Previously, in my series about the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015 fair in Berlin, I had covered computing and home network trends like Intel Skylake chips leading to improved performance for desktop and portable computers and the steady rise of 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi wireless and HomePlug AV2 powerline networks. This was followed up with home entertainment technology which was centered around 4K UHDTV becoming more mainstream, the arrival of 4K UHD Blu-Ray Discs and HDR TV technology.
There has been a rise in the number of home-automation systems appearing on the European market with companies offering a new home-automation platform or building out their existing platform with new sensor and control devices. Most of these systems implement Zigbee or Z-Wave and use a hub or central unit that links to your home network to allow monitoring and management of these systems from your smartphone or Web-connected computer. Some of these systems may have some sensor or output devices work with your home network’s Wi-Fi segment rather than Zigbee or Z-Wave.
Devolo Home Control Central unit connected to router
Devolo have built out the Devolo Home Control platform with more devices. This Z-Wave system started off with a central unit, a wall-mount room thermostat, a thermostatic radiator valve, a smoke alarm and a plug-in appliance module which turns appliances on and off and reports their power consumption. The central unit can link with your home network via an Ethernet or, thankfully, a HomePlug AV 500 connection both of which are more realistic in this application than Wi-Fi wireless. Now they have built it out with a motion detector, a reed-switch-based door/window contact sensor, a water sensor to detect leaky washing machines or flooded basements, and a humidity sensor. They also added an indoor siren to provide an audible alert to user-defined events; along with a wall-mount switch, light dimmer and blind/shutter controller that have to be installed by an electrician and connected to AC wiring. This system is managed by a mobile-platform app and can signal events by email or SMS text messaging.
D-Link have also built out their myDLink home-automation platform which uses Wi-Fi for some applications and Z-Wave for others. This system is based around a Connected Home Hub which connects to your home network via Wi-FI or Ethernet and connects to the Z-Wave-based devices. Here, they have an appliance module and motion sensor that connects directly via Wi-Fi along with a smoke alarm, siren, water sensor, 3-in-1 magnet/reed door sensor which also senses room temperature and light level, 3-in-1 motion sensor which also senses room temperature and light level, and smoke alarm.
Samsung just lately took over the SmartThings home automation initiative and brought it under their banner. This system again is based around a home-automation hub which works with Z-Wave or Zigbee along with your home network but can work with devices from other vendors like the Yale Real Living deadbolts or the Honeywell Lyric thermostats. They have also shown the SleepSense bed sensor which slips under your mattress and registers how much sleep you are getting.
Philips are building out the Hue LED-based lighting range with the Hue+ lighting strip which is effectively a string of lights. Here, you can adjust colour and control the light from your smartphone like you can with other Philips Hue devices and this can be built out to 10 metres by adding a 1-metre extension strip.
Increasing more of the appliance manufacturers are working towards an increasingly-sophisticated “app-cessory” approach to online enablement where your smartphone or tablet becomes an extra control surface that exposes increased functionality like notifying you on your smartphone when the laundry is done so you can start the next load as quickly as possible. But it is also driven by the manufacturers implementing an interlink with their resources to facilitate assisted cooking and similar functionality.
Miele CM7 countertop bean-to-cup coffee machine
Miele has brought in the Edition Con@ct washing machine and dryer which implements an automatic detergent dispensing system and lets users know using their smartphone and the Internet if they need more of the detergent cartridges. As well, they are extending this concept to dishwashers so the app reminds you when to get dishwasher powder or tablets. They also are releasing the US-sized ovens and range-style cookers in to Europe because of the fact these bring out the “gourmet” in some European cultures. Their new CM7 touch-operated bean-to-cup superautomatic espresso coffee machine has been released as their foray in to the countertop coffee machine space and implements a “jug” function for making large quantities of coffee or milk as well as a cartridge-based automatic descaler. Miele’s newer electric induction cooktops are implementing the TempControl function for frying so you can get those eggs, sausages or “best of the kitchen” fry-up just right.
AEG Pro Combi Plus smart oven – you can see how it’s cooking from your iPad
Electrolux have been showing their vision for the Internet Of Everything at this year’s IFA as far as their appliance brands are concerned. One application that they want to underscore with AllJoyn and the AllSeen Alliance is assisted cooking. One of their brands, AEG, has come forward with some connected cooking ideas including the ProCombi Plus Smart Oven. This takes the “app-cessory” concept further by using an integrated camera so you can peek at what is cooking in that oven using your smartphone or tablet which is connected via Wi-Fi. The mobile device app will have access to their recipe catalogue which is searchable and sortable by diet, cost, occasion, ingredients and technique along with access to AEG’s social-Web channels. The ProCombi Plus Smart Oven is one of those ovens that implements wet and dry cooking in the same space so you can steam-cook the fish and roast some potatoes in the same space. The Hob2Hood rangehood is one of the first rangehoods that uses the hob or cooker as a control surface and will work with AEG’s cooktops.
You can see in your Bosch fridge using your smartphone courtesy of Home Connect
Bosch Home Appliances has also headed down the connected appliance path with a fridge that has an integrated camera so you can see what is in there on your smartphone or tablet. As well, they also have other “app-cessory” functionality including system diagnostics across all of the appliance classes including their built-in bean-to-cup coffee machine. Let’s not forget that Bosch are releasing cooktops that are equipped with sensors for optmum cooking.
KitchenAid used the IFA 2015 to capitalise on the fad for sous-vide cooking by launching the Chef Touch Sous-Vide collection. This consists of a vacuum sealer, steam oven and freezer pitched for this technique with an ask of approximately EUR€10000. It isn’t just about that famous electric mixer anymore., W
Whirlpool are launching their Bauknecht sub-brand which is pitched at a “life-balanced” lifestyle for the millenial generation. This courts households with a family and career focused lifestyle and encompasses washing machines, dryers and fridges controlled by the BLive mobile app. For example, you can tell your Bauknecht washing machine what material your clothes in your washload are and the machine determines the best cycle for that job.
Samsung AddWash washing machine – you can add that sock mid-cycle
Samsung had fielded a front-load washing machine that has a door which you can open during its cycle so you can add laundry that had missed the start of the cycle like a sock’s mate. Here, you can pause the cycle and this small door unlocks while the water stays in the machine when you add that item. It also is a connected appliance which supports smartphone notification.
Philips has introduced a range of devices that work with your smartphone and tablet for “cradle to grave” personal wellbeing. For example, they have an ultrasound scanner so you can scan yourself during pregnancy and see how the new baby comes up on your mobile device. They also have the uGrow in-ear thermometer to measure baby’s temperature and show it on your smartphone as well as a baby monitor. The SoniCare electric toothbrush uses your mobile device to show you how to best clean your teeth wile the Smart Shaver 7000 system becomes an electric shaver, skin buffer or beard trimmer. They even provide a location tracking device for seniors who have the wanders.
Other brands have come to the fore like Haier with a fridge that has a door that becomes a window to what’s in there and the Neato Botvac which is a robot vacuum cleaner that connects to your home Wi-Fi network and uses your smartphone or tablet as its control surface.
What is showing up here is that the Internet Of Things is being seen as an essential product differentiator for large and small appliances while some manufacturers are building out home-automation platforms to get us going in this field. These goals will be centered around smartphones and tablets being control surfaces. Who knows what next year will bring.
Previously in my series on IFA 2015, I have covered the trends affecting personal and mobile computing like the arrival of the Intel Skylake silicon which raises the performance of portable computers along with trends affecting the home network such as 802.11ac Wave-2 Wi-Fi wireless. Now I am covering the technologies affecting home entertainment.
There have been major strides forward with TV technology especially 4K ultra-high-definition TV.
Firstly, the cost of these sets is gradually reducing in such a way where they could start to appear in discount stores and supermarkets.
But another technology is appearing in the form of High Dynamic Range for video-content display. This is intended to create a more realistic image by preserving a high level of contrast between the brightest parts and the darkest parts. Here, the image would look like what you would see in real life like when you see the sun reflecting off the surface of the sea. Colour shades would be represented close to what they were to be, including the ability to handle bright exotic reds properly.
LG OLED TVs being launched at IFA 2015
LG have launched some flat OLED 4K TVs in the form of the EF9500 (65” and 55”) series and the EG9200 (55”) which are HDR-ready. With these sets, the flat-screen feature is underscored as being important for group viewing and whenever one is viewing on an angle which is something that curved screens cannot excel at. They also released a curved OLED 4K model in the form of the EG9100 series but this model omits the HDR feature. All these Smart TVs implement the WebOS 2.0 platform.
Samsung have covered all their bases when it comes to 4K TV technology by offering sets from 32” to 105”. They have announced that their UHDTV sets can be able to work with HDR material and these sets will benefit from this capability courtesy of a firmware update.
Panasonic have launched the CZ950 which is the first 4K OLED-based UHDTV to be launched by this brand. This 65” curved-screen set is tuned by Hollywood colourist Mike Sowia and is HDR ready.
Sony haven’t been quiet but launched their Bravia X91C series TV to Europe and Australia. This is while Philips launched their Ambilux TVs which use pico projectors to project images on to the surrounding wall to effectively enlarge the viewing area.
As for sources that supply video content in UHDTV, there has been some action lately on this front.
The 4K UHD Blu-Ray format has been launched as a way to cost-effectively deliver 4K material on Blu-Ray optical discs. It also has the ability to work with Dolby Atmos and other object-based sound-mix formats as well as supporting a digital media bridge function. Samsung has launched the first player capable of this format at IFA 2015.
As for broadcast content, Germany is moving towards DVB-T2 and implementing the HEVC codecs as part of this format which makes for traditional terrestrial broadcast TV being capable of being delivered in 4K UHDTV.
But there is more activity on the satellite-TV front with Eutelsat and SES Astra have been building out bouquets of 4K television content to be delivered this way. One example of this is the Fashion TV 4K channel that is being delivered by SES Astra satellites. CanalPlus is in on the 4K act as is Pearl TV, a German shopping channel. This is while Hessicher Rundfunk who is part of ARD is running demo transmissions via the Eutelsat Hotbird satellites. Sky Deutschland and a Scandinavian broadcaster have registered intent to establish 4K satellite content.
When a consumer-electronics show has computing and TV as activities of focus, it is easy to forget about what is happening with audio technology. This is as the technology is being more focused around file-based audio and wireless multiroom audio setups of which there has been a lot of activity in this department.
LG Music Flow P5 speakers
LG has built out their MusicFlow Bluetooth audio platform with the MusicFlow P5 speaker that supports Automatic Music Play that starts playing your music when you come in range.This device can run on its own battery for 15 hours. They also launched the SoundPop 360 which is a Bluetooth speaker that is the shape and size of a coffee cup and fires the music out around it. It has a playing time of 20 hours on its own battery.
LG SoundPop 360 Bluetooth speakers
These Bluetooth speakers support LG’s MusicPoint functionality which is effectively multipoint for Bluetooth speakers where you can connect two Bluetooth phones to the one speaker and play music through that speaker. There is also the DualPlay functionality where you can connect one phone to two LG Bluetooth speakers and set it up for improved stereo separation or many-speaker party-mode playback. The TV Sound Sync functionality allows you to link the Bluetooth speakers to a Bluetooth-capable TV and set up for better stereo or surround home-theatre separation or a private listening experience.
Samsung has answered LG on the Korean wireless-speaker front by offering 360-degree wireless speakers in the form of the R1, R3 and R5. These are cylindrically-shaped speakers rather than the previous egg shape and have a touch-based control surface so you can skip or recall tracks or “duck” the volume easily and they work with your Wi-Fi home network. Samsung’s Gear S and S2 smartwatches come with software to make them be remote controls for these speakers.
Philips have fronted up with the “Izzy” BMS range of Bluetooth speakers which can be synced to each other for a party-mode playback setup. These implement a pair of 2.5” full-range drivers in a bass-reflex enclosure.
Bang & Olufsen have fronted up at the IFA this year to show the BeoPlay A6 multiroom speaker which implements an unorthodox shape in order to fill a room with sound. The fact to remember about the way B&O speaker designs is that it isn’t just about their distinct looks but that these looks are to achieve improved sound dispersion across the frequency bands.This Danish-built speaker can work with B&O’s wireless iteration of the Beolink multiroom system or can cover all bases by working with Bluetooth or a Wi-FI home network supporting AirPlay or DLNA.
There is a desire by manufacturers and consumers to gang multiple wireless speakers together to play the same source. This is to permit improved stereo separation with that wider sound or to allow for “party mode” playback where all the speakers play the same music over a larger area. This extends to integrating subwoofers in to the equation to bring out that deeper bass, allowing the bass guitar or drum kit to come forward in popular music for example.
But there is a problem with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth setups where these networks are packet-based in the way they move data and there is a desire to keep the audio content in proper sync. This is limited due to chipset manufacturers and speaker / multiroom-system manufacturers designing their products so they can’t work with other products. There has been an effort in the right direction with Qualcomm’s AllPlay Wi-Fi-based system being implemented by different brands. Bluetooth could work harder on this goal for speakers that work in that domain while the Wi-Fi Alliance, IEEE Forum, the UPnP Forum and other alliances can work together to achieve this goal over IP-based local networks.
There is always a bit of action when it comes to new headphones and earphones to connect to your laptop, smartphone or tablet when on the train or plane. This is because most of us want to hear good sound from these devices to make our travel more easier and, in a lot of cases, these double as communications headsets for whenever we make and take phone calls on the go using the classic mobile or VoIP services.
Sony hear.on high-resolution stereo headphones
Sony have released their h.ear series of “cans” which come in different colours and are optimised for high-resolution sound. The first of these is the h.ear on which is a pair of closed-back circum-aural headphones that have a 5Hz-60kHz frequency range and are efficient for battery-operated devices by having a low impedance and 103dB/mW sensitivity. There is also a pair of h.ear in noise-cancelling earbuds that are part of the range.
These are pitched to go with their NW-ZX100 noise-cancelling Walkman file-audio player and the NW-A25 and NW-A26HN Walkman file-audio players with this model having noise-cancelling headphones.
Onkyo has used IFA 2015 to advance a pair of wireless earbuds which look larger than your typical earphones. Personally I see these earbuds a bit like a stereo take of those mono Bluetooth headsets that you slip over your ear to take calls in a hands-free manner while on the go.
Bose have used the IFA 2015 to premiere their Soundlink AroundEar Wireless Headphones 2 which are a pair of Bluetooth circumaural headphones based on their QuietComfort range of active-noise-cancelling “cans”.
Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server
The traditional hi-fi hasn’t been forgotten about courtesy of Panasonic who are staging an aggressive comeback for the Technics hi-fi brand. For vinyl, they are revealing a prototype direct-drive turntable that is modelled on the classic SP-10 turntable and the SL-1200 “Wheels Of Steel” DJ turntable. This will come with an improved direct-drive motor. They have also fielded a pair of hi-fi headphones in the form of the EAH-T700 closed-back headphones which implement a two-way speaker design based around a 50mm main drive and a 14mm super-tweeter for each channel.
But they also have built out their stereo equipment range further with the Grand Class G30 hi-fi which is based around the SU-G30 network media player / integrated amplifier and the ST-G30 music server which rips CDs to solid-state disk in a bit-perfect manner, more the reason to buy your music on CDs. This device serves the music out to your home network using DLNA technology and uses FLAC or WAV files to store the music. They have also fielded a single-piece hi-fi system with integrated CD player which can also draw in music from your home network in the form of the Ottava Premium Class C500 system. As well, they showed the C700 speakers to go with that above system.
Next in this series, I will be covering the Internet Of Things which will encompass home automation and home appliances. Stay tuned!
Previously, in Part 1 of my series about the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015 in Berlin, I had covered the trends affecting regular computers, tablets and smartphones especially with Intel just releasing the Skylake processor silicon which yields better performance for the same amount of power used. This has caused manufacturers to effectively refresh their desktop and portable computer lineups. As well, nearly every computer manufacturer is offering a lineup of desktop or portable computers that shine on gaming-grade performance to appeal to the core gamer and e-sports communities.
ASUS ZenWatch 2
The smartwatch scene is slowly maturing with manufacturers offering more of these watches in their product lineups. The key trends here are about smartwatches that are designed to “look right” for the user and occasion. Here, we are seeing premium smartwatches that would look the part if you are to “dress to impress” on that date or in the corporate boardroom, but there are a few sports smartwatches with the rugged look along with a few “ladies’ watches” that look the part on her wrist.
Samsung had just launched the latest Tizen-based Gear S2 which has a traditional-looking round face and they have co-opted Alessandro Mendini, a well known Italian designer, to design accessory bands and watch faces for this watch.
ASUS has come along with the Zenwatch 2 Android Wear which uses an OLED display and Gorilla Glass protection and comes in 2 different sizes. It even has an add-on battery pack for if you want to get that more runtime out of the watch. Fossil has come up with another Android Wear watch as part of their range.
Motorola 360 smartwatches for her
Motorola have built out their Moto 360 range of Android Wear smartwatches with the Moto 360 Sport which is their smartwatch equivalent of the sports watch along with a slender “ladies’ watch” variant that will look good on her wrist. There are different finishes available such as a rose-gold look, a gold look, a silver look and a black-metal look with these watches up for preorder. This is also accompanied with a 1” TV commercial which they used to promote this watch.
LG Watch Urbane Luxe – fit for the boardroom
LG have also brought out the LG Watch Urbane Luxe which is a more premium variant of the LG Watch Urbane. This comes with an OLEP flexible display that works like the OLED displays and has a 24-carat gold finish. Huawei’s Android Wear watch can be had gold plated for US$800, gold with a leather band for US$649, black metal for US$449 and a stainless steel look for US$349.
The home network
The main trend affecting the home network is the availability of 802.11ac Wave 2 wireless-network technology which implements the MU-MIMO multi-path technology. This has led to some very powerful routers hitting the European market lately which have four MIMO streams and support the “multi-user” feature that effectively creates a Wi-Fi “switch” out of the access point.
ASUS RT-AC5300 router
ASUS has launched the RT-AC5300 which is considered the world’s fastest Wi-Fi router. This router, which uses spike-shaped antennas can run 1Gbps over the 2.4GHz band and 2.167Gbps over the 5GHz bands.
NETGEAR also fielded the 7800 Nighthawk X4S which is the first modem router to offer this kind of performance. This modem router has a DSL modem on the WAN (Internet) side that can work with ADSL2 or VDSL2 (fibre-copper) networks alongside a Gigabit Ethernet connection for fibre-to-the-premises, fibre-coaxial or Ethernet-based fibre-copper networks; and has on the LAN side, Wi-Fi capable to AC2600 4×4 MU-MIMO dual-band standards along with 4 Gigabit Ethernet connections. It is available in Europe and Australia for a recommended price of AUD$529, EUR€299 or GBP£269. The American press were moaning that they didn’t get this modem router first but they work on a service provisioning method very different to Europe and Australasia where self-install or BYO-modem provisioning of DSL based services is the norm.
D-Link have fielded some home-network hardware in the form of the DIR-885L router which supports 4×4 MU-MIMO AC3150 for its Wi-Fi functionality. They even fielded a USB Wi-Fi network adaptor which can allow any computer to work with an 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless network. This device’s best-case abilities is to work with Wi-Fi network segments up to 3×3 MIMO AC1900 standards.
AVM Fritz!Box 6820 LTE “Mi-Fi”
AVM has been very productive with its home-network hardware although this has been very much “in the comfort zone” with existing technology. They have launched the Fritz!Box 4020 which is a small Internet gateway with an N300 dual-stream single-band Wi-Fi access point along with the Fritz!Box 7430 VDSL Internet gateway that has an N450 three-stream single-band Wi-Fi access point. They also launched the Fritz!Box 6820 which is a “Mi-Fi” that can work with LTE mobile-broadband services and implements 802.11n Wi-Fi and a Gigabit Ethernet connection on the LAN side.
AVM Fritz!Powerline 1220 – AVM enters the HomePlug AV2 fray
They have bought in to the HomePlug AV2 MIMO arena by offering the Fritz!Powerline 1240E HomePlug wireless access point along with the Fritz!Powerline 1220E HomePlug adaptor with pass-through AC outlet. This is in conjunction with the Fritz!WLANRepeater 1160 which is a dual-band Wi-Fi repeater.
Devolo haven’t been quiet lately. Here, they are pitching custoem HomePlug-based powerline solutions including HomePlug access points to ISPs and telcos so they can provision these devices to customers for optimum Wi-Fi coverage. They intend to sell these solutions more likely on an OEM basis. As well, they have launched the dLAN 550 WiFi which is a HomePlug AV500 wireless access point that can establish a single-band N300 Wi-Fi segment. They also used this show to exhibit their existing dLAN 1200 HomePlug AV2 hardware including the dLAN 1200+ WiFi AC which is a wireless access point that answers to the HomePlug AV2 MIMO and 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi.
Next I will be talking about the home-entertainment trends that are expected to cover Europe and Australasia such as the ultra-high-resolution TV and networked audio. Stay tuned!
I am reporting on the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015 in Berlin which effectively is the show that determines the consumer electronics, personal IT and appliance technology trends that will affect Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia. It is also the time to publicly launch technologies that have been ready for prime time by the middle of the year.
This year has become a year where smartphones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers are seen as one force where hardware and software vendors are working across these devices as of they are simply personal-computing devices.These are primarily based around operating systems which allow people and companies to develop the software that suits different users’ needs.
Desktop, Laptops and Tablets
Intel, Microsoft and others have caused a huge refresh to this class of device thanks to new hardware, software and standards.
Microsoft had just launched Windows 10 while Intel replaced their existing processor silicon with the new Skylake range. These new chipsets are focused on increased performance for the same amount of energy used. This allows for manufacturers to create a granular lineup of products that suit different needs and budgets while assuring “best bang for the buck” in this context. As for peripheral connectivity, the USB 3.1 and Type-C standards along with the Intel Thunderbolt 3 standard had been made firm and more systems honouring these standards were being launched. Acer stands behind the Thunderbolt 3 standard with USB Type-C connectivity because they want to allow users to enhance graphics performance on their computers using an outboard graphics expansion dock of the Alienware Graphics Amplifier or Sony VAIO Z Series Blu-Ray expansion module ilk..
USB Type-C plug – the way to go this year for multipurpose connectivity
Nearly every computer name has catered to the hardcore gamer market by offering high-performance computers that are tuned to this class of user. Increasingly everyone is offering this kind of performance not just as a desktop or tower form-factor but as a laptop or notebook and some of these manufacturers are offering these products under a “performance” sub-brand like Acer Predator. Acer has even worked on the first Android-driven gaming-grade tablet and smartphone to cater for the mobile gaming community.
Lenovo IdeaCentre Y-Series gaming tower PC – the first product Lenovo offers for core gamers
In some ways, this is the late 1960s and early 1970s where GM, Ford and Chrysler fielded to the American and Australian markets a lineup of highly-powerful aggressively-styled “muscle cars” targeted at younger buyers. Examples of these include the Dodge Challenger and the Chevy Camaro released in the US and the Ford Falcon GT, the Holden Monaro and Valiant Charger released in Australia
It is part of a strategy common amongst this year’s exhibitors where they are offering different ranges of computer products to suit the different user groups in a similar way to how the common vehicle builders like Ford. GM and Toyota pitch vehicle ranges to different kinds of drivers. This factor has been more demonstrated by ASUS, Acer and Lenovo who are effectively “pure-play” personal-IT companies.
ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock
ASUS have built out their Zen Republic of Gamers sub-brand. One key example that ASUS had offered is the GX700 gaming laptop which is liquid-cooled when connected to a special dock that has an integrated radiator but is able to perform with less power when independent of this dock. As well, ASUS have fronted up with the Zenpad S 8” tablet which has a USB Type-C connector for power and data.
ASUS Zen AIO S Series all-in-one desktop computers
They also released the Zen AIO S Series of all-in-one desktop computers which are driven by Intel Skylake processors such as the i7-6100T, a 23” 4K screen or a 21” Full HD screen with both having touch as an option, NVIDIA discrete graphics, up to 32Gb RAM and 2Tb hard disk capacity and optional 128Gb SSD. These are endowed with connectivity in the form of 2×2 MIMO 802.11a/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet for your home network along with Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready wireless and USB connectivity in the form of 1 x USB 3.1 Type C, USB 3.0 x 4 and USB 2.0 x 1. These shows up a reality that the all-in-one can have the same kind of specification as a regular desktop computer.
They also fielded their VivoStick which is a direct competitor to Intel’s “Compute Stick” when it comes to a “PC-on-a-stick” that plugs in to a TV’s HDMI port. Here, the VIvoStick has two USB ports so you can use a keyboard and mouse without the need for a USB hub. They are still at the “toy” stage by using Intel Atom horsepower, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage.
Acer is building out their Predator gaming lineup of performance computing equipment. Here, they had pitched the first performance-grade Android gaming tablet known as the Predator 8 Tablet. This runs on an Intel Atom x7 processor and Intel Generation 8 graphics serving an 8” Full HD screen. It will have 2Gb RAM and 32Gb or 64Gb storage and a microSD expansion slot. It has 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi, tactile feedback, an aluminium housing and four front-facing speakers. This is estimated to arrive in North America on November 6 for US$299 and will arrive earlier in the rest of the world in October for EUR€349.
They also are running the Aspire V Nitro Series range of laptops as performance laptops without the aggressive “muscle-car” looks associated with gaming computers. These 15” and 17” laptops, along with the Aspire V 13 ultraportable are driven with the latest technology – Intel Skylake processors under the hood, USB Type-C connectivity, 802.11ac 2×2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi with the Black Edition variants offering Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type C.
Acer also fielded the first Chromebook R11 which is the first Chromebook to come in a 2-in-1 form factor rather than the cheaper “clamshell” style. This is also accompanied by another Yoga-style 360-degree convertible in the form of the 14” Aspire R14. They also demonstrated the Revo Build which is a modular personal computer where functionality is added on simply by one plugging extra modules on to the computer.
This year, Lenovo stepped into the gaming fray by offering the Y series of performance-grade computing equipment. They fielded the IdeaCentre Y900 and Y700 gaming towers which are based on the traditional ATX form factor. This allows for core gamers to improve these systems with the hardware that suits their performance curve, much like the way the “petrolheads” liked to “hot up” the Ford and GM cars to turn them in to “street machines”. These use quad-core i7 horsepower and discrete graphics under the hood with the Y900 being able to work with 2 display cards. The IdeaPad Y700 range of gaming laptops can be based on Intel or AMD processors but implements discrete graphics, a 10-point multitouch screen and a RealSense 3D camera. This is augmented with a surround-sound headset, precision mouse, mouse mat, laptop-optimised backpack, mousemat and a mechanical keyboard which is a brush with their former self due to the original IBM PC keyboards.
Lenovo MIIX 700 detachable tablet – to snap at the Surface Pro
Lenovo is snapping at Microsoft’s heels by offering the Miix 700 12” detachable tablet which is a spitting image of the Surface Pro lineup. It comes with the keyboard folio and has a 12” touchscreen with 2160×1440 resolution and runs Windows 10 Home. Lenovo also entered in to the Chromebook game with the 100S Chromebook and fielded the IdeaCentre AIO 700 which is a range of all-in-one desktops that have a 24” or 27” screen with resolution up to 4K and upgradeable discrete graphics. These can come with Intel or AMD processors and a RealSense camera.
Lenovo Yoga Tablet 3 – the latest incarnation of the Yoga Tab lineup
The Yoga Tab series has been refreshed with these Android tablets fitted with features like rotating cameras along with new horsepower. The Yoga Tab 3 Pro still has the projector so you can throw a picture on the wall as big as one of today’s flat-screen TVs. These are being pitched more as entertainment devices rather than as general-purpose iPad-style tablets.
But they have come strong with more additions to the laptop range. Lenovo had shown 2 Xeon-driven mobile workstations along with their latest ThinkPad Yoga 2-in-1 laptops both driven by Skylake processors and having a silver finish. The ThinkPad Yoga 260 has a 12” Full HD screen, 16Gb RAM and 512Gb solid-state storage while the ThinkPad Yoga 460 comes with a 14” 2560×1440 screen, 8Gb RAM and either a 256Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk along with discrete graphics.
LG have launched the G Pad II which is a 10.1” Android 5.1 tablet that uses a Full HD screen. This has 2Gb RAM, 16Gb storage, microSD expansion and connects to your home network via 802.11a/g/n/ac Wi-Fi. It is also available with an LTE wireless-broadband modem as an option and comes with that brilliant bronze look.
Toshiba has been big on the 2-in-1 computers this year. They launched the Satellite Radius 12 which is the first 360-degree “Yoga-style” convertible notebook with a 4K screen. This convertible ticks the boxes when it comes to up-to-date requirements like having a USB 3.1 Type-C socket and a capable Intel i7-6500U Skylake processor, 8Gb RAM and 512Gb SSD storage. Some press reports called the 4K resolution a bit of overkill for a portable computer of that 12”-13” “portable-typewriter” form factor especially because of Windows not handling display scaling properly and these machines typically earn their keep as being the smallest size to comfortably type on.
There is the Satellite Radius 14 which is a 14” “Yoga-style” convertible with Full HD resolution and available with either Intel or AMD processors. Toshiba also offers the Satellite Click 10 detachable which is based around an Intel Atom CPU from the Skylake family, 4Gb RAM and 64Gb SSD storage. These 2-in-1 computers exploit Windows 10 to the fullest by working hand in glove with Continuum display switchover, a dedicated button to access Cortana and dual-array microphones to improve speech recognition.
Samsung and Apple have pushed the barriers for mobile-platform tablets with the former offering an 18.4” Android tablet and the latter heating the rumour furnace with the intent of the 13” iPad Pro family of iOS tablets. Do I see these tablets as something that competes with the 13” 2-in-1 laptops that run Windows 10 as a mobile computing device for group browsing or composing new material?
The tablet you get to do mobile computing activities on doesn’t have to be an iPad anymore.
Handheld devices (smartphones and phablets)
There is a main trend affecting the European smartphone market where more Android devices are appearing from brands other than the usual smartphone market leaders. It is more so with devices that are pitched to the mid-range sector. This is because it is harder to cut in to the high-end sector because Apple and Samsung have cornered the market with the iPhone and Galaxy S / Note phones respectively.
One main trend affecting smartphones this year is the fact that Android 5.1 offers native support for dual-SIM operation and this function is becoming more mainstream in this year’s smartphones. The feature may have relevance for a person who roams between different countries and wants better call value or local mobile-number presence in both these countries or a person who has a “work” or “business” SIM card and a “private” SIM card in the same device. This is typically offered by having two card slots with one that takes the main SIM card and another that can take either a microSD card or a secondary SIM card.
There is also the fact that Microsoft is intending to launch the Windows 10 Mobile operating system very shortly and it is bringing forth an improved third contender for handheld operating systems.
Lenovo’s answer to the Samsung Galaxy Note products in the form of the Phab Plus
Lenovo is pushing in to the European market with its Vibe and Phab phones which are all Android based. An example of this is the Vibe P1 mid-tier phone with a 1.5GHz processor, 5.5” Full HD screen, 5000mAh battery and 16Gb storage. There is also the Phab range which is meant to join the phablet market One of these is the Phab Plus which is a dual SIM / microSD phone having a 6.8” Full HD screen, Snapdragon 615 chipset. 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage.
Acer even has pitched an Android gaming-grade smartphone which is the first for a handheld device. This Android smartphone will use a deca-core MediaTek ARM system-on-chip with 4Gb RAM and a 6” Full-HD display.Some questions may be raised about how long it would last on its own battery especially if you play games on this phone or whether it even scales back on performance when you aren’t gaming.
They also fielded the Liquid Z630 mid-tier Android smartphone which also has MediaTek system-on-chip horsepower, 2Gb RAM, 16Gb storage, 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi and 8 megapixel cameras on the front and back. It also has a 4000mAh battery and runs for EUR€199.
They also are fielding entry-level smartphones that can be packaged with Windows 10 Mobile or Android Lollipop like the LIquid Z330 Series. There is also the Jade Primo Windows smartphone which has a USB Type-C connector and is made to take advantage of Windows Continuum display-mode switching courtesy of an accessory dock, keyboard and mouse. This is a 5.5” screen with Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
Archos is another company who are offering smartphones that can be specified with Windows 10 Mobile or Android. These dual-SIM phones will have the usual lineup of features like LTE, Wi-FI and Bluetooth Smart connectivity, microSD card slot. But they have 1Gb RAM and 8Gb storage which can be limiting.
Gigaset has risen to the European market with the ME series of smartphones. The ME phone is powerful but doesn’t go too far. having a 5” Full HD screen, USB Type-C connection, Snapdragon 810 processor and Adreno 430 graphics, 32Gb storage, microSD slot and 3000mAh battery. The ME Pure phone is considered a “foot in the door” phone having 16Gb storage and a Snapdragon 615 processor while the ME Pro has the larger 5.5” screen.
Marshall, known for their guitar amps used by many of the famous rock stars, have pitched a music-focused smartphone in the form of the London. This has a similar styling to their amps in that some of the controls have brass accents and the phone has a rubberised housing which has the same texture as these amps. The London 4.7” HD smartphone is one of a few smartphones that implements a discrete sound subsystem and the only app that Marshall furnishes with this phone is a DJ app. It will be sold in the Boxpark retail area in Shoreditch, London for GBP£375 and I would describe this as being a high-quality MP3 player with smartphone functionality attached to it.
The premium end of the market still hasn’t lost its ground despite the imminent arrival of Apple’s iPhone 6S and 6S plus phones. They also offered a clip-on keyboard for these phones as an optional accessory. Before the IFA 2015, Samsung had released the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ phones which are pitched on thinness. As well, Sony launched their XPeria Z5 family comprising of the XPeria Z5, Xperia Z5 Compact which is the smaller of the bunch and the Z5 Premium which has a 4K ultra-high-definition screen. They also offered the XPeria G8 which has the same camera abilities as Sony’s standalone digital cameras courtesy of improved focus abilities.
The next article in this series will cover the trends affecting wearable devices, display technology and the home network with subsequent articles covering home entertainment and appliances.
The second part of this series about the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2014 covers the consumer AV, wearable technology and home automation technologies that were being premiered at this trade fair.
TVs with advanced display tech
Samsung curved OLED 4K UHDTV
There has been consistent activity with TVs that implement advanced display technology. Primarily, this has come about with more of the 4K ultra-high-definition TV sets with some of the sets with this resolution crossing the EUR€1000 price barrier for the European market and sets having a minimum screen size of 42” while most come in at the popular screen sizes of 55” and 65”.
An increasing number of manufacturers are pushing through with curved screens and the 21:9 screen aspect ratio which mimics the experience one would gain from watching a movie at the cinema. Alongside this is for the Korean names to field TVs that use OLED technology on their screens.
Firstly, Samsung have fielded a 40” UHDTV alongside the UE105S9W which is their 105” 21:9 curved screen model. They also are exploiting the “Connect One” connection box which is a way of assuring future-proof design for their sets. This has been integrated in sets based on the HU8590 chassis but is ready-to-add for their other current-issue 4K UHD TV designs. They were also fielding the curved TVs based on the 8000 Series design
LG have run with a range of curved OLED 4K Ultra HDTVs with a screen size of 65” or 75”. These implement a 4-colour OLED display technology which uses a white element in each pixel to show the white part of the picture rather than “constructing” the white part.
Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV
Panasonic are working on the improved picture quality and are running the AX630 4K TV design with a 40” model at EUR€899, a 48” model at EUR€1199 and a 55” model at EUR€1499. The sets based on this design have the HDMI 2.0 connectivity and H.265 / HEVC decoding but eschew the local-dimming improvement. They also run an extra-cost 4K TV design as the AX900 which comes in the 55” and 65” screen sizes and tick the boxes for HDMI 2.0 connectivity, H.265 support and local dimming.
Sony were pushing the quality angle with improvement on sound and extended dynamic range for the pictures, along with the Edge LED illumination feature. Their key model they were running was the S90 series which is a curved 4K UHDTV that sports the Triluminos technology and is available as either 65” or 75”.
Loewe, with TVs that are best described in German as “eine Superdeutschefernseher” have it that all newly-released models will be equipped with 4K resolution save for a 32” model. These will appear in 3 new ranges and have HDMI 2.0 connectivity and support for H.265 HEVC codecs. Thiey will implement DVB tuners that work with signals regular aerial (antenna), a satellite dish or cable-TV infrastructure and implement quick channel-change.
Thomson, the European TV name, are running with the Series Z 4K sets which are available as the Z7 (65” and 42” screens) and the Z8 (85”, 55” and 49” screens) variants. These have support also for HBBTV and Miracast mobile-phone playback.
Haier were showing the H6600 4K UHDTV range (42” to 65” screen sizes) with the 42” for less than EUR€600 and the 65” for EUR€1300 for 65”. These implement a simple design and use HDMI 1.4 connectivity. There is also the M7000 4K UHDTV range with screen sizes of 40”, 48”, and 55”. This design runs Android 4.2.2 and has access to Google Play, support for an add-in Webcam, and comes with a QWERTY remote control,
They will also implement an upgrade box for their TVs just like what Samsung did with their Evolution Box, satisfying a reality with the way TVs are used.
A Hong-Kong-based TV firm called Chanhong have shown curved OLED 4K TVs which are driven by Android technology. These are available at 55” for EUR€1700 or as 65” and 79” sizes. There is also a fiat-screen design known as the C5500 with the 42” selling for EUR€500 and the 65” selling for EUR€800. This one also implements Android technology and uses HDMI 2.0 connectivity.
Philips Android-driven curved 4K UHDTV
Philips even ran for the title of the first Android-driven curved TV, which comes in with a screen size of 55” at EUR€2390. This also implements the Ambilight feature that Philips is known for to augment the viewing experience.
Smart TV and multiscreen
The Smart TV experience is being driven on the HBBTV broadcast-Internet interactive TV technology that is being premiered in Europe and, to some extent, Australia.
Technisat were working on the “Watchmii” personal-TV experience which I would suspect is a content-recommendation service.
Platform-based “smart-TV” technologies that don’t require the manufacturers to “reinvent the wheel” were coming to light. Here, Philips was implementing Android-based Smart TVs that have access to the apps on the Google Play Store while LG was pushing the idea of implementing WebOS on their Smart TV designs.
Qualcomm are intending to use the AllJoyn and AlSeen standards to make TVs operate with smartphones and tablets.
Wireless speakers and multiroom audio
Harman-Kardon Omni 10 multiroom wireless speaker
The wireless speakers, some of which work with your Wi-Fi home network or as a Bluetooth speaker for your smartphone, are showing up as a very distinct product category. The innovation that is taking place here is the ability to wirelessly link two or more speakers together either to cover more sound space during a party or to provide a stereo pair with the proper desireable stereo separation. Some of the multi-room setups even make it feasible to adjust the volume for that speaker locally to your taste. These systems are being seen as an attempt to encroach on Sonos’s territory when it comes to multi-room multi-speaker wireless audio setups.
Harman-Kardon Omni 20 multiroom speaker
Another trend is that an increasing number of the portable Bluetooth speakers that have rechargeable battery packs in them are even able to work as external battery packs for mobile devices. This can help with them providing that bit extra of power on the go.
Yamaha have advanced a 3-piece elegant Bluetooth speaker and a single-piece Bluetooth speaker that creates a lightshow when playing music.
Philips SW-500M Spotify multiroom speaker
MTX, known for their beefy car-audio technology have advanced some wireless speakers along with some Street Audio earphones. One of these is the iT1 which implements a 6-amplifier, 6-speaker and 2 bass speaker arrangement and uses Wi-Fi with DLNA and AirPlay connectivity. They also fielded the iWa225 which is an in-wall Bluetooth amplifier for use with build-in speakers and supports multiroom mode using 2 of the same amplifiers.
Braven are cottoning on to the multiroom idea with their Vibe system. As well, LG are answering Sonos with their Music Flow multi-room audio setup.
Lenco are running with a multiroom setup which users single-piece speakers that are controlled by an iOS or Android app and are able to work with master-grade audio files. This system, which connects to an existing Wi-Fi small network segment, consists of the Playlink 6 speaker, Playlink 4 small portable speaker, and the Connect box which connects to an existing sound system.
Pure have refreshed their Jongo speaker lineup as the X Series speakers and implemented the Imagination Technologies Caskeid multiroom transmission technology. This technology works with multiroom setups or separate stereo speakers using the existing Wi-Fi network and the “Bluetooth Caskeid” variant provides a single Bluetooth A2DP on-ramp to the Caskeid system. These speakers are now available in white, grey or black finishes.
Harman-Kardon have fielded the Omni multi-room setup which is based around the Omni 10 or Omni 20 wireless speakers. These work on the existing Wi-Fi home network, have an Bluetooth A2DP on-ramp function and also work with 96khz 24-bit master-grade audio streams. A brace of these speakers can be set up to be a stereo pair or five of them can be set up to provide 5-channel surround sound. Harman-Kardon also offer the Esquire portable Bluetooth speaker that is so “stylish yet cool” like the well-dressed gentleman. This unit, which also can be an external battery pack, wouldn’t look out of place in his elegant briefcase.
Philips are running a Wi-Fi-based multiroom speaker setup that, again, works with the existing Wi-Fi home network but also has Spotify Connect functionality. There is the SW750 which has one tweeter and one woofer per channel and the SW700 which has one full-range speaker per channel. They also have fielded a Bluetooth speaker that doesn’t have trouble with multiple Bluetooth source devices. This one uses 1 tweeter and 1 woofer per channel along with the use of passive radiators to improve the sound.
Headphones and earphones
Sony MDR-1ADAC digital headphones with integrated DAC
The headphone scene is being advanced here with improved headphone and earphone designs as we listen to more audio content on the road. It is becoming more acceptable for one to were large “cans” when they are on the street or in public transport because of better sound quality. This is being advanced with some headphones even implementing multi-transducer “two-way” designs.
For example, Sony have put forward the MDR-1ADAC headphones with integrated digital-analogue converter along with the PHA-3AC portable DAC for use with existing “cans”. These work with some of the new Sony Walkman digital audio players, the new XPeria smartphones, Apple iOS devices or regular computers as digital headphones and yield master-grade digital audio reproduction.
As well, Sennheiser are fielding headphones that are intended to “snap at” what Beats offers for ultra-cool bass-rich headphones.
Other Hi-Fi sound trends
Technics R1 hi-fi system symbolising the return of the hi-fi brand
One main trend that is being pushed in hi-fi design is inherent support for “master-grade” file-based digital audio with FLAC and similar files that are worked at 24 bits and greater than 96 kHz sampling rates.
Panasonic have resurrected the Technics hi-fi brand to the consumer market through them fielding two music systems. One of these is the R1 Reference System which is based around the SE-R1 stereo power amplifier with those classic power-level meters and XLR connectors that aren’t out of place on a PA system. This beast of an amplifier drives the SB-R1 3-way floor-standing speakers and is fed by the SU-R1 network audio player / control amplifier that uses separate power-supply paths for the analogue and digital signal paths.
Technics C700 hi-fi system with CD player
They also had shown the C700 music system which consists of a stereo amplifier, network audio player and 2-way bookshelf speakers. Users can also buy an optional SL-C700 CD player which has highly-strung digital-analogue conversion circuitry. These systems have been designed by Michiko Ogawa who is a Japanese jazz pianist and sound engineer and is part of the new “Rediscover Music” ethos that Technics is bringing back.
Pioneer X-HM82 3-piece music system with XC-HM82 network-capable CD receiver
Pioneer have brought in hi-fi network media players that can work high-resolution files and yield high-quality sound from regular music files and streams. They also brought in the XC-HM82 network CD receiver which plays CDs, broadcast and Internet radio, Spotify, music from your home network via either DLNA or AirPlay as well as Bluetooth A2DP music from your mobile devices. This is available as a variant with support for DAB+ digital broadcast radio and is available either as a standalone component for use with speakers that you like or as one of two music systems. The first one – the X-HM82 comes with 2-way bookshelf speakers equipped with a 12cm glass-fibre woofer and 25mm dome tweeter and finshed in that piano-black lacquer. The second one comes with similar speakers that have a cheaper look and similar-sized drivers.
Pioneer N-70 network media player
As well they have brought in a pair of DLNA-capable Blu-Ray players with Dolby Atmos support (BDP-LX88 and BDP-LX58) along with the SC-LX88 Atmos-capable AV receiver. The BDP-LX58 even comes with a pair of XLR balanced-audio connectors along with the RCA connectors as stereo-output options so this can tie in with PA systems or high-end audio amplifiers. Their Compact Components range of micro hi-fi systems has been refreshed and now comes with a network media player and a USB DAC. In addition to this, they also have released the N-70 network media player that has hi-fi credentials and pulls music from online music services or the home network’s NAS unit using DLNA.
Pioneer have also improved the Bluetooth functionality in their latest iterations of their Bluetooth-capable car audio equipment to support the reality of multiple-phone use. This is especially to cater for the “work phone and home phone” users.
The IFA consumer-electronics show in Berlin clashes with the subsequent Photokina photography show that is held in Cologne so I won’t go in to much detail here about the cameras.
A key trend is for more DSLR cameras and camcorders to be able to take video footage at 4K UHDTV resolution.
Another trend being pushed on to the European market is for some cameras to be able to upload or play via Wi-Fi. This provides for direct access to Dropbox, Facebook and co along with the ability to support a level of DLNA compatibility.
Of course, Canon and Nikon field new or refreshed iterations of their system cameras and DSLRs
Sony have brought the NEX series of cameras to Europe along with refreshed versions of their smartphone “lens-camera” devices. One of these even works with their E-mount interchangeable lenses.
Polaroid has made the IFA the chance to launch their Socialmatic “online” camera to the European market. This camera has the ability to work with a smartphone to upload pictures to the Social Web and a variant has been launched to maintain the same “look” as their iconic 1000 / One-Step series of SX-70 platform instant-picture cameras launched in the 1970s. This include an LCD screen that mimics the look of the original cameras’ viewfinder windows but shows iconic images like the smiley face.
The Northern Autumn (Fall) is intending to become the season for a battle between manufacturers to present the best smartwatch on the block.
Samsung Gear Live Android Wear smartwatch
Here, there is an increasing number of smartwatches that are driven by Android Wear, some of which are round. As well, there is an increasing number of models that are priced to be affordable for most along with the hybrid smartwatches that have the traditional quartz movement that drives actual hands along with an extra control / display surface integrated in the face for smartphone integration. As well, Samsung is one of the first to introduce a standalone smartwatch that isn’t dependent on a smartphone for most of its functionality.
Samsung Gear S standalone smartwatch suitable for bike riding
This watch, known as the Gear S smartwatch, has the ability to work as a smartphone or can work alongside an existing smartphone. It is based on the Tizen operating system and implements 3G communication for the cellular link. As well, the Gear S uses Samsung’s iconic Super AMOLED display technology but the display is curved, effectively to “wrap with your wrist”.
The Gear S can look just as elegant – a sign of what is to be expected of smartwatches
They also released the Gear Live watch which works on the Android Wear platform yet has the Super AMOLED display that Samsung is behind. As well, Samsung are snapping at Oculus Rift by issuing a pair of goggles known as the Galaxy VR.
LG are intending to launch an AMOLED-equipped successor to the Android Wear driven G Watch along with the G Watch R which is intended to sell in October. ASUS are running an Android Wear smartwatch which could be affordable for most with a price tag of EUR€170-200 along with the ZenWatch which is a customisable Android Wear smartwatch that oozes with style and is equipped with an AMOLED display.
Sony’s SmartWatch 3 is their third iteration of the Smartwatch range and is intended to be based on Android Wear. This is also to be run alongside the Smartband Talk which is a fitness band with hands-free telephony functionality for your smartphone along with a battery-saving e-ink screen.
Samsung Gear VR goggles to snap at the Oculus Rift goggles
The Cogito Classic smartwatch has the real moving hands to tell the current time but a display underneath the hands and on the clock face for notifications. This is part of the new breed of hybrid smartwatch (real hands that tell the time, display the shows messages or LED that indicates status, buttons or multi-function crown for controlling the smartphone. One question is whether these watches could set themselves from your smartphone and the time references that it has like the mobile towers. This includes adjusting themselves to daylight-saving time as it comes in to effect or adjusting themselves to the new time zone that you travel in to.
Home automation and security
There are a few key trends affecting home automation and security. One is having appliances link to your smartphone by Bluetooth Smart technology or your home network and work on the “app-cessory” model. This is where they gain functionality by you using a manufacturer-developed app that you draw down from your mobile platform’s app store, with this app being an enhanced display and control surface.
An example of this is the Oral B (Braun) Bluetooth-linked electric toothbrush that analyses your teeth-cleaning process and suggests better ways to do it.
A few “do-it-yourself” home-automation systems have come on the scene. One of these is the DigitalStrom home-automation system uses the AC wiring and looks like Lego blocks. This is app-controlled and supports scene-driven or event-driven behavour and is easy to expand. Similarly, Devolo have put their foot in the door for home automation with an app-driven appliance module and contact sensor. Thomson are fielding the THOMBox which is another home-automation system that uses a computer, tablet or smartphone as the control surface.
Saeco GranBaristo Avanti automatic espresso machine represents the new direction of appliance user-interface design with mobile-device app-cessory control and high-resolution display
Another trend is for appliances to have an easy efficient safe hygienic design, One of these factors also includes major appliances and coffee machines being equipped with colour LCD graphic displays rather than a monochrome low-resolution LCD display or alphanumeric display. This has picked up from where an increasing number of multi-function printers are being equipped with colour LCD touchscreen displays. This is also augmented by the above-mentioned “app-cessory” enhanced control method where your smartphone or tablet serves as a control or display surface with access to extra functionality. In some cases, some of the conventional or microwave ovens have the ability to allow you to download recipes to them to manage the cooking process for that recipe.
For example, Bosch have established the Home Connect web-assisted platform for their appliances. For example, they have a fridge that lets you you see what is there by viewing your tablet while the door’s closed. This is achieved with two cameras that do the task of photographing what’s there after you close the door before the light turns off.
Similarly, Whirlpool / Bauknecht have designed a cooking hob that is an information dashboard for the connected home when it is not cooking food. This would show remaining time for processes like oven cooking or dish / clothes washing cycles, along with recipes based on what’s in the fridge and information from social network feeds, etc.
Siemens even fielded the iQ700 appliance platform with a multifunction oven that has a “lift-up” control panel with storage behind. This is part of a similar “Home Connect” portal, and their dishwasher even supports assisted operation.
Dyson joins the robot vacuum party by offering a unit with a 360-degree-vision camera and the ability to locate itself based on where your furniture and other items are in the room. It also uses tank-style tracks to move between surface types along with Dyson’s well-known motor technology.
Philips have even worked on the Hue Beyond “tuneable” LED lighting system which is managed the “app-cessory” way but can be adjusted minutely.
This is showing how the IFA 2014 is reinforcing the concept of personal computing in the lifestyle space such as with watches, music systems and even appliances.
The Internationaler Funkaustellung trade fair that happens in Berlin is seen as a launch point for consumer electronics and home appliances being sold primarily in to the European market but also covering to some extent the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Ocieania markets. Typically what is launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas during January may be premiered in Europe during this show.
Personal and home computing
Laptops, notebooks and tablets
ASUS Eeebook X205TA – an example of the new cheap Windows notebooks that are appearing
There are two main trends affecting the laptop computer and tablet computer here that you couldn’t really have them as separate product classes. One is an increased proliferation of the detachable and convertible classes of products that become either tablets or laptop computers at any one moment. The other is the available of 11” Windows notebook computers at really low prices to compete with the Chromebook products that run the Google ChromeOS operating system.
As far as the cheap-end laptop is concerned, ASUS, HP and others have been pushing products in this class with ASUS drawing on the EeePC “netbook” heritage with their specimen that has an 11.6” screen, an Intel Bay Trail Atom processor, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb solid-state storage.
Toshiba Satellite Click 2 Pro detachable notebook
The convertibles and detachables are coming strongly in the 13” screen size with Toshiba fielding the Satellite Click 2 Pro P30W detachable Ultrabook and the Dell Latitude 13 7000 for the detachable form factor. Acer have shown up with a 13” “flip-down” convertible in the form of the Aspire R13. The 13” screen size is still perceived as a size to keep with this product class because of a larger screen that can be good as a large “sharable” tablet and the keyboard comfortably large enough for typing up large chunks of copy while you deal with a compact portable computer.
Other trends affecting this space include laptops having 4K UHDTV resolution screens which have been brought on by the concept of the Apple Retina display in the MacBook lineup. This is making the concept of high-dot-per-inch displays become the norm in this class of computer which will put pressure on software developers and Webmasters to cater to these screens.
An example of this is the Toshiba Kira 102 13.3” Ultrabook which sports an Intel i7 processor and 256Gb SSD along with a touchscreen resolution of 2560×1440. Let’s not forget that Toshiba were refreshing the popular Satellite L Series of 15” and 17” laptops with them having either Intel or AMD processors.
The tablets are becoming available either as Windows 8.1 units or as Android 4.4 KitKat units. Here, I have had to class tablets with the laptops because they are being positioned as a competitor to the small laptop as a personal computing device although some people could position them more as media-consumption devices. This has been made easier with Microsoft licensing Windows 8.1 at no cost for the small tablet devices.
As well, it was a time when Microsoft was premiering the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet but, really a detachable notebook. Samsung has used this show to promote the Galaxy Tab S which is the first tablet to implement an OLED screen, causing it to be more lightweight as well as show pictures with increased contrast and brilliance.
Sony used this show to premiere the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact which is their “coat-pocket” tablet. As well, they have premiered their PocketBook Android-driven e-ink readers which also includes a 13” model that is pitched at CAD and architectural use. This one also is able to connect to a computer to serve as a Wacom-compliant graphics tablet. Thomson fielded the THBK-1-1- which is capable of booting between Android or Windows 8.1. Acer was also running a Windows-based 8” tablet in the form of the Atom-powered Iconia Tab 8W.
As for desktop monitors, the 4K resolution is appearing in the premium end of this product class. LG fielded a curved ultrawide 4K unit with a 34” 21:9 screen, along with the 31” Digital Cinema 4K monitor and a 24” gamer-grade monitor.
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge – a new trend for smartphone displays with the wraparound display
The key trends for the smartphones include moving towards the 5”-6” 16:9 screen size with the display size hitting the golden maximum for the product class. This is where the product is similar in size to a larger highly-functional pocket calculator where it has a large screen yet it is comfortable to hold in one hand and operate with the other. It has been underscored by the so-called “phablet” class of smartphone with the large 6” displays and having that “golden maximum”.
We are also seeing more stylish designs for the premium models along with upscaling of the devices’ processor, camera and similar abilities.
Samsung were pushing their premium Galaxy line at this show. The headline products were the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini and Galaxy Note Edge with screen edges that wrap over side of phone and exposes software-determined options,
Alcatel were exhibiting their One Touch smartphone which uses e-ink as a battery-saving display technology. HTC also exhibited the Desire 820 which was the first Android smartphone to implement a 64-bit ARM processor. This may impact software development for the Android platform because of a requirement to compile 64-bit packages of the apps to take full advantage of this processor’s abilities.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – the latest iteration of the phone that started the phablet phenomenon
Companies that are normally dormant when it comes to handheld devices are surfacing with smartphone products of their own. Examples of these include Acer launching their “Leap” smartphone range along with Lenovo launching their Vibe smartphones with some of the products being pitched at the “selfie” culture.
The phablets are emerging in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which is the latest iteration of the Galaxy Note lineup that opened up this product class. Sony answered with the Z3 product range while LG fielded the G3 Stylus 5.5” Android phablet.
As for the emerging markets, Technisat were promoting a dual-SIM Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean smartphone with Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth and FM radio. This runs on a 1500mAH battery with 512Mb RAM and 4Gb main storage at EUR€115.99. LG were running the L Fino and L Bello 3G smartphones for these markets.
The home network
Two main trends that are affecting connectivity on the home network are 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless connectivity and HomePlug AV2 MIMO powerline connectivity.
More of the current-issue broadband routers are being equipped with 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity with more concurrent wireless streams this allowing for increa
Devolo dLAN 1200+ HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (Continental Schuko plug)
sed Wi-Fi throughput. For that matter, we are seeing such equipment in the order of the AC1900 specification with three radio streams.
Examples of this include TP-Link’s Archer C9 performance broadband router and the NETGEAR NightHawk X4 with the four-stream AC2350 802.11ac Wi-Fi. As well, TP-Link also fielded the RE200 AC750 dual-band wireless range extender.
As for HomePlug AV2 with its MIMO abilities, Devolo have released their kit for this specification as the dLAN 1200+ which requires the power outlets to be compliant to the Continental “Schuko” plugs at each end of the connection. These have a filtered Continental “Schuko” mains socket in them so you don’t forfeit the AC socket you used for your HomePlug AV2 connection, along with a Gigabit Ethernet socket for your network connection. There are even plans for Devolo to release local-specific variants of this kit for other European countries like UK and France. TP-Link are fielding the PA8030 HomePlug AV2 SISO (two-wire) adaptor which has a Gigabit 3-port Ethernet switch.
There have been a few “Mi-Fi” routers with 4G LTE WAN technology at the IFA 2014. One of these is the NETGEAR Aircard 785 Hotspot which also has a dual-band Wi-Fi LAN connection. TP-Link has fielded a the M7350 Mi-Fi which also works as an SD-card file server.
In the next part of the series, I will be covering the consumer AV technology, the wearables and home appliances technologies.
In my first part of the series on this year’s International Funkaustellung 2013 trade show, I had covered the personal IT trends that were being underscored here. These were the rise and dominance of the highly-capable Android smartphone, the arrival of the large-screen “phablet” smartphones, Sony offering high-grade digital-photo abilities to smartphones and improving on these in their smartphones, the convertible and detachable-keyboard notebook-tablet computers becoming a mature device class as well as the arrival of the smartwatch as a real product class.
Now I am focusing on what is to happen within the home for this second part.
Television-set and home AV technology
The television set is still considered an integral part of the connected home, especially as a group-viewing display device for content delivered via the Internet or the home network.
4K Ultra-high-definition TVs
Most of the activity surrounding the 4K ultra-high-definition TV technology has been with manufacturers releasing second-generation 4K models with the focus on the 55” and 65” screen sizes. It is also the time when the HDMI 2.0 connection specification, which yields the higher throughput for the 4K ultra-high-definition video plus support for 32 audio streams and more, has been called and most of these manufacturers are accommodating this in their second-generation designs whether baked in or as a firmware update as in the case of Sony’s newly-released 55” and 65” 4K designs.
Panasonic had initially held off with releasing a 4K set but released the Smart VIERA WT600 which is a 55” OLED 4K which had the “second-generation” credentials like the aforementioned high-speed HDMI 2.0 connection. LG had launched a pair of 4K models with one having a 50-watt soundbar and “micro-dimming” which adjusts the screen brightness in an optimum manner for the video material. Even Haier, the Chinese consumer-goods manufacturer had jumped in on the 4K bandwagon.
There are still the very-large-screen 4K UHDTV sets with screens of 84” to 94”. Now Samsung have launched 4K models with astonishing screen sizes of 98” and 110”.
At the moment, there is some work taking place concerning the delivery of content with the 4K screen resolution. Sony have set up a download-based content delivery service with the FMP-X1 hard-disk-based media player and based around a rental-based or download-to-own business model. Samsung is partnering with Eutelsat to deliver 4K UHDTV broadcasts to the home using satellite-TV technology as well as others working with the Astra satellite team to achieve a similar goal.
OLED TV screens
Another key trend that is affecting the “main-lounge-room” TV set is the OLED display reaching 55” and above in screen size. Those of you who own or have used a Samsung, HTC or Sony smartphone will have seen this technology in action on the phone’s display.
Samsung and LG have increased their factory output of these large-size screens which has allowed the material price of these screens to become cheaper. Here, it has allowed for more manufacturers to run an OLED model in their lineup, whether with a flat display or a convex curved display. Most of these models are 4K displays and have a 55” screen. Haier even went to the lengths of designing a 55” flat OLED TV that is in a housing that can’t easily be tipped over while LG had fielded a model with a flat OLED screen and a model with a curved OLED screen.
For that matter, LG improved on the aesthetics of the flatscreen TV by implementing a “picture-frame” design which make the TV look like a beautiful large piece of art on the wall. This was augmented with a screenshow collection of artworks that are part of the TV’s firmware.
Other TV and home-AV trends
Brought on by the Philips Ambilight background-lighting initiative, some of the manufacturers are integrating LED-based background lights in to their TVs to provide the complimentary lighting. Philips even took this further with the ability to synchronise LED-based multicolour room lighting with their set’s Ambilight background lighting.
What I also suspect is happening with TVs destined for the European market is that they will be equipped with DVB-T2 digital TV tuners. This is to complement the arrival of DVB-T2 TV-station multiplexes in various countries that are primarily offering HDTV broadcasts.
Sony is also taking a stab at high-grade home audio by building up a file-based music distribution system that implements hard-disk-based media players with one downloading the music as files and syncing it to these hard-disk media players. Like SACD, this technology is meant to sound as good as the studio master tapes. Comments have been raised about the provision of two different files for each album or song – one that is mastered to best-quality standards where there is the full dynamic range another file, packaged as an MP3 perhaps, that has compression and limiting for casual or “noisy-environment” listening.
The home network
TV via the home network
There has been a fair bit of activity on the “broadcast-LAN” front courtesy of the SAT-IP initiative for satellite TV which I previously touched on. This has manifested in a few satellite-based broadcast-LAN boxes that are equipped with multiple tuners showing up at this year’s show including one 2-tuner model from Devolo and one four-tuner DLNA-equipped model from Grundig.
Similarly, SiliconDust have brought in the SimpleTV service model to Europe which provides a network-hosted PVR and broadcast-LAN setup for regular TV. I would see this has having great traction with Europeans because all of the European countries have free-to-air offerings anchored by the well-funded public TV services like BBC, ARD/ZDF, France Télévisions, and DR which yield content of high production and artistic quality. AVM have also used this show to launch a SAT-IP-compliant broadcast-LAN setup for the DVB-C cable-TV networks that exist primarily in Europe but links to an existing Wi-Fi network segment which wouldn’t let the device do its job in an optimum manner.
Other TV-over-Internet technology
Philips has also joined in the “over-the-top” cloud-driven TV party that Intel and Google were in by putting up their concept of a “virtual-cable” service delivered via the Internet.
Wi-Fi wireless networks
Even though the 802.11ac high-speed Wi-Fi wireless network standard isn’t ratified by the IEEE, nearly every major manufacturer of home-network equipment has at least one, if not two, wireless routers that support this technology. Some even supply USB network-adaptor dongles that allow you to benefit from this technology using your existing computer equipment.
HomePlug powerline networks
There have been a few HomePlug AV2 adaptors appearing with the Continental-style “Schuko” AC plug on them, such as the Devolo dLAN 650+ and the TP-Link TLP-6010 but the manufacturers wouldn’t really state whether these fully work to the HomePlug AV2 standard. They are typically rated at 600Mbps for their link speed and are at the moment the Single-stream type.
As for Devolo, they have launched the dLAN 500 WiFi which is a HomePlug AV 500 “extension access point” for wireless networks. Here, Devolo have made an attempt in the right direction for “quick setup” of multiple-access-point Wi-Fi segments by implementing a “settings-clone” function. But this works using the HomePlug AV backbone and only where you use multiple dLAN 500 WiFi access points on the same backbone.
Some of the appliance manufacturers have gone down the “connected path” by equipping some of the top-end appliance models with Wi-Fi connectivity and implementing a manufacturer-developed dashboard app for the iOS and/or Android mobile platform. Here, these apps either work as a secondary control surface for the appliance or provide extended setup and configuration options that aren’t available on the appliance’s control surface.
Samsung went about this with their high-end washing machine where they use this connectivity as a remote “dashboard” so you can know if the machine is underway and on the correct cycle or be able to be notified when the washing is done. Philips uses a similar setup for their multifunction countertop cooker but it allows you to determine a recipe on your phone and dump that down to the cooker. But this, like a similarly-equipped coffee machine was really a proof-of-concept machine.
Thomson had offered a convincing home-automation kit which uses its own connectivity technology but can connect to Z-Wave or Zigbee networks using a bridge module. My question about this kit is whether you can start out with what is supplied but grow beyond by adding in the extra modules from Thomsom or other third parties as required.
This year has become a key year for vehicle builders to push forward connected app-driven infotainment and telematics in their vehicles that will hit European roads. It implements a mobile broadband connection to the car via the driver’s smartphone or another device along with apps for popular online services optimised for safe use in the car or to work with the car.
It has been exemplified by Ford implementing a “SYNC AppLink” setup that allows users to control favourite smartphone apps from their vehicle’s dashboard, including the ability to support voice control.
It certainly shows that at this year’s IFA, the personal IT products like tablets, convertible notebook computers and large-screen smartphones are becoming a very diverse and mature product class while the 4K ultra high definition TV technology is gaining some traction as a real display class.
This year’s Internationaler Funkaustellung has been about strengthening the personal IT space especially with the “phablet” smartphones, newer tablet-laptop hybrid computers and the smartwatch. Similarly, there has been some concerted activity in the living-room space with the 4K ultra-high-definition TV technology amongst other things.
Over the last year, the Android platform has gained ground with some very impressive mobile devices that have come through from Samsung, Sony, HTC and others. This has been underscored through various platform-exclusive features like an open development environment, the use of NFC “touch-and-go” functionality, large high-resolution screens amongst other features and one observer at Samsung’s “Unpacked 2” press event which was part of this show described the up-and-coming Apple iPhone 5S as being “fool’s gold”.
The rise of the “phablet”
Nearly every manufacturer is offering a “phablet” – a smartphone with a 5”-6.5” screen that is pitched as a bridge between a tablet and a regular handheld smartphone. These handheld devices, typically the size of one of the pocketable scientific or financial calculators exploit the large screen as a user interface feature yet can be held in one hand.
Samsung, who had launched the first of these devices and defined this product category through the Galaxy Note family, has launched the Galaxy Note 3 which is the third-generation. This Android 4.3 smartphone has a 5.7” Super AMOLED screen, the ability to film video in 4K UHDTV resolution with a 13 megapixel rear camera, 2.5Gb RAM, Wi-Fi connectivity that even reaches to the 802.11ac wireless segments amongst more desireable features.
Sony had fielded their “phablet” which is the 6.4” XPeria Z Ultra. Alcatel have fielded the “One Touch Hero” which has a 6” Full-HD screen, 2Gb RAM, 8 or 16Gb storage, 13 Megapixel rear camera / 2 Megapixel front camera and Android 4.2. It is able to come with accessories like an E-ink cover or a wireless-charging cover. Not to be missed, HTC have launched the One Max 6” Full-HD phablet.
Sony raises the bar for smartphone photography
Sony has launched the XPeria Z1 which has its rear camera able to be as good as a standalone compact “point-and-shoot” digital camera.
Similarly, they have sold two “lens-cameras” which clip on to and pair with most smartphones. These are cameras that have a proper lens structure equivalent to that of a digital camera but send the photos to the smartphone using their own Wi-Fi network that is created with the host phone. They will work with handler apps for both the iOS and Android platforms so you can get the pictures you took with them off the lens camera to your phone’s storage and on to Facebook. The QX10 has a fixed-focal-length prime lens while the QX100 has a 10x optical-zoom lens.
For Android users, these lens-cameras implement the NFC “touch-and-go” setup to reduce the hassle involved with getting them going.
Other smartphone products
Lenovo had tendered their first smartphone which was known as the Vibe X which is a 5” Android model.
Tablets and Notebooks
Rather than 7” and 10” tablets being focused on mobile operating platforms like iOS or Android. we are seeing some of the tablets in this size range being available to work with the up-and-coming Windows 8.1 operating system. These are becoming effectively like a regular computer that is pitched to the consumer rather than a “toy” or an “enterprise workflow / kiosk” tablet. As for the Windows-based computers, most of these will be released with Windows 8.1 from the factory or may allow you to upgrade to the operating system in October if it cam with Windows 8.
Even the connvertible tablet-notebook computers and the detachable keyboard “hybrid” tablets have finally grown up and been considered a valuable part of a person’s or business’s computing “arsenal”.
Different forms of convertible or detachable-keyboard tablets showing up
The convertible tablet-notebook computer grows up.
This class of device also is encompassing an increased range of convertible laptop-tablet computers of the 11”-13” size as well as 20” adaptive-all-in-one desktop-tablet computers answering the Sony VAIO Tap 20. What we are seeing here is that there are two paths for a primarily-touch-based computing experience – a unit with an ARM-based RISC processor that runs the Android operating system or a unit with an Intel-Architecture processor that runs the Windows 8.1 operating system.
Sony has taken another path for a convertible tablet which is known as the VAIO Fit Series. These 13” and 15” computers work in a similar manner to the Lenovo Yoga convertibles where they can fold the keyboard outwards to become a tablet. This hasn’t been seen as a way to displace the Duo slider-convertible design as shown with the VAIO Duo 11.. As well, Sony have launched the VAIO Tap 11 which is a Windows 8.1 tablet that uses a magnetic detachable keyboard and is claimed to be the world’s thinnest Windows 8 tablet coming in at 9.9mm thick. Like the Duo that I reviewed, this also implements the Full HD display which is said to be a benefit for photos and movies alike.
Lenovo have also pitched newer or refreshed computers in the Yoga and Flex lineup of convertible tablet-notebook computers. Infact Lenovo’s latest ThinkPad Yoga has given the convertible Ultrabook form-factor some “balls” by being something that can do most computing tasks very adeptly rather than being a second-rate performer. This is due to it being kitted out with some serious horsepower in the form of the Haswell graphics chipset and an i7 processor.
Acer have even provided the the Aspire P3 Ultrabook which is an 11.6” detachable-keyboard tablet and has today’s expectations for performance and storage for this class of computer. They also have launched the Aspire R7 which is a 15” convertible in a similar vein to the Dell XPS 12 but uses a pedestal-type arm as the support for the screen and is one of the few 15” mainstream laptops to be in the form of a convertible touch-operated computer.
Samsung, not to be outdone had launched the Ativ Q which is a slider convertible tablet with a variable angle. But this unit is a dual-boot design capable of being operated on Windows 8 or Android operating systems.
Regular tablet computers
Of course, Samsung have launched a regular 10” Android tablet in the form of the Galaxy Note 10.1 which is implementing the Android 4.3 operating system. Thomson have returned to the personal IT fold by releasing the TO7 and TO8 Android tablets which have four-core processors and IPS LCD screens and is amongst a number of personal computing equipment including a laptop computer.
The adaptive all-in-one takes hold
They also released the VAIO Tap 21 which is really a current-generation “refresh” of the previously-reviewed VAIO Tap 20. This machine has been answered by a few other “adaptive all-in-one” models including the Panasonic ToughPad UT-M85 which implements a 4K display.
HP have also taken another spin on the “adaptive all-in-one” design by releasing the Envy Recline series of all-in-one computers. These are like a regular all-in-one computer with the pedestal but can be laid flat to be like a tablet rather than the separate tablet with integrated kickstand.
Toshiba have also pitched their detachable-keyboard hybrid tablet answer to the HP X2 family with a Satellite 30t and a Satellite 30dt which will also be known as the Satellite Click. These will have a 13.1” display. There is also the Encore which is an 8” tablet kitted out with Windows 8.1. The Satellite (Pro) N810 family of subnotebooks will have touchscreen on some models but also will be kitted out with today’s laptop computing expectations.
The rise of the smartwatch
The digital watch of the 80s returns with a vengeance
During the time when “Footloose”, “Holiday”, “Flashdance…What A Feeling”, “The Reflex” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” were hot on the mix-tapes, or when the “A-Team” or “Knight Rider” were on the TV; the thing to be seen with on your wrist was a digital watch where the more functions it had, the better it was. Sometimes, you invoked curiosity and a bit more if you were seen “jabbing” side of that watch to “pull up” the various functions.
Now these digital watches have returned with a vengeance in the form of the smartwatch which Samsung, Sony and a few others were premiering. These watches use a touchscreen to switch between the functions which are presented in the form of apps that can be loaded to these watches. They work hand in glove with your smartphone or tablet by making use of a Bluetooth link, serving as an extension display and control surface for the mobile device.
Samsung’s watch is in the form of the Galaxy Gear which works with the Galaxy Note 3 phablet and Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet but there is expected to be a software update that will make it work with other Samsung Galaxy phones like the S3 and the S4. It uses a Super AMOLED touchscreen as its man control surface and has an integrated microphone, speaker and band-mounted camera. Its stainless-steel band doesn’t just come in the natural finish but in different colours.
For that matter, Qualcomm are selling the Toq smartwatch which has been described as a “spitting image” of the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch.
Sony had launched the second-generation of their smartwatch which is simply known as the “Smartwatch 2”. This doesn’t have the microphone, speaker or camera but can last for 4 days compared to 1 day with the Samsung before needing to be charged up. It also uses NFC-based “touch-and-go” setup and can work with most Android phones.
The IFA also has been a chance for Sony to launch the DSC-RX100 II which is the successor to the ‘RX100, considered to be one of the top dogs when it came to small digital cameras.
For Sony, it also became the point to launch an API which allows Wi-Fi-based control of their Wi-Fi-capable digital cameras from computers, smartphones and tablets. This allowed for functionality such as remote shutter release / movie start-stop, remote viewfinder, exposure configuration and other photography aspects as well as the ability to download the images from your camera via the Wi-Fi network.
Sony has also mad 4K UHDTV digital videography affordable for the serious hobbyist or the small video studio who videos corporate, school or family events like weddings by offering a camcorder affordable to these kind of users’ pockets. This is in the form of the FDR-AX1 which has what is needed to get in to 4K recording. It uses XQD memory cards, a noninterchangeable 20x zoom lens and a 1/2.3″ sensor and records with the XAVC S codec which will be available down the line with most desktop-video software.
Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC in the personal-technology space
NFC “touch-and-go” technology has become increasingly relevant as a data-transfer technology for personal health and wellbeing thanks to Plus Prevention. Here, they had released the TapCheck range of personal medical devices such as blood glucose meters, blood pressure monitors and a pedometer that can transfer their data to your NFC-capable Android smartphone which runs one of two companion apps. The data can be sent onwards via email or SMS to your health-care providers or family members. The goal that Plus Prevention had with these devices is that the technology is on a level playing field to be available to everybody.
As for the trend with small speakers for use with personal IT equipment, these either connect via Bluetooth as an A2DP Profile audio device or connect via the home network or, in some cases, a local Wi-Fi access point created by the speaker itself using Apple AirPlay or DLNA. Most, if not all, of the Bluetooth-enabled speakers will come with NFC “touch-and-go” paring and connection.
Another key trend is the emphasis on “app-cessories”. This is where a device that exhibits connectivity with a smartphone or tablet through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or even USB-wired exploits this connectivity through the use of a manufacturer-developed app. I will be covering this in the next article on Internationaler Funkaustellung 2013.
This year’s Internationaler Funkaustellung has been dominated by particular technologies. One was the TV and video class of devices showing some key trends such as displays being greater than 75” and the arrival of 21:9 ultra-wide displays as well as the start of a multi-vendor platform for smart TVs.
Another was the evolution of consumer and small-business computer equipment towards touch-enabled displays due to the arrival of Windows 8 with its touch-centric “Metro” dashboard-style user interface. Yet another trend was the open-frame mobile computing platforms i.e. Android and Windows Phone becoming popular amongst manufacturers and consumers, increasingly putting Apple on notice with their iOS mobile platform. In this environment, the lines of distinction between the classes of device are being blurred as we see the arrival of larger smartphones with 5”-6” screens and 10”-13” hybrid computers that become a tablet one moment and a small notebook computer with touchscreen the next.
I have given less space to the appliance sector in this report as the appliance market is primarily about the “durable” class of appliances expected to last in the order of seven to ten years and there isn’t much of an encouragement to allow customers to improve the appliances’ functionality through options that can be added on at a later stage.
Similarly, most manufacturers who launch camera equipment or printers for consumers or hobbyists would be waiting until Photokina in Cologne which occurs a few days after the end of IFA. This is where the photographic and cinematographic equipment activity across the consumer, hobbyist and professional sectors would be occurring.
Networked Home Entertainment
TV and Video
Three main trends that are showing at this year’s Internationaler Funkaustellung for TVs are the ultra-wide 21:9 displays, screen sizes of 75” and larger for a 16:9 display and 4K screens that have an ultra-high-definition display. LG were even running with an 84” LCD TV that used “Cinema 3D” technology that didn’t require the users to were 3D glasses.
Panasonic were running with 103” 3D plasma and 145” regular plasma TVs. This was while Samsung, LG and Sony ran with 75” and 84” LCD screens. LG’s set also had the new “Cinema 3D” glasses-free 3D vision technology. But Sony were also supplying a projector, a Blu-Ray player – the BDP-S790, as well as professional cameras as their way of creating an ecosystem for the 4K ultra-high-resolution system.
There was the launch of the Smart TV Alliance which LG and Philips (TP-Vision) formed to provide an open platform for the connected TV subsystem. Toshiba had signed up to this alliance along with support from Onigo, Mstar, Qualcomm and Yume system-on-chip vendors. This was also a chance to launch more apps for this platform.
Samsung also used this show to premiere their “transparent showcase displays” which were effectively see-through displays that could run video.
LG had used this show to launch their 21” Personal Smart TV which is the same size as most computer monitors and introduces the concept of the smart TV to the kitchen or the spare bedroom. This also has the Cinema 3D glasses-free 3D setup. As well, they launched the EA93 which is a 29” smart TV with the new ultra-wide 21:9 aspect ratio. They also demonstrated a 55” OLED TV which is 3D capable and brings to the large-screen TV the same kind of display that most HTC and Samsung smartphone users benefit from.
The Smart TV Alliance had been launched at this year’s IFA by LG and Philips. Here, Toshiba had joined the fold and a few system-on-chip vendors in the form of Onigo, Mstar, Qualcomm and Yume provided support to the platform. There also intend to be more apps launched by this alliance.
Denon’s latest package hi-fi system, in the form of the D-109, is network enabled and consists of the DRA-F109 stereo receiver (65watts per channel at 4 ohms impedance) as its hub and a CD player in the form of the DCD-F109. But this has an audio-focused network media adaptor in the form of the DNP-F109 which supports AirPlay and DLNA local network media playback and access to Internet radio and Last.FM. Both the CD player and the network media adaptor have walk-up connect-and-play for iOS devices and USB memory sticks via USB ports. You may be able to use it with the speakers you prefer or buy it with a pair of the SC-F109 2-way bass-reflex bookshelf speakers.
Sony is also running with the STR-DN1030 home theatre receiver which has integrated Wi-Fi and access to content via the home network. Similarly, the content can come via DLNA or AirPlay-enabled network sources or you could push the content from a mobile computing device or a laptop via a Bluetooth A2DP link.
But one main class of audio equipment that is showing through from a lot of the manufacturers at this year’s show are the speaker docks that aren’t necessarily designed just to work with the Apple iPod and iPhone. This is due to the popularity of the Android smartphones and the tablets. These either use Bluetooth A2DP connectivity or connect via the home network using AirPlay or DLNA network protocols. Most of these will have the Apple Docking connection for use with the current crop of iPods and iPhones.
This year has become a key year for launching portable computing devices that can work in some cases as sole computing devices or mainly as secondary computing devices and it has been driven by the maturity of the Android platform and the launch of Windows 8.
The IFA, like other consumer electronics shows, bas become a huge presentation environment for open-frame mobile-computing devices like smartphones and tablets.
Samsung have use the IFA to premiere their technology including creating a special press event close to that show. Here, they launched the Galaxy Note 2 which is the second generation of their Galaxy Note phone-tablet bridge product. This one has improved processor abilities and runs the Android Jelly Bean operating system. It is styled like the Galaxy S3 and has an improved S-Pen stylus that is many years ahead of the 1990s-era PDAs. It is available as a 3G or 4G variant depending on the market.
Now Samsung has answered Nikon’s Android-based camera with their Galaxy Camera which uses Android and has the high-grade optics.
They also have released a multimedia player known as the YP-GP11 but better known as the Galaxy S WiFi 5.0 . This is again styled like the Galaxy S3 “iPhone-killer” and has a 5.8” screen. In my opinion, it could put the Apple iPod Touch “on notice”.
There is the Galaxy S Duos which is a dual-SIM variant of the Galaxy S2 and Samsung are also releasing an LTE-capable Galaxy S3 to the German market in October.
If Samsung has got some new Android hardware going, HTC is sure to answer them with a few prototypes. As well, Sony have run some more of the XPeria smartphones with one known as the XPeria Mint having a 13 megapixel camera and a 4.3” screen while powered by a 1.5GHz S4 processor. They also launched the XPeria TX which has a 4.55” screen, S4 processor, 1Gb RAM and 16Gb storage expandable by a microSD slot and driven by the Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system.
Haier haven’t been quiet on the mobile-phone front with their Phone PAD 511 which is another Android Ice Cream Sandwich smartphone that has a 5.3” screen. They also fielded the Pad 711 “coat-pocket” and 1012 tabletop tablets that again run Android Ice Cream Sandwich,
Regular readers have noticed me review the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 10” “business” Android 3.0 tablet but Lenovo have released two tablets to this show. One is the IdeaTab S2 110 which is a 10” hybrid answer to the ASUS Transformer Prime. This one runs Android ICS and Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready but is available with 4G wireless broadband. They also released the IdeaTab A2107 which is an Android ICS “coat-pocket” tablet that is equipped with 3G, Bluetooth 4, FM radio and WiFi. Toshiba also fielded a 10” Android ICS Tegra-3-powered tablet in the form of the AT300.
As for accessories, there was the Tivitzen Pico Galaxy DVB-T tuner for Android mobile devices. This device is directly connected to the host via its microUSB, and works with the Tivitzen app to bring through broadcast TV to the phone or tablet.
Regular home computers
Due to Windows 8 being “released to the manufacturers”, every computer name was running computers that make best use of this operating system. One form factor that was very common was the “hybrid” tablet-laptop computer. These had the computing power, touchscreen display, primary and secondary storage in one battery-powered unit which could be clipped to a keyboard which, in some cases, had extra battery power for the computer, just like the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime which defined this form factor. These could be set up to become a Windows 8 tablet one moment or a fully-fledged clamshell notebook computer with a proper keyboard at another moment.
A few examples of this class included the Samsung Series 5 which uses the S-Pen stylus and is driven by Intel x86 microarchitecture.
There were also some “convertible” notebook computers that could be folded to become a tablet one moment or a classic notebook computer. These converted by one pulling out the keyboard from under the tablet or swivelling the screen horizontally in a frame rather than swivelling the screen vertically. Toshiba and Sony fielded two examples in the former “pull-out keyboard” type with the Sony VAIO Duo 11.
Of course, most of the portable units were of the “ultrabook” form-factor, typically thin and light, being equipped with up to 256Gb solid-state storage as the main secondary storage and perhaps having an SD card reader for removable storage.
Toshiba’s example of this was the Portege Z930 successor to the Z830 that I previously reviewed. This came in two configurations – one being equipped with an i5 processor, 4G RAM and 128 solid-state storage while the other cam with an i7 higher-speed processor and increased RAM (8G) and solid-state storage space (256Gb). Toshiba had run the Satellite U945 14” low-end model as well as the Satellite P845t that capitalises on Windows 8’s touch abilities.There was also a Satellite S955 “thin-and-light” laptop in the mix as well.
Acer’s latest Ultrabook example is the Aspire S7 which comes in an 11” or 13” variety and both of these have Ivy Bridge processors, 4Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state storage.
Sony was launching the VAIO Duo 11 hybrid portable computer which has an 11” touch screen, and slides out from tablet mode to be a laptop. It is also equipped with front and rear cameras, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC like Android Beam and has the essential stylus support.
Some of the computers even used the new 21:9 ultra-wide display with the Toshiba Satellite U840W having a 14” display of this ratio and 6Gb on the RAM and 500Gb hard disk / 32Gb solid-state secondary storage. This would be having the same height as the regular 13” Ultrabook but being wider. But Samsung had also released a Series 9 13-inch ultraportable with a “Retina-like” ultra-high-resolution (2560×1440) screen. Similarly, every manufacturer ran a series of touch-enabled all-in-one desktop computers that capitalised on the touchscreen user-experience that Windows 8 provided. Examples of these include the Acer Aspire 5600U / 7600U all-in-one lineup.
Dell were running a lineup of XPS touchscreen-enabled hybrid computers with the XPS 10 being a 10” Windows 8RT hybrid that uses ARM microarchitecture. This is in addition to the XPS Duo 12 which is a 12” hybrid that works with Intel architecture and runs Windows 8. They were also using this event to launch an XPS touchscreen all-in-one desktop similar to the Sony VAIO J Series that I reviewed previously.
One of the new computers that HP were launching to capitalise on Windows 8 was the Envy X2 hybrid which has a detachable keyboard.
There hasn’t been much on network infrastructure hardware for the home because most of this would have been launched at CEBit in March.
But Devolo had launched the dLAN LiveCam which is an IP surveillance camera that connects directly to a HomePlug AV network segment. This would yield increased video reliability due to the nature of HomePlug AV network technology.
As well, Toshiba had launched their first home-network NAS in the form of the Canvio Personal Cloud. As expected for the consumer NAS that is on the market, it would be able to work with dedicated iOS and Android apps so one can transfer data to and from a tablet or smartphone.
What I see of the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2012 is a focus on consumer / small-business portable computing for mobile and regular operating platforms; and the development of larger and wider displays which use a high pixel density that makes images look closer to a classic photograph.
Welcome back to the second part of my report on the Internationaler Funkaustelluing 2011. In the first part, I had touched on home appliances briefly but had focused on computing technologies like smartphones, tablets, laptops and the home network.
Now I am focusing on consumer electronics which mainly is focused around digital cameras, TV and home-theatre / hi-fi technology.
3D is still being considered a dominant technology with some of the cameras being equipped with two lenses and sensors. As well, Samsung have also fielded a camera with two screens – one on the back and one on the front.
The camera manufacturers are releasing more of the small interchangeable-lens cameras. These are typically in the “non-SLR” style with the screw-on lens mounts. It is leading towards the appearance of more compact cameras with high-factor zoom lenses. Here, these cameras are being pitched mainly as mainly “bridge-cameras” which exist between the “point-and-shoot” camera and the SLR camera and have many adjustable photography factors including semi-automatic and manual exposure modes.
An issue that may affect the launch of digital photography equipment at this or subsequent IFA shows is the up-and-coming Photokina photo/film/video trade shows. These shows appear in Cologne at the end of September and they are often seen as a major launchpad for anything to do with photography or videography. A valid point may be raised about whether companies with digital photo / video equipment show their equipment at both shows, launching consumer equipment in Berlin and “enthusiast” equipment (DSLRs, high-end camcorders) in Cologne.
Of course, there hasn’t been much interest in using network technology for photo and video equipment when interlinking with computer equipment.
TV and Display Technologies
There are a few key trends that are occurring concerning the television receivers being promoted at the IFA.
One is the DVB-T2 digital-TV standard which is to launch in Germany. This revision of the DVB-T terestrial digital-TV standard will provide for more HDTV with H264 video. It will also allow for advanced interactive TV (HbbTV, VoD) platforms, robust terrestrial reception as well as more services per TV channel.
3D is still a dominant technology with Toshiba and other names promoting glasses-free 3D viewing where their sets use a polarizing screen and support an ersatz 3D effect for regular content. Haier are also using a similar technology for their 3D Internet-enabled set. LG are running 3D TVs that work with cinema-style passive polarizing glasses. ,
For content, Deutsche Telekom is providing “Entertain 3D” channels as part of their Entertain IPTV service. This requires the Deutsche Telekom “Entertain” set-top box and access to a VDSL2 next-gen service. There will be the magazine channels as well as highlight footage from Bundesliga football (soccer) matches as well as the “usual suspects” – those popular 3D action and animation films from Hollywood.
Another key trend is Internet-driven smart TV. This is with access to the Social Web, video-on-demand / catch-up TV amongst other interactive-TV services using the home network.
Hama are releasing at this year’s IFA an Android STB with access to full Android Honeycomb service on the TV screen. This time, the set-top is able to connect to the network via WiFi, or Ethernet.
Samsung are pushing the Social TV agenda. This allows you to view TV and chat on the Social Web at the same time with a button to press to focus on Facebook/Twitter/Google Talk chat streams or TV content. There is also the ability to use a Samsung smartphone or Galaxy Tab as the TV keyboard once you install the appropriate app. Of course, there is a Samsung TV remote that has a QWERTY keyboard and LCD display to facilitate the chat function.
Samsung have also released an app for their Android smartphones and tablets which allows the image on their Smart TVs to be shown on these devices.
Sharp have contributed to the smart-TV race with the AQUOS Net+ app subsystem for their TVs. As well Metz are showing a network-enabled 3D TV with HbbTV broadcast-broadband support and a 750Gb PVR.
There was an increased number of TVs that had the 21:9 aspect ratio being launched at this show. This aspect ration was more about a “cinema-screen” aspect ration that was often used with a lot of movies since the 1950s.
Even the projector scene is going strong at this year’s IFA.
Acer are showing the H9500BD 3D Full-HD home-theatre projector which is to be released October. This unit can work at 2000 ANSI Lumen with a 50000:1 contrast ratio. It fixes the keystone problem that often happens with projectors by using a lens-shift setup rather than digitally skewing the image; as well as a high zoom lens that permits a big image with a short throw and also has wall-colour-correction for projection to non-white-walls It is expected to sell in Europe for €2499 recommended retail price
Sony are also launching a 3D-capable projector with a 150,000:1 contrast ratio and use of lens-shift as the keystone correction method. The big question that I have about this projector is how bright this projector is in ANSI lumens.
Canon also launched the LV8235 which is an ultra-short-throw DLP projector. Here, this projector can throw a 2-metre (80”) usable image projected with it being positioned at 32cm (1 foot) from the wall or screen.
As well, Sony had used this show to premiere a set of 3D personal video goggles. Here, these glasses show 3D video images on separate OLED screens, mainly for use with personal video players or games systems.
Home Theatre and Hi-Fi
There has been some activity concerning networked home-theatre and hi-fi equipment.
Harman-Kardon are launching a 3.1 HTIB with has an integrated 3D Blu-Ray player and uses a soundbar as its main speaker.
Loewe have used this event to launch the Solist single piece audio system. This has a CD player and access to FM and Internet radio broadcasts as far as I know. It can connect to home networks via WiFi, Ethernet or HomePlug and uses a 7.5” touch screen or Loewe Assist remote control as its control surface.
Sony have launched the SNP-M200 network media player which is the follow on from the SNP-M100, It offers 3D video support and an improved Facebook and Twitter experience. Of course, like the SNP-M100, it has the full DLNA Home Media Network credentials including being a controlled device. They also launched another Blu-Ray player in the form of the BDP-S185 which supports 3D Blu-Ray playback and access to online content.
As well, Pioneer have launched some network-enabled hi-fi equipment including a component network-audio player for use with existing hi-fi setups. Philips are using this show also to launch a Streamiun MCi8080 music system with DAB+ and Internet radio, a CD player as well as network audio. Intenso have launched their Movie Champ HD media player which is one of those media players that play off USB (or the home network). But this one can properly play 3D video in to 3D-enabled TVs.
It is also worth noting that Jarre Technologies is a newcomer to the scene of “worked” audio reproduction technologies. This firm has been set up by Jean Michel Jarre, known for setting the tone of European ambient-music with Equinoxe and Oxygene, and is now following the same path as Dr. Dre’s “Beats Audio” name. Here, they are launching their highly-powerful iPad speaker tower which can work comfortably at 10,000 watts and uses “speaker tubes” but would need a large area to perform at its best. Here, this product is all about proving Jarre Technologies metal and I wonder when there will be premium and multimedia laptop computers that have their audio subsystems tuned by Jarre Technologies on the market and who will sell these laptops.
Germany is now heading towards DAB+ digital radio broadcasting which yields an improvement over the original DAB digital-radio technology that it worked with before. Here, this technology uses AAC audio coding, allows for an increased number of broadcast services per multiplex and, from my experience with the Australian setup as I used many DAB+ enabled Internet radios on review, provides for highly-robust digital radio reception. It may be easier for set manufacturers to launch DAB+ digital radios in to this market due to them having DAB+ radios already on Australian and other DAB+ markets; and UK readers may find that their newer digital radios may be already set up for DAB+ technology even though the UK is working on “original specification” DAB radio.
The Internationaler Funkaustellung 2011 has reinforced the role of the networked home especially as Europe takes to the newer Internet technologies like 4G wireless broadband, IPTV and next-generation broadband service.
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