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... edited by Barry Mishkind - the Eclectic Engineer    

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WALKING THE FLOOR AT CES 2016

Last update: 1/27/16 

As expected, CES 2016 was another in a series of record breakers. Over 170,000 attendees visiting 3,887 booths spread out over 2.47 million square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Sands Convention Center, and additional space in various hotels from the Westgate to the Venetian. Accoiding to the Show's operators, over 20,000 new products were shown. 

So, if one had a goal of seeing everything - much less attend the various sessions and papers - it was a nearly impossible goal, unless you had one of those hoverboards that had not yet erupted in flames.

The IoT

Interestingly, last year’s buzz words: “Connected Technology” and IoT (the “Internet of Things”) did permeate the show. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was impressed. Connected technologies “clearly are the future,” even if the enthusiastic predictions by some that by 2017 we would be conducting most of our activities on our smart watches was a bit premature.

Indeed, if you could ram a Bluetooth or WiFi connection into something, you could see it, monitor it, and control it from anywhere on the planet. Oh wait! You did not even have to pay attention; some products, like a refrigerator, will now call you and tell you what to buy. And there was a whole section of the floor where companies of all sizes were selling and hawking drones.

At the same time, there are voices suggesting it might be wise to go a bit slower, as they discover  Windows 10 is little more than a data vacuum, adding to the stunning amount of data about you already in the hands of the aggregators.

THOSE BUZZWORD PRODUCTS

Nevertheless, if you read the news or listen to reports, you would think the CES was all about IoT – the Internet or Things.

And yes, there were a lot of Things … Things connected by the Internet. It is true there were a lot of “things” that can connect to the Internet. Where do you start? The doorbell that is a camera and two-way speaker? 3D printers, drones, robotics? Or how about ultra-high definition televisions, radios, ovens, refrigerators, air conditioners, lights, coffee makers, door locks, car starters, bank accounts and other financial transactions, dashcams, auto-parallel parking and complete home integration car systems, monitors for heart rate, pulse, etc - or virtually anything else that can be turned on or controlled remotely, please the WiFi routers the link everything together?

Name it, and there was some app to monitor or control it on your cell phone at CES 2016, with smart watch apps in the wings. How far we have come since the “clock timer” starters of the 60’s and the “Clap On” of the 70’s!

Yet, we are not in full control. There are still too many "Standards" that different companies champion. Too many things of the IoT do not truly talk well to each other as yet.

If you listened to the exhbitors, we have reached the Age of  time of SciFi book, when life is just a matter of a few clicks. On the other hand, lose your cell phone and life can be difficult. If a “hacker” “finds” it, and your life is there – well, let us not think of that now. There were all those toys to see at CES.

And, yes, there were many toys. Bigger and higher resoution TVs, all electric cars and self-parking cars that also serve as the "hub" for the whole family. New computers/laptops/tablets. Drones and more drones. Robots. All nice to have - now or "someday."

A FAMILIAR PATH?

Rather than merely report on a list of the latest IoTs. .. let me show you some of the things that caught my attention, and that I think will be useful to you in your world.

Just like someone that has been to NAB a number of times, attending the CES tends to have you fall into a pattern, almost without even thinking about it. For example, despite the game of musical chairs the NAB has played with the “Radio Floor” in recent years, my feet somehow keep leading me to the North Hall to start my visit to CES 2016.

At CES, much of the North Hall is dominated by Automotive and Audio products, everything in the newest features in car exterior and interior designs, from thudding speakers to the fight over dashboard real estate. The new GM electric car promises 200 miles on a charge, under $30k was one of the highlights. At the high end, Tesla display software to start and warm the car, even back it out of the garage. And everyone wants to know "What is next?" The car companies answer: "Self-driving cars!"

The rest of the hall contains individual products like cell phone cases, power sources and battery backups, and more. That is not to say these products are not everywhere at the Show, but you sure do get a good selection of them in the North Hall.

A NICE FIND

One of the first places I went in the North Hall was the Cobra booth. This manufacturer, famous for their radar detectors, is branching out, and they picked two good areas to start.

Their new JumPack battery backup is a thin, light (9.2 oz) 6000 mAh lithium cobalt battery, capable of recharding your smart phone and tablet a time or two.

But wait! The CPP8000 has an LED flashlight and a set of leads to fit your car battery and - yes - it will start your car, if necessary with 180 Amps starting current (360 A peak).

At about $100 or so, this is a tool that should be in your truck/car for sure.

Cobra also has new dashcams. Several incorporate radar detectors and/or GPS.

Viatek had another very light battery capable of starting a car. The Pocket Mighty Jump comes with a lighter plug, so you do not even have to leave your car. The pitch was "plug it in for 10 minutes and start the car." The unit shows up on the web for as little as $20, shipping included. How could you pass up such cheap insurance?

Yes, this and the Cobra are for charging a "weak" battery to start rather than a dead one. But that does not negate that for many situations, these can be life-savers.

A battery backup that does not promise to start your car, but is equally impressive in size and capacity is the Cheero backup is spec'd at 13400 mAh, at either 1.2 or 2.4 A output, boasts Panasonic batteries, and weighs in under 9 ounces.

All for less than $40.


Another notable product was GoPuck, a battery that - unlike most batteries - comes with a belt clip to hold it, so you can carry it at your side with minimal trouble for versitile recharging. The 6600 mAh battery uses software to provide quick charging while you are working, even charging two items at once.

 
BATTERY EDUCATION

Talking to the different companies making batteries, several pointed to Japanese-made batteries for quality, weight, and the ability to hold a charge.

Here are some of the things I learned: Remember the stories on the news lately about the "hover-boards" that caught fire?  I was told (1) cheap batteries (often from China) that are not QC'd, nor (2) carefully balanced with appropriate safety circuitry. If one lithium-ion battery shorts out, it could quickly cause a fire. (The Air Japan 787s? Same issue). A single battery is not a danger, but when you want something with a large capacity, it is worth consideration.

One company EnerPlex uses a lithium polymer to make really thin batteries like this one. Think like 0.3 inches for 5100 mAh. You can fit this one almost anywhere, and have it ready when needed for phone or laptop. Additionally, they are one of several companies featuring high capacity - solar panels for recharge anywhere in the field or on the mountaih.

NOW LISTEN TO THIS

Sure, you can find $10,000 speakers and $55,000 headphones (the Sennheiser Orpheus). There were a lot of speaker makers at CES, large and small ... and loud (Klipsch logo around the booth: "pissing off the neighbors since 1946.)"

My focus this time was a bit more modest - and less confrontational. I wanted to find some good Bluetooth speakers - and by extension, Bluetooth headphones. I had several aspects in mind: studio operations and remote broadcasts, so I wanted something of quality, not just cheap. (Yes, there were wireless Bluetooth headsets almost everywhere, from cheep cheep to hundreds of dollars.)

What I wanted to find, for the studio was something that would remove the wire, letting the talent move around. The problem for many products is latency through the Bluetooth transmitter - or even finding a nice outboard Bluetooth transmitter that can take line level or headphone level and (1) not distort and (2) keep the latency low so it doesn't affect the talent.  

Several well-known manufacturers brought nice Bluetooth headsets to the show, Audio Technica, Altec Lansing's Waterproof Sport. Sennheiser, ZAGG, and others  (Audio Technica also was one of several who brought a Bluetooth turntable to the show as well!). A very attractive wireless headset comes from an unlikely name: Skullcandy's Hesh 2. I asked and asked for latency figures. Let's just say it was not the top specification brought to the show. I will be following up and have more information in coming months.

Also The new Bluetooth headphones and speakers from 808 Audio were quite nice.

The same goes for the speakers. Some of the Bluetooth products now deliver much better sound than you would expect. GO Groove's BlueSync speaker even solved a big problem in using these type of speakers for remote usage: reggedness, long play, and security. 

Here is what I like so far: good sound, you can spread around the studio or remote site, up to 16 hours of play time, volume knob, water and shock resistant, and a hook to "lock it down," even though the price is less than $40 list. You can imagine how fast it will "walk" if the hook was not there for you to clip on. Some models even allow you to "link" your phone to it for a major speakerphone setup!

And among others, Acoustic Research  showed some very handsome speakers, some with LED lights for the remote or just your own backyard.

MORE GOOD STUFF

Of course, there is more. If you can imagine it, someone has it. Cellphone covers. Yep. Everything from traditional Otterbox protectors to a nice, thin phone case called roocase, certified to tough standards - and take note if you have been used to replacing belt clips over and over: their products are guaranteed for life! Want to go "eco?" An Oregon company called Toast makes phone covers out of wood.

Of course, if you have a TARDIS, lifetime warranties might just be unnecessary. Check it out: Massive Audio brought a TARDIS to the show - actually a neat Bluetooth speaker, along with TARDIS sound effects.

There is also a series of Dalek bluetooth speakers that will send your favorite tunes around or issue a command to "Exterminate" anyone who enters your office with bad news. Plus, more choices: there are both wired and Bluetooth Dr. Who branded headphones to complement any Control Room!

SECURITY AND MONITORING

Personal and home security was a major part of the CES.

After all, once you have connected one thing to the IoT, you can connect everything. Cameras for your front door, motion sensors, water sensors, hot recepticles, air conditioners, stoves, even the washing machine and refrigerator ("George, bring the beer home with you. We are out.")

So, how about the transmitter building, site, studios, etc? There are some very economical solutions, including both "systems" and "stand alone" product, like a "doorbell" with a camera and app, so that if someone presses the doorbell, you will be looking at them from wherever you are. All it needs is access to the IoT.

I found new locks from Quikset, the Kevo series, combines deadbolts, Bluetooth and quick entry. All you have to do is carry your cellphone and the lock knows you are there. Touch and you are in. The lock even knows if you are outside or inside. Remote opening, logs, some models use numeric touchpads, etc. It is almost hard to believe they still use keys.

Viatek, and some other companies, were making hay with tracking devices. Put an iTrex on your baggage, tools, or child, and you can track them from your smartphone - even get a warning if someone is taking something away.

TAKE A LOOK

Another "trend" are standalone WiFi cameras, either indoor, outdoor, or Front Door. You may have seen the ads on TV for someone able to answer the door from 1000 miles away. (At least they can if they are not talking to someone else!)

And, while they have been around for a while, dashcams are now much cheaper and with more features. We mentioned Cobra earlier, but some very attractive dashcams (and wearable cams) from Zagg's , Viatek's Dash Cam Elite,  , and a host of other companies is bringing the costs for quickly documenting problems - whether at the transmitter site or at remote shot, for example.

Just consider: you are on your way up the "hill" to troubleshoot a transmitter off the air and come to the electric wires or the tree in the road. A dashcam will document this. It also could be hand for showing it was the other guy who hit your car. Got icy conditions? There cams might be good tools.

YOU ARE WHAT IS ON YOUR WRIST

A whole section of the Show floor was set aside for watches, bracelets, pendants, etc to measure all your bodily actions, from walking to sleeping. For some people, the elderly, the ill, this might be useful, but for the average person, it seems to be expensive in terms of real value.

Of course, if you have weight to lose, a nagging wrist nanny might really be of use.

Transisioning from Security to functionality, one company was demonstrating a power strip where each of the six outlets was controllable from a smartphone. All sorts of ideas come to mind from lights or coffee makers to restarting a computer remotely. Even if this company does not succeed in selling the concept, there are others ready to do it. In fact, CES is a good place if you have an idea and want to meet manufacturers. Hundreds of folks from China, Taiwan, South Korea, and more.

AND STILL MORE

Was there anything else at CES.... Of course.  I can barely report on trends, much less the 3900 different exhibitors. A whole section was set aside for 3D printers - great potential, but you probably will not be using one for replacing the transmitter for a while. 

RCA/Terk were showing an ultra-thin flat antenna. It the FCC does not manage to kill off over-the-air TV, this is an excellent antenna for the "cord cutters" who are considering dropping cable.

Over the coming months, I will have more thoughts to share. Just watch our Newsletter for ideas.

There is so much to see at CES, just thinking about it can be tiring. That brings me to one of the very last booths I got to visit - and just in time to see the "TellyPhones" by SleepPhones. SleepPhones makes wireless Bluetooth products that you can wear to bed (or anywhere you want to nap or just block out the world). The headband holds a Bluetooth receiver and speakers. You can wear it to bed to watch TV quietly (just plug the Bluetooth transmitter into the TV), listen to a CD, or just run some calming sounds - and if you want you can pull the band dowh over your eyes to block out everything but the audio.

That is about it for the moment. Right now, let's put CES2016 to bed. I have an appointment with my TellyPhones!



 

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