Trade Shows Archive

Consumer Electronics Show 2014–Part 1 (Home Entertainment)

I am reporting about this year’s Consumer Electronics Show which was held in Las Vegas and is effectively becoming a trend-setting show when it comes to the online lifestyle. This will be spread over a few parts so as to capture the main trends with the first part covering home entertainment.

Televisions

Every consumer-electronics trade fair always touches on technologies to do with televisions and video-based entertainment with two key trends affecting this class of product.

4K Ultra-High-Definition TV

4K UHDTV - Sony press image

4K UHDTV – The symbol of the Consumer Electronics Show 2014

This year is being seen as a make-or-break year for the 4K ultra-high-definition technology what with screen sizes starting at 49” and reaching to 110” in some quarters. But do most of us have the wall-space in our living rooms to accommodate a 110” TV screen?

We are also seeing a few manufacturers, namely Samsung and LG offer curved-screen TVs that yield the experience of the curved cinema screen that was brought on with the Cinemascope and Panavision wide-screen cinema technologies of the 1950s. Some manufacturers even are working on the concept of having a display that appears flat one minute then curved the next.

As well, this year is becoming a point where the TVs are becoming cheaper and available at 50” screen sizes. For example, Polaroid are putting up a 50” 4K set at US$999. Similarly most of the other manufacturer are offering a variety of models such as Sony offering the XBR-X950B at 65” and 84” screen sizes, the XBR-X900B at 79”, 65” and 55” along with the XBR-X850B at 70”, 65”, 55”, and 49”, all of which implement their Triluminos and Clear Audio + improvements along with  Wi-Fi networking, NFC and Miracast. Sony are even fielding a short-throw 4K video projector that can throw an image of around 103” but this would be considered big time for most households and small business. What I still see of this is that the sets will still be at a point where they are an upgrade for the main-viewing-room TV set with the fact that existing 1080p sets will end up being “pushed down” to secondary areas.

As for content, the main bearer for 4K-grade content will be through the home network courtesy of video-on-demand services. Services like M-Go, Amazon, Netflix, Sony Video Unlimited and YouTube have strong plans to run 4K content and build partnerships with the various TV manufacturers for delivering the content. Even Netflix is running the second season of “House Of Cards” in 4K and making it available at that quality. Sony are even going to run the FIFA World Cup 2014 soccer tournament in 4K video.

This is brought on through the use of H.265 codec or the VP9 codec and all of these sets will come with HDMI 2.0 connections for video peripherals.Qualcomm are also offering a processor which is optimised for 4K smart-TV applications. As well, Dolby have developed and premiered their Dolby Vision technology which optimises how the pictures are displayed on the screen according to the master – so the “Double-D” logo is not just about sound quality anymore.

Smart TVs

One major trend for smart TVs is for manufacturers to avoid reinventing the wheel when it comes to developing the operating systems for these sets. Here, they are working on implementing general-purpose operating systems like those of the Linux tree and shoehorning them to work with the “10-foot lean-back video-driven” experience that TV requires.

For example, LG is implementing the WebOS which was developed by Palm and HP in their smart TVs due to the improved user experience. For example the setup tutorial encourages users to get the most out of their sets through the use of a Clippy-style Bean-Bird mascot, along with a simple card-based switching user interface and relating to what device is being connected to a particular input. This is where, for example, you might see PS4 rather than HDMI 3 if you have a PS4 hooked up to the set’s “HDMI 3” input. Similarly, RCA and HiSense are toying with Android as an operating system for their smart TVs and Mozilla are working on a variant of the Firefox operating system for use with smart TVs and video peripherals.

MHL is becoming an increasingly-important connectivity feature for TVs launched through this year’s CES. This is brought on by Roku who are using the “Roku Ready” brand to say that their TVs can work with the Roku stick that connects between your TV’s MHL-capable HDMI input and your home network, making it become a smart TV using the TV’s own remote.

Other trends in this field include Samsung offering a simplified pebble-shaped remote control for their TVs which also supports gesture control along with Sharp running SmartCentral which provides search-level aggregation of the content that is available to you. Panasonic are also working on implementing facial-recognition in the application class while working with Mozilla to develop Firefox OS’s smart-TV implementation.

AV Peripheral Devices and Home Audio

Online Audio and Video

Even the separate audio and video equipment are taking on key online-enablement features. For example, an increasing number of Blu-Ray players and home-theatres are being equipped with Miracast technology to allow you to project the display from your suitably-equipped Windows laptop or Android mobile device on to your large-screen TV. Similarly, network-enabled audio equipment are becoming equipped with Spotify functionality such as Spotify Connect so you can benefit from the Spotify celestial jukebox on these devices as I mentioned in my coverage of the Australian Audio & AV Show 2013.

Audio Reproduction and AV equipment

One main trend being observed here is the increased interest in so-called “lifestyle” speakers such as soundbars and wireless speakers.

Many manufacturers are offering soundbars or pedestal speakers that have at least Bluetooth A2DP streaming with NFC “touch-to-go” setup. These are designed to sit in front of or underneath your flat-screen TV to provide a deeper better sound from these sets rather than using the set’s integrated speakers. A significant number of these units come with a wireless subwoofer to provide that meatier bass yet can be relocated easily without the need to worry about wires. Even Philips has shown up with a TV pedestal speaker that has an integrated Blu-Ray player that is a quick “leg-up” for adding Blu-Ray playback, smart-TV experience and better sound.

There are an increasing number of wireless speakers that work with Bluetooth A2DP and, in some cases Wi-Fi with DLNA or AirPlay functionality. For example, Sony are releasing the SRS-X7 and X9 with this functionality and a 2.1 layout that has a common bass driver.

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

Pure’s wireless speakers and Internet radios to come Statesside

Regular readers of HomeNetworking01.info will know of Pure due to the Jongo speakers and some of their Internet radios that I have reviewed on this site. This brand has made an assault on the US with the Jongo T4 Wi-Fi/Bluetooth speakers along with the Evoke F4  FM/Internet radio with Bluetooth. This radio will also support Jongo synchronous multi-speaker functionality

But the WiSA wireless-speaker standard for high-quality sound has been premiered at this year’s CES with a Sharp Blu-Ray home theatre system that works as a WiSA wireless-speaker hub being used to work with Bang & Olufsen WiSA speakers including a new take on their legendary “pencil” column speakers.

CSR are working on improvements for Bluetooth speakers to allow multiple Bluetooth speakers to play in sync with each other from the one source, an improvement similar to their aptX codec which improves the audio playback quality of Bluetooth audio equipment. Similarly, Broadcom are working on the AllPlay SDK to make it simpler for manufacturers to integrate Wi-Fi with DLNA and AirPlay along with multi-speaker sync into wireless speakers and music systems

Also Sony are still pushing the HiRes Audio barrow that they did during the 2013 Internationaler Funkaustellung show in Berlin. Here, they are pushing the file formats and amplification abilities to their high-end Blu-Ray home theatres in the form of the BDV-N9200W, BDV-N7200W and the BDV-NF7220 two-speaker Blu-Ray home theatre amongst other devices that can play file-based audio content. These all have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth with NFC touch-and-go pairing, Miracast, and Spotify.

For that matter, Sony have refreshed their Blu-Ray player lineup, keeping them as a single unit that adds smart TV abilities to existing display devices. The top 2 models offer Miracast and have integrated Wi-Fi networking while every model except the entry-level model supports DLNA network media playback. They also have just released two single-piece CD/radio/Bluetooth stereos with NFC touch-and-go pairing. The more expensive model also has Wi-Fi with DLNA, AirPlay, Spotify Connect and the Internet-radio “band”.

Panasonic have released the SC-BTT465 and SC-BTT405 Blu-Ray home theatres which have Ethernet and are Wi-Fi ready needing the USB Wi-Fi dongle. Like most recent stereo equipment, they have  Bluetooth audio playback with NFC touch-and-go setup. As well, they provide access to the popular Internet video services. Like Sony, Panasonic have launched their latest Blu-Ray players as being “smart-TV enablers” with access to online services via Wi-Fi and their high-end BDT-360 is Miracast-enabled and has its own Web browser.

Still and Video Cameras

Connectivity to the network and Android-driven cameras

A key feature that is appearing on cameras across the board is the ability to use Wi-Fi to connect to a small network or be their own access point. This is augmented by cameras like the Polaroid Socialmatic and the Samsung Galaxy Camera 2 having direct access to social networks like Facebook or Instagram for uploading photos or cameras having the ability to benefit simply from Miracast or DLNA to show your pictures on the big screen.

The social-network ability is being augmented by cameras implementing Android rather than a reinvented operating environment, thus allowing for quicker application development and access to Android app markets.

Even Olympus has fielded a voice recorder that can upload audio files it captures to Dropbox via Wi-Fi technology. This is more as a way of saying that the dedicated voice recorder exists in the era of the smartphone and its voice-recording application.

Video cameras that shoot at 4K

Sony has come out with a consumer-tier video camera that can shoot to flash memory at 4K resolution. This camera, known as the FDR-AX100, sells for  USD$2000 and is equipped with Wi-Fi networking and NFC setup so you can exhibit those movies on that 4K TV. Of course it comes in the tried-and-trusted HandyCam handheld form-factor which would please most video hobbyists.

Action Cams

Sony and others are furthering the “action cam” which is a small video camcorder that attaches to various accessories to provide hands-free “first-person views”. These have been modelled on the GoPro action camera which clips to the various accessories.

Sony’s latest Action Cam, the top-shelf HDR-AS100V has live streaming, pro features and a splash-proof body and the ability to create time-coded movies for multiple angles in one picture efforts. There is an optional wrist controller with screen which also allows you to start and stop five of these cameras at the same time from this controller. This camera also joins the home network using Wi-Fi wireless and NFC touch-and-go setup.

Polaroid has joined the club by offering an entry-level “action cam” with not much in features but pitched at the same “social and casual” market, of course with the coloured body and rainbow stripe.

JVC has bucked this trend by offering a highly-ruggedised camcorder that can work in very extreme environments yet be handled like a camcorder.

Field photo printing

Polaroid and Fuji are putting up devices that are about “print-and-share” photo-printing. The former example is the previously-mentioned Socialmatic camera which has a Zink printer which mimics the classic experience with the Polaroid instant-picture cameras. It has even been styled in a way to evoke memories of their OneStep / 1000 series of entry-level instant-picture cameras with the white front and the rainbow detail under the lens.

Fuji have provided the Instax printer which uses a Wi-Fi link to print to 2”x3” instant-print film. This may be considered more as a toy or “quick-print” device to snap at Polaroid’s solution.

Gaming

The games market has been effectively controlled by the XBox One and PlayStation 4 consoles with casual and small-time gaming taking place on the mobile platforms.

But the main activity that has been occurring at this year’s CES is Valve launching the SteamBox gaming platform with many PC-based gaming names launching their “Steam Machines”. These are computer systems that work to Intel-based microarchitecture but run Valve’s “Steam OS” games operating system rather than Windows. They also work on the cloud-driven games distribution and gameplay model that Valve championed with their Steam concept. There is even the Digital Storm Bolt 2 which is a gaming computer which boots either to Windows 8 or the SteamOS gaming operating system.

NVIDIA also built up the Shield handheld-gaming concept which allows games on the PC or a GRID server to be played on a “PlayAnywhere” handheld.

These are about furthering a concept of streaming gameplay to a local display and control surface or using “download-to-play” setups to allow portable gameplay using the home network and the Internet.

Sony is not taking this lying down by launching the PayStation Now platform which allows you to play PS3 games on Android phones or tablets thus keeping the PlayStation name in everyone’s heads.

Conclusion

The next part of the series touches on the trends that are affecting personal computing including mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets. It will also touch on the newer technologies that are affecting the home network and other small networks.

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Australian Audio & AV Show 2013

IMG_1174This past weekend I had visited the Australian Audio & AV Show which was hosted at the Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel in Collins Street, Melbourne. This is one of the hotel-based hi-fi shows where, in addition to most if not all the banquet rooms at the hotel being used, at least two, if not three floors of guest-rooms are block-booked with the beds removed out of most, if not all of the rooms. Here, these rooms serve as demonstration rooms with the aesthetics and sound qualities comparable to most living rooms, music rooms or home theatres.

This show underscored particular audio and AV trends, especially the use of network-based digital audio setups. This is more so as the file-based “download-to-own” audio services and the subscription-driven “cyber jukeboxes” like Spotify mature and gain real traction. Of course, it wasn’t feasible to demonstrate the online services from the equipment involved due to the common situation where public-access wireless networks such as what exists at this hotel implement that browser-based authentication routine which doesn’t work with consumer electronics.

One concept that was underscored through this show is that all the good quality recording and playback equipment in the world can show up the poor recording or remastering techniques that can occur in the studio. It doesn’t matter whether the recording had been worked up to a 24 bit 192 kbz master file or turned out as a “new-cut” vinyl record or digital-remaster CD.

Preservation of Media and Technology Comfort Zones

Linn Sondek LP12

Linn Sondek LP12 – the 40-year-old turntable keeps on as a legend

There was an effort to preserve media and technology comfort zones with a few demonstration systems playing from vinyl or regular CDs and some of the systems in “full flight” were based on valve (tube) amplification. An example of this was McIntosh, an American hi-fi legend, showing one of their valve power amplifiers while some other companies even ran with amplifiers that implemented valve/solid-state hybrid construction.

One company even played a “new-cut” vinyl pressing of “Blood Sweat And Tears” which sounded so clear on their demonstration equipment. As well, the distributer for Harman and JBL had a setup which was based on a regular CD player playing through JBL floor-standing speakers and I had played Genesis’s “Many Too Many” off my CD copy of “And Then There Were Three” through this setup.

Yamaha and a few others even ran demonstration systems where a turntable, CD player and network audio player were connected to the system’s amplifier to show that these sources had an equal chance of yielding high-quality sound when fed good recordings no matter the medium. Similarly, Linn demonstrated their legendary Sondek LP12 turntable which was celebrating the 40th anniversary of this classic’s design and presented a record which was a compilation of choice cuts from their record library while they put the way forward with file-based digital audio with their DSM network media players.

Wirelessly-networked audio setups

I had watched a presentation by Cambridge Audio about the direction for wirelessly-networked audio setups and they mentioned that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi were on a level footing.

Arcam rBlink Bluetooth DAC adaptor

Arcam rBlink does a very good job of linking your Bluetooth phone to your stereo

There has been a message that, even though vinyl has been making its steady return, convenience-based AV technologies aren’t undermining the sound quality. This is similar to how I saw the cassette format “earn its stripes” and become respected through the late 70s and the early 80s, what with Dolby noise reduction, better tape formulations like chrome dioxide, Dolby HX recording-improvement technology along with those high-grade musicassettes issued through the mid 80s.

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker playing from my phone

Here, the aptX codec was introduced in to Bluetooth A2DP setups to provide high-grade audio quality when you use Bluetooth headsets or speakers as I had noticed when I played “You And I” by Delegation from my Samsung Galaxy Note II through a pair of Aktimate Blue Bluetooth speakers and they yielded that punchy bass and clear treble.

The DLNA / UPnP AV technology had been highlighted by Cambridge Audio as enabling high-quality open-frame audio distribution over Wi-Fi and Ethernet home networks. This technology allowed equipment that was able to play 24-bit audio content to discover and play this content off a NAS or similar media server.

USB speakers with a laptop

USB-driven hi-fi speakers rais the bar for laptop sound and bring through audiophile quality

The idea of one-source multiple-speaker wireless audio setups is not perfect due to the use of packet-based technologies implemented with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. This typically requires the implementation of a “master device” which keeps all the devices in sync when it comes to what they are playing and Pure implemented this with one of their Jongo devices being considered a “master devices”. This network was simply served by an ordinary wireless router that served as an access point and DHCP server to cover that room where the speakers were shown. Their solution allowed for “party-streaming” from multiple speakers and  a pair of the same-model speakers to operate as a stereo pair for wider separation.  Dynaudio demonstrated a wireless speaker setup that worked on their own wireless-distribution technology which was primarily circuit-based rather than packet-based.

Stronger foothold for file-based audio distribution

This leads me to the fact that there is a stronger foothold in file-based audio distribution in the hi-fi space. In this show, a lot of companies were demonstrating music that was played either through a room-wide DLNA Home Media Network or a laptop that was connected to a USB digital-analogue converter.

The USB digital-analogue converters that were used in this show typically presented themselves to Macintosh OS X or Windows as another “sound card” according to USB Audio specifications. Some of these devices were components that were connected to existing amplifiers or were part of a control amplifier, integrated amplifier or powered speakers.

Netgear ReadyNAS

A NAS like this ReadyNAS or the ripping NAS nearby is as much a hi-fi component

On the other hand, the more popular method for file-based audio distribution was the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network. A significant number of the rooms were running these networks that comprised of a NAS full of music and one or more components or systems capable of audio playback from a network, typically a Wi-Fi wireless network. A typical router served as the “glue” to hold each room’s network together.

With these setups, it was feasible to run content presented as 24-bit FLAC or similar files or regular PCM-format WAV files to allow the hi-fi equipment to perform at its best. Some of these networks used a heterogenous mix of devices with only the exhibitor’s brand being highly positioned.

Cocktail X30 music server

Cocktail X30 full-width music server and receiver

Cocktail X10 music server

Cocktail X10 music server which is a stereo system

I had also seen on show the Cocktail Audio X10 and X30 network media servers which are themselves capable of being the heart of a 3-piece music system or working with another sound system. I had previously covered the X10 on this site but the newly-previewed X30 full-width unit has more inputs, an FM radio tuner, and a highly-powerful amplifier with proper binding-post speaker connections. These units can be DLNA music servers for a home network or be capable of pulling up content on a network-attached storage this way,

Rise of Spotify and similar online services

There is the rise of the online service, especially Spotify which been perceived as the “online jukebox”. It still works on the three tiers with a free ad-based setup, an “unlimited” desktop-only setup as well as a premium setup with desktop and mobile ad-free listening. Some markets have a “mobile free” listening service but it will be rolled out to all of the markets. The mobile services provide content download to the local storage on the mobile device while the desktop service is primarily about streaming the content.

Naim NDS network audio player

Naim NDS network audio player

The Spotify Connect feature that was just launched is more about “passing” content playback directions to equipment that supports this service via the home network. This has been more about “freeing up” a smartphone or tablet that is the Spotify control surface to be able to be used for communications or game playing.

Denon DNP-F109 network audio player

Denon DNP-F109 network audio player

Similarly, Spotify is working with vehicle builders to provide an integrated experience for drivers. Ford’s AppSync variant is focused on the app in the mobile device doing the heavy lifting and the dashboard working as a remote control surface and AUX input.

High-quality lifestyle audio

A class of audio-playback equipment that tends to be forgotten about in the hi-fi sphere is “lifestyle audio” or “lifestyle-centric audio”, This represents the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speakers along with the CD receivers or network media receivers that are the hub of a three-piece music system. Traditional hi-fi enthusiasts find that if you don’t have the component-driven setup with individual pieces of equipment in separate boxes doing their job, you are not leading to good sound but the “lifestyle” equipment that was shown here was about equipment that can yield high-quality sound yet be in a compact enclosure that is still aesthetically pleasing.

As I said in my review of the Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver, I touched on the music centres and casseivers (receivers with integrated cassette deck) of the late 1970s where mid-priced and high-end variants had the expectations of a good component-based hi-fi system in one piece. Then Bang & Olufsen kept the flag going with their Beocenter and Beosound products like the legendary Beocenter 7000 series through the 80s until the likes of Bose and Proton drew back this class of system as a high-quality “lifestyle” product.

Naim UnitiQute 2 on dressing table

The Naim Uniti!Qute 2 – a high-quality network-connected music system for that small room

A system that demonstrated this concept very well was a Naim UnitiQute 2 network media receiver that was connected to a pair of Totem DreamCatcher bookshelf speakers and presented on a dressing table in one of the hotel’s Club Junior Suite rooms. This conveyed to me an image of something that would fit in well in an elegant master bedroom or the kitchen where you show off your gourmet cooking skills.

Cyrus's latest CD receiver

Cyrus’s latest CD receiver

There has been an increased number of full-width slimline CD receivers which have Wi-Fi DLNA home-network connectivity including an advance-sample preview of Cyrus’s first CD receiver. This unit was demonstrated through a pair of floorstanding speakers which show up how flexible these systems were. Here, it could play CDs, receive FM or DAB+ broadcast radio, stream from a Bluetooth smartphone or pull in network or Internet hosted content with an integrated Wi-Fi module. Other examples included Arcam’s Solo Neo and Naim’s Uniti 2.

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

One lifestyle system, the Elipson Planet series, which had speakers shaped like spheres and a centre unit shaped like a cylinder implements the Bang & Olufsen icePower power-amplification technology for its power amplifiers. This system’s industrial design along with the use of B&O icePower technology could be seen as “Clayton’s” B&O music system – a B&O when you don’t have a B&O.

Elipson Planet music system

Elipson Planet music system – the B&O when you don’t have a B&O

These three-piece systems are being considered because of their relevance to the “downsized home”, which is becoming more real with baby-boomer couples moving to smaller homes as their children grow their feathers and fly the nest. Similarly, the look towards the minimalist interior design is underscoring the need for these systems as is the concept of some of these systems offering “primary-system” capability and quality in a package suited to a secondary music system.

At the same time, there has been an increased number of wireless speakers that work with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi wireless networks with Pure launching a good range of the “Jongo” speakers which are able to exploit a Wi-Fi segment as a self-sustaining synchronised multi-speaker network. Cambridge Audio also used this to launch a range of Bluetooth / Wi-Fi speakers that work with Spotify Connect.

Speaker technology

JBL speakers

These classic speaker designs still hang on in the hi-fi conscience

There were some manufacturers and distributors showing the traditional floor-standing speakers with Harman and VAF showing some that would be considered “furniture pieces”. The ones that Harman showed were a pair of JBLs that would be considered par for the course with a 1970s receiver and had the large horns for the tweeters while VAF presented a speaker with wallpaper on the outside and 50s-style spindle legs, calling it “Maximising Spousal Acceptance Factor”.

But many manufacturers were demonstrating small traditional-arrangement bookshelf speakers that could put up a very punchy sound. With these speakers, it could be easy to doubt whether they are working by themselves or whether people who are demonstrating them are using a subwoofer as part of the setup.

Aktimate bookshelf active speakers

Aktimate bookshelf active speakers do punch out the music

As well, there has been an increased number of active speakers which have integrated amplifiers. This class of speaker was being given ore thought in the hi-fi world and not just thought of as computer speakers, lifestyle speakers (B&O, Bose) or as PA speakers. This is even though at the early stages of hi-fi, audiophiles used public-address amplifiers that they tuned to drive their custom-built speakers.

One company used another of the Club Junior Suites to demonstrate a set of floor-standing active speakers which used two power amplifiers per cabinet and line-level crossovers, thus proving that you can have a decent-sounding hi-fi in full flight based around this technology. Another regular-sized hotel room was used to demonstrate the Aktimate speakers which are bookshelf speakers that have an integrated stereo amplifier

I also see this as providing for high-grade right-sized sound-reinforcement setups where you can create an all-active-speaker sound system around JBL EON PA speakers for a large room full of people or an outdoor setting while these hi-fi active speakers could satisfy a smaller room where extra sound quality comes in to play,

To the same extent, Linn improved on what Philips started on in the early 1990s by refining a high-quality digital speaker system fit for the 24-bit studio master recording. This system, known as the Exakt is set around a digital sound path to just before the actual speaker driver with the Exakt speakers implementing a digital crossover and one digital amplifier for each driver. This implements a proprietary “Exakt Link” from the controller which is the Klimax Exakt DSM to these speakers.

Headphones

There was a special section of this show dedicated to headphone technology and you may think that this is to be taken up by exotic audiophile headphones. But these headphones also shared the HeadZone space with headphones that are capable of delivering high-quality sound from your smartphone, tablet or laptop while you are on the train for a reasonable price.  This increased show space underscored the reality that the role of “cans” as part of our AV equipment is increasingly important with out portable entertainment gadgets rather than just as accessories.

As well Denon and Sennheiser used space in their banquet rooms to show off their headphones that suited most user needs. Oh yeah, I had compared a pair of the higher-grade UrbanRaver AH-D400s against the Urban Raver AH-D320 “cans” that I had reviewed and the ‘D400s had the stronger punch in the sound. Yet I still consider the D320s as the value option that still does justice to rock and pop.

Conclusion

Here, the Australian Audio And AV Show 2013 had exemplified that the digital audio that is hosted via a home network or the Internet is the way forward. This includes using a smartphone or tablet with a Bluetooth link to play music either to a wireless speaker or to a high-quality Bluetooth adaptor plugged in to your favourite hi-fi system’s digital or line input.

In some ways, you could even create a music system around top-notch equipment and speakers that is ready to play vinyl, CD and/or network-hosted media.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2013–Part 2

IFA LogoIn 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

Broadcast-LAN devices

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.

LAN technologies

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.

Home Automation

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.

Other Trends

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2013

IFA LogoThis 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.

Personal IT

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”.

Smartphones

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.

Digital cameras

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.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2013–Part 3

Introduction

In Part 1, I had covered the home entertainment direction with such technologies as the 4K UHDTV screens, smart TV, and the presence of alternate gaming boxes. Then in Part 2, I had covered the rise of touchscreen computing, increased pixel density the 802.11ac Wi-Fi network segment amongst other things. Now I am about to cover the mobile-computing technology which is infact a strong part of the connected lifestyle.

Mobile technology

Smartphones

A major direction that is showing up for smartphones is the 5” large-screen devices that have been brought about by the Samsung Galaxy Note series of smartphones. These are described as “phablets” because they are a bridge device between the traditional 4” smartphone and the 7” coat-pocket tablet.

Sony are premiering the new Xperia premium Android phones which are the Xperia Z and Xperia ZL 5” standard with 1080p display. The Xperia ZL is a dual-SIM variant of the XPeria Z. As well, Huawei have increased their foothold in the US market by offering more of the reasonably-priced regular smartphones.

There has been some more effort towards standardised wireless charging for the smartphone. This is although there are two groups promoting their standards – the Power Matters Alliance and the Wireless Power Consortium who maintain the Qi (chee) wireless-charging standard. Examples of this include Toyota implementing the Qi standard in their 2013 Avalon vehicles and Nokia integrating it in to their Lumia 920 smartphones.

On the accessories front, Invoxia had launched an iPhone dock which connected two desk phones to the iPhone. The original device used the iPhone as an outside line for the desk phones whereas the current version launched here also works as a VoIP terminal for the desk phones. It also works with a supplied iOS softphone app to have the iPhone as a softphone for the VoIP setup.

Tablets

Now there is an increasing number of the 7” coat-pocket tablets which were previously dismissed in the marketplace but made popular by the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire. The Windows-RT-based devices were showing up more as a 10” tablet or a detachable-keyboard hybrid device.

Polaroid, trying to keep their brand alive in consumers’ minds after the demise of their legendary instant-picture cameras, have launched a few of the Android tablets. One is a 7” unit pitched for use by children. Here, this model uses 8Gb onboard storage and microSD expansion, 2-megapixel camera and works only with 802.11g/n Wi-Fi networks. It is built in a rugged form to withstand little ones’ handling but can work well for environments where a coat-pocket tablet device could cop a lot of hard wear-and-tear. The M10 is a 10” variant with a brushed-metal finish.

RCA fielded an 8” Android tablet that is made by Digital Stream and has integrated TV tuners. Here, it could pick up conventional ATSC digital TV and mobile ATSC (Dyle) broadcasts and works to the Android ICS. Personally, I would suspect that this device could be sold out to other markets, perhaps under other brands and equipped with local-spec tuners like DVB-T tuners.

Mobile technology

The ARM-based microprocessor has raised the ante for more powerful work by offering the same number of processor cores as the newer IA-32 or IA-64 processors used in regular computers. Yet this could allow for increased computing power with less power requirements thus making the embedded devices, smartphones and tablets that use RISC processing do more.

Here, NVIDIA launched the Tegra 4 which is a4-core ARM CPU that can yield faster response from tablets and smartphones. Samsung raised the bar with their Exynos 5 Octa which is an 8-core ARM CPU.

Samsung used this event to show a prototype 5.5” (1280×720) flexible screen and a 55” flexible screen as a proof-of-concept. As well, LG increased the pixel density by exhibiting a 5.5” 1080p smartphone screen.

The connected home

There has been very little happening concerning home automation and security through the past years of the Consumer Electronics Show but this year, the connected home has increased its foothold here.

This is demonstrated through the concept of mobile apps being used to control or monitor appliances, thermostats, security systems and the like.

Here, Motorola demonstrated a “Connected Home” router being a device that allows you to control a network-enabled central-heating thermostat using an app on an Android phone. What I liked of this was that the mobile device used to manage that thermostat wasn’t just the Apple iPhone and you were able to move away from that hard-to-program wall thermostat.

This has been brought about through the Nest thermostat opening up the market for user-friendly thermostats for heating / cooling systems. Here, this could lead to a commercial-style heating-control setup with a small wall-mounted box that works as a temperature sensor but may have a knob or two buttons for you to adjust the comfort level “on the fly”. Then you use your smartphone, tablet or computer that runs an easy-to-understand app to program comfort levels for particular times of particular days.

Alarm.com, a firm who provide monitoring for home automation and security sold through large retailers, has provided a “dashboard app” for their equipment that works on their platform. This app runs on the common mobile-phone platforms (iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 8) so you can use your phone to check on the state of things with your Alarm.com setup.

Similarly, the Securifi Almond+ 802.11ac Wi-Fi router was exhibited at this year’s CES. This is a regular home network router but has integrated Zigbee / Z-Wave wireless home-automation-network support. Here, this device can be seen as a dashboard for the connected home and they are intending to fund this with a Kickstarter campaign.

As for appliances, Dacor integrated a 7” Android tablet into their high-end wall oven and this provides for guided cooking including recipe lookup. Of course, Samsung hasn’t let go of the Internet fridge dream and exhibited a four-door fridge with an integrated app-driven screen that can work alongside their Android phones and tablets. They also exhibited a top-loading washing machine that uses an LCD control panel and is able to be controlled with a smartphone.

This is part of the “Internet of things” and this concept was underscored by a few manufacturers becoming charter members of the “Internet Of Things Consortium”. It is about an open-frame vendor-independent infrastructure for interlinking home automation / security, consumer entertainment, and computing devices using the common standards and common application-programming interfaces.

Automotive Technology

Of course the car is not forgotten about at the Consumer Electronics Show, and is considered as an extension of our connected lives.

A main automotive drawcard feature for this year are the self-driving cars; but the core feature for now are the app platforms for vehicle infotainment systems. Infact, Ford and GM are encouraging people to develop software for their infotainment setups. This is exploiting the fact that midrange and premium cars are increasingly being equipped with Internet connections and highly-sophisticated infotainment systems that have navigation, mobile phone integration and media playback.

Here, you might think of navigation, Internet radio / online content services and communications services. It may also include “one-touch” social destination sharing amongst other things.

For example, Google Maps to come in to Hyundai and Kia cars as part of their UVO connected infotainment platform. The first vehicle to have this is the Kia Sorrento (model-year 2014). Similarly Hyundai are implementing the MirrorLink smartphone-user-interface-replication technology in the infotainment setups.

As well. TuneIn Radio and Apple Siri integration are to be part of model-year 2013 Chevrolet Sonic & Spark cars. Ford has implement the Glympse social-destination-sharing software as part of their SYNC AppLink platform.

Similarly, Pioneer are extending the AppRadio functionality across most of their head-units so you can have certain iOS apps managed from the dashboard. They have also provided connectivity options for Apple’s iPhone 5 device with its Lightning connector and iOS 6 platform.

Last but not least

Pebble were showing a Kickstarter-funded concept of an E-paper smartwatch that interlinks with your smartphone. Here. I was wondering whether E-paper and E-ink could become the new LCD display for devices that can rely on an available-light display. It was also a way where these “smartwatches” were having us think back to the 80s where the more features and functions a digital watch had, the better it was and you could start showing off that watch to your friends.

Conclusion

This year has underscored a few key trends:

  • the 4K UHDTV display and displays with increased pixel density being mainstream,
  • the acceptance of touchscreen computing with regular computers courtesy of Windows 8,
  • the arrival of very lightweight laptop computers,
  • NFC becoming a common setup method for smartphones and consumer AV,
  • the draft 802.11ac Gigabit Wi-Fi network segment being exhibited with relatively-mature equipment,
  • the 5” smartphone and 7” tablet becoming mainstream mobile options

and has shown up what can be capable in our connected lives. Who knows what the next major trade shows will bring forth, whether as a way to “cement” these technologies or launch newer technologies. Similarly, it would be interesting whether these technologies would catch on firmly in to the marketplace.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2013–Part 2

Introduction

I am continuing from where I left off with Part 1 which focused on the home entertainment aspect such as the 4K UHDTV screens and the games consoles that are to put Sony and Microsoft on notice.

Computers

With Windows 8 already launched, the trend for computers is to see more of the ultraportable computer that come either with a touchscreen or a Windows-8 multi-touch trackpad. Most manufacturers are running with at least one convertible ultraportable model that has swivel-screen, 360-degree hinge or a slide-out design as well as a detachable-keyboard hybrid tablet in order to catch this user interface.

The consumer desktop computers will typically manifest as a touch-enabled all-in-one unit alithough a lot of the 21” large-screen tablet computers of the same ilk as the Sony VAIO Tap 20 are surfacing for this category. THe concept is augmented through the use of “one-machine multi-player” hybrid video/board games that can be played using these touch screens.

Another trend that is appearing for some of these products is the display having an increased pixel density with 1080p resolution appearing on 13” and smaller screens or 4K and similar resolution displays appearing on the mainstream screen sizes. This has been driven by Apple’s implementation of high-pixel-density “Retina” displays in some of their MacBook lineup. Of course, Windows 8 would have native support for adapting its Desktop and Modern user interfaces to these higher pixel densities and most software developers would be encouraged to adapt to the newer pixel densities.

Acer is launching the Aspire S7 Ultrabook and the Iconia W700 and W510 detachable-keyboard tablets. Dell has also launched a 1080p display as an option for the XPS 13 Ultrabook.

Toshiba have provided newer products such as the Satellite U845t which is a touchscreen Ultrabook that runs for approximately US$800. This 14” (1366×768) WIndows 8 computer has an option of an i3 or i5 CPU, 500Gb on the hard disk and 32Gb SSD cache, up to 6Gb RAM and equipped with HDMI, Ethernet, SDHC card slot and 3 USB ports (1 with USB 3.0). Here, they intended to position the U845t as the Ultrabook equivalent of the “reasonably-priced car”.

They also ran with the Qosmio X875 which is a gaming laptop with a 1Tb hybrid hard drive with 8Gb SSD cache. It also has the “Black Widow” performance design with up to 32Gb RAM, up to 2Tb storage and a 3GB NVIDIA GTX 670M GPU display and NVIDIA 3D as an option.

On the other hand. HP are launching 2 affordable “Sleekbook” ultraportables that are driven by AMD processors. Both of these are what you would call a “lightweight mainstream” laptop with a 15.6” screen, replaceable batteries, numeric keypads and multi-touch trackpads. They also have Dolby sound tuning as a way to make that music or video sound better. The basic model comes with the A6 processor, 6Gb RAM and 500Gb hard disk storage while the premium “Touchsmart” variant comes with a touchscreen, the faster A8 processor, 6Gb RAM and 750Gb hard disk storage.

Lenovo exhibited their Horizon 27 touchscreen desktop all-in-one which is able to work as an “action table”. As well, Lenovo are planning to “split” their brand by having the Lenovo brand for home and small-business computing equipment and the “Think” brand associated with “ThinkPad” and “ThinkCentre” for their large-business computing equipment. This direction reminds me of Ford’s and Chrysler’s Australian operations in the late 60s and early 70s where they were trying to run a separate brand for their luxury cars with “LTD” and “Landau” for Ford’s efforts and “VIP” for Chrysler’s efforts.

Panasonic were showing their 20” 4K-display “VAIO-Tap-style” tablet with Windows 8 as a prototype for their computer entry.

Dell launched their Latitude 10 essentials tablet which is their effort at pushing the price of a full Windows 8 tablet down to a reasonable price of US$499. This has the Intel microarchitecture and comes with a 10” screen as well as 32Gb of SSD storage. They also issued a 1080p screen option for their XPS 13 Ultrabook.

Gigabyte have fielded an extra tiny desktop PC with Intel i7 horsepower. This machine is a similar size to the Apple Mac Mini, but like machines of this ilk, you don’t have room to expand compared to larger computers.

ASUS also fielded the Transformer all-in-one tablet which can boot Android 4.1 and Windows 8. It has for its display an 18.4” screen with 1080p resolution.

Regular computer technology

Intel has been tweaking the Atom CPUs as a stronger system-on-chip for low-tier portable computing and released limited runs of the Ivy Bridge chipset which are tuned for power conservation and system performance.

Peripherals

Computer monitors

There are some technologies that are appearing for this class of device such as the increased pixel density such as a 4K UHDTV screen (2560×1440) for 20” and above or 1080p HDTV (1920×1080) for lesser screen sizes, use of a 21:9 aspect ratio, affordable IPS LCD displays and touchscreen displays.

Here, LG had launched a 4K 30” screen as well as the EA93 21:9 screen which has a 2560×1080 resolution and 4-way split abilities. Similarly ASUS launched an ultrawide 21:9 monitor with similar specifications to this monitor. As well, Sharp had exhibited a 32” 4K-resolution monitor which is the thinnest in this class. This IGZO-driven screen comes in at a thickness of 1.5”.

HP had launched a run of 20”-27” monitors such as the deluxe Envy 27 that has an elegant bezel-free IPS display, HDMI digital audio with optical SPDIF output as well as a 3.5mm pre-out jack. It has the above-mentioned HDMI connector, a DisplayPort connector and a legacy VGA connector. The sound subsystem in this model is, like most of the premium and midrange HP consumer laptops, tuned by BeatsAudio.

The Pavilion xi Series (20”, 22”, 23” 25” and 27”) has IPS and the full input complement (VGA, DVI and HDMI). Except for the 20” variant, they can work with the 1920×1080 resolution. The Pavilion P Series (18.5”, 20” and 21”) are pitched as the “budget business” models which can work at 1366×768 or the 20” and 21” models can work at 1600×900 resolution.

They also released the U160 which is a USB-powered portable DisplayLink monitor. This 15” screen, which works at 1366×768, comes in a leather case and is pitched to work as a second screen for that ultraportable notebook computer.

Speaking of DisplayLink, the organisation that represents the “display over USB” concept has demonstrated a “single-pipe” USB 3.0 external-display setup. This “proof-of-concept” uses one USB 3.0 cable to provide external power to the laptop alongside the transfer of display, USB-peripheral, audio and Ethernet between the laptop and the monitor. It is more about the idea of encouraging the development of a USB monitor dock which is effectively a laptop power supply, USB hub, Ethernet network adaptor and external display and audio. As well, the DisplayLink MacOS X driver has been updated to work with 4 adaptors using USB 3.0 technology.

ASUS exploted the DisplayLink concept further with their VariDrive expansion module. This is a laptop expansion module that has a DVD burner, DisplayLink video to HDMI or legacy VGA devices, Ethernet and Audio via HDMI and connects to that ultraportable via USB 3.0.

Network technology

802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless

There is an increasing number of wireless routers, access points and USB “stick” client adaptors that work with the new draft 802.11ac wireless-network specification.

These are are also being equipped with performance-improvement and QoS-optimisation chipsets from the various chipset vendors. An example of this is Qualcomm’s StreamBoost technology which manages the WAN (Internet) and LAN (home network) sides of the equation for optimum throughput for the small network.

As well, D-Link have launched an online-gaming-optimised 802.11ac Gigabit router with the Qualcomm Atheros VIVE technology. Netgear are also making for an easy-to-set-up experience for their newer routers by implementing the QR codes on their management user interface so you can integrate your Android phone to the home network very quickly. They also fielded the D600 which is the first 802.11ac DSL modem router that can work with today’s ADSL networks. But it also has a Gigabit Ethernet WAN connection for use with next-generation broadband.

Of course, most of the router manufacturers are touting cloud technology for this product class. This is primarily about remote access to data held on storage that is attached to these routers via a Web interface or a client-side mobile app.

Shoehorning the home network, and the HomePlug technology

There have been a few interesting devices that can improve your home network.Firstly, NETGEAR have shown a plug-in simultaneous-dual-band wireless range extender / Wi-Fi client bridge that offers a feature that snaps at the heels of the Apple Airport Express. Here, this device has AirPlay / DLNA audio playout so you can connect an amplifier or a pair of active speakers and push audio content from your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop PC through that amplifier or speakers. At the moment, I don’t know if this device can also work as a regular access point.

The HomePlug AV specification is still pushed as a “wired with no-new-wires” option for the home network and Engenius have released a device that capitalises on this fact. It combines a HomePlug AV 500 bridge, a 5-port Gigabit Ethernet switch and an 802.11n N300 Wi-Fi access point as the ultimate network-hub option for the far end of the house, the old bungalow or that funky old 1970s caravan that is serving as a teenager’s sleepout or extra office.

For that matter, HomePlug network technology isn’t just showing up as network-infrastructure hardware but as being integrated in connected devices. This is more so with a Netgear Airplay audio adaptor / USB server and some of Hisense’s latest connected TV designs. As well, other chipmakers like Broadcomm and Sigma are supplying chipsets for at least the HomePlug AV specification. This could reduce the cost of the hardware for this network segment.

Similarly, the HomePlug AV2 Gigabit MIMO standard which exploits the earth wire as well as the active and neutral wires in the mains wiring is coming closer. This is expected to yield good things for the home network such as each node being a repeater as well as this “no-new-wires” technology hitting the Gigabit mark.

Portable routers

AT&T and Sierra Wireless used this show to launch the second model of the touch-screen MiFi. But this one is equipped with the 4G LTE as its WAN (Internet) connection.

D-Link also exhibited the SharePort Go 2 which is a pocket-sized 802.11g/n Wi-Fi router that works with an Ethernet connection or a USB wireless-broadband adaptor. The Wi-Fi segment is the only LAN segment available to this travel router but it can also share content held on an SD card.

Printer technology

There hasn’t been much happening for printers at this year’s CES. Typically new models may be launched at separate events like CEBit in Hannover, Computex in Taipei or Photokina in Cologne due to some focusing on small-business needs or photography printing needs. As well, the manufacturers run their own events to launch their own printers.

This is  although Canon had launched the PiXMA MX392, MX452, MX522 and MX922. These have in common high-capacity cartridges with a front-load design similar to Brother inkjets and the HP OfficeJet Pro 8600a series. This is a welcome move away from having to open a lid on the printer when the ink runs out.  They are also optimised with a high duty cycle which would also please business owners who want a lot more out of them. Most of the networked models in this series also are set up for Google Cloud Print.

Storage Technology

Toshiba has shown a microSDHC card reference design which implements the TransferJet technology. This is a near-field wireless data transfer for microSDHC devices rather than having this integrated in the device’s electronics. I wonder how the operating systems would cope with the idea of this technology so you can select files to transfer but this could work well for cameras and MP3 players.

Seagate have premiered their Wireless Plus mobile NAS which is like the GoFlex Satellite except it has a larger capacity of 1 Terabyte. Surprising for this product class, this unit is the first mobile NAS to implement DLNA MediaServer technology so it could stream to Internet radios, smart TVs or DLNA media player software.

They also launched the Central NAS which works with a Samsung TV app or can stream to any DLNA-capable media device. It could then mean you can do more with your files at your Samsung smart TV rather than just view them.

The HP Pocket Playlist is HP’s first mobile NAS device. It can share stored Hulu or Netflix content which is loaded to it through PC software that ties in with the PlayLater option. For that matter, it can serve 5 Wi-Fi devices on its own.

Western Digital also launched the WD Black hybrid hard disks that integrate SSD and spinning-platter technology in a 2.5” housing. They would be pitched to OEMS for use with the next laptops or ultraportables.

Conclusion

Stay tuned to the last in this series which will encompass mobile technology as well as the smart home and automotive technology.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2013-Part 1

Introduction

By the end of Christmas and, in some cases, even through Advent, manufacturers are starting to run teaser press releases about what technologies and products they will release or exhibit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

TV technology

A major part of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was TV and video technology.

4K ultra-high-definition TV

Every TV manufacturer ran with a flatscreen TV set capable of displaying images at the new 4K ultra-high-definition resolution. This yields an image of 3840×2160 pixels, equivalent to an image captured by an 8 megapixel digital camera.

Some of these were 84” or 110” sets which wouldn’t fit in to most peoples’ living rooms and would be out of most peoples’ price ranges. But manufacturers like Sony are launching 4K TV models at 55” and 65” screen sizes. These are exploiting the high-pixel-density trend which is encompassing display design, in a similar effect to what the Apple Retina display has brought about.

At the moment, these sets upscale standard definition and high-definition images from broadcast and other video sources. But Sony is working on a hard-disk-based media player to play content that has been turned out in this form. This is part of a 4K media distribution network that they expect to launch by the end of the Northern-Hemisphere summer.

It is also reckoned that it will take a few years for the 4K UHDTV technology to mature and manufacturers to release models at a price that most of us can afford. This is something that will typically happen with most technology.

OLED and Display technology

Another trend that LG, Samsung and Sony are working on is the OLED display for the large-screen TV set. This is something most of us would experience with an HTC or Samsung smartphone and yields a high contrast ration and very deep colours.

Sony is wanting to apply it to a 4K ultra-high-definition display, but LG and Samsung are advancing the OLED screens at the 55” HD formats. For that matter, Panasonic was also showing a 56” 4K OLED screen as a prototype. Samsung also advanced a curved 55” HD prototype along with a curved 5” prototype for handheld applications.

On the other hand, LG has demonstrated a laser projection TV setup called the HECTO. This unit can show a 100” 16:9 image with a 22” throw using a special screen and yield this as a very bright image. The projection unit has what is expected of a flat-screen TV, including an integrated TV tuner.

Smart TV technologies

The TV is now more sophisticated and smart than it ever was. This is where it is not just a display device or just to pick up broadcast content. Here, the set effectively works as a computer with an app-driven ecosystem.

Panasonic has also now become part of the Smart TV Alliance which was started off by LG and Philips. On the other hand, Google TV had gained some more traction as a platform with LG with the GA6400 and GA7900 “main viewing area” sets.

As for Samsung, they have improved their Smart Hub user-interface and shown the Evolution Kit which is an upgrade kit for most of their current-issue flat-screen TVs and the sets to be introduced over subsequent years. This will add on improved processor performance as well as access to the new user interface; and is an example of what they have done to satisfy the reality that TVs do perform many years of service even as they are “pushed down” to other viewing areas.

The software that is being driven with the Smart TV environment is primarily content searching, TV Everywhere and “second-screen” applications. It is also leading to various “virtual cable box” applications where the TV is its own cable box with the content delivered via the Internet using end-to-end content-protection / subscription-management technology.

Audio and Video Technology

NFC “Touch & Go” operation

A strong trend that is showing up this year is NFC-driven “Touch & Go” operation. Here, you touch your NFC-capable Android smartphone or tablet to the device to have it pair up and connect via Bluetooth or set up via Wi-Fi for music playback. This avoids many confusing processes to get that wireless speaker going. As far as music systems and similar products go, it would also have the unit select the “Bluetooth” or “Network Audio” source automatically.

Sony had made a “big thing” of this feature with their wireless speakers and headsets through their press conference. As well, most of the manufacturers who are running wireless speakers, music systems or home-theatre-in-box systems are integrating this function in their products.

LG has implemented this further with their newer Blu-Ray home theatre. Here, the Android device can be set to throw its display on to the connected TV screen which would come in handy for viewing videos or playing games held on this device. Similarly the Android device can be set up to work as an “earphone” for the home theatre so you can use it late at night without scrambling around for the headset jack on the TV or home theatre central unit.

AV receivers

So far, Harman have fielded two new network AV receivers for that main audio-video system. Here, they can pull in Internet radio or content from a DLNA media source and have content “thrown” to them via the home network from your computer or mobile device using DLNA or AirPlay. The AVR-2700 has 8 HDMI connections with 4K image scale-up and a 7.1 audio output with 100W per channel while the more expensive AVR-3700 adds integrated Wi-Fi wireless and has a 7.2 audio output with a more powerful 125W per channel.

Smart video peripherals

There is an increase in the number of Blu-Ray players, home-theatre units and network media players that provide smart-TV functionality without you needing a smart TV.

For example, HiSense, ASUS and TCL were intending to sell Google-TV-based network media devices while Roku was providing a small but highly-strung network media receiver. This was eve to be able to work as a full-bore cable box for one on f the cable-TV companies in the US. Netgear also launched a new range of NeoTV network media players including some that had SlingPlayer clients and one driven by the Google TV platform.

But Archos are also fielding an Android-based network media box which is also showing that the Android platform associated with a lot of the smartphones is also appearing on the TVs as a low-cost option.

4K technology

At the moment, most video peripherals that connect to the new 4K ultra-high-definition TVs will upscale the standard-definition and high-definition images to the very high resolutions  offered by these sets. This is because there isn’t a common broadcast, on-demand or packaged-media distribution platform for distributing the content that is in this resolution.

Sony are using a hard-disk-based network media player with integrated BD-ROM drive, along with the content passed around on BD-ROM (Blu-Ray data) discs as a way of distributing the content. But they are working on an improved distribution method to go live by the middle of the year. As well, they said that consumer 4K will take some time to mature as equipment becomes more affordable.

Of course, Sony outlined that the 4K ultra-high-definition technology will be used in the video-production workflow, telecine (film-to-video) and video mastering applications. It is in a similar vein to the early days of digital audio recording before the arrival of the CD. This was where audio recordings were produced using at least a digital master-recording and this recording was used to turn out the records and tapes that were for public sale.

This will also involve films having their master negatives transferred to 4K video using equipment that scans the master negative at this resolution, then a 1080p scaled-down copy of this 4K master would be used for Blu-Ray distribution or HDTV broadcast. Sony also stated that they would implement the 4K production workflow into short-form video work like TV drama and commercials.

Broadcast-LAN cable TV setups

The FCC has recently laid down a pro-competition pro-consumer requirement for pay-TV providers to implement a broadcast-LAN strategy to work with most DLNA-compliant smart TVs and video peripherals. This is to drop the need to equip every TV in the house with a set-top box as is commonly the case with providing pay-TV to each set.

Intel has shown a broadcast-LAN gateway with 6 tuners and support for the DLNA content-protection requirements. This device is being positioned as being for use with Comcast’s cable-TV setups; while there are similar devices including cable boxes with this function being provided for other cable-TV systems.

Speakers and soundbars

There has been an increase in the number of wireless speakers and soundbars that are to work with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (AirPlay / DLNA) setups.

Samsung has furthered the hybrid valve (vacuum tube) / transistor design that they used in a few wireless speakers of theirs in to their latest TV soundbar. This unit uses an accelerometer to allow it to self-adjust for lying flat or standing on its edge in respect to how it sounds and where it displays its status.

Video gaming

The console gaming market has undergone a shakeup over this year with NVIDIA and Valve fielding their TV-based gaming systems – the Shield portable and the Steam Box TV-based unit . This is alongside the Ouya Android-based TV console and a Kickstarter-funded portable showing up as Android-powered alternatives.

Here, the Steam Box would have access to the Valve Steam game store while the Shield would have access to the NVIDIA TegraZone games store alongside the Google Play app store. This is showing up to be an “uh-oh” moment for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo who have thought of themselves in a position to “call the shots” for console gaming, especially when it comes to what titles can surface. I also suspect that this will also be a time for smaller independent studios to surface with some interesting games titles that are away from the norm.

Conclusion

Stay tuned for the next part of this series which will cover PC and home-network technology which will help in bringing the increasingly-connected home together from the CES.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2012

IFA LogoThis 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.

Network Audio

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.

Computing Trends

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.

Mobile Computing

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.

Networking

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.

Conclusion

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.

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CEBit 2012

Introduction

The CEBit 2012 IT show in Hannover, Germany is one of may technology trade shows covering the European area where there is a strong crossover between product classes. It was positioned at work-based computing but is competing with Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain (smartphones), Internationaler Funkaustellung in Berlin, Gernamy (consumer electronics) and Photokina in Cologne, Germany (digital imaging) as a European showcase platform for consumer and small-business information technology.

It has carried through the overall key trend of work-home computing and the always-mobile business life. This is more so with the emphasis on portable computing equipment and equipment to service the data cloud.

Key issues and trends in computing

Privacy and security in the online age

A key issue that has been raised through this year’s CEBIT show in Hannover is how US-based companies are limiting data privacy in the eyes of Europeans. Regular readers of HomeNetworking01.info may have seen articles being published about this issue, especially an industry interview that I did with Alastair MacGibbon and Brahman Thyagalingham, concerning the responsibility of service providers if something goes awry with the data in their care.

This was brought about through the recent privacy and security changes at Google as well as an increase of data being held “in the cloud”. There was also an underscoring of the improtance of trust concerning data in the Internet Age.

Technological trends

PCs and laptops

These “regular” computers have not been forgotten about even though there is a lot of interest in the tablets and smartphones. It has been led about through the imminent release by Microsoft of Windows 8 which is available as a consumer-preview version at the time of writing. One feature pitched about this operating system is that it was intended to bridge home and work computing lifestyles with mechanisms like Windows To Go “boot-from-USB” setups.

As well, there was the imminent release of the Ivy Bridge chipset and processor families by Intel with these offing graphics that are just close to “gaming quality” but with economical power consumption. There was a “Super SSD” drive also being premiered which had 512Gb of solid-state storage in a 2.5” housing for the current generation of portable computers.

This year has seen more of the Ultrabooks being released by the various manufacturers and in different variants.

An example of this was Acer showing their new range of equipment with the Timeline Ultra M3. This was a so-called “15-inch Ultrabook” which had an optical drive and NVIDIA GeForce discrete graphics, with variants available with a hard disk or solid-state-drive only for their secondary storage.

Acer had also premiered their V3 lineup of 14”, 15” and 17” budget-friendly laptops with the 17” variant having a Blu-Ray optical drive. They also premiered the V5 11”, 14” and 15” slim mainstream laptops with the 14” and 15” varieties being equipped with discrete graphics as an option.

Toshiba also fielded a variant of the Portege Z830-120 Ultrabook with WiDi Wi-Fi-driven display link technology and was promising a “brown-goods” LCD TV with WiDi display functionality. I would say that this function may appear in a higher-end LCD chassis which serves a particular run of high-end lounge-room sets.

Of course, there would be some computers that are positioned as “bridge” units between the regular laptop and the tablet, typically being equipped with a touchscreen and a keyboard at least. Examples of these would include ASUS “Transformer” variants with detachable keyboards or “swivel-head” convertible laptops. These could be based on either an ARM RISC microarchitecture or the classic Intel microarchitecture with them running Windows or Android. They would be pitched at those of us who like the touchscreen tablet experience but also want to use a proper keyboard to create content.

Smartphones and Tablets

The smartphone and tablet scene at this fair has been affected by two issues. One is Apple releasing their third-generation iPad with the higher-resolution “Retina” display and A5x graphics subsystem concurrently with this show, setting the cat among the pigeons. Of course, the patent fights are still on with Apple over tablet-computer design with some of the lawsuits still not resolved.

The other is that a lot of the smartphones and tablets destined for Europe were premiered at the previous Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. But there were a lot of the tablets being exhibited in Hannover.

Key features that were being put up included near-field communications which enabled “tap-and-go” payment and data transfer for these devices, larger screens for this device class, LTE wireless-broadband and DLNA implementation. As well, the Android devices are being released with quad-core processors, keyboard docks, glasses-free 3D, full HD graphics and other more attractive features.

As for LTE 4G wireless broadband, an increasing number of European mobile carriers are rolling out LTE networks through their market areas and are launching phones, tablets and modems that work with this technology.

Conclusion

What it sounds like is that the CEBit show is underpinning a mobile cloud-driven computing environment which is to support “regular” and mobile usage classes.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2012–Part 3

Network Technology

There are a few major trends that I have noticed for the home and small-business network at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. But the big names like D-Link and NETGEAR had chosen to run private showings of their products in the many hotels around Las Vegas rather than use the Convention Center.

Wireless networking

The 802.11ac Gigabit wireless network standard has been ratified and a lot of the manufacturers are showing prototype chipsets and endpoint devices for networks based on this standard. TRENDNet had shown a router and a client bridge as a proof of concept for a wireless link on this standard and D-Link had registered interest in developing their 802.11ac implementation.

On the other hand, Belkin, D-Link and Engenius ran with premium “N900” routers as their top-shelf models. These are simultaneous dual-band routers that run three data streams on each of the two Wi-Fi bands with a total theoretical throughput of 450Mbps per band. 

As well, TRENDNet had tried their effort at another of those “universal Wi-Fi range extenders” which is a device class that could cause some mistakes.

Coaxial and Powerline Networking

MoCA have brought their TV coaxial-cable network specification up to 2.0 which allowed for a headline speed of 400Mbps with Broadcom showing a system-on-chip that works with this standard. They were pitching it at the set-top-box market, especially for multi-room cable-TV deployments.

On the other hand, HomePlug PowerLine Alliance have made the HomePlug AV2 specification official. This standard, which is interoperable with HomePlug AV powerline network segments can support MIMO / repeater operation for a robust powerline segment as well as allowing for a Gigabit physical-layer bandwidth for this segment. The former MIMO advantage makes it that each HomePlug AV2 node acts as a repeater and can take data from two or more nodes for higher throughput even with ropey mains circuits.

But there have been more of the HomePlug AV 500 devices being exhibited on the floor; including D-Link’s DIR-1565 “three-way” router which supports a network of 802.11g/n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet and HomePlug AV 500.

Also, the IEEE 1905.1 standard has been officialised thus simplifying the setup and management requirements for small networks that use Wi-Fi, Ethernet, HomePlug or MoCA network media or a combination thereof. It also provides a consistent quality-of-service arrangement for data that passes through the different network media.

Routers

Some of the manufacturers were pitching at the idea of “cloud-enabling” their routers. This was to allow for remote management of these devices or to allow the router to become an Internet-enabled file server. There was also some talk about setting up app platforms for routers, but what could this lead to for the evolution of these devices.

D-Link have launched the DIR-505 which is a 802.11g/n Wi-Fi plug-in travel router which also had the ability to work as an access point and file-server.

Network-Attached Storage

TP-Link had used this show to launch their first NAS unit which was a DLNA-capable 2-bay SATA unit with Gigablt Ethernet connectivity as well as 3 USB ports. It even had the ability to copy from USB to NAS at the touch of a button.

Iomega had refreshed their StorCenter NAS lineup by adding a surveillance-camera NVR functionality and making them easy to setup. This also included improving their cloud-storage functionality. They also introduced the EZ Media & Backup Center which was their entry-level home-user NAS which supported easy-setup operation and backup, iTunes / DLNA media serving and support for Iomega’s Personal Cloud and Iomega Link technology.

Broadband Internet

ViaSat, who provide the satellite backhaul for JetBlue’s inflight Internet service, were intending to launch a satellite broadband service for rural America this year. They wanted to use this show to exhibit their proposed service. This service is intended to be speed-competitive with the fastest terrestrial broadband services in the cities and is to be known as Exede.

The throughput is at a headline speed of 12Mbps download / 3Mbps upload and they are offering packages with monthly rates US$49.99 for 7.5Gb data allowance, US$79.99 for 15Gb data allowance and US$129.99 for 25Gb data allowance.

Conclusion

This year, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was about estalishing a connected home lifestyle across all of the main activity centres ranging from the home office to the lounge area and that the TV is now a legitimate part of the connected lifestye.

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