The BDR

The
Broadcasters' Desktop Resource

... edited by Barry Mishkind - the Eclectic Engineer    

Inovonics Inc.

The 2014 International CES

(Last update 1/15/14)


Another year and another set of records for the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas.

Despite the disruption to the airline schedules from the "deep freeze," over 150,000 attendees showed up and packed the site.
 

Of course, the show is, above all, a giant Toy Store of what you can get and what is coming this year.

Backup, backup, backup. Not just backing up files, but power backup. That was one of the more prevalent themes this year at the 2104 International CES.

There were companies of all sizes - from the giant battery brands you recognize to all sorts of startups - showing battery packs, solar panels, turbines, and other charging solutions. Even many of the portable speakers and radios now come with a way to share power with smartphones, lights, and other products.

The new FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler was on view, in a packed room, giving us a view of the man who is now leading the FCC. His comments were definitely of interest to broadcasters.

And then there were the new 4K Ultra/HD TVs. How far we have come in just a few years. Walking around the booths, on could easily think "standard definition" is as out of date as Black & White TVs, and the low resolution of our old VCRs seems like the Dark Ages when compared to the latest HDTV, DVDs, and Streaming choices.

WALKING THE FLOOR

It is always hard to know where to start at CES. There is so much to cover: over 3200 exhibitors in about 2 million square feet of display space. You want it? It is somewhere on the floor.

And there is a lot of floor: The convention is spread all over, from the LVCC to the LVH and Venetian Hotels (the main CES anchor hotels) to half a dozen others around In the first two days along, I clocked over 7 miles of floor walking. Yes, I took a good pair of shoes - so far, I am blister-free.

POWER, POWER, and MORE POWER

First of all, we remember Superstorm Sandy and the loss of power for days and weeks. Then the ice storms of the past couple of weeks have also had national attention.

So, backup power was quite a widely displayed product. There were products using standard batteries, rechargable units, solar units, and hand turbine crank units. The battery backup ranged from a few hundred mAh to 20,000 mAh - enough to recharge cell phones, iPads, and more, several times. There was even a Bluetooth mouse from Genius that contains 2700 mAh backup for your smart phone, or possibly even a brief charge for your tablet or laptop.

Of course, recharging cell phones and iPads is of less critical importance if the cell sites and Internet are down. Then is it is up to broadcasters.

Eton Corp. (you often see their cross-branded Red Cross products) showed some really nice products at CES this year. Continuing itheir FRX series of AM/FM/WX radios/ flash-lights with solar and hand turbine power, the FRX4 features digital tuning and very compact size.

For those out on remotes or presenta-tions, the rukus Xtreme combines a super loud, splashproof, solar powered, NFC connection, smartphone charger, and more features to run as long as 8 hours without recharge or AC power. Another noteworthy product is the Blackout Buddy CO, light and CO detector.

Another company at CES Secur demonstrated their multi-powered radios and one even had a little "burner" built in to light a stove, fireplace, or wood fire - something that non-smokers especially will find valuable in a disaster zone..

Additionally, there were other products devoted solely to backup including a 1 kW battery shown in one booth. Among the products that caught my eye were three models from Anker.

   

Two were battery packs that provided a visual indication of how much charge was left. The third product was a 5-USB desk charger - admit it, you have too many gadgets that need charging. Here is a solution - and it is small enough to be portable.

The Lepow Moonstone also stands out. It is designed to be appealing in several ways: the very modestly-priced 3000 mAh capacity unit recharges both smart-phones and tablets, the unit itself is only 8 ounces, smooth like a large bar of soap, and is enviornmentally packed with a stylish felt protective carry case and uses ecologic paper that leaves no pollution.

WEARABLES

In case you do not know how far you can walk, or your pulse rate, or all sorts of other data, this year health related products have hit their stride. Under the generic grouping of "wearables," an amazing amount of data can be collected as you go about your daily activities and saved - or transmitted where you want.

For example, between the sensors and the apps, you can track your physical status and progress - pulse rate, blood pressure, steps taken, amount of sleep, blood glucose levels, even the number of calories you burned - watch it over time, and even sent it on to your doctor, all seamlessly. One company even showed a watch that responded to voice commands and displayed imncoming messages and data. Shades of Dick Tracy!

iHealth and LifeTrack are two of the exhibitors whose products bear further inspection. iHealth had modules for the data you require. LifeTrack is hooking up with A&D Medical to enhance the data capabilities for their Core and Zone products (pictured).

Many of the products were designed for elder-healthcare, so we can care for our parents. But more than a few exhibitors noted that the Babyboomers were now part of that crowd!

 

BLUETOOTH SURPISES

Bluetooth (generally up to 30 feet coverage) speakers, headphone, and even earbuds were in evidence. The quality is somewhat better than in previous years, with AptX and AAC codecs being used in some products, a Dolby codec in some others. Additionally, a Bluetooth derivative, NFC (Near Field Connection - where you just tap your phone to the product to pair"), is being implemented in many products.

A couple of Bluetooth products caught my eye/ear. Wireless speakers were in many booths, including the Monoprice Brick. Portability was a prime feature; some were displayed as waterproof. Several companies were showing Bluetooth headsets and earbuds, even small speakers to carry easily (I have long disliked the poor audio levels coming out the iPad, except in extremely quiet environments), so you can share your audio easily with others.

X-Mini (on the left) showed their new "WE" speaker. It is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, yet NFC equipped. Just touch your NFC  smartphone to it, and that is all it takes. Add a second unit and you have stereo. The WE runs with good volume for six hours on a charge. 
 
The ifrogz new "Tadpole" (on the right) is also quite small, though not NFC. However, this little speaker clips easily to your pocket or button hole, so you can listen to your favorite audio without having anything in your ears.

Speaking of ears, one thing anyone who has worked on the air has wished for is a way to eliminate the tether to the console. Bluetooth earbuds were being displayed by companies from Monoprice to AudioTechnica to Jabra. NoiseHush announced their BT500 and Freedom BT700 Bluetooth headsets, along with the NS series of Bluetooth earbuds. This may be the year suitable units are available that will work in the studio. (NoiseHush also displayed a new i7 wired headset with some impressive noise-cancelling capabilities - it really got a lot of attention on the floor.)

AUDIO QUALITY

Recognizing the limitations of Bluetooth, a new entrant to the wireless speaker area - Korus -  has its own proprietary transmission system, but it does make connection very simple. The sound is quite pleasant, designed for use around a home. But the capabilities open other possibilities.

The high end? I'll just mention that the audio suites shown at the Venetian might set you back $15k to $50k ... but you will have unique system that everyone will talk about!

Vinyl is apparently making a minor comeback. Among other exhibitors, Crosley (named for the legendary Cincinnati marketer and broadcaster) displayed a series of radios with turntables to play those strange (to some younger folks) round things.

Quality.... both in the audio and the components ... is a factor of pride for the House of Marley folks.

They use wood and other natural and recycled components to make an environmentally conscious, but great sounding products. While not the cheapest models on the floor, the headphones are very clean and crisp, the wireless speakers will not disappoint.

The booth was very friendly and you could relax with the DJ and reggae beat after a long day on your feet.
 

INFORMATION SECURITY

The recent rash of reports of major companies being hacked raised the question of that solutions would be displayed. Interestingly, few companies at the CES this year showed either password or malware products.

I had expected to have long conversations on how to make passwords more secure and manage them, as well as new ideas on how to avoid getting hurt by the fast-proliferating "ransomware" like CyberLocker. Perhaps the former is "old hat" and the latter "too new" for the industry in general.

One company, Yubico did show a rather interesting key with no client software. This is continue to be an area to watch this year. Another, PrivateWiFi showed off their new product, designed to create safer WiFi experiences (you do know that everything you do can be seen?). PrivateWiFi uses a virtual VPN to connect, making the process easier for smaller companies and users. 

TECH STUFF

Flir, the well-known maker of infra-red cameras and diagnostic software, displayed a very economical iPhone attachment - the FLIR ONE - to take IR pictures for about $350. It does not have quite the same specifications as the $2000 model, but at $350 a station can afford to do regular spot checks and more than just basic troubleshooting.

THE TV RACE

If you have been to the shops recently, you know 60, 70, even 80 inch TVs are not only common, but pricing has come down considerably.  So, the industry marches ahead.

This year, OLED, 4K UHD, and curved screens have taken the center stage.

Slightly smaller than the big LED TVs (the larges OLED 4K UHD shown was 110 inches, with the curved versions topping out at 105 inches).  The picture quality was stunningly sharp.

The TV manufacturers are not quite ready to give up on 3D TV, and LG's display included 140 47-inch screens put together to show stunning 3D pictures.

Opinions differ as to why it has not taken off in the consumer world - cost, size, content, the glasses ... several issues inhibit adoption.  A few companies are experimenting with 3D screens that do not require wearing glasses, but thus far, there is no real "fire" under the technology.

STOP AND LISTEN

The Venetian Hotel was where the real audio geeks hung out. OK, what can you say about audio ampliers using 833 tubes, or speakers that cost $15,000.  I will not be buying either anytime soon, but they are definitely fun to look at and to listen to.

As noted above, many models of Bluetooth connected headphones and ear buds were displayed.

What i found interesting was that many of them - wired or wireless - are better designed, to fit in the ear without "jamming" it in, or becoming uncomfortable in a few minutes. Several specifically were designed to allow ambient sounds to be heard, so they can be used in a control room or while walking. Others are designed for noise cancellation, for use in airplanes or when your morning show partner is a pain.

THE NEW BOSS

Wednesday afternoon, there was a "one-on-one" interview with Chairman Tom Wheeler of the FCC. This personable, smooth-talking man has his message down pat.

The trend in recent years to move from Over-the-Air to broadband still seems to be the focus of the new Chairman. He is firmly for the spectum auctions, stating that "it gives broadcasters an opportunity to reinvent themselves. All together, the plan is to take 15 channels of space (120 MHz) and auction it off. The NAB is mostly against this, but some groups like the idea of gleaning money from the process.

Wheeler also extolled LTE, saying the US is the "world leader" in the technology.  He was not drawn into a discussion of the current LTE vs FM wars, as the cell industry tries to lower the threshold of "interference" to their favor.

Wheeler also is in favor of a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, saying technology moves a lot faster than any regulator can respond to or even predict.

MORE NEW GIZMOS

Several companies showed all-electric vehicles.  Toyota's iRoad is among them. BMW had a long line of folks waiting for a test drive of their i3 model.

Of course, the manufacturers were competing for the best series of apps - with cars turning into mobile hotspots, there is a move to try to create a "standard" interface.  Connectivity was the buzzword - and some of these cars (and products) make it possible for the entire family to go down the road, each one doing something different. For those without the mobile hotspot capability, a company (Gigastone) displayed their new streamer - capable of streaming multiple videos/audio/etc to vehicle occupants - or at a meeting.

HD Radio? Yes, iBiquity was there with a booth and a list of countries where they are active, reporting  there were 5 to 5.5 million HD radios sold last year - iBiquity was very pleased. They say they are on track to sell 7.5 million in 2014. At the same time, we hear of stations dropping HD and a general lack of interest aside from a few markets (hilly places: Seattle, San Francisco, for example) or the NPR station, which continue to run multiple program streams.

AMONG THE REST

A random series of items that caught my eye. Some will become big products, some will disappear before spring. Some were just for show.

Home Automation ... you have seen it - features including webcams, motion sensor/video streaming/recording, remote monitoring and adjustment of air conditioning, lights, etc, as well as remote unlocking/locking of doors.  All of these have applications that can be adapted for site security, and we will return to the topic in coming months.

IEEE had an interesting display of animetric robots....

 

3D Printers. Everything from replacements parts to pizza. Printed on demand. Of course, the more capable units are not cheap ... $20k is not unheard of in terms of pricing. Let us just say I will not have one here anytime soon.

The Standzout booth had something that might be quite handy in a crowded control room or office: a series of tablet holders that can mount on the floor or desktop.

An interesing comment in the computer industry, PC sales have continued to slump - some feel it is the end of the PC, it being superceded by tablets and smartphones.

It was nice to see some broadcast folks at the show - and I even got to sit next to Leslie Stimson in the Newsroom.

 

 

 

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