find it hard to take the right shot because the moment you get near the camera, you spoil the shot.

Here, Samsung has established a wireless link which uses the phone’s screen as a viewfinder and control surface for the camera. The user would have to download an app to the phone in order to achieve the functionality. This link is also set up so that pictures can be sent to the phone for sharing via the phone using MMS, email or Web-based services.

There have been further questions about other smartphones, whether based on Android, iOS or other platforms being able to have this functionality. What actually needs to happen is for device classes to be defined or existing device classes reused and amended for photographic / cinematographic applications. This is to provide remote viewfinder and status display as well as remote control of the shutter / recording start-stop and other aspects of the exposure. Similarly, the device classes also have to provide control of flashguns and other lighting in order to synchronise them with the exposure.

Here, the device classes should work with USB wired connections as well as wireless Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connections.

Similarly, cameras could implement USB “On-The-Go”, Bluetooth “Object Push Profile” or similar technologies to allow a user to upload a picture to the phone. As well, the phone could provide dynamic scale-down of high-resolution images when sending pictures by MMS or email. This would avoid me having to take pictures with the phone rather than my digital camera if I intend to use the picture for a picture message for example and I can still use the good-quality imaging attributes of the camera to yield a good quality photo.

At least Samsung has taken a step in the right direction by enabling a digital camera to work with a smartphone for improved photography.

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A laptop that will directly please the Beo-enthusiasts

ASUS NX90: Bang & Olufsen ICEpower Laptop [CES 2010] | Laptop at Hardware Sphere

Dual-touchpad laptop from Asus and Bang & Olufsen – CNET Crave

My comments

Beosound Ouverture There are those of you who may own or have used Bang & Olufsen hi-fi systems or TVs and have become amazed at the beauty of these Danish design masterpieces. Then when you switch on any of these masterpieces, your experience with them is so special, with such benefits as high-quality sound and pictures and a distinct “feel” and user experience.

You may be wondering when this kind of experience will appear on your computer and may have thought of using the Apple Macintosh as a way of coming closer to this experience.

Now Asus have brought this experience closer to the Windows PC user through the release of a laptop computer that has been designed in conjunction with this company. David Lewis, who is a freelance industrial designer who has designed most of the classic B&O masterpieces such as the Beosound 9000 music system and the Beovision LX and MX series of television sets, has been responsible for the key aspects of this design. Similarly, the pictures of this computer when it was open reminded me of the Master Control Panel that was part of the Beosystem 6500 music system, especially with the black keyboard area and the polished-aluminium palm rest. The screen bezel had the speakers integrated in it and was wider than the keyboard area. This made it have the look of one of B&O’s newer flatscreen TVs.

None of this design is complete without there being improvements in the sound-reproduction department. Here, they also used the B&O’s ICEPower Class-D switch-mode power amplification technology, which is known to be one of the few amplifier designs of this type that yield high-quality sound.  The main reason that the speakers are in the screen bezel, rather than facing upwards from the keyboard area, are to focus the sound at the user. This is the common setup practice for sound playing to the audience and is used for hi-fi, TV sound, desktop PCs and other common speaker-based sound reproduction tasks.

With Asus becoming involved with one of the few “audio companies of respect” to design a high-end laptop computer, this certainly shows that there is effort being taken in improving the sound quality of these computers. If this happens further, the quality of the sound that emanates from this class of computer could be improved rather than us having to stick with the usual weak tinny sound or connect these computers to external speakers for better sound reproduction.

These computers also used a “dual-touchpad” design which is often described as being similar to how a master DJ cues up records on his two turntables. This then allows for increased control of the computer, especially when scrolling through material.

Of course, the specifications and software provision are not dissimilar to a high-end multimedia laptop running Windows 7.

This also means that people who work with the Windows operating system can still benefit from classy and elegant computer designs. Once we see computers like this appearing on the market, there will be the desire to offer something that bit extra when it comes to the business-personal laptop computer.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2010

I have written some other posts about the Consumer Electronics Show 2010, mainly about the rise of Android and about Skype being integrated in to regular TV sets. But this is the main post about what has been going on at this show.

TV technologies

The main technologies that were present at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show were those technologies related to the TV set.

US consumers are in a TV upgrade cycle due to the country undergoing a digital TV switchover and are preferring flatscreen sets over CRT sets. This is even though there are digital-TV set-top boxes being made available at very cheap prices and through government subsidy programs. The main reality is that the older sets will be “pushed down” to applications like the spare bedroom with the newer sets being used in the primary viewing areas.

Screen Technologies

The main technology that is capturing the CES show floor is 3D TV. This has been brought on by the success of “Avatar” and requires a 3D-capable TV and, for Blu-Ray discs, a 3D-capable Blu-Ray player. In the case of broadcast content, some HD-capable set-top boxes and PVRs that are in the field can be upgraded to 3D functionality through an “in-the-field” firmware update.

In most cases, viewers will need to wear special glasses to view the images with full effect and most implementations will be base on the “RealD” platform. Some eyewear manufacturers are even jumping in on the act to provide “ready-to-wear” and prescription glasses for this purpose.

Vizio had also introduced a 21:9 widescreen TV even though activity on this aspect ratio had become very dormant.

Blu-Ray

The US market has cracked key price marks for standalone lounge-room players and there is an increase in the supply of second-tier models, especially integrated “home-theatre-in-box” systems and low-cost players.

US ATSC Mobile DTV standard

You may not be able to get away from the “boob tube” at all in America with portable-TV products based on the new ATSC Mobile digital TV standard which has been released to the market this year.

LG are launching a mobile phone and a portable DVD player with mobile DTV reception capability. They are also releasing a mobile ATSC DTV tuner chip that is optimised for use in in-car tuners, laptops and similar designs. Vizio are also releasing a range of handheld LED-backlit LCD TVs for this standard.

A key issue that may need to be worked out with this standard is whether an ATSC Mobile DTV device can pick up regular over-the-air ATSC content. This is more so if companies use this technology as the TV-reception technology for small-screen transportable TVs typically sold at the low-end of the TV-receiver market. It is also of concern with computer implementations where a computer may be used as a “one-stop entertainment shop” with TV-reception abilities.

There is a small Mobile-DTV – WiFi network tuner, known as the Tivit, that was shown at the CES. It is a battery-operated device that is the size of an iPhone and uses the WiFi technology to pass mobile TV content to a laptop, PDA or smartphone that is running the appropriate client software. It has a continuous “battery-only” run-time of 3 hours but can be charged from a supplied AC adaptor or USB port. I consider this product as being a highly-disruptive device that could be deployed in, for example, a classroom to “pass around” TV content, but it also has its purpose as something to show the ballgame on a laptop during the tailgate picnic. The main question I have about this is whether it can be a DLNA broadcast server so that people can use them with any software or hardware DLNA-based media playback client.

Network-enabled TV viewing

This now leads me to report on what is happening with integrating the TV with the home network.

More of the “over-the-top” IPTV and video-on-demand solutions (Netflix, CinemaNow, Hulu, etc) are becoming part of most network-enabled home video equipment. In the US, this may make the concept of “pulling out the cable-TV cable” (detaching from multichannel pay-TV services) real without the users forfeiting the good content. They could easily run with off-the-air network TV or basic cable TV and download good movies and television serials through services like Netfilx or Hulu.

The main enabler of this would be the “Smart TVs” which connect to the home network and the Internet, thus providing on-screen data widgets, YouTube integration, DLNA content access, as well as the “over-the-top” services. Even so, the TV doesn’t necessarily have to have this functionality in it due to peripheral devices like home-theatre receivers (Sherwood RD-7505N) and multimedia hard disks (Iomega ScreenPlay Director HD) having these functions. Of course, games consoles wouldn’t be considered complete nowadays unless they have the functionality.

RF-based two-way remote control

Some home-AV manufacturers are moving away from the regular one-way infrared remote control, mainly in order to achieve increased capability and increased reliability. These setups are typically in the form of a hardware remote control or software remote control application that runs on a smartphone and they use Bluetooth as a way of communicating with the device.

These setups will typically require the customer to “pair” the remote control or the smartphone as part of device setup, which will be an experience similar to pairing a Bluetooth headset with a mobile phone. They have infra-red as a user-enabled fallback method for use with universal remote controls, but this could at least foil the likes of disruptive devices like “TV Turn-Off”.

The main driver behind this form of two-way remote control is to provide a secondary screen for interactive video such as BD-Live Blu-Ray discs. Infact, Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” Blu-Ray disc implements this technology in the form of an iPhone app which links with certain Blu-Ray players to use the iPhone’s user interface as a jukebox for the title.

Smartphones and MIDs

Previously, I had done a blog article on the rise of the Android platform as a challenger to the Apple iPhone market share as far as smartphones are concerned.. There is even talk of Android working beyond the smartphone and the MID towards other device types like set-top boxes and the like, with some prototype devices being run on this operating system.

There is an up-and-coming MID in the form of the Adam Internet Tablet MID. This Android-based unit which can link to WiFi netwoks and has a 32Gb SSD, also has a new display-type combination in the form of an anti-glare LCD / e-ink display

This year. the “smartbook” is gaining prominence as a new general-purpose computing form factor. It is a computer that looks like a netbook but is smaller than one of them. It is powered by an ARM-processor abd could run integrated 3G or cellular calls; and its functionality is more equivalent to that of a smartphone.

There have been some E-book readers shown but these are mostly tied to a particular publisher or retail chain.

Connected Car Media

Pioneer and Alpine have equipped their top-of-the-line multimedia head units with “connected radio” functionality. This function works with a USB-tethered iPhone running the Pandora Internet Radio app. Both these solutions act as a “controller” for the Pandora app, with the iPhone pulling in the online content through that service. The Pioneer solution also offers a “virtual-DJ” function in the form of an extended-functionality app that works alongside iTunes. All these solutions are intended to appeal to the young fashion-conscious male who sees the iPhone as a status symbol and likes to have his car “thumping” with the latest tunes. These solutions don’t seem to go anywhere beyond that market, whether with other mobile-phone platforms or other online-media applications like Internet-radio streams.

Ford  have developed the MyFord sophisticated dashboard and online telematics system and were demonstrating it at this show. This will work with a user-supplied 3G modem and also supports WiFi router functionality. Typically, this will be rolled out to the top-end of Ford’s US market, such as the Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

Digital Photography

The new cameras of this year have seen improved user-interfaces, including the use of touchscreen technology and some manufacturers are toying with the use of fuel-cell technology as a power-supply method.

As far as network integration goes, Canon have enabled their EOS 7D digital SLR with this functionality once equipped with the optional Canon WiFi adaptor. This solution even provides for DLNA media-playback functionality.

The aftermarket Eye-Fi WiFi SD memory card was shown as a version, known as the Pro Series, that can associate with 802.11n networks.

The unanswered question with network-enabled digital photography hardware is how and whether these solutions will suit the needs of many professional photographers.  The main questions include whether the units will associate with many different wireless networks that the photographer visits without them having to re-enter the network’s security parameters. Another question is whether these solutions can work with higher-security WPA2-Enterprise networks, which is of importance with photographers working in most business, government and education setups.

Computer equipment

“New Computing Experience” alive and well in the US market. Market interested in powerful lightweight laptops that are slightly larger than netbooks. These will be driven by processors that are energy-efficient but are powerful. They could become an all-round portable computer that could appeal to college students and the like or simply as a desktop replacement. The machines that I think of most with this market are the Apple Macbook Pro comoputers that are in circulation, the HP Envy series or the smaller VAIO computers.

Nearly all of these computers that are being launched at the show are running Windows 7, which shows that the operating system will gain more traction through the next system-upgrade cycle.

USB 3.0

There has been some more activity on the USB 3.0 SuperSpeed front.

Western Digital had released an external hard disk that works on this standard, which is known as the MyBook 3.0. This my typically be slow as far as peripherals go because of not much integration in to the computer scene. VIA have also shown a USB 3.0 4-port hub as a short-form circuit, but this could lead to USB 3.0 hubs appearing on the market this year.

ASUS and Gigabyte have released motherboards that have USB 3.0 controllers and sockets on board. These may appeal to system builders and independent computer resellers who may want to differentiate their desktop hardware, as well as to “gaming-rig” builders who see USB 3.0 as bragging rights at the next LAN party. None of the laptop OEMs have supplied computers with USB 3.0 yet.

As far as the general-purpose operating systems (Windows, MacOS X, Linux) go, none of them have native USB 3.0 integrated at the moment but this may happen in the next service lifecycle of the major operating systems.

Some more benefits have been revealed including high-speed simultaneous data transfer (which could benefit external hard disks and network adaptors) and increased power efficiency, especially for portable applications.

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Google takes on the iPhone with the Android platform

Over the past few years, the coolest phone to be “seen with” was the Apple iPhone and and you were even considered “more cool” if your iPhone was filled with many apps downloaded from the iTunes App Store. Some people even described the iPhone as an “addiction” and there has often been the catchcry “an app for every part of your life” for the iPhone. I have covered the iPhone platform a few times, mainly mentioning a few iPhone-based DLNA media servers and controllers and the “I Am Safe” iPhone app. Other smartphone platforms like the Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile platforms fell by the wayside even though hardware manufacturers and the companies standing behind the platforms were trying to raise awareness of the platforms.

Then, over the last year, Google was developing a Linux-based embedded-device platform known as the Android platform, with a view to making it compete with the Apple iPhone. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become awash with smartphones, MIDs, smartbooks and other hardware based on this platform.

The main advantage of this platform is that it is a totally free, open-source platform which allows for standards-based smartphone and embedded-device development. At the moment, there is only one phone – the Nexus One – available on the general market. Other phones that have been talked about include the Motorola “Droids” which have their name focused on the Android operating system. But if these other devices that are being put up during the show are made available on the market, this could lead to a competitive marketplace for smartphone platforms.

Even the app-development infrastructure has been made easier for developers in some respects. For example, developers are able to design a user-interface that works properly on different handset screen sizes. This makes things easier for Android handset builders who want to differentiate their units with screen sizes. A good question to ask is whether a developer is allowed to bring their technology like a codec that they have developed or licensed to their project without having to make the technology “open-source”. This may be of concern to the likes of Microsoft if they want to port their technology to the Android platform. Similarly, would an app developer have to make their projects “open-source”, which may be of concern to games developers who have a lot at stake?

Once the Android platform becomes established, this could “spark up” Microsoft, Symbian and Blackberry to put their handset platforms on the map and encourage further innovation in the handset and embedded-devices sector.

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Skype videoconferencing coming soon to regular TV sets

Skype goes living room, embeds on LG, Panasonic HDTVs

Skype, toujours interdit sur 3G, investit les écrans de TV – DegroupNews (France – French language)

Skype Wants to Make Your TV More Social – GigaOM / NewTeeVee (USA)

Skype offers living room TV action – The Register (UK)

From the horse’s mouth

Get Skype On Your TV – Skype Blogs

My comments on this topic

Previously, I had written in this blog about the use of videoconferencing, especially Skype and Windows Live Messenger as a way for families separated by distance to stay in touch. This also included reference to a previously-broadcast television news article about this technology being used to bring older relatives who were at rest homes or supported-accommodation facilities closer to their families. The newscast showed images of the older relative at the supported-accommodation facility celebrating a birthday with the relatives who appeared on a large flat-screen TV set up as a videophone.

In that article. I had talked about integrating your flat-screen TV with your PC for video conferencing by linking your computer to the television via its VGA or HDMI inputs or integrating an older CRT-based TV using its composite or S-Video inputs so many people can benefit from the larger screen.

Over the last few days, I had read some articles about an announcement that Skype had made concerning integrating its functionality into regular “brown-goods” TV sets and associated equipment. The main thrust of this was to implement 720p HD Skype videoconferencing; and with selected Panasonic “VieraCast” and LG “NetCast Entertainment Access” TV sets, you add a webcam supplied by the set’s manufacturer to the sets and connect them to your home network to enable “PC-less” video conferencing. This definitely will appeal to people who find setting up or operating computers very intimidating and may also appeal to those of us who cannot stand the sight of computer equipment in the main lounge area and believe that computer equipment belongs in the den or study.

This will appeal to families who have distant relatives and want to use the TV located in the lounge room or family room to keep in touch with these relatives without much in the way of setup headaches. Similarly, these sets could lower the startup and ongoing costs involved with videoconferencing facilities for places involved with the care of senior citizens because the Skype-equipped TV sets will need very little in the way of staff-training and support costs. It will also appeal to small businesses, farmers and the like because they can benefit from “big-business” videoconferencing at a “small-business” price without “big-business” setup hassles.

As I have said before, this could be extended to other “advanced-TV” platforms like most of the “set-top-box” platforms such as TiVo so that people who have video equipment based on these platforms could benefit from this form of video conferencing without having to add extra boxes or replace their existing TV sets.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2009 Comments

Kitchen / laundry appliances, building control and security

Unlike the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2008 in Berlin, this show hasn’t headed towards exhibiting kitchen / laundry appliances and building control / security devices. But a show like this could head down that direction under various mandates like the “green” energy-efficiency mandate and the “smart home” mandate.

The main reason that this has been put off is because of the financial downturn in the US where many of these companies who rely primarily on the “new building” market are simply not selling many of these devices, therefore cannot afford to spend on this kind of activity.

Windows 7 Goes Beta

This has meant a major milestone for Microsoft in having Windows 7 legitimately enter the public beta stage. It has allowed the blogosphere to talk about improvements to the way Windows will be working under this operating system.

One major improvement will be the Device Stage where there will be an integrated user interface for all of the peripherals that the computer benefits from. It doesn’t matter whether the device is connected by a USB or other peripheral-connect cable or is accessed over a wireless peripheral link or the IP network the computer is a member of. This interface will provide access to the standard tasks for managing the device as well as any manufacturer-specified tasks for that device.

Another highlighted connectivity improvement is the Windows 7 “Home Group” which simplifies how a home network is set up and represented. This also includes any “non-computer devices” like network media players, network-attached storage units, games consoles and IP cameras.

Large colour bit-map display as a preferred user-interface display for “fixed” consumer electronics

Previously, we have seen “fixed” consumer-electronics devices like stereo / home-theatre equipment, computer network equipment and similar hardware having either a vacuum fluorescent display, monochrome liquid-crystal display, monochrome LED display or lately an OEL display as their user-interface display. Such a display would take up a small area of the device’s front panel and typically show textual information. If they show graphical information, it would be a low-resolution display which represents a “current-function” icon or a bar-graph representing a quantity like sound level.

Now manufacturers are supplying some of their devices with high-resolution colour LCD or OEL displays. Examples of this include the D-Link DIR-685 Wireless-N router / electronic photo frame / UPnP Media Server; Linksys’s Network Home Audio products and Linksys’s new media-focused DLNA NAS boxes. This has been because of high-resolution colour LCD modules of sizes up to 17 inches becoming more cost-effective.

This has allowed the “fixed ”consumer-electronics devices to have a user interface that is very similar to that provided by the coolest portable devices. It has also allowed manufacturers to look towards equipping their devices with touchscreens and iPod-style “spinwheels”. The user-interface menus on these devices are starting to have the same kind of experience that is accepted on the latest set-top boxes or portable media players.

It will certainly make those monochrome user-interface displays look so tired and “yesterday” as far as product user-interface design is concerned.

SDXC – the next-generation high-capacity SD card

The standard SDXC card can hold up to 2Tb, and being part of the SD Card lineup, be available in the three physical card sizes available for these cards. This iteration of the SD card would primarily appeal to portable devices like laptops, DSLRs, HD camcorders, etc. Could the SD card be the replacement for the hard disk especially in small portable computers like netbooks or as a large firmware storage for electronic devices?

The only limitation about this technology would be that SDXC cards wouldn’t be able to be read in the existing SD or SDHC devices.

LCD TVs – 7mm thick, Plasma TVs – 8.8mm thick

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/technology/4159682/Worlds-thinnest-television-unveiled.html

Thinner flat-panel displays based on the common large-screen technologies are appearing. This will allow for improved consolidation for the display unit, thus allowing also for lighter sets and reduced “bill-of-materials” costs for this class of electronics. Manufacturers can allocate more room for extra functionality and there will be less of the overheating that occurs in these sets because of improved airflow over the chassis. This also leads to improvements in operational efficiency thus reducing the accusation about the large-screen flat-panel TVs being as inefficient as a 4-wheel-drive “Toorak tractor”.

MoCA being launched to the consumer

Mostly this will manifest in the form of “Ethernet-Coax” bridges in a similar form to the common “homeplugs” which are simply “powerline-Ethernet” bridges. Read more about MoCA in this article in this blog.

US-market TVs equipped with Netflix and similar service

In the US, Netflix and similar video-on-demand companies are “buttering up” to the “brown-goods” companies to integrate support for their service in their TV sets and similar devices. Similarly, some TV manufacturers are moving towards providing mid-range and premium equipment with built-in large-screen Internet viewing functionality. This will typically require the TVs, PVRs or set-tops to have Ethernet ports or WiFi connectivity.

If a customer wants to use this kind of feature, they should use the wired means (Ethernet, MoCA, HomePlug) rather than WiFi because this will provide increased reliability with these services.

An ideal feature for these sets would be to have DLNA / UPnP AV functionality with “Play-to” support. This can allow one to view or listen to their own media library whether it is held on their own PC or network-attached storage unit. It is more so because a lot of the NAS units pitched at the home market are being equipped with DLNA server functionality.

Linksys DLNA-compliant music systems and NAS boxes

1 music system with CD player, 1 network music system and 1 network audio receiver, all able to be controlled by a Linksys WiFi remote controller. Linksys is also selling “media-optimised” DLNA-compliant NAS boxes, one of which has a memory card slot for “dump to NAS” ability and a colour LCD display.

The “dump to NAS” memory card slot featured on the mid-range and deluxe units could come in handy with digital-camera memory cards and SlotMusic cards by making the content that exists on these cards available to the home network at all times.

Premiere of USB 3.0

The first few devices will be out, mainly in the form of external hard disks. Could this be an alternative to eSATA as an external hard-disk connection? Could it work as a “fat pipe” for a WiFi-N network adaptor.

The situation will be the same as what has happened with the launch of USB 2.0 where it will be available in a “retrofit” form for existing computers. This option will then end up being available as part of computer hardware introduce from next year onwards.

Premiere of eCoupled

Fulton Innovation had officially promoted the eCoupled inductive power-coupling system, providing it as an alternative to corded power for portable devices. They had set up a proving ground at the CES for wirelessly charging mobile phones, cordless power tools and remote controllers.

This technology will benefit portable entertainment and IT devices by achieving a standard wire-free power source for these devices. They also had proven the idea of “parking” a remote control on a set-top box or TV set so it can be charged quickly. It could allow for the TV or set-top box to perform required tasks like shut-down whenever the remote is parked on or removed from the unit.

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