Saturday, January 16, 2016

Consumer Electronic Show doesn’t have all the new gadgets, but a lot of them - January 15, 2016

No sooner do the holidays end, then the gadget universe turns to Las Vegas and the annual Consumer Electronics Show.

I’ve written about half a dozen post-CES columns now. At first, I expected everything promised to be released during the year. The last couple years I’ve been positively disheartened, having re-read the previous years’ columns and realizing little shown in Vegas actually made it to Best Buy or Amazon. In this case, what happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas.

Hopefully I’ve gotten better at differentiating between the pie-in-the-sky and products that will ship. I’ll know when I re-read this column in a year.

One thing that got my attention this year was retro products. Both Tekniks and Sony showed turntables for playing vinyl records. In a nod to digital, the Sony has a USB port so the records can be converted to digital files. Vinyl is in a comeback, with vinyl record sales on the increase.

Kodak released a Super 8mm film camera, its first in decades. The firm is hopeful film students still want to use traditional film movie cameras. When the film is sent in for developing, it is automatically scanned into a 4K high quality digital file.

Facebook announced it will begin shipping its Oculus Rift Virtual Reality device March 28, and it will cost $599.

This is the first of the VR headsets expected this year. It will require a fairly high-quality gaming PC to support it. All in all, users may have to spend $1,800 or more for an adequate PC and the Oculus Rift.

Virtual reality headsets, even those based on Google’s Cardboard design, can display 360-degree videos and stills. To make those videos and photographs, new 360-degree cameras are coming from GoPro and Nikon. The Nikon model will shoot 4K video. GoPro has indicated they will be releasing its own drone. Perhaps the 360 camera will mount on the drone.

Television had a few new items coming our way. Panasonic will be bringing a 4K DVD player to the U.S. Format standards have been set, so now those with 4K TVs can get content to use all the resolution of their TV.

Also, Netflix announced this week that they are expanding to 130 countries.

Samsung has a refrigerator with a big touchscreen in the door. Using a Wi-Fi-enabled touchscreen, it can order groceries for you from multiple stores. It also has family-oriented apps, like a shared family calendar.

For audio, Onkyo and Braggi announced Bluetooth-enabled earbuds. While Bluetooth in earbuds makes a lot of sense, I’m not sure about the Bluetooth-enabled pregnancy test also shown at CES.

Fisher-Price showed a toy caterpillar that children assemble from individual segments. Each segment makes the caterpillar do something like go forward, turn left, stop, etc. Children are actually learning logic, patterns and rudimentary programming. It is called the Code-a-Pillar and will be out in July for only $50.

Lego upgraded its educational robot that’s sold only to schools, the WeDo 2.0. It comes with all the motors, sensors and apps for tablets to let students build and control intelligent robots. Ever wish you were a kid again?

One announcement was bitter sweet. Lenova, which now owns Motorola, announced the Motorola name will be phased out from products. A remnant of the great American name will remain as products will be branded with the Moto name.

DJI, the maker of the top-end consumer drones, announced it upgraded two drones to 4K video. Parrot, maker of some interesting drones, announced a fixed-wing airplane-like drone. Throw it up in the sky and it automatically flies to altitude. Then you control it, or it can fly a programmed route, return and land automatically -- all while shooting high-quality video.

For the 1 percent out there, there is a 98-inch 8K TV, likely to cost more than $100,000.

CES always has futuristic concepts that likely won’t make the real world, but some do. The most exciting was a transparent TV screen. I was dubious until I saw a video of it. When on, it has a bright, clear, non-transparent image. When off, it showed it was over someone’s display cabinet of nice glassware. I could see it covering a piece of art too, so your TV was essentially invisible when turned off.

Finally a Chinese company showed off an autonomous man-carrying drone. Think of a flying Uber. It couldn't show it flying as it isn’t Federal Aviation Administration-approved yet. I’m dubious-- that one, I think, should stay in Vegas.

Many of the best products are not announced at CES. Google, Apple, Microsoft and phone makers announce at other shows, or their own events throughout the year. The takeaway from this CES is that innovation is still strong, and we are again going to have a fun year.

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