Thoughts from CES 2011

by Jonathan Stovall

Instead of simply reporting on the coolest new gadgets — and believe me there were plenty — I’d rather share with you the new products that will soon be entertaining us, and the technologies that will make our lives a little easier in 2011.

Apple

Although Apple didn’t officially partake in the festivities again this year, their products had tremendous influence up and down every aisle inside each convention hall. It seemed everyone had an iPad with their own app running on it. (By the way, Apple is closing in on 10 Billion App Store downloads!) Before the show even began, Apple announced they would open the Mac App Store on January 6th, allowing Mac users to use apps in a similar manner that they do on their mobile devices. This means even as we look to CES for the latest innovations in the wider industry, the computer world will be looking to Apple to see its future.

Also this year, the non-Apple mobile device manufacturers were stepping all over themselves to become the first ‘iPad killers’. In my opinion, few improve on certain things the iPad can’t do but fall way short on delivering a pleasant and simple overall experience.  Tablets operating on the Android OS seem to be picking up the most steam and the best of those appears to be the XOOM (see below).

Motorola

I got a hold of the new XOOM tablet soon to be available through Verizon. XOOM offers a slightly larger screen than the iPad, and includes front and rear cameras, combining with Google’s own Google Talk video-calling software built in. That should be a step up from the third-party applications and services bundled by other vendors. Motorola said the XOOM tablet (available in February) will be the first to run Google’s slick new Android Honeycomb operating system.

Speaking of Android…

Smartphones continue to amaze me each year. While tablets of almost every size and shape dominated the media coverage, consumer-electronics makers also showed off the next generation of handsets. They will be smarter, faster, and more versatile than those in our pockets now. Motorola’s Atrix 4G phone, for example, has an Nvidia dual-core microchip—that’s more processing power than the laptop you owned four years ago—and can end the need to carry a separate computer by plugging it into a lightweight laptop with no processor of its own.

Many of you have been asking if Control4 will launch an Android app. All I can tell you is that it is still being worked on and we will hopefully see something by Summertime.

HDTV’s & 3D

2011 promises to be the year where we’ll finally see multiple manufacturers produce flat panel displays in the 65” – 72” range. So if you’re itching to get that large panel, we’ll have a few choices for you relatively soon.

For the large TV manufacturers, CES 2010 was all about 3D and this year it was no different. Toshiba and Sony showed prototypes of 3D televisions that dispense with the dorky glasses but oblige viewers to sit directly in front of the screen. It’s an early glimpse of a technology that the companies say is still several years away. It will be interesting to see which one makes it on the shelves first. Toshiba seemed confident that they will be ready by 2012. Before no glasses 3D is viable, it must allow for wider viewing angles and must also be affordable.

One of the problems with 3D is that there just still isn’t enough content. 3D Blu-Ray movies are becoming available, but at a snail’s pace. There is also some 3D content being supplied by cable and satellite TV providers but that’s slow going as well. If 3D is expected to grow, more content across all platforms needs to be accelerated.

Sony announced a new 3D camcorder. The most unusual characteristic of this double-lensed shooter is the touchscreen viewfinder that doesn’t require glasses for you to see its 3D effect. I laid my eyes, and fingers, on its remarkable 3.5-inch touchscreen and was impressed with its unencumbered view and depth. You’ll have to wait until April to pick up one of these bad boys, so get your $1,500 ready!

Green Technology

GE showed several products that will help bring us the power and potential of the smart grid. Residential wind and solar power generation products, electric vehicle chargers, and LED lighting to name a few. Folks across the country are using these products and several of our clients have shown interest as well. The LED light bulbs I saw are looking more and more like the softer lit incandescent products we all know and love, and by summertime they should be fully dimmable. Soon we’ll be replacing light bulbs with products that will last as long as a new TV!

Google TV

Despite the many poor reviews, I was still impressed with my first glimpse of Google TV. In particular, the Logitech Revue product. The interface basically allows you to watch what you want wherever it comes from – the Web or TV – on your HDTV. For $299 you get a small box and an intuitive wireless keyboard. We simply connect it to your TV by way of your CATV or Sat Box, along with an Internet connection. Add in a small camera and you now have your own personal video teleconferencing setup! We will have one on display here at our showroom. If we get it to work reliably enough we’ll be offering them with our systems soon enough.

Gaming

Gaming systems have always been popular with our Clients and now many manufacturers are concentrating on new products with Gestures & 3D. There are two gesturing products out there that are competing with the Nintendo Wii. They are the Microsoft Kinect and Sony Move. The Kinect targets the same demographic as the Wii while the Move is aimed at hardcore gamers. The PS3 remains the lone 3D gaming console and 3D gaming may develop slower than the suddenly crowded gesture-based market. It’s a major task to design and program a full-length 3D game.

One last thing about Gesturing technology: I believe this will be huge! Not only for the gaming industry, but also for automation systems in general. Soon there will be sensors built into not only electronic devices, but into the walls and ceilings of our homes, motor vehicles and businesses—designed to entertain and automate our lifestyles beyond what we can ever imagine.

These are exciting times for us and we look forward to sharing these new technologies with you every step of the way!

3D Television…Worth the Hype?

By Jonathan Stovall

In a word: Yes!

Well, almost Yes.  Please read on.

Listen up folks…this stuff is AWESOME!

Thursday was one of those days here at the shop where the heavens above opened up and dropped down upon us a new video blessing.  It doesn’t happen often. In fact the last time I felt this transformed was over a decade ago when I watched my first HD program.

It was extra special because not only was I watching a live television broadcast in 3D for the first time but the program happened to be first round coverage of The Masters golf tournament—always an annual favorite of mine.  The HD broadcast alone is some of the best video eye candy available in televised sports but the added depth of 3D raised my senses to a new level. I actually believed I was standing inside the ropes!  Seeing the slope of Augusta National was not possible in 2D, so now I have an even greater appreciation for the pro golfer because I can actually see exactly what their shot looks like.  Thank you Sony & Comcast for carrying selected parts of the back nine for two hours each day in 3D…commercial-free even!

The real hype began last year with the success of Avatar.  Even my mother loved it. I knew right then that 3D quality was finally good enough, but how long would it take to gain widespread acceptance?  I knew it wouldn’t come easy.  First, we would need 3D content, and much more than just movies and video games.  Then we would need to convince everyone that wearing glasses on the couch is cool!  And finally, how much more was this technology going to cost us?  The battery powered glasses alone average $200/pair.  And how much more would the cable bill be each month?  Yet another reason to jack the rates. Yikes!

Earlier this year during the International Consumer Electronics Show we were promised that 3D content was on its way…and soon. 3D Broadcasts & Blu Ray discs were mere ‘months away’.  25 World Cup Soccer matches and ESPN 3D this June!  All the major players showed up with their prototype panels, projectors & set top boxes and wowed us with their 3D demos.  But ultimately they confused us with varying types of display technologies and glasses, which reminded me all to well of the competition a few years ago between HD-DVD and Blu Ray. This ended up slowing down mass acceptance and scared off most consumers, still to this day, even though Blu Ray ‘won’ the format war.  I left Vegas with more 3D questions than I had answers and was worried (yet again) we were at the mercy of our friends in Asia to work it out.

So, where do things currently stand?  At the time of this writing, approximately one million 3D sets have been sold worldwide (that’s twice as many iPads by the way). There is only one 3D Blu Ray title available, DreamWorks Animation Monsters vs. Aliens. There are no additional 3D broadcasts scheduled for the immediate future besides The Masters (at least until ESPN 3D launches in 8 weeks).  Also in June, DirecTV  promises three separate 3D channels that will showcase a variety of programming similar to what HDNet did almost 9 years ago which helped spur more HDTV sales because the major networks weren’t as quick to change.  Got FiOS?…Verizon is promising 3D in time for Christmas.

In the meantime, yet again I’ve been spoiled.  A friend invited me over for a cookout this evening.  I told him sure, but it would have to wait until The Masters was over.  He told me that he’d have it on at his house. And I replied ‘yea…but not in 3D!’  Just as I had become an HD snob a decade ago…when I would watch NOTHING unless it was broadcast in HD. I find myself eventually heading down the same road with 3D.  I need serious help!