Trade Shows Archive

Consumer Electronics Show 2012–Part 2

Audio and VIdeo

Smart TV

There is still intense interest in the smart-TV platforms where your TV is effectively a computer connected to the Internet. This is more so with the idea of integrating multiple viewing screens ie the large TV screen, one or more computer screens, and the screens on tablets and smartphones.

Sony have been dabbling with the Google TV platform, mainly in the form of network video peripherals rather than a TV, which I will mention below. Of course, they are still maintaining their Bravia platform. They were also to promote this concept in a Las Vegas wedding at the Bellagio Wedding Chapel between “Bravia” (Sony’s Internet TV platform) and “Sony Entertainment Network” (Sony’s online content entity).

As far as the interactive-TV lineup goes, Sony have focused this function across their HX and EX “lounge-room” models with the HX series being ready for Skype once the user purchases an optional camera.

Samsung have devoted most of their press event to the TV being the “smart hub” of the connected home. This is with the use of a connected TV chassis that has a dual-core CPU, as well as building up the “Smart TV” platform around an app store and a video-content-distribution platform. They even are using an Android app as the TV’s remote rather than supplying the remote with the TV set. They even ran a competition for the development of a multi-screen app which makes best use of the TV screen alongside a smartphone or tablet screen.

As well, Samsung put forward an “open-frame” design for TV sets with a user-upgradable computer processor. This is in a similar way to how the desktop computer has been designed and is underscoring the fact that these smart TVs are really large-screen computers in their own right and are expected to last for in the order of ten or more years.

Even Lenovo had come to the fore with a 55” LCD set that is driven by the Android “Ice Cream Sandwich” operating system. This would link to their own app store and cloud services and have the usual “smart-TV” features like Wi-Fi connectivity and ability to use an SD card as storage.

Similarly, a “fork” of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, which was targeted at the Internet-enabled TV set, had been launched at this show.

Ultra-high-definition TV

Another main trend surfacing this year at the Consumer Electronics Show is ultra-high-definition TV, also known as UDTV or 4DTV. This is where images have a resolution of 3840×2160 pixels and is pitched at the very large screens of 103” and bigger.

LG is intending to demonstrate an 84” prototype set which works at this resolution while Sony even had the idea of having some of their Blu-Ray players upscale the 1080p video to the higher resolution offered by this newer technology.

3D TV

The main trends affecting this technology are glasses-free 3D screens where you don’t need to wear glasses to watch the 3D effect; use of cheaper cinema-style passive 3D glasses which don’t need to link to the set or require batteries; as well as standards-based active glasses systems.

Toshiba is launching a glasses-free QFHD 3D TV 

OLED as a TV display technology

LG and Samsung have made efforts to bring the OLED display technology to the living-room TV size. Here, they have proven it by demonstrating 55” TV sets that use this technology rather than the LCD or plasma technologies for their screens.

There were rumours that Sony was to dump OLED technology for TV displays but they wanted to refine it to a cost-effective point for professional and consumer users. They have also shown a “Crystal LED” screen prototype which works in a similar vein to LED screens used in public places but implemented on 55” displays.

Other TV news

Some classic names of respect are using this fair to strengthen themselves in the American market. Westinghouse have launched a 3D TV but none of their sets came with Internet-enabled TV functionality. This was to keep their sets at an affordable price point.

RCA had rebuilt their name on a large run of TVs for the North American market as well as fielding a 55” Internet-enabled TV for the Latin-American market. They were using this show to launch some Android-powered mobile TV sets for the up-and-coming “Dyle” mobile / handheld terrestrial TV platform in North America.

Speaking of Dyle, Belkin and MCV were launching an array of equipment and accessories so that people can benefit from this mobile TV platform.

Home-theatre and Hi-Fi

Samsung had used this show to launch two soundbars with iPod / Galaxy S / Allshare (DLNA) integration with one being based on hybrid valve / digital amplification technology. They also ran with two Blu-Ray-based home-theatre-in-box setups with “Disc-Digital” which is Samsung’s implementation of the UltraViolet “digital video locker” service as well as the 7.1 channel unit being based on the above-mentioned valve-digital hybrid amplification technology. The other 5.1 channel version implements a wireless link for the back speakers and both systems use Wi-Fi to link to the home network.

Samsung even launched a home-theatre soundbar which can become two speakers and could link to sources via HDMI ARC (audio return path from HDMI 1.4-compliant TVs) or Bluetooth A2DP. RCA also launched a similar soundbar that connected to the home network and worked as a network media player for Netflix and similar services.

They are also implementing the “DIsc-Digital” UltraViolet implementation across the Blu-Ray player lineup at this year’s CES. One of the players is a similar size to a Discman and accepts discs through a slot while another of the players is a slimline form factor with HDMI inputs for TVs that don’t have enough HDMI sockets.

Sony have shown two Google-TV-based network video peripherals, the NSZ-GS7 which is a network media adaptor and the NSZ-GP9 which is a Blu-Ray player. As well, they have released two DLNA-capable Blu-Ray home theatre systems with full access to the Bravia Internet TV platform as well as a home-theatre receiver. Sony also released a few “HomeShare” DLNA speakers that connect to the Wi-Fi home network and have audio content pushed to them.

Panasonic have run with a large lineup of Blu-Ray players and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems. All of these connect to the home network and support DLNA functionality but the 3D-capable models and the home-theatre systems provide full access to Panasonic’s Viera Connect smart-TV platform including Skype and the Social Web for your existing TV.

These latest releases by Sony and Panasonic mean that you can use the cheaper and older TVs and have full access to the Internet-provisioned “smart TV” content and applications out there. In the case of the Panasonic 3D Blu-Ray players and home-theatres, add the Skype camera and you have just enabled a Skype-based video-conference setup,

Pioneer also used this show to launch the N-30 and N-50 audio-focused network media adaptors which work with DLNA 1.5 and Airplay network-media setups and the vTuner Internet-radio directory. They can handle 24-bit 192-kHz WAV or FLAC high-grade audio files and are Wi-Fi / Bluetooth ready with optional modules. The N-50 can also work as a high-grade digital-analogue converter for a CD player or MiniDisc deck.

Cameras

Samsung, Sony and Toshiba had launched cameras that were capable of uploading images to cloud-based photo-sharing services without the need for a computer. In the case of Sony, their Bloggie Live and Bloggie Sports cameras were being pitched as an alternative to the smartphone’s camera for Internet work.

Toshiba also exhibited a 3D camcorder with a built-in glasses-free 3D LCD screen so you can preview your 3D images properly. As well, Polaroid demonstrated a smartphone-style digital camera with a “proper” optical zoom lens – something that could be considered a bridge between a smartphone or digital camera.

Personal Lifestyle

Appliances

This show still hasn’t become a North-American showground for domestic appliances in a similar vein to the Internationaler Funkaustellung in Berlin. But LG was using this show to promote their “SmarThing” range of network-connected “white goods” which could be monitored from a computer.

Of course, Samsung also demonstrated a washing machine and clothes dryer that used a colour LCD touchscreen but was able to be controlled via an app on a smartphone. This means that you could track your washing from your phone’s screen.

Home Automation and Security

There has been some activity on this front mainly in the form of network-hardware vendors offering IP-enabled surveillance cameras, with TRENDNet offering a lineup of 12 units with varying features.

Other than that, the “Next Learning Thermostat” which learns your heating / cooling settings through the day was premiered at this show. Belkin also premiered the WeeMo home-automation system which is effectively an appliance-control module that responds to your smartphone.

Personal Health Care

There has been some more effort in developing online personal-health-care equipment which interacts with your smartphone or home network.

Withings, previously known for their Wi-Fi-connected bathroom scales, have released a baby scales which also links with the same network enablement and online health-monitoring setup as these bathroom scales. Similarly iHealth have released a wireless body-fat scales along with a wireless blood-pressure monitor and a “Smart GlucoMeter” glucose sensor for your iOS device. As well, FitBits released the Aria Wi-Fi Scale which is bathroom scales that link to your home network and measure weight, body-mass index and body-fat percentage.

IP Telephony

There has been some activity concerning voice and video Internet-based telephony. This is primarily with Skype being part of most of the “big-name” smart TVs and able to be added on to existing TVs through the use of this year’s Panasonic 3D Blu-Ray players and home-theatre systems. But Samsung also launched a Skype HD videophone unit for TVs and Biscotti launched a similar device for their own service.

RCA had demonstrated their voice-based IP telephony systems for business use while Ooma launched a cordless VoIP phone which has a colour LCD screen and can sync to Facebook for “picture caller-ID” images. $10 a month with the Ooma service provides for conferencing, second-line service and advanced call forwarding.

Tomorrow, in the last of the series, I will be talking about the network technologies that are to link these devices to the home network and the Internet.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2012–Part 1

This year, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has achieved a record of 3100 exhibitors and has made an opening for newer technology companies. This is through the establishment of the “Eureka Park TrendZone” which had space for 94 of these startups.

For Microsoft, this year was their last appearance as an exhibitor and Paul Allen had given the last keynote speech for that company at the CES. They will simply work alongside their hardware and other software partners at further events.

Trends

The major trends have been taking place with the portable and mobile computing aspect of our lives. This is mainly in the form of more powerful smartphones and tablets as well as an increased number of Ultrabooks – small slim ultraportable computers that snap at the heels of the MacBook Air.

Technologies

Energy-efficient powerful processors

This show is being used to premiere NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 ARM processor, which is an improved processor for mobile devices. This is intended to allow for increased power and longer runtime for these devices. This processor isn’t just intended for the tablets but also for use in the car dashboard as has been demonstrated with the latest Tesla electric supercar.

As well, Intel were premiering their Ivy Bridge “classic” processors which are optimised for improved graphics while being energy efficient. These processors are intended for the upcoming generation of laptops including the Ultrabooks.

New operating environments for the regular computer

Microsoft were also demonstrating the Kinect gesture-driven user interface on the PC and this wasn’t just for gaming like its initial XBox 360 application was. They used this show to promote Windows 8 as being the next computer operating system for tablets and regular computers.

Bluetooth Smart and Bluetooth Smart Ready

It was also the year that Bluetoot 4.0 a.k.a. Bluetooth Smart was being promoted. This was a very low-power Bluetooth specification which made the technology work properly with sensor applications due to allowing these devices to run on a pair of AA batteries or a watch battery for many months.

Bluetooth Smart Ready devices could work with these Bluetooth Smart devices and permit them to work in an energy-conserving way. This has legitimised the Bluetooth technology in personal health and wellbeing applications, with this application class being premiered at this show.

Mobile Computing

One technology that is affecting this class of devices is the launch of LTE-based 4G wireless broadband in to most of the USA by many of the US mobile carriers. This is expected to allow for higher data throughput and bandwidth for the data-based services.

Smartphones and Multifunction Internet Devices

One major brand change that occurred over this show was Sony’s handheld-communications identity. This was previously known as Sony Ericsson but is now known simply as Sony Mobile Communications.

Here, Sony had launched the Xperia S Android phone and their first LTE-enabled phone inthe form of the Xperia Ion. These are also to be “PlayStation capable” which allows them to run Sony’s PlayStation games in the manner they are meant to be played. They also released the Walkman Z series which is Sony’s answer to the Apple iPod Touch and the Samsung Galaxy Player multifunction Internet devices.

Samsung had released their Galaxy S Blaze 4G which is their LTE-enabled iteration of their Galaxy S Android phones. LG also released some more of the Spectrum Android smartphones to the US market. Lenovo had launched the first Intel-powered Android smartphone in the form of the K800.

But, for the Windows Phone platform, the big announcement was Nokia’s Lumina 900 which was a Windows Phone equipped with a 4.3” AMOLED touchscreen. Was this a way for Nokia to claw back in to the multifunction smartphone category again?

Tablets

Here, this device class has become more powerful and capable, especially with the spectre of Windows 8 coming around the corner and a strong effort by all to unseat the iPad from its dominant position.

Toshiba had shown a 13” and a 7.7” prototype tablet but were exhibiting their 10.1” Android tablet/ As well, Coby were launching 5 ranges of 7” and 10” Android Ice-Cream-Sandwich-powered tablets with the maximum having 1Gb RAM and 32Gb expandable flash memory.

Acer had launched the Iconia A700 series 10” tablets with Tegra quad-core horsepower, 5Mp rear camera and HD front camera, and driven by Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

Asus had launched the Transformer Prime Mini 7” Android 4.0 comverrtible Android tablet which coudl be similar to the EeePad Memo. This Android Wi-Fi tablet was a 7.1” 3D-screen-equipped unit with 5Mp rear camera / 1.2Mp front camera, stylus and 64Gb flash storage.

Samsung had used this show to premiere the Galaxy Note to the US market and premiere the Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE which was enabled for the 4G wireless broadband networks.

Sony had launched their S1 Android Homeycomb powered tablet. This one had a 9.4” screen and could work as an electronic picture frame or alarm clock; and was able to work with 4G LTE wireless broadband as well as Wi-Fi. Of course it would work with the DLNA Home Media Network and implemented an “off-centre-of-gravity” position for stability. They also showed the Tablet P clamshell tablet to the US market even though it was available in other markets. They weren’t sure if it would be launched in the carrier-controlled US market.

Regular computers

Ultrabooks and other “traveller” notebooks

This year had been a changing year for the lightweight “traveller” notebook computer. This class of computer had seen the tablet computer appear as a serious competitor and Intel had defined the “Ultrabook” as a new lightweight slimline class of portable hotspot-surfing computer.

ASUS and Lenovo had exhibited convertible Ultrabook computers which could become tablets, with Lenovo’s example known as the Ideapad Yoga which was powered with the Intel Ivy Bridge chipset.

Acer’s next Ultrabook is the Aspire S5. This was claimed to be the thinnest Ultrabook and had an 8 hour battery runtime. It also had a USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt peripheral connect for use with higher-capacity hard disks for example. LG also launched the XNote Z330 Ultrabook as did Toshiba with the Portege Z835 and HP with the 14” Envy Spectre Ultrabook.

Lenovo were exhibiting their IdeaPad U310 (13”) and U410 (14”) Ultrabooks with a choice of processors but with 4Gb RAM and a choice of 64Gb SSD or 500Gb regular hard disk. The 14” U410 variant was also available with 1Gb NVIDIA graphics.

Dell has jumped in to the Ultrabook bandwagon with the XPS 13. This had the standard spec set with an Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor, 4G on the RAM and a choice of 128Gb or 256Gb solid-state storage. The display is typically the 1366×768 resolution with Gorilla Glass screen as well as Bluetooth 3.0. Like the HP Folio 13 Ultrabook, this could be available in a “big-business package” with the business-security and customisation needs or as a regular consumer/small-business package.

Samsung launched their redesigned Series 9 ultrabooks with 13” amd 14” models. These were powered by a Core i5 processor and were equipped with 4Gb RAM and 500Gb hard disk as standard. The 13” variant had a 128Gb SSD as an alternative option.

Of course, the Ultrabook and the tablet had placed doubt on the viability of the 10”-11” netbook. But Lenovo was one of the few who had pushed on with a netbook in the form of the S200 and S206 series. These 11.6” units are available with an AMD or an Intel Atom chipset and  have 2Gb RAM and a choice of 32Gb SSD or 500Gb hard-disk secondary storage.

Laptops

Of course, the regular 15”-17” laptop has not been forgotten about with the calibre of these computers approaching “multimedia” specifications. Most of the 17” units had 1080p resolution and were equipped with Blu-Ray as a standard or option for their optical disks. The hard disks came in the order of 1Tb or, in some cases, 2Tb and system RAM was in the order of 8Gb.

For graphics, most of the laptops on the show floor had NVIDIA graphics chipsets with display memory of 1Gb to 2Gb and able to operate in dual-chipset “overdrive” mode. Samsung even exhibited the Series 7 “Gamer” which was pitched as a thoroughbred clamshell gaming rig.

In-car technology

This year was a chance for new upstarts to integrate the car with the Internet. MOG and Aha by HARMAN have increased their “Web-to-radio” footprint by integrating CBS Radio into their Web content aggregation lineup and partnering with Honda, Subaru, JVC and Kenwood to increase their equipment availability. This is in addition to improving the Aha iOS app and porting this same app to the Android platform this year.

Similarly, Parrot have extended their “Asteroid” Android-driven in-vehicle infotainment platform to three different devices – the Asteroid CK which yields telephony and audio content;, the Asteroid NAV which also provides GPS navigation and Internet access via Wi-Fi; and the Asteroid 2DIN whcih is effectively a car-radio replacement by having integrated AM/FM/RDS tuners.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the next instalment of the Consumer Electronics Show 2012 series which will cover the networked lifestyle at home.

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Australian Audio & AV Show 2011

I had visited the Australian Audio & AV Show 2011 which was held at the Marriott Hotel in Melbourne over two days. Here I had noticed certain trends being marked out as far as hi-fi and home-theatre technology went.

Valve (tube) amplifiers - the old school of hi-fi continues

The old-school of hi-fi lives on with these valve (tube) amps

There was interest in orthodox hi-fi setups where vinyl records or CDs were the main medium of choice. These still appeal to the music listeners who prefer to make a point out of listening to their favourite recordings. Here, there was a large number of amplifiers that were driven by valve (tube) technology which appealed to audiophiles who placed value on the “valve and vinyl” style of hi-fi enjoyment. It even showed that there was still life in the “old girl” that was the classic vinyl record, This was more so with the arrival of newly-issued recordings on what I call “boutique vinyl” i.e. records that were cut for best dynamic range and pressed on heavier discs that were made of new material; with the ability for the purchaser to download MP3s of the same recordings for free.

Marantz CR603 CD receiver

Marantz CR603 CD receiver

Of course, I had seen the return of Luxman to the hi-fi scene, with their efforts on high-grade CD players and stereo amplifiers, with one of their amplifiers being modelled on a 1970s-era classic of theirs.

Network audio

But the main focus of the show was the use of computer equipment and home networks to play out music through hi-fi systems.

Network setups

Netgear ReadyNAS - the music server of the connected home

A router and DLNA-enabled ReadyNAS is what this show is about

Most manufacturers which were demonstrating network-based hi-fi setups had a small network in their hotel rooms. This typically had a wireless router that was fit for home or small-business use at the “edge” of each of these network and working as the DHCP server; the same as what would be expected for a home network. As well, a lot of the manufacturers hooked a network-attached storage unit like the ReadyNAS to these networks to demonstrate their network-audio equipment.

In some cases, some of the suppliers used computers running DLNA-compliant media server software on the network rather than a NAS. An example of this was NAD who linked a MacBook Pro running Elgato EyeConnect as a media server for their C446 Digital Media Tuner.

Network-audio equipment

NAD C446 Media Tuner

NAD c446 Network Media Tuner

Most of the equipment shown was network-audio adaptors which were known by names as “media tuners”, “Internet tuners”, “network media receivers” and similar names. These were components that were connected to existing amplifiers through a line-level connection and could play content on a DLNA media server, USB memory key or Internet-radio services. Some of the units could connect to and control an iPod attached to their USB port.

Some of these are devices that I have cited in a previous article on this site about top-shelf hi-fi names using DLNA as their preferred network-audio infrastructure. Here, I had mentioned about them using this established technology and the high-grade codecs like FLAC so they can concentrate on high-quality clear sound.

 

Linn Majik DS network preamplifier

Linn Majik DS network preamplifier

Linn had a handful of these devices which worked as control amplifiers for use with power amplifiers or active speakers. These Akurate, Majik and Klimax units could also stream line-level signals or, as I have seen, the output of a turntable (Linn Sondek LP12) playing a record to other Linn network media adaptors.

As well, some of the manufacturers were offering receivers and CD-receiver systems that had DLNA media playback and Internet media access as part of their function set. This included the Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver that I have previously reviewed on this site. Speaking of which, Rotel’s Australian distributors, International Dynamics are introducing more network-enabled kit from Pro-ject, in the form of another network media adaptor.

Denon even promoted their network-enabled home-theatre receivers a “everyhing”-ceivers because of the multiple functions that they could offer through the home network.

Denon networked home-theatre receiver and Blu-ray player

Denon's "everything"-ceiver

All of these setups were based around UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Networks with Denon, Marantz and B&W demonstrating Apple AirPlay-compliant setups. The sales representatives for most of the various manufacturers had described the UPnP AV / DLNA network setup as an open setup where everyone can “come to the party”. A lot of the setups were controlled using various UPnP AV control points that were running on iPads owned by the various demonstration staff. Some of the control-point apps were branded and optimised for particular manufacturers’ equipment, usually offering control functionality that worked peculiarly with that equipment.

Naim Uniti network CD receiver

Naim Uniti network CD receiver with Naim's distinct CD-loading tray

Naim and used this show to exhibit their Uniti CD receiver; as well as the UnitiQute network media / FM receiver and the UnitiServer which is their “ripping NAS”. This is a class of NAS which uses an integrated optical drive and software for ripping CDs to the hard disk.

One interesting point that I had noticed was that Loewe had used this event to launch their MediaCenter network-enabled music system. This was equipped with a hard disk and software that allowed you to “rip” the currently-inserted CD to that hard disk, a practice that I had observed with some Philips and other hard-disk-equipped music systems. But this unit was able to share the contents of its hard disk to other UPnP AV client devices as well as become a UPnP AV client device for devices like those NAS units.

How is this becoming relevant to “real” hi-fi?

Loewe MediaCenter

Loewe Mediacenter media server and player

One reason this is happening is that other Websites, fronted by audiophile recording labels, are offering their recordings for purchase and download as high-bitrate FLAC or, in some cases, WMA files. In some cases, these are copies of the studio-master recordings rather than producer-tuned masters for CD and iTunes distribution.

Here, you could load these files on to a NAS and share them through your network with network media clients of this calibre. Or you could use media-management software to transcode to MP3 for use on most portable players and smartphones or prepare CDs of these files for playback on regular CD players.

Conclusion

What I see of this Australian Audio & AV Show this past weekend is that the home network as a system for storing and playing audio content has earned its stripes as far as high-quality sound reproduction is concerned. This is definitely underpinned through the use of the UPnP AV / DLNA standard for discovering and presenting available media content in these networks.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2011–Part 2

IFA LogoWelcome back to the second part of my report on the Internationaler Funkaustelluing 2011. In the first part, I had touched on home appliances briefly but had focused on computing technologies like smartphones, tablets, laptops and the home network.

Now I am focusing on consumer electronics which mainly is focused around digital cameras, TV and home-theatre / hi-fi technology.

Consumer Electronics

Cameras

3D is still being considered a dominant technology with some of the cameras being equipped with two lenses and sensors. As well, Samsung have also fielded a camera with two screens – one on the back and one on the front.

The camera manufacturers are releasing more of the small interchangeable-lens cameras. These are typically in the “non-SLR” style with the screw-on lens mounts. It is leading towards the appearance of more compact cameras with high-factor zoom lenses. Here, these cameras are being pitched mainly as  mainly “bridge-cameras” which exist between the “point-and-shoot” camera and the SLR camera and have many adjustable photography factors including semi-automatic and manual exposure modes.

An issue that may affect the launch of digital photography equipment at this or subsequent IFA shows is the up-and-coming Photokina photo/film/video trade shows. These shows appear in Cologne at the end of September and they are often seen as a major launchpad for anything to do with photography or videography. A valid point may be raised about whether companies with digital photo / video equipment show their equipment at both shows, launching consumer equipment in Berlin and “enthusiast” equipment (DSLRs, high-end camcorders) in Cologne.

Of course, there hasn’t been much interest in using network technology for photo and video equipment when interlinking with computer equipment.

TV and Display Technologies

There are a few key trends that are occurring concerning the television receivers being promoted at the IFA.

One is the DVB-T2 digital-TV standard which is to launch in Germany. This revision of the DVB-T terestrial digital-TV standard will provide for more HDTV with H264 video. It will also allow for advanced interactive TV (HbbTV, VoD) platforms, robust terrestrial reception as well as more services per TV channel.

3D is still a dominant technology with Toshiba and other names promoting glasses-free 3D viewing where their sets use a polarizing screen and support an ersatz 3D effect for regular content. Haier are also using a similar technology for their 3D Internet-enabled set. LG are running 3D TVs that work with cinema-style passive polarizing glasses. ,

For content, Deutsche Telekom  is providing “Entertain 3D” channels as part of their Entertain IPTV service. This requires the  Deutsche Telekom “Entertain” set-top box and access to a VDSL2 next-gen service. There will be the magazine channels as well as highlight footage from Bundesliga football (soccer) matches as well as the “usual suspects” – those popular 3D action and animation films from Hollywood.

Another key trend is Internet-driven smart TV. This is with access to the Social Web, video-on-demand / catch-up TV amongst other interactive-TV services using the home network.

Hama are releasing at this year’s IFA an Android STB with access to full Android Honeycomb service  on the TV screen. This time, the set-top is able to connect to the network via WiFi, or Ethernet.

Samsung are pushing the Social TV agenda. This allows you to view TV and chat on the Social Web at the same time with a button to press to focus on Facebook/Twitter/Google Talk chat streams or TV content. There is also the ability to use a Samsung smartphone or Galaxy Tab as the TV keyboard once you install the appropriate app. Of course, there is a Samsung TV remote that has a QWERTY keyboard and LCD display to facilitate the chat function.

Samsung have also released an app for their Android smartphones and tablets which allows the image on their Smart TVs to be shown on these devices.

Sharp have contributed to the smart-TV race with the AQUOS Net+ app subsystem for their TVs. As well Metz are showing a network-enabled 3D TV with HbbTV broadcast-broadband support and a 750Gb PVR.

There was an increased number of TVs that had the 21:9 aspect ratio being launched at this show. This aspect ration was more about a “cinema-screen” aspect ration that was often used with a lot of movies since the 1950s.

Even the projector scene is going strong at this year’s IFA.

Acer are showing the H9500BD 3D Full-HD home-theatre projector which is to be released October. This unit can work at 2000 ANSI Lumen with a 50000:1 contrast ratio. It fixes the keystone problem that often happens with projectors by using a lens-shift setup rather than digitally skewing the image; as well as a high zoom lens that permits a big image with a short throw and also has wall-colour-correction for projection to non-white-walls  It is expected to sell in Europe for €2499 recommended retail price

Sony are also launching a 3D-capable projector with a 150,000:1 contrast ratio and use of lens-shift as the keystone correction method. The big question that I have about this projector is how bright this projector is in ANSI lumens.

Canon also launched the LV8235 which is an ultra-short-throw DLP projector. Here, this projector can throw a 2-metre (80”) usable image projected with it being positioned at 32cm (1 foot) from the wall or screen.

As well, Sony had used this show to premiere a set of 3D personal video goggles. Here, these glasses show 3D video images on separate OLED screens, mainly for use with personal video players or games systems.

Home Theatre and Hi-Fi

There has been some activity concerning networked home-theatre and hi-fi equipment.

Harman-Kardon are launching a 3.1 HTIB with has an integrated 3D Blu-Ray player and uses a soundbar as its main speaker.

Loewe have used this event to launch the Solist single piece audio system. This has a CD player and access to FM and Internet radio broadcasts as far as I know. It can connect to home networks via WiFi, Ethernet or HomePlug and uses a 7.5” touch screen or Loewe Assist remote control as its control surface.

Sony have launched the SNP-M200 network media player which is the follow on from the SNP-M100, It offers 3D video support and an improved Facebook and Twitter experience. Of course, like the SNP-M100, it has the full DLNA Home Media Network credentials including being a controlled device. They also launched another Blu-Ray player in the form of the BDP-S185 which supports 3D Blu-Ray playback and access to online content.

As well, Pioneer have launched some network-enabled hi-fi equipment including a component network-audio player for use with existing hi-fi setups. Philips are using this show also to launch a Streamiun MCi8080 music system with DAB+ and Internet radio, a CD player as well as network audio. Intenso have launched their Movie Champ HD media player which is one of those media players that play off USB (or the home network). But this one can properly play 3D video in to 3D-enabled TVs.

It is also worth noting that Jarre Technologies is a newcomer to the scene of “worked” audio reproduction technologies. This firm has been set up by Jean Michel Jarre, known for setting the tone of European ambient-music with Equinoxe and Oxygene, and is now following the same path as Dr. Dre’s “Beats Audio” name. Here, they are launching their highly-powerful iPad speaker tower which can work comfortably at 10,000 watts and uses “speaker tubes” but would need a large area to perform at its best. Here, this product is all about proving Jarre Technologies metal and I wonder when there will be premium and multimedia laptop computers that have their audio subsystems tuned by Jarre Technologies on the market and who will sell these laptops.

Germany is now heading towards DAB+ digital radio broadcasting which yields an improvement over the original DAB digital-radio technology that it worked with before. Here, this technology uses AAC audio coding, allows for an increased number of broadcast services per multiplex and, from my experience with the Australian setup as I used many DAB+ enabled Internet radios on review, provides for highly-robust digital radio reception. It may be easier for set manufacturers to launch DAB+ digital radios in to this market due to them having DAB+ radios already on Australian and other DAB+ markets; and UK readers may find that their newer digital radios may be already set up for DAB+ technology even though the UK is working on “original specification” DAB radio.

Conclusion

The Internationaler Funkaustellung 2011 has reinforced the role of the networked home especially as Europe takes to the newer Internet technologies like 4G wireless broadband, IPTV and next-generation broadband service.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2011 – Part 1

IFA LogoI am writing a trade-show recap about the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2011 trade show which is held in Berlin, Germany.

As I have previously mentioned on this site, the Internationaler Funkaustellung is the European launch platform for most consumer-electronics technology. Since home appliances were incorporated in this trade fair, it has outgrown itself with all of the exhibition space increasingly being booked out. They have even had to create extra floor space by incorporating extra venues or having marquees set up outside the various venues.

Appliances

Again, the IFA is a showcase for home appliances. There is still the emphasis on energy-efficient “whitegoods”, including ovens being equipped with an “eco hot-air” cooking mode for energy-efficient baking. As well, LG have introduced a washing machine with a load capacity of 12 kilograms.

As far as small appliances are concerned. there has been a lot of coffee-machine activity from most of the manufacturers and an increasing number of floor-care-appliance manufacturers are running with vacuum-cleaner “robots”. We have also seen Groupe SEB bring the Moulinex “smallgoods” brand back to the German market.

Network connectivity for appliances

But there is increased activity with connecting “whitegoods” and small appliances to the home network. This has been proven by a survey that was done in Germany by VDE(Verband der Elektrotechnik Elektronik Informationstechnik ) who represent the appliance industry in that country. Here, most Germans would like to

  • live in a networked home,
  • control appliances from different locations,
  • utilise opportunities provided by smart-home technologies

They were defining “Home 2.0” as being for the “apps generation” – “there is an app for that”. One major driver for this is the smart grid which allows communication amongst devices and electricity providers to save energy costs.

Examples of this include E.ON, EnBW, eQ-3 and Miele entering into a joint venture with Deutsche Telekom to interlinking home appliances (major goods) and backbone systems (HVAC, security, etc) to Internet to achieve energy efficiency. Beurer have also fielded a network appliance system which connects their video baby monitor, bathroom scales and blood pressure monitor to home network and the Internet.

Personal Wellness

This leads me to mention that Germany’s hearing-aid association have now become part of the IFA. This is due to the hearing aid or cochlear implant being more than just an amplifier for the ear. These devices have DSP technology and this association are working on interlinking them to communications and entertainment technology that is part of the connected lifestyle in a better way than the traditional induction loop.

Computing and Communications

This field of consumer computing and communications is growing very strongly especially with the arrival of tablet computers and smartphones.

Tablets

Samsung to present Galaxy Note which has a 5.3” screen. It is intended as a device that bridges between a smartphone and a small tablet computer. They were also going to use the IFA 2011 to launch the Galaxy Tab 7 which has a 7” AMOLED screen, Android Honeycomb, 2Mp front camera and a 3Mp rear camera. There was also the Galaxy Tab 8.9 which was intended to fill the gap between the coat-pocket 7” tablet and the larger 10” that you could cradle around.

This has been limited by legal action that Apple took against Samsung concerning certain “patents on style” that Apple were jealously guarding in relation to the iPad.

Acer were using this show to launch the Iconia Tab A500/A501 series tablets which I have reviewed in HomeNetworking01.info .  As well, Viewsonic had used IFA to field their ViewPad 10 Pro which is a 10” tablet that could dual-boot between Android or Windows 7.

Sony have launched two tablet computers in a way to present themselves as a force that Apple would have to reckon with. These Android tablets are the Tablet P which has a pair of 5.5” screens that work in a similar vein to the Nintendo DS games consoles; and the Tablet S which is a standard design with a 9.4” screen.

Intenso was a name associated with data-storage technology but have fielded a low-end 8” tablet that runs Android 2.3 rather than Android Honeycomb.

Smartphones

Microsoft is intending to use the IFA 2011 event as a platform to release Windows Phone 7 “Mango” operation.

HTC is using this event to launch the Evo 3D smartphone in Europe. Here, this Android 2.3 smartphone implements an ersatz 3D effect and is the first smartphone to implement a two-stage shutter-release button. This is similar to what we have been used to with film and  digital still cameras which use auto-exposure and / or auto-focus. This is where you hold the shutter-release halfway to cause the camera to adjust itself for the shot, then press fully to take the shot.

LG have advanced a few smartphones to the European market this year. One is the Prada K2 which is a 4.3” unit running Android 2.3, equipped with 8MP camera and 1.3Mp front camera. This luxury phone also has 16Gb on board. They have also launched the Optimus Sol smartphone which has “Ultra AMOLED” display technology as well as the Optimus 7 smartphone which is based on Windows 7 “Mango”.

Samsung are using the IFA 2011 to launch a range of smartphones. One of these is the Wave III which is a 4” smartphone driven by the Bada operating system; as well as another Bada-driven smartphone that has Near-Field Communications technology.

They are also releasing newer models in the Galaxy Android-powered range. The Galaxy Y which is a 3” LCD smartphone with a 2Mp camera and Swype / TouchWiz user interfaces. The Galaxy Y Pro has the same abilities as the Galaxy Y but is equipped with a QWERTY keyboard.The Galaxy M Pro runs Android 2.3 “Gingerbread” and has a 2.66” LCD screen and a 5Mp camera. The Galaxy W has a 3.7” LCD and 5Mp camera; but will come also as a white version.

As LTE 4G wireless-broadband technology is being rolled out around Europe, Samsung are rolling out LTE versions of their Galaxy S2 and 8.9” Galaxy Tab. It is also worth noting that the Galaxy SII smartphone was caught up in the lawsuit concerning Apple’s “patent on style” and was blocked from sale in Germany.

Of course, Samsung haven’t passed Windows 7 “Mango” by. This operating system is driving the Omnia W which is a 3.7” unit as well as the Omnia 7.

Acer have released a 5” Iconia Android smartphone with 1024×480 resolution as well as a Windows Phone 7 “Mango” phone with HDIM connectivity and DLNA-compliant media playback software. Medion have also come to the Android smartphone and tablet party and, in my opinion, these could show up in one or more Aldi stores.

It is also worth noting that Deutsche Telekom are fielding the SpeedPhone 700. This is another of those fixed-line cordless phones which are designed along the same line as a smartphone and like some of these phones, it is Android-driven.

Philips have also released a range of speaker docks that are designed to work with Android phones. Unlike the iPhone speaker dock which connects to the iPhone using the proprietary dock connector, these speakers interface to the phone via a Bluetooth A2DP wireless link but provide power to the phone via a microUSB flylead.

Laptops

There is still activity on the consumer / small-business laptop front at the IFA.

Acer have used this show to launch the Aspire S3 which is the first of the new “Ultrabooks”. These 13.3” ultraportable computers are designed to be very slim and light but have a very long battery runtime. These will typically be available with solid-state drives for secondary storage and have integrated Wi-Fi as the sole network connectivity. As we know already, they are intended to “snap at the heels” of the Apple MacBook Air series of ultraportable, but have commonly-used peripheral connections.

But Acer is not alone with Samsung using this show to promote their Series 9 “ultrabooks”. Sony is also exhibiting the VAIO Z Series which have solid-state drives for secondary storage and integrated wireless broadband. These units come with a module which has a Blu-Ray reader / DVD writer as well as dedicated graphics. The VAIO Z Series is claimed to run for 14 hours on its own battery before needing to be charged.

As far as regular “new computing environment” laptops go, there has been some activity.

Toshiba had used this show to launch the Qosmio F750 multimedia laptop which is equipped with 3D display technology. As well, Acer launched the Aspire Ethos 8951G multimedia laptop which is able to be set up for comfortable video-viewing use with an optional accessory.

It is also worth knowing that Samsung are using this show to try their hand with their own “Chromebook” which is a networked notebook that runs Google Chrome OS and works “in the cloud”.

Peripherals and Software

Acer have tried their hand at a 50-Lumen microprojector which uses a single USB connection for power and data. LG have also run with the LSM-100 mouse which doubles as a scanning wand. This reminds me of those handheld scanners that you had to drag across the artwork to the scanned and required a steady hand to operate.

Kaspersky Labs have answered the call to develop security software for the MacOS platform and are now offering this software. This is because the Apple Macintosh platform is acquiring a user base that is on a par with the Windows platform due to Intel-driven Macintosh computers and the popularity of Apple iOS-powered mobile-computing devices.

Network and Internet

One major trend for Europe that is occurring is the rollout of 4G LTE high-throughput mobile broadband by most of the mobile-phone carriers. This is happening alongside various next-generation broadband rollouts that are occurring across most European communities.

Hama, a German photo-video-computer accessories brand have released a 3-in-1 router. This unit can work as a “Mi-Fi” Mobile broadband router for a Wi-Fi wireless LAN, an  Ethernet-ended broadband router for a Wi-Fi network or simply as an auxiliary Wi-Fi access point with a wired backbone. Medion have provided a 2Tb NAS but I don’t know what kind of setup or facilities it has.

Devolo have restructured their HomePlusg product lineup with three different product packages. One is the MultiConnect Set which consists of a HomePlug AV-Ethernet bridge and a HomePlug AV / 802.11n wireless access point / 3-port Ethenret switch. Another is a typical “pair of homeplugs” described as the “Internet To TV” package. They are also running a wireless laptop-TV package which uses a proprietary point-to-point link.

They have also fielded the Home TV Sat 2400CI+ which is a satellite TV setup with a HomePlug AV backbone as a credible alternative to satellite cable run to the main living area. The set-top box in this kit will also work with the DLNA Home Media Network

AVM, known for their FritzBox range of home-network routers has now re, leased the FritzApp Media DLNA media control point for Android. This is after they previously released the FritzWLAN wireless network repeater which can work as a DLNA-controlled music player. They are also reinforcing their three-stream 450Mbps 802.11n-capable FritzBox lineup,

As well, Deutsche Telekom have utilised the LTE technology to boost the Internet abilities of their rural Internet customers. Here, those customers have had their “Call & Surf Comfort” plans augmented with higher network throughput for rural wireless links (download 3Mbps now 7.2Mbps, upload 1Mbps now 3Mbps). There is no cost penalty associated with these upgrades. Here, this is a step for German country dwellers having real proper Internet service.

Seagate have used this platform to launch their GoFlex Satellite wireless NAS for iDevices and I have touched on this device before on this site.

Stay tuned for more on the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2011 in the next part of this series.

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CEBit 2011

The CEBit trade fairs are becoming a bit of a quandery when it comes to being a European launch platform for IT products targeted at the home and small-business user.This is because most of these products appeal as a crossover product between something destined for the householder and something destined for a business owner or manager.

It also cements the fact that products destined for household use like most wireless routers, smartphones and consumer laptop computers will typically end up being used in the shop or small office even though these places will use equipment targeted at business use.

Here, some of these IT product ranges could be launched in Europe at this show whereas others could be launched at the Internationaler Funkaustellung in August.

Main trends

Tablet computers

The core trends that I have observed concerning CEBit 2011 have been the tablet computers. This fair has become another launch platform for manufacturers to promote their new tablet computers which are primarily based on the Android operating platform.

Key improvements for this class have been the use of dual-core processor technology which yields faster performance.

For this class of device, this show has come at the same time Steve Jobs was premiering the Apple iPad 2 and it shows how competitive the market for tablet computers will be.

CPU/GPU combo processors

The general-purpose computing market has been thrown in to a state of flux with Intel and AMD launching processor platforms based around CPU/GPU combo processors in the form of Sandy Bridge for Intel and APU for AMD. This has changed the ballpark when it comes to integrated graphics solutions with this class of graphics solution yielding graphics performance that is above what is expected.

Similarly, NVIDIA have put forward an ARM-based CPU/GPU combination which would require a different software architecture. This has caused Microsoft to consider releasing the Windows Platform for the ARM architecture as well as for the Intel Architecture.

These processor designs have opened up a new class of computer with “superslim” notebook / laptop computers as well as more of the low-profile ultracompact desktop computers and all-in-ones. The recent work on “dual-mode” graphics where there is a discrete graphics chipset as well as integrated graphics in a computer design has become of benefit when it comes to balancing power economy and performance by allowing the discrete graphics to be seen as an “overdrive”.

Network Devices

The main trends here concern LTE wireless broadband as a WAN option for routers as well as speed increases for the popular no-new-wires network technologies. The 802.11n Wi-Fi network had been brought to 450Mbps in the form of a three-stream variant known as N450. The HomePlug powerline network had been brought up to 500Mbps but this is not yet a defined standard until HomePlug AV2 is “set in stone”. Still, this show has become a European premiere for these networking technologies.

It is more so as more European countries have deployed or are deploying next-generation broadband service to homes and businesses across the continent. What with VDSL2 projects occurring in the Germanic countries (Germany and Austria) and parts of the UK as well as various FTTH fibre-optic projects in the UK and France.

Computing Devices

Tablets

Google have released the 3.0 “Honeycomb” version of the Android operating system but have pitched it at the tablet computers rather than at smartphones and tablets. This has come at a time when more manufacturers were releasing tablet computers to the general market.

There are two main screen sizes being released – a 7” size that can be put in a coat pocket as well as a 10” size that is similar to the iPad and most netbook computers.

ASUS had launched their eeePad range of tablets with three notable devices. One is the eeePad Memo which is a 7” screen unit that is driven by a SnapDragon processor and can be operated with a stylus rather than the finger. Another unit of note has been the eeePad Slider which looks like a smartphone and has the expected functionality but can run on its batteries for 8 hours at a time. As well, ASUS premiered the eeePad Transformer which has a detachable keyboard for those who prefer to type.

There have been a few “budget” tablets that are driven by Android 2.1 rather than 3.0 and are pitched as entry-level e-reader tablets. One 8” model was pitched by AOC and had no integrated wireless-broadband modem and had 4Gb of onboard memory; while there was another 7” unit pitched by Archos in the form of the 70b E-Reader.

Of course, a few “iPad slayers” had been launched at this show. These units which are close to 10” for screen size have features, options and performance statistics that could offer more value than an equivalent iPad.

Fujitsu had released a “Slate” tablet with two cameras and could work with an optional desk docking station so that one could use standard computer peripherals like a keyboard or printer. They also fielded a Windows 7-powered “business-class” tablet PC for the corporate end of the equation.

Now, no tablet computer launch would be without the “Second Japan” (South Korea) putting their weight in with their high-value equipment. LG had launched the G-Slate which is an 8.9” Android 3.0 tablet powered by a dual-core processor, NVIDIA Tegra 2 graphics. This unit has 32Gb on-board, as well 2 cameras that are capable of 5 Megapixels each. Samsung has used this show to launch the Galaxy Tab 10.1. This is a 10” Android 3.0 tablet that uses a dual core CPU and NVIDIA Tegra 2 graphics.

Smartphones

This has also become the time when Google had set the Android 2.3 “Gingerbread” version in stone. As well, there had been talk of Nokia wanting to shift from Symbian to Windows Phone 7 for their smartphone platform.

Dell had put their foot in the market with the Venue Pro which is a Nokia-style smartphone with a slide-down keyboard.

Nokia have premiered two keyboard-enabled touchscreen smartphones in the form of the Nokia N7 and N9, with the latter one being at least Meego driven. They are also wanting to move towards Windows Phone 7 and away from Symbian as the smartphone operating system of choice for their smartphones.

Samsung have taken the chance to premiere the Galaxy S2, which is the successor to their highly-popular Galaxy S. This smartphone is equipped with a Super AMOLED display and runs Android 2.3.

Desktop and Laptop Computers

The Windows-7 computers become more powerful in their beauty and function. As well, the new combined processors in the form of the Intel Sandy Bridge and the AMD APU systems have opened up new paths when it come to designing desktop and laptop computers. Here, portable computers have been able to perform better than expected for most graphics tasks and are able to do this without a penalty on battery runtime. As well, manufacturers have been able to consider designing desktop computers that are small neat and elegant units yet able to perform remarkably well.

ASUS have released three notebooks that are of note here. One is the eeeSlate EP121 convertible notebook which has a touchscreen and a supplied Bluetooth keyboard. The screen size is 12” and it is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor. Its secondary storage comes in the form of a 64Gb solid-state drive.

They have also released the VX7 15” laptop which may impress regular “Top Gear” viewers. It has sports-car styling and uses dual-mode graphics in the form of NVIDIA GEForce GTX460M for discrete-mode and Intel Sandy Bridge Core i7 processor for integrated mode. As well, they have released a notebook computer which is 19mm thick. Here, I don’t have information about its full specifications.

Dell have run with a convertible laptop in the form of the Inspiron Duo. Here, this machine’s screen swings in a frame to “filp” from a regular laptop to a tablet computer.

Acer have premiered the iconia which is a dual-display laptop which uses two touchscreens with one as a keyboard. They have also shown the Revo multimedia desktop PC which I would describe as very similar to the slim version of the popular Sony PlayStation 2 games console. As well, Shuttle, a manufacturer of small-form-factor PCs have released a computer that is based H67 “Sandy Bridge” chipset.

Peripherals

The computer display scene has been centred around large-screen HD monitors. One of these is in the form of the ASUS P246Q 24” LCD screen for graphics artists. This one could work in landscape or portrait mode, has an A4 aspect ratio, and a resolution of 1920×1080. For connectivity, this 499-Euro display has the DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI and “VGA” connectors as well as an integrated USB hub.

BenQ have offered a 24” Full-HD LED-backlit LCD display This 300-Euro display has for connectivity 2 HDMI sockets, and a 4 USB hub as well as the usual DVI and VGA connectors but could offer a DisplayPort connector. They also released an “interactive projector” that needs no stylus and allows the user to touch the projected image to interact with it.

Creative have released a few HD-resolution webcams in the form of the Socialize HD which is equipped with auto-focus and available as a “full-HD” (1080) model and an “HD” (720p) model/ They have also released the “Cam Chat HD” which doesn’t have auto-focus but works at HD (720p).

Every technology trade show will come up with the usual line of peripherals and gadgets that may not appeal to the serious computer buyer but appeal to the computing press as sidelines. One is that Fujitsu had released a regular computer mouse that was to “appeal” to the green thought by having it made out of renewable materials. In my opinion, this wasn’t anything special as far as pointing devices go.

SAGEM had released a cordless phone which reminded me of one that was released in the late 1970s by a mail-order firm in America. Here, the battery-powered cordless phone was designed like a standard corded desk telephone yet it transmitted via radio to a “black-box” base station that was connected to the telephone service. It was initially modelled on the standard-issue dial telephone of the day but was revised to look like the standard-issue pushbutton phone of that same era. The cordless phone offered by SAGEM and known as the “Grundig Sixty” was styled like a dial-equipped desk telephone that was standard-issue in Germany in the late 1960s except that this DECT-connected phone uses pushbutton dialling and is finished in that orange colour reminiscent of the era.

The network

For the network, this has become a European launch pad for N450 (three-stream 802.11n that runs at 450Mbps maximum) Wi-Fi equipment as well as 500Mbps HomePlug AV equipment.

AVM, the German network-hardware name have become an example of this with their FritzBox routers have been conservative with their N-based WiFi speeds by offering N300 for their Wi-Fi networks rather than running for the N450 three-stream technology. One of these is the FritzBox 6840 which has LTE wireless-broadband on the WAN side and one Ethernet as well as Wi-Fi N-300 on the LAN side. Like most of the other FritzBox routers, it has VoIP telephony interfaces through 1 telephone socket and a base station for 6 DECT handsets. As well, it has a USB socket for sharing peripherals as well as being a DLNA media server.

They also premiered the Fritzbox Fon WLAN 7330 which has ADSL2 on the WAN side and Gigabit Ethernet as well as Wi-Fi N300 on the LAN side. This would have the USB port and DLNA media server function as well as a VoIP endpoint for 1 regular handset and 6 DECT handsets.

They also released a companion DECT cordless handset for these routers which looks as though it is a low-tier camera-equipped mobile phone. Here, this would use a colour LCD display and a graphic user interface for its management and use; and is pitched as an Internet audio endpoint.

Of course, they have released a HomePlug AV 500Mbps set with two HomePlug-AV – Gigabit-Ethernet bridges for the European market.

TP-Link have started to push in to the European market as far as their HomePlug products are concerned, This is with them premiering an energy-saving HomePlug AV network bridge with power connector so you don’t lose your power outlet when you plug in the HomePlug.

Conclusion

The CEBit 2011 trade fair is the first such fair for an interesting year in information technology, what with combo CPU/GPU chips, higher network speeds and increased interest in the touch-driven user interface.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2011–Part 3

Now we come to the issue of network-infrastructure equipment that will need to support the increasing demands placed on the home network by the previously-mentioned smartphones, tablet computers and Internet-enabled TVs.

Network Infrastructure

Network Connectivity

Some newer chipsets have appeared which will increase network bandwidth for the 802.11n Wi-Fi segment and the HomePlug AV segment. The current implementations may use manufacturer-specific implementations which won’t bode well with the standards.

The first new “call” is the 450Mbps 802.11n WPA2 WPS Wi-Fi segment which is being provided by most network makes for their midrange routers and access points. Access points and routers that work with this specification use three 802.11n radio streams to maintain the high throughput. The full bandwidth may be achieved if the client device is equipped with an 802.11n wireless network adaptor that supports the three streams but your existing devices may benefit due to reduced contention for the wireless bandwidth due to the access point / router offering three streams.

Most of the routers shown at the Consumer Electronics Show this year that support the 3-stream 450Mbps level for the 802.11n wireless network functionality also offered dual-band dual-radio operation to the same specification. Here, these devices could work on both the 2.4GHz band and the 5GHz band at this level of performance.

Some manufacturers were trying out the idea of a 60GHz high-bandwidth media network which may be based on a Wi-Fi (802.11 technology) or other proprietary scheme. This could lead to three-band multimedia routers and access points that use 2.4GHz and 5GHz for regular whole-home wireless networking and 60GHz for same-room wireless networking.

The second new “call” is the 500Mbps throughput being made available on high-end HomePlug AV devices. These powerline network devices may only achieve the high bandwidth on a segment consisting of the high-bandwidth devices that are based on the same chipset. Here, I would wait for the HomePlug AV2 standard to be fully ratified before you chase the 500Mbps bandwidth on your HomePlug segment. Of course, these devices can work with HomePlug AV segments.

The third new call is for midrange high-throughput routers to have Gigabit on the WAN (Internet) port as well as the LAN ports. This is more relevant nowadays as fibre-based next-generation broadband services are rolled out in most countries.

Everyone who exhibited network-infrastructure equipment offered at least one 450Mbps dual-band dual-radio router with Gigabit Ethernet on the WAN (Internet) connection as well as the wired-LAN connection. As well, most of these routers are equipped with circuitry that supports QoS when streaming media and some of them have a USB file-server function which can also provide media files to the DLNA Home Media Network.

Trendnet also offered an access point and a wireless client bridge that worked to this new level of 802.11n performance. They also demonstrated power-saving circuitry for Wi-Fi client devices which throttles back transmission power if the device is in the presence of a strong access point signal for their network. This was ostensibly to be “green” when it comes to AC-powered devices but would yield more real benefit for devices that have to run on battery power.

They also ran with the TPL-410AP which is a HomePlug AV Wireless-N multi-function access point. Another of those HomePlug access points that can “fill in the gap” on a wireless network or extend the Wi-Fi network out to the garage, barn or old caravan.

They also issued the TEW-656BRG 3G Mobile Wireless N Router, which is an 802.11n “MiFi router” that is powered by USB and works with most 3G / 4G modem sticks available in the USA. It is of a small design that allows it to be clipped on to a laptop’s lid or a small LCD monitor.

TP-Link had their 450Mbps three-stream dual-band dual-radio router with Gigabit on bot WAN and LAN Ethernet connections. As well they fielded a single-stream 150Mbps USB stick as the TL-WNT23N.

They also tried their hand with IP surveillance with the TL-SC4171G camera . This camera can do remote pan-tilt, and 10x digital zoom. It connects to the network via Ethernet or 802.11g Wi-Fi (not that much chop nowadays) and is equipped with an IR ring for night capture, as well as a microphone and speaker.

Netgear were more active with the 450Mbps three-stream routers with Gigabit LAN. Two of the models are broadband routers with Gigabit WAN, while one is an ADSL2 modem router which I think would serve the European and Australian markets more easily. The top-end model of the series has a USB file server function which works with the DLNA Home Media Network and also with Tivo “personal-TV devices”.

They also released the XAV5004 HomePlug AV switch which is the 500Mbps version of the their earlier “home-theatre” four-port HomePlug switch. Of course, they released the XAV2001 which is a compact “homeplug” adaptor which connects to the regular standards-based HomePlug AV segment.

They also have released the MBR1000 Mobile Broadband Router which works with 3G/4G wireless broadband or  Ethernet broadband. This unit is being provided “tuNrnkey” for Verizon’s new 4G LTE service.

Netgear have also fielded the VEVG3700 VDSL2/Gigabit Ethernet dual-WAN router with Gigabit Ethernet LAN, Cat-IQ DECT VoIP phone base station. This device, which is pitched at triple-play service providers also supports DLNA server functionality. As well, they also had a DECT VoIP kit available for these providers

As well, Netgear have tried their footsteps in to IP-surveillance for home and small business with a camera and an Android-driven screen for this purpose.

D-Link’s network hardware range include the three-stream 450Mbps routers with Gigabit WAN/LAN, a multifunction access point / repeater for the 802.11n network as well as a new DLNA-enabled network-attached storage range

As far as the MoCA TV-coaxial-cable network is concerned, Channel Master is the only company to release any network hardware for this “no-new-wires” network. It is in the form of a MoCA-Ethernet 4-port switch for the home theatre.

“Mi-Fi” wireless-broadband routers

Every one of the US cellular-telecommunications carriers are catching on to the 4G bandwagon not just with the smartphones and tablets but with the wireless-broadband routers.

Sprint have a unit for their WiMAX service while Verizon are fielding a Samsung LTE “Mi-Fi” as well as the aforementioned Netgear MBR1000 router.

Computer hardware and software

Monitors

Some of the companies who manufacture monitors are looking at the idea of “Internet-connected” monitors which have a basic Web browser in them so you don’t have to fire up a computer to view the Web.

CPU/GPU combo chips

These new processor chips combine a CPU which is a computer’s “brain” as well as the graphics processor which “draws” the user interface on to the screen. AMD and Intel were premiering the “Accelerated Processor Units” and the Core “Sandy Bridge” prcessors respectively at the CES this year.

Intel were trumpeting the fact that this technology could make it harder to pirate movie content but this is more about mainstream computing and small-form-factor hardware being behind this space and power saving processor hardware.

Sony had lodged a commitment to AMD to use the Zacate “Accelerated Processor Unit” in some of their VAIO laptops.

Other hardware

AMD haven’t forgotten the “performance computing” segment when it comes to processor chips and released the quad-core and 6-core “Phenom” desktop and gaming-rig CPUs.

Seagate have also made the “GoFlex” removable / dockable hard disks a standard by building alliances with third-parties to make hardware that works to this standard. Could this be another “VHS-style” alliance for dockable hard disks?

Microsoft also used this show to premiere their Touch Mouse which uses that same touch operation method as Apple’s Magic Mouse. Do I see an attempt for them to “snap at” Apple when it comes to “cool hardware” as well as software?

The Microsoft Platform

There has been some activity with the Microsoft Windows platforms now that set-top boxes and tablet computers are becoming the “order of the day”

One direction Microsoft is taking is to port the Windows Platform, which was primarily written for Intel-Architecture processors, to the Acorn ARM-architecture processors. The reason that this port is taking place is due to these energy-efficient RISC processors being commonly used in battery-driven applications like tablet computers. They are also popular with other dedicated multimedia devices like set-top boxes and TV applications.

As well, Microsoft will be working on a lightweight Windows build for TV applications like set-top boxes. This is although they have previously written Windows-CE builds for this class of device.

Microsoft also want to make a variant of the Windows Phone 7 for tablet computers and are starting work on the Windows 8 project.

Similarly, Somsung has demonstrated the second incarnation of the Microsoft Surface platform This one comes in a slimmer table-based form rather than a unit that is as thick as the 1980s-style “cocktail-table” arcade game machine.

Conclusion

The Consumer Electronics Show 2011 has certainly put the connected home on the map. This is due to affordable smartphones and tablet computers becoming more ubiquitous and Internet-provided video services becoming an increasing part of American home life.

It will be interesting to see what will happen for the other “pillar” of the consumer-electronics trade fair cycle – the Internationaler Funkaustellung; and how more prevalent the Internet TV, smartphone and tablet computer lifestyle will be in Europe and Asia.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2011–Part 2

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

In the car

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

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

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

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

Networked Home Entertainment

Video Entertainment and the Home Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet radios

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

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

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

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Consumer Electronics Show 2011–Part 1

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

Mobile Handsets and tablets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A digital camera that can be controlled by a smartphone

Article

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

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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