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... edited by Barry Mishkind - the Eclectic Engineer    

Futuri POST

The 2012 International CES

The 2012 CES in Las Vegas is arguably among the biggest conventions in the USA.

This year the figures continue to show a larger show with higher attendance: over 3200 exhibitors on 1.861 million square feet of space (a record) from the Las Vegas Hotel (formerly the Hilton) to the LVCC and on to the Venetian and Sands Expo center, with additional displays at the Mirage and other hotels.

The final attendance figures topped 153,000.

Put in broadcast perspective, the attendance is nearly 60,000 (65%) more than the 92,708 at the 2011 NAB show, which was itself largely driven by nearly 26,000 international attendees. Yes, the streets were jammed and walking anywhere near the LVCC was like being in an overgrown forest. If the NAB Show is a zoo, this one is a circus.

Among the key appearances at the 2012 CES was FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who spoke at length about the accomplishments he has overseen. At the top of his 4list - in fact in first, second, and third place - was his broadband initiatives. He wants broadband Internet access to be "ubiquitous" in the US. Although there are those in Congress that disagree, Genachowski maintains that progress must happen, and that those who would stand in the way of spectrum auctions were "outliers." Genachowski says he will continue to press for more action on this area, although he did not discuss the huge swaths of bandwidth already owned - but not used - by the major cell phone companies.

As usual, there were many newsy items, press releases, and many displays building on technology we already have seen.

BROADCAST ORIENTED STUFF

No, there were no new transmitters on site, aside from some micro-cell and WiMax type examples. There were a lot of cars spread around outside the LVCC and inside the North and Central Halls. There were two main thrusts to the displays (aside from being able to make a person deaf at 30 paces):

  • Connectivity in the car.

  • Audio (and video) sources for consumers.

It is becoming easier and easier to provision the family car with enough server space and WiFi signals to let the whole family listen to and watch what they want. Whether you are rolling with cellular data streams or WiMax based systems, vehicles have everything from almost universal source selection from the Internet to full web browsing and application services. Some car radios now have as many app choices as web televisions.

Of course, the one thing that broadcasters (well, some of them) want to know: are the new crop of HD radios any better than prior editions? The answer is a qualified yes - so long as the car is not moving. On the other hand, some reports are that the increased HD power levels have helped somewhat.

Nevertheless, table and portable HD radios were not easy to find on the floor.

Receivers, however, do sort of melds into

EMERGENCY PREPARATIONS

The results of a number of weather issues in 2011, including the weeklong power blackout in some parts of Connecticuit, makes emergency communications important. Broadcasters, for their part, are watching and working on the Part 11 re-write, strengthing parts of the EAS.

For listeners, the question is how to cope when power goes out? Not every home has a generator. But several manufacturers, including CCrane and Eton, showed radios that can operate on AC, DC,  batteries - or via a solar panel or hand crank.

          
C Crane's Solar Observer Eton's FRX-3

These radios, which cover analog AM and FM, and often the NWR frequencies, can be valuable, even if power is out and no batteries are on hand. By cranking the handle or by setting the solar panel in sunlight it is possible to stay in touch with local news and information. To make sure you can see and call out on your cell phone, there is a light on the side, as well as USB charging ports for computers and cell phones. Costs are quite modest - an incentive to have one in the home and car - and to recommend them to listeners.

STREAMING RADIOS

Of course, if power is not the object, if WiFi is on and the Internet is there, a lot of interesting possibilities are there. In recent years a lot of streaming sources (including traditional radio stations) have grown up: Pandora, Rhapsody, Slacker, Roku, Rdio, satellte radio, and literally thousands of streaming "stations." For the addicted dial twister, Internet radios can be an endless source of adventure. But most of these radios are complex to use, and even work through the menus.

So enter the Q2 Internet radio: No buttons. No knobs. You just rotate the cube to change the channel, tilt to adjust volume. Carry it around the house or office.

Setup is via the web, and you can select up to four stations at a time. For most people - including elderly - that seems to be comfortable. Stations wanting to promote themselves can not only co-brand, but they can get the radios to be "fix-tuned" to their channels. (Remember all those fix-tuned transistor radios?)

EARPHONES AND OTHER AUDIO

You have to be impressed with a product when they bring in a gymnast to demonstrate how their ear buds do not come out while you are working. Plus, with a flat wire system, tangles are reduced. And - if that were not enough - a lifetime warranty on products over $50. If you, or some of your staff, like to use ear buds, the yurbuds products definitely are worth checking out.

  Altec was celebrating their 75th year and, while their Bluetooth area speakers were the focus product, as part of their display they showed off a rebuilt A-7 on the floor. You just have to love those old speakers!

GREEN THEMES

Various products and companies who seek to improve the balance between man and planet were in evidence from the start of the show to the end. Recycled badges, badgeholders, banners, and other items were reused all over the place.

How about wooden headphones (Well, except for the drivers and the wire)? Wood was seen on a lot of products, as were other biodegradable materials.

More than a few companies helped to reduce paper use (remember the paperless society? We're further from that than ever before!) by everything from analyzing output to delete empty pages to  sending printouts to an iPad for reading. At least one TV station now uses that practice for scripts.

Similarly, there was a lot of attention given to power consumption - and phantom power waste. Several multicharger solutions were shown, some with "intelligent" features that cut off power to the socket when no charging is going on.

For example, One World Computing showed some very attractive outlets with two USB sockets included. Sensors adapt to different products and their current needs.

HARDWARE

Need storage space Western Digital and some others were showing drives with 2T (two terrabytes). The Netgear version incorporates a WiFi router, so system storage can be more easily automated. Of course, there were a number of "cloud" options shown. The question is whether you can rely on access whenever you need it, from wherever you are.

  With all the tablets out in the world, every manner of covers, handles, keyboards, and other tools were on display. Since one of the more annoying aspects of iPad and similar tablets is the lack of a real keyboard, we kept an eye out for some of the solutions. Among the more flexible was the ZAGGfolio - a Bluetooth keyboard that can be used alone or combined with a case to provide a viewing stand for the iPad. 

And for those who just have to have the most cutting edge things, there was even a Klingon keyboard that comes for only $62. Other keyboards are made for one hand, or various hinged and un-hinged designs to make typing easier - or not. Would you believe (OK, Maxwell) - a keyboard with no keys? You type on the screen, assuming you know where the keys should be.

Another major irk for iPad owners is the difficulty in printing. Lantronix showed the xPrintServer - as small as an iPhone - which will allow iOS users to print to any printer on the network.

CODECS

The codec giant Frauenhofer was at the show in several places, discussing their latest coding techniques and partners. It was interesting to see a few broadcast related companies, including COMREX in among the exhibitors at the Verizon booth. Of course, a lot of that pertains to the continuing interest in streaming and the various programming options. It was hard to take a headcount, but more than a few broadcasters who got cut in consolidation are either doing or working on streaming product.

Even better, we got to see some old friends who showed up at the booth at the right time. Now, that makes tired dogs into happy feet for sure!

WiFi AND BLUETOOTH

The new Bluetooth 4.0 was displayed.  A lower power Bluetooth, this is designed to allow both longer operation on existing power sources, as well as location sensors to allow you, for example, to be notified if you walk away from the phone or other gear.

The big news here is increasing numbers of applications and products to control home and office from anywhere. There are some very interesting broadcast applications, which we shall feature in upcoming months - from remote control to security.

One very interesting item was a new Internet WiFi radio... with no knobs, buttons, etc. The Q2 works by turning and rotating a cube. (a picture will appear here.)

In the Bluetooth arena, it was interesting to see the large number of wireless speakers displayed, from little sugar bowl-sized to the very nice sounding units from X-Mini, Logitech, and Altec. One can easily carry one of these speakers (or stereo set) to a client, transmitter site, or remote broadcast site - although immediately, the question of security of these smaller items comes to mind. A few companies are displaying products to track children or pets, perhaps they can be adapted to alerts when station gear starts to wander.

Another area of growing interest are health monitors, watching everything from your heart rate to your calorie-burning activity, some download data to your computer, some monitor and alert you and/or your doctor if it detects out of bounds data. Talk about a techno-nanny!

SECURITY

With the copper theft and vandalism problem, one of my objectives was to find security items that could be used by broadcasters.

There were a lot of devices to find your children, your friends, your dog, etc, but few were dealing with lost gear (or gear that walks away on a remote broadcast site). Some of the webcams looked interesting - how about one you can just "stick" anywhere (Dropcam) you need at the transmitter site, even in front of a meter? - but as soon as I asked about how they work in an RF field, I got either "we will have an engineer call you" or "probably not." Logitech displayed their soon to be released HD Pro Webcam, and promised to let us test them at a transmitter site. So the goal of finding useful webcams and other security products continues.

BUSINESS AIDS

Small scanners, portable so you can, for example, scan things on site like transmitter manual pages, or import your receipts, were shown by several companies including the Xerox/Visioneer Mobility scanner. There were some impressive new label makers from Epson and Dymo, label makers. Ease of use and flexibility were key points.

The Dymo 500TS LabelManager is the first to used a touchscreen to let you make all kinds of easy edits and changes to label content. 

SOME NEW(ER) ITEMS

Corning was showing off its Gorilla Glass V2.0  It is still possible to destroy the display for a tablet or smartphone, but it is getting harder.

One goal most of us have is to reduce the number of wall warts and wasted power. Products like the wall socket above (with built-in USB smart chargers) were found, along with various magnetic charging pads to charge multiple items and then shut down.  I3 International, makers of the Kill-A-Watt expanded their line of power control systems with the Kill-A-Watt Phantom Power Indicator, a model to turn off power to TVs when in standby mode, and a new "Kill-A-Watt for Dummies," to make it even easier to measure what power is used by different appliances.

There was also a wide variety of power packs and charging solutions were shown by Duracell, Energizer, and Radio Shack among many others. The newer rechargable battery packs carry enough capacity to recharge cellphones or iPads a couple of time.

It is hard not to notice the ads for Magic Jack Plus on TV. The company was showing this product along with a look at some of the products they plan for the future, to make accessing the telephone system easy from anywhere in the world you can get Internet access.

CURIOUS DISCONNECTS

Microsoft has announced this will be their last appearance at CES - with their huge display on the West side of the Central Hall. Like Apple, they are expected to host their own "event" in the future. On the way out the door, MS was showing off some of Windows 8 and LiveOffice products. Apple, meanwhile, may or may not be hiding iPad3 or iTV behind the curtain. We will find out next month.

At the same time, you can hardly find a booth at CES that did not feature Apple, Android, and Windows driven tablet computers, accessories, and applications in one form or another. All sorts of ways to mount tablets, access keyboards, carry them securely, and more. We will show some of the better ideas on this page over the next week.

As last year, there were literally a hundred different tablets, from the best known ones, to OEM makers who will supply you custom tablets for your company's needs at some surprising costs, depending upon volume.

There were Ultrabooks from nearly every manufacturer, most with solid state hard drives and light weights. However, there is a caution tossed out: will this be the Netbook of 2012? The capabilities (no DVD player, for example) may or may not make these useful. (You would either have to have an external DVD or prepare to download everything as needed.  With the announced caps at AT&T, and more coming, this could be an issue.)

Furthermore, with upcoming hardware and software (remember, Windows 8 is not yet in "release" mode), these ultrabooks may be obsolete in 6 months, according to some industry sources. That might mean bargains in six months - or a lot of cursing.

On the other hand, is the "ThinkPad" back? IBM successor Lenovo showed off some very well-built machines for the business market, with some attractive pricing. If you have had ThinkPads in the past and wandered to another manufacturer, the new line is worth a look. And the A720 sets some new standards for desktops.

Yes, there were smartphones on the floor, although the buzz was not as great as in past years. The new lines of smartphones to appear this year are said to include quad-core chips. They were not a huge item at CES, but they do promise to give more speed to a lot of us that grip at how slow the cellphones do certain things.

TVS

Yes, there were new TVs this year. 3D really did not take over as the manufacturers thought, but the newer models have more sophisticated Internet connections. This may even worry some cable companies. On the other hand, many are incompatible ... and some manufacturers do not offer any upgrade path from last year's models.

The size wars seem over - at least in terms of size. Screens of 70 and 80-odd inches are all over. The big news was more OLED screens. If you have been waiting to do a flat screen, this year's crop of models will present some very good images - and at the best pricing you will have seen.

I was also impressed with a product that will take any computer and allow it to serve your TVs, no matter if they are this year's model or earlier.

HD

And yes, there was an ibiquity booth.  Yes, there were many proclamations by Bob Struble, including one that HD is "now mainstream." However, as noted, HD radios were not as easy to find on the floor outside the ibiquity booth.

In fact, some of the displays were definitely aimed away from traditional broadcasters. For example:

2013 FORD FOCUS ST
PERFORMANCE FOR PURISTS + SIRUIS XM SATELLITE RADIO
        WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF
                         SATELLITE RADIO

At least this one mentions Talk Radio!

 

LOTS MORE

There was a lot more among those 3200 booths - so much, we could do a dozen pages on just the overviews. But, we want to highlight products that you will find interesting and useful. Over the coming months watch for more of those ideas and product reviews here on the BDR.

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