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Consumer Electronics Show 2009 Comments

Kitchen / laundry appliances, building control and security

Unlike the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2008 in Berlin, this show hasn’t headed towards exhibiting kitchen / laundry appliances and building control / security devices. But a show like this could head down that direction under various mandates like the “green” energy-efficiency mandate and the “smart home” mandate.

The main reason that this has been put off is because of the financial downturn in the US where many of these companies who rely primarily on the “new building” market are simply not selling many of these devices, therefore cannot afford to spend on this kind of activity.

Windows 7 Goes Beta

This has meant a major milestone for Microsoft in having Windows 7 legitimately enter the public beta stage. It has allowed the blogosphere to talk about improvements to the way Windows will be working under this operating system.

One major improvement will be the Device Stage where there will be an integrated user interface for all of the peripherals that the computer benefits from. It doesn’t matter whether the device is connected by a USB or other peripheral-connect cable or is accessed over a wireless peripheral link or the IP network the computer is a member of. This interface will provide access to the standard tasks for managing the device as well as any manufacturer-specified tasks for that device.

Another highlighted connectivity improvement is the Windows 7 “Home Group” which simplifies how a home network is set up and represented. This also includes any “non-computer devices” like network media players, network-attached storage units, games consoles and IP cameras.

Large colour bit-map display as a preferred user-interface display for “fixed” consumer electronics

Previously, we have seen “fixed” consumer-electronics devices like stereo / home-theatre equipment, computer network equipment and similar hardware having either a vacuum fluorescent display, monochrome liquid-crystal display, monochrome LED display or lately an OEL display as their user-interface display. Such a display would take up a small area of the device’s front panel and typically show textual information. If they show graphical information, it would be a low-resolution display which represents a “current-function” icon or a bar-graph representing a quantity like sound level.

Now manufacturers are supplying some of their devices with high-resolution colour LCD or OEL displays. Examples of this include the D-Link DIR-685 Wireless-N router / electronic photo frame / UPnP Media Server; Linksys’s Network Home Audio products and Linksys’s new media-focused DLNA NAS boxes. This has been because of high-resolution colour LCD modules of sizes up to 17 inches becoming more cost-effective.

This has allowed the “fixed ”consumer-electronics devices to have a user interface that is very similar to that provided by the coolest portable devices. It has also allowed manufacturers to look towards equipping their devices with touchscreens and iPod-style “spinwheels”. The user-interface menus on these devices are starting to have the same kind of experience that is accepted on the latest set-top boxes or portable media players.

It will certainly make those monochrome user-interface displays look so tired and “yesterday” as far as product user-interface design is concerned.

SDXC – the next-generation high-capacity SD card

The standard SDXC card can hold up to 2Tb, and being part of the SD Card lineup, be available in the three physical card sizes available for these cards. This iteration of the SD card would primarily appeal to portable devices like laptops, DSLRs, HD camcorders, etc. Could the SD card be the replacement for the hard disk especially in small portable computers like netbooks or as a large firmware storage for electronic devices?

The only limitation about this technology would be that SDXC cards wouldn’t be able to be read in the existing SD or SDHC devices.

LCD TVs – 7mm thick, Plasma TVs – 8.8mm thick

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/technology/4159682/Worlds-thinnest-television-unveiled.html

Thinner flat-panel displays based on the common large-screen technologies are appearing. This will allow for improved consolidation for the display unit, thus allowing also for lighter sets and reduced “bill-of-materials” costs for this class of electronics. Manufacturers can allocate more room for extra functionality and there will be less of the overheating that occurs in these sets because of improved airflow over the chassis. This also leads to improvements in operational efficiency thus reducing the accusation about the large-screen flat-panel TVs being as inefficient as a 4-wheel-drive “Toorak tractor”.

MoCA being launched to the consumer

Mostly this will manifest in the form of “Ethernet-Coax” bridges in a similar form to the common “homeplugs” which are simply “powerline-Ethernet” bridges. Read more about MoCA in this article in this blog.

US-market TVs equipped with Netflix and similar service

In the US, Netflix and similar video-on-demand companies are “buttering up” to the “brown-goods” companies to integrate support for their service in their TV sets and similar devices. Similarly, some TV manufacturers are moving towards providing mid-range and premium equipment with built-in large-screen Internet viewing functionality. This will typically require the TVs, PVRs or set-tops to have Ethernet ports or WiFi connectivity.

If a customer wants to use this kind of feature, they should use the wired means (Ethernet, MoCA, HomePlug) rather than WiFi because this will provide increased reliability with these services.

An ideal feature for these sets would be to have DLNA / UPnP AV functionality with “Play-to” support. This can allow one to view or listen to their own media library whether it is held on their own PC or network-attached storage unit. It is more so because a lot of the NAS units pitched at the home market are being equipped with DLNA server functionality.

Linksys DLNA-compliant music systems and NAS boxes

1 music system with CD player, 1 network music system and 1 network audio receiver, all able to be controlled by a Linksys WiFi remote controller. Linksys is also selling “media-optimised” DLNA-compliant NAS boxes, one of which has a memory card slot for “dump to NAS” ability and a colour LCD display.

The “dump to NAS” memory card slot featured on the mid-range and deluxe units could come in handy with digital-camera memory cards and SlotMusic cards by making the content that exists on these cards available to the home network at all times.

Premiere of USB 3.0

The first few devices will be out, mainly in the form of external hard disks. Could this be an alternative to eSATA as an external hard-disk connection? Could it work as a “fat pipe” for a WiFi-N network adaptor.

The situation will be the same as what has happened with the launch of USB 2.0 where it will be available in a “retrofit” form for existing computers. This option will then end up being available as part of computer hardware introduce from next year onwards.

Premiere of eCoupled

Fulton Innovation had officially promoted the eCoupled inductive power-coupling system, providing it as an alternative to corded power for portable devices. They had set up a proving ground at the CES for wirelessly charging mobile phones, cordless power tools and remote controllers.

This technology will benefit portable entertainment and IT devices by achieving a standard wire-free power source for these devices. They also had proven the idea of “parking” a remote control on a set-top box or TV set so it can be charged quickly. It could allow for the TV or set-top box to perform required tasks like shut-down whenever the remote is parked on or removed from the unit.

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12 January 2009 Posted by | Consumer Electronics Show (January - Las Vegas USA), Trade Shows, UPnP AV / DLNA media-playback hardware), UPnP AV / DLNA media-server hardware | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SlotMusic – the Musicassette of the 21st Century

SlotMusic web site

Those of us who lived through the 60s, 70s and 80s, will remember the pre-recorded cassettes being another way to sell recorded music. These tapes were typically marketed as “Musicassettes” and were able to be played in any old cassette player or recorder that existed, whether in (or under) the dashboard of a car, a portable unit or a cassette deck attached to the hi-fi system. They were typically considered second-rate to the LP record and people who were serious about music quality typically recorded the LP onto one side of a blank C-90 cassette for in-car or portable use rather than buying these tapes.

This was until the 1980s where there were many high-quality cassette players and recorders being used by the public. This was exemplified by the Walkman personal cassette player and the large “boom boxes” of that era and vehicle builders equipping their premium vehicles with high-quality cassette players. It led to the music industry improving the quality of these tapes by using improved tape stock for the cassettes, implementing an improved signal path and using stringent quality control during the tape replication process. This led to the cassette being respected more as an analogue recorded-music medium alongside the LP record. Some people then ended up not using the turntable function of a music centre or built up a music system with a cassette deck as the system’s only packaged-music source.

Now, SanDisk has implemeted the MicroSD card as a recorded-music distribution medium for use with mobile phones or MP3 players. The medium, market as “SlotMusic”, is sold with an accompanying USB card reader for use with PCs or media players equipped with USB ports, but can be played on equipment that has a MiniSD or standard SD card slot through the use of a MiniSD or standard SD adaptor card. These cards will contain 320kbps MP3 files of all the music that is on the album.

I have read many criticisms to this format, primarily by CD enthusiasts who see it as another poor-quality format for portable use. This is going to be very much the same sentiment that was held regarding the pre-recorded Musicassettes where they were only suitable for playing on a low-quality portable cassette recorder and weren’t fit for use on a hi-fi system.

As far as the home network is concerned, music files on a SlotMusic card can be copied to a DLNA media server which can provide them out to other DLNA music clients. This could be done either by copying the files in to a directory named after the album using the network file-transfer techniques or by “inducting” the SlotMusic card’s contents in to the music collection using the PC jukebox software’s content-import procedures and, if necessary, synchroniing that data to the music server.

29 November 2008 Posted by | Mobile Computing | , , | Leave a comment