OmniMount Takes A Lifestyle View at CES

OmniMount LogoCES regulars OmniMount decided to approach the show a little differently this year, setting out their products in lifestyle vignettes, with visitors to seeing the products in real and relevant scenarios. Don chats with Bill Ennis, veteran of 31 shows, to hear about a few of OmniMounts latest products.

The first of OmniMount’s new products is the WorkSpace Wall Organiser, a stylish wall-mounted height-adjustable fold-away desk which conveniently creates a mini-office when folded down and hidden away when not needed. $399.95.

Also new and entered for a CES award is an in-wall TV mount that holds up to an 80″ screen almost flush with the wall surface. With the flush mount, the slim bezels of the stylish TVs are emphasised, enhancing the picture frame qualities of the TV. Snappily titled OE120IW, it’s $349.95.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

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eyeSight Singlecue Gesture Control at CES

eyeSight logoWhen it comes to motion tracking and gesture control, gaming has shown the way especially with Microsoft Kinect and the Xbox. Outside of this arena, there’s been relatively little traction though eyeSight are hoping to change this state of affairs with Singlecue. The two Todds talk to Tal Kryzpow, VP of Product Management, to find out more.

The Singlecue is a tabletop device that’s roughly the same size as a Kinect, though unlike its sibling, the Singlecue has a small central display. Singlecue converts gestures, such as an upright finger to the lips, into an action, in this case “mute”, which it then passes onto the relevant devices in the room using infrared. As it uses IR, it’s compatible with almost every piece equipment in the home that uses a remote control. The Singlecue also uses WiFi to interact with technology such as Nest thermostats and Philips Hue lighting.

The Singlecue is currently on pre-order at $129 but will have MSRP of $199 when it goes on sale in Spring 2015.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Todd Aune of The Elder Divide for the TechPodcast Network.

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RCA Introduces the “AIR” Ultra-Thin Antenna at CES

RCA logoRCA is the original pioneer of color television and antenna technologies. They continue to challenge consumers to “cut the cord”. Their “AIR” Ultra-Thin Antenna can help you to do that.

The “AIR” Ultra-Thin Antenna is superior in UHF performance as well as optimized for VHF high use frequency. This allows consumers to receive free local news, sports, weather, and popular TV show broadcasts and to break from expensive cable subscription bills.

RCA AIR UltraThin AntennaThis antenna takes things to the next level. The “AIR” Ultra-Thin Antenna has adapted market leading reception technology for consumer amplification with a double sided/layered reception element to maximize and strengthen broadcast signals. The element is the portion of the antenna that is responsible for receiving the signal (much like “rabbit ears”).

However, in the “AIR” Ultra-Thin Antenna, the elements are not visible. This highly intricate antenna is double layered where signals broadcast on the same frequency allowing them to strengthen each other, rather than cancel each other out.

RCA AIR UltraThin Antenna in useLike other RCA models, the “AIR” Ultra-Thin Antenna uses SmartBoost amplification to strengthen week signals and deliver purer channel quality making it easier for the consumer to tune in. SmartBoost provides just the right amount of amplification to let consumer watch their favorite shows from NBC, CBS, ABC and other broadcast networks.

Visit RCA at Booth # 10406 in the Central Hall at CES 2015.

Roku Heads To 4K at CES

Roku LogoArguably the market leader in the media streaming market, Roku hasn’t been resting on its laurels. At this year’s CES, Roku has announced a raft of news reinforcing its platform’s position for both Roku TV and the move to 4K transmission.

After announcing Roku TV at last year’s CES, 2014 has seen Roku TV available on both TCL and Hisense TVs available from major retailers like Walmart and Best Buy. For 2015, TCL is going to release 12 models over the year with Roku TV built-in, which is good news from one of the fastest growing brands in the US.

Extending the availability of Roku TV, two new partners have been unveiled – Haier and Insignia. Insignia TVs with Roku will be on sale in the spring exclusively in Best Buy, with Haier models arriving in the summer. For non-US readers, Insignia is a Best Buy brand.

The Haier Roku TV 4 Series Smart LED TVs will be available in sizes ranging from 32″ to 65″. The 40″ to 65″ models will come with Full HD resolution and a Sound Chamber that produces enhanced sound quality, with superior dampening, improved mid-range response, cleaner and deeper bass, as well as overall richer sound texture.

The Roku TV OS has been named a 2015 CES Innovation Awards Honoree in the Software and Mobile Apps category and TCL Roku TV will be displayed in the Innovation Showcase located at CES Tech West, Booth #75545. The new Insignia Roku TV models will be shown tonight at Pepcom’s Digital Experience media event.

Finally, and this is the kind of news the geeks have been waiting for, Roku has announced the availability of a Roku TV 4K reference design for Roku TV manufacturing partners. TCL is the initial partner working to deliver a Roku TV 4K model in the future and Roku is working with Netflix to provide 4K content for streaming on the Roku platform.

As one of the first streaming services to offer 4K Ultra HD content to our customers, it’s important for Netflix to work closely with partners like Roku to give consumers more streaming options,” said Neil Hunt, chief product officer of Netflix. “We look forward to bringing Netflix 4K Ultra HD content to Roku customers.

While there’s no news on a new flagship Roku box, I think we can assume that there will be a Roku 4K in the not too distant future. Fingers crossed.

Amazon Fire TV Review

Amazon Fire TVAmazon has been building the Fire brand over the past few years, starting with tablets, moving to media players and streaming sticks, before most recently producing a smartphone. The Fire TV media player has been on-sale in the US for some time, but only came to the UK back in October. I’ve been playing with Fire…..TV for the past couple of weeks. Let’s take a look.

Amazon FireTV Top

The Fire TV unit is an exercise in minimalism, not straying far from the sharp black box look, apart from the Amazon logo on the top and a white LED on the front fascia. Round the back there are five ports for power, HDMI, optical audio, ethernet and USB. Only the PSU is supplied in the box with the Fire TV and an HDMI cable will need to be bought if needed. Although not needing a port, the Fire TV has built-in 802.11n wireless to connect up when ethernet isn’t available.

Amazon Fire TV Rear

To control the Fire TV there is a stick-style remote control in the box along with batteries. The minimalist aesthetic continues with an Apple-esque control wheel and a small number of buttons, all in black with white labels. The picture makes the remote look longer than it is, which is only 5″ or 12.5 cm. The remote uses Bluetooth to connect to the FireTV and comes pre-paired.

Amazon Fire TV remote

Getting going is straightforward – connect the Fire TV to the HDTV via (not supplied) HDMI, insert power, turn on and follow the prompts. To make it as easy as possible, the Fire TV is preprogrammed with the Amazon account of the purchaser but if connected wirelessly, the main setup step is to choose the wifi SSID and enter the password. There’s a short introductory slideshow which introduces the features of the Fire TV include the voice search, which will be covered later.

There’s no easy way of taking screenshots on the Fire TV, so I’m afraid that the pictures below are taken from the TV itself. Sorry.

The overall view is of key areas listed down the left with content on the right. Home, Prime Video, Movies, TV, Watchlist, Music Library, Games, Apps, Photos and so on. On the whole it’s easy to navigate; select the main content area from the left and then move down through subsections on the right until the desired content or app is visible. The interface is lovely and smooth, especially when scrolling and I never saw any stuttering or glitches. I guess that’s the quad-core processor earning its keep.

Not entirely unexpectedly, the content is heavily Amazon-media centric focussing on Amazon Prime and Instant Video, though it’s not a closed shop, with Netflix and Spotify available for other subscription services, and catch up TV is provided by UK-centric apps for iPlayer and Demand 5, though 4oD and ITV Player are noticeable in their absence. Strangely, STV Player is available which caters for the Scottish part of ITV, so with a Scottish post code much of ITV’s most popular programming can be viewed. There’s a Flixster app for those with UltraViolet DVDs and Blurays.

Home Screen

Video playback was good and clear, especially in HD, whether from Amazon or other apps, such as Netflix or iPlayer. However, the Fire TV does have a trick up its sleeve where it starts to download the video stream in anticipation of playback so the programme starts much faster with far less initial buffering. It only works with Amazon Prime and Instant Video but it’s a neat feature and makes the Fire TV experience more like switching channels on a TV.

Music-wise, the Fire TV offers all the albums and tracks purchased via Amazon, sorted by artist, album, genre etc. The album art is visually attractive and the optical audio out can be used to keep the sound quality as high as possible when connecting to an audio amplifier.

Disappointingly, the Spotify app only offers Spotify Connect functionality which means that a tablet or smartphone is needed to choose what music is to be played. Opinions may differ but I think that’s a bit rubbish and I’d rather see a proper Spotify player which works with the Fire TV on its own.

I tried plugging in a USB stick with some MP3s but I couldn’t figure out how play them so I’ve no idea if it’s possible to play from physical media. There is a Plex client available for those wanting to stream from a PC or NAS, though I didn’t try it out as I don’t have a Plex server.

Fire TV Albums

For folk who upload pictures and photos to Amazon’s Cloud Drive service, naturally the Fire TV can show the snaps on the HDTV and it can also handle personal videos. There’s a nice screensaver that kicks in when the FireTV isn’t in busy and it’s easy to set the screensaver to show photos from the collection.

So far the Fire TV ticks all the boxes for a streaming media player. Movies – check, music – check, photos – check. Where the Fire TV goes to the next level is with apps and games, especially games. The Fire TV can download apps as if it was a smartphone or tablet, but the apps have to be specially prepared by the author for the Fire TV as the user interface is different without a touchscreen. At time of writing, there are over 850 apps for the Fire TV and these can be reviewed on Amazon. There’s approx 8 GB of storage available for apps, though some is already used up by the Fire OS.

Apps and Games

For games, the Fire TV has its own Fire Game Controller for serious gaming action which is purchased separately for a penny under £35. It’s comparably priced to wireless controllers for the PS4 or Xbox but it feels a little overpriced: something closer to £25 would be more in-line with expectations. Purchasers do get a free game, Sev Zero, which is worth £4.99 to sweeten the deal.

Fire TV Games Controller

The Fire Game Controller has the expected collection of analogue sticks, D-pads and shoulder buttons in the standard configuration, with a few extra Fire TV specific buttons. The controller needs to be paired with the Fire TV on first use but after that the game controller can be used alongside the normal remote to control the Fire TV user interface as well as games.

The games selection includes thinking games such as Quell and Machinarium, arcade games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Sonic the Hedgehog and first person action games like GTA and flagship title Sev Zero, which is given free to purchasers of the game controller. Here’s a long-term favourite, Quell, and this can be played with the standard FireTV remote.

Quell

For arcade racers, there’s Asphalt 8: Airborne. It’s fun but the Fire Game Controller is required.

Asphalt 8

Finally, the Fire TV has one innovation that isn’t usually seen on on media players and that’s Voice Search. Simply press the microphone button on the remote, say what you are looking for, confirm the recognition and the Fire TV will look for content. Here I look for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Kids, ask your parents.

Voice Search

It’s both brilliant yet flawed. It’s brilliant because the voice recognition works surprisingly well but it’s flawed because the search only indexes Amazon’s content. Press the Voice Search button and say, “Despicable Me” and it’ll show me all the variants of the film – the original, the sequel, theatrical shorts – all available on Amazon Prime and Instant Video. But what it won’t show me is the Ultraviolet copy I have in Flixster. It would be truly brilliant if all loaded apps could contribute into the search, even the catchup TV services like iPlayer and Demand 5.

That’s it. Overall the Amazon Fire TV compares well with the competition and if you are into Amazon’s ecosystem, then the Fire TV is a no-brainer buy at the current price of £64 giving easy access to familiar photos, music, movies and games. Even if you aren’t a fully paid-up member of the Amazon fan club, there’s still plenty to recommend with the current selection of apps and games which will undoubtedly grow over time as more broadcasters and app developers get on-board.

Thanks to Amazon for the review Fire TV and Game Controller.

MST3K Streaming on Vimeo

mst3k

With the demise of Justin.TV, so went the channel that streamed (albeit, probably illegally) Mystery Science Theater 3k 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Well, chin up fellow fans of the Satellite of Love and all it’s crew, you can now watch the show over on Vimeo!

The folks at MST3K and Vimeo have managed to get 80 episodes available for rental or own. (Who knew Vimeo had movies to rent/own?) Rumor has it that eventually all 197 episodes of the series will be available to watch.

Rentals will cost you $2.99 per episode and $9.99 if you want to buy it. You can get them all for $300.

Winner, winner chicken dinner! Head on over to the site and get yourself a healthy helping of Joel, Crow, Tom, and Mike.

Mystery Science Theater 3K on Vimeo

‘Gotham’ or ‘Batman Without Batman’

Gotham

When I heard this show was coming, I kind of groaned. The description about “Gotham” was that it’s to take place before Batman, Joker, and all the cool bad guys and gadgets. It’s “Batman Babies.” It follows young Jim Gordon and the Gotham PD around to solve crimes. Another cop procedural show, just what we need. I have this feeling that there’s some farm outside of LA somewhere, where writers just sit and churn out cop stories, then when Hollywood orders a new cop show, they just change a few names and settings, and we’re good to go. That’s how I felt about “Almost Human” but at least there were good actors, and the effects were pretty.

But I digress.

I’ll go ahead and say “possible spoilers ahead” even though nothing really happened in this first episode. The only real event that happened, is the one everyone knows – Bruce Wayne’s parents get killed. And they stuck to that. Outside of the names of Batman related characters, I’ve got a feeling they aren’t going to stick to the story lines very closely. We’ve already met Oswald Cobblepot, who will become the Penguin, but instead of the usual short, stout character we know, he’s a tall, slender guy with a limp and greasy hair. A different take, I guess. Young Catwoman is so obvious, yet so absent from this episode there’s no point in going into that really. This first one was a set up episode. As most pilots are. We meet young Jim Gordon. We know it’s him, because we hear his name mentioned about 80 bazillion times. We meet his partner Harvey Bullock, and a few other bad guys and gals.

I always give a show three episodes before I make a call on whether or not to continue. So we’ll see where this goes. I’m a big Batman fan, so I’m in for a few more eps. I just don’t know how great it’s going to be when all the fun stuff about Batman (costumed criminals, the Bat-gadgets, and Batman himself) are removed. I really wish the show took place in the 40’s. Like it did in the comics. A 1940’s Gotham PD would be pretty sweet, in my opinion. But it’s not. It’s modern day.  So I wonder – Will “Gotham”  just sorta leave us with another cop show, but with Batman-related names?

Michael Bay Brings “The Last Ship” to TNT

This summer, TNT is going to take viewers on an action-packed ride with the exciting new drama series The Last Ship, starring Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy) and executive-produced by blockbuster filmmaker Michael Bay (Transformers).The Last Ship opens with a global catastrophe that nearly decimates the world’s population. Because of its positioning, the Navy destroyer U.S.S. Nathan Jamesavoids falling victim to the devastating tragedy. But now, Captain Tom Chandler (Dane) and his crew must confront the reality of their new existence in a world where they may be among the few remaining survivors. Rhona Mitra (Strike Back) plays Rachel Scott, a strong-willed, intelligent and fearless paleomicrobiologist assigned to the ship. Adam Baldwin (FireflyChuck) is XO Mike Slattery, a former homicide detective and Chandler’s second-in-command. Also starring in The Last Ship are Travis Van Winkle (Heart of Dixie), Charles Parnell(Pariah), Christina Elmore (Fruitvale Station),Sam Spruell (Snow White and The Huntsman) and Marissa Neitling(Leverage). Based on William Brinkley’s popular novel, The Last Ship comes to TNT from Bay’s Platinum Dunes and its partners, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, whose credits include the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Bay, Fuller and Form serve as executive producers, along with showrunner Hank Steinberg (Without a Trace, The Nine), Steven Kane (The Closer) and director Jack Bender (Lost). Steinberg and Kane wrote the series pilot, which was directed by Jonathan Mostow(U-571).

 

TP-Link ACes Wi-Fi at The Gadget Show

Like many families now, it’s not unusual for everyone to be using the wi-fi network at home at the same time. Game consoles, tablets, media players and smart TVs all take their share of the data stream, and with the potential for multiple HD streams, the wireless takes a real hammering. In response to this demand, 11ac wireless uses dual frequencies and multiple antennae to get gigabit class data speeds, while still being backwards compatible with the older standards.

TP-Link Stand at GSL14

Under the Archer brand, TP-Link have a range of 11ac routers and modems, starting with twin antennae 750 Mb/s Archer C2 up to the three antennae 1750 Mb/s Archer C7. TP-Link has kindly sent one of the latter to GNC for review, so I’ll be taking a look at that later.

At The Gadget Show, I caught up with Simon from TP-Link who told me a little about their design philosophy and what they’re aiming for with the new 11ac routers.

The Gadget Show Live

Gadget Show LiveThe Gadget Show Live is the UK’s closest thing to CES, but that’s like comparing a boxing match to invading Iraq. Where CES takes over most of Las Vegas, the Gadget Show occupies a couple of halls at the NEC outside Birmingham. Nevertheless I popped over for a day to see the latest and greatest tech on show to us Brits and it was fun. I was there for GNC two years ago and this year the show was definitely bigger with a bit more variety. 3D TV was the thing in 2012, but 2014 is electric vehicles, 4K / UHD TVs and multi-rotor aerial vehicles. That’s not to say there weren’t other niche products and I’ve captured a few in audio interviews that I’ll post over the next few days.

Samsung were demonstrating their curved Ultra HD TVs and all I can say is, “Wow!” The screens were totally amazing – almost more real than real – and the detail was incredible. Even the flat, non-curved, versions were pretty stunning. Although the curved versions still have crazy prices, I can’t help but wonder if flat 4K resolution TVs will only be on-sale for a few short years before curved ones become mainstream.

Curved Samsung Screen

Volkswagen brought along the XL 1, a diesel plug-in hybrid, which surprisingly is not a concept car: it’s for sale if you have a fat enough wallet at somewhere in the region of £100,000. At a more realistic level, VW had a bunch of demonstrator e-up! electric cars, which at a little under £20,000 are much more affordable, though the equivalent petrol version costs closer to £8,000. I took a test drive in one and can report that it’s exactly like driving an automatic car, only quieter and with plenty of low speed torque. Top speed of 80 miles per hour and a range of 100 miles make it a perfect second car for the well off.

XL1 Front

 

XL1 Side

 

XL1 Rear

Sony’s been touting the waterproof features of the Xperia Z2 devices and they put their money where their mouth is at Gadget Show Live with a water-filled tank. Not content to simply leave the smartphone in the bottom, a team of scuba and free divers showed that the Z2 was usable under water to take photos. Outstanding.

Xperia Z2 Underwater

Finally, when I was at the show in 2012, Parrot were showing off the AR.Drone and pretty much had the airspace to themselves. Quadricopters were everywhere this year with DJI‘s mulitrotor devices (below) down to Hubsan’s tiny copters that fit in your hand. The future is three-dimensional but not quite in the way the TV manufacturers were hoping.

Multirotor Aerial Vehicle

There was plenty more and I’ll be putting the interviews out over the next few days – expect content from Sony, Canon, Optoma, Toca Boca, TP-Link, DJI and others.

The Gadget Show Live is on until 13th April 2014.