The 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show was a lot of different things to many different people. From photography, high-definition audio, car electronics, smart appliances, and wearable tech, to small startups with just one product hoping to strike it rich, CES was both evidence of a consumer society out of control, and a showcase of creative folks who believe that technology can help the world and make our lives more productive. If only technology could deliver on its promise to free up our schedules to allow other more enjoyable pursuits – although that would mean constant vigilance to make sure our gizmos are all fully charged! Here are some quick thoughts on few fun items we spotted over in Las Vegas, in no particular order:
1) HipShotDot – Red Dot Sight Attachment. If you grew up with a piece of tape stuck to your TV screen to help your aim when playing your favorite console, the inexpensive HipShotDot, is simplicity itself. A red LED on a suction cup, with a thin black wire that plugs into your console’s USB port. Plug it in, and it lights up. Nothing more, nothing less - it’s simple and inexpensive yet great for the gamer who wants to focus on something a little more elegant than a piece of tape. Plus, it’s more accurate!
For more information on the HipShotDot visit: airdropgaming.com
2) Magellan RoadMate PND – Want an education in driving Soviet style? Just take a look at any of the dash-cam videos that drivers there use as proof; since the corruption is so bad, without a video, you can’t prove your case. Magellan’s new RoadMate PND combines one of Magellan’s respected RoadMate GPS units with a built-in dash cam, and not only will it provide proof in case of an accident, it has to be the best ever way that parents can keep track of their kids driving habits. Or for kids to keep tabs on their parents! Either way, this is a cool idea long overdue in these litigious times.
For more information on the Magellan RoadMate PND visit: www.magellangps.com
3) Oppo PM-1 Planar Magnetic Headphone and HA-1 Headphone Amplifier: Lots of folks make high-end headphones and amplifiers, but Oppo’s soon-to-be-released models are on the must-have lists of many audiophile folks. Oppo showed two almost-finished prototypes, a planar headphone, not requiring any special amplification, so usable with any decent amp, but really deserving of serious hardware. Naturally, Oppo wasn’t satisfied with this state of affairs, so they created a full Class-A headphone amp and DAC for the new headphones. Both the PM-1 Planar Magnetic Headphone and HA-1 Headphone Amplifier units are expected to be available in 2014. They aren’t budget priced, but certain to shake up the high-end headphone market.
For more information on the Oppo PM-1 Planar Magnetic Headphone and HA-1 Headphone Amplifier visit: www.oppodigital.com
4) LED Light Bulbs: LED light bulbs are quickly turning the hot button issue of the loss of incandescent bulbs into an argument of the past. The first-generation bulbs were expensive, they ran hot, and seemed more about glare than easy-to-live-with light. The second generation came down in price and the glaring quality seemed to be moderated, but the third generation meant bulbs with either cool Wi-Fi enabled features built in or bulbs that had a nice look and build quality, plus spectral response. The most pleasing and versatile bulbs we tested are from Switch. They feature a 2700K-color temperature similar to a traditional 60-watt bulb but with a unique liquid filled bulb that dissipates heat so they provide more even illumination. Best of all, Switch offers among the few bulbs we saw that could be placed anywhere, upside down (forbidden for most LED bulbs, unless specifically noted), in recessed lighting fixtures, even outside in weather wet or dry, all in an elegant package.
For more information on the Switch Infinia line of LED bulbs visit: www.switchlightingco.com
5) Wi-Fi enabled things: OK, I suppose I could have stated this more elegantly, but from crock-pot slow cookers, to household light bulbs, integrated Wi-Fi will make changes in the way we live. To have a dish slowly simmering away at home in your slow cooker is great, a yummy dinner when you walk in the door, but what happens if you are stuck in a snowstorm and the dinner burns to a crisp? With a Wi-Fi-connected slow cooker, you can throttle down the heat with your phone. Leaving the lights on in your home and turning them off without a manual timer is not a problem, now that the bulbs can be controlled from afar. Do you have kids that feel the need to leave enough lights on so that every room in your home is visible from space, even when no one is there? No problem, control from afar. For a Wi-Fi enabled thermostat, we loved the Honeywell model we reviewed previously. Technology can be oversold, but color us believers in the power of a home network to manage your home itself. Cool Wi-Fi enabled features built in to light bulbs, like the TCP Connected kit we are testing, allow up to 150 bulbs to be controlled all individually. Other folks are showing bulbs with adjustable color, but our hunch is that those are clever gimmicks that won’t last too long - I mean, how often do you need to set the mood with a new color light before it becomes old hat? However just being able to dim and control bulbs from anywhere is an application of technology that makes sense. Now if we could just clean up the house from our phones!
For more information on the TCP Connect visit: www.tcpwireless.com
6) Large Sensors & Small Cameras: Ricoh GR and Sony Alpha 7 – Large sensors in small packages. Remember those old ads for diamonds that promised that good things came in small packages? Cameras like the Ricoh GR pack a large APS-C sensor. Small sharp dedicated lenses are built into what might just seem like an ordinary point-and-shoot pocket camera, but instead can often outperform their full-sized DSLR larger cousins. Probably the most important camera of the last year in terms of technological impressiveness is the full-sized 35mm sensor in Sony’s new line of Alpha 7 mirrorless cameras, that promise a camera barely 1/2-inch thick, yet carry one of the sharpest full-frame sensors made, all in a package significantly smaller then any competitor’s DSLR gear. The price point is still too high to pose a real threat to less-expensive cameras, but once the price drops, folks making APS sized cameras, or Micro Four-Thirds systems, should be shaking in their boots. From Nokia’s pioneering large sensor cell phone cameras, to the Sony RX-1 from last year, it’s all about sensor size! Anyone seriously looking at a new system would be remiss if they don’t pay attention to the new crop of cameras.
The Ricoh GR is the fourth iteration of this line, and boasts one of the most complete set of menu options a photographer would want, coupled with a fast F2.8 fixed 28mm equivalent wide-angle lens and the ability to save RAW files in the open-source DNG format. This proved light, sharp, and with an accurate color rendition no matter the situation. We will cover this camera in a separate review. The Ricoh is emblematic of small, light, unobtrusive, photographic pocket-rockets that allow a return to less intrusive style of photography, with sharper and better low-light results than before. After I sent back my review sample and returned to a competitors Micro-Four Thirds camera, the drop in quality sent me into clean pixel withdrawals. The Ricoh GR is a very impressive camera indeed!
For more information on the Ricoh GR visit: www.ricoch.com
For more information on the Sony Alpha series visit: www.sony.com
7) High-Definition Audio, or High-Resolution Audio, or High-Bit Audio: No matter what you choose to call it, it has the ability to reshape an entirely new generation of music purchases. With everyone from Neil Young and his soon-to-be-unveiled Pono music player, to Sony’s announcements, and the slow rise in small audiophile labels, expect more movement in this heretofore empty space that was primarily the baying grounds of middle-aged guys with too much money and a never-ending quest for new hardware. Just as inexpensive and excellent small portable DACs, like the Audioengine D3, HRT Microstreamer, Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS, and the Audiosource Dragonfly, are popping up everywhere, coupled with some great inexpensive headphones and earphones, a younger generation is hip to good sounds, great music, and ease of delivery and use. One unexpected thrust is the increasing use of the Sony DSD format for digital recording and delivery, and the Korg DS-DAC-100m combination DAC and headphone amplifier can natively decode the DSD format, as well as PCM used by the majority of high-definition audio purveyors. What will happen when Apple embraces high-definition audio and formats like FLAC is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain – for a change, consumers and audiophiles will probably all win.
For more information on the Audioengine D3 visit: www.audioengine.com
For more information on the Audiosource Dragonfly visit: www.audiosource.com
For more information on the HRT Microstreamer visit: www.hrt.com
For more information on the Korg DS-DAC-100m visit: www.korg.com
8) Ultra 4K HD: HD is dead! Long live HD! Ultra HD is here, long live Ultra 4K HD! In reality, you can’t really watch any 4K content, and the current internet infrastructure can’t actually deliver the bandwidth necessary, unless you want to bring back the glory days of 28.8k dial-up America Online speeds. The fact remains that the 4K TVs look better, even with older content. OK, so some minor things aren’t resolved like a broadcast standard! Unlike 3D, which was dead on launch, and no one seems to care about, even now, three years later, higher-quality screens just look better, and as the price comes down to affordable levels, this year will see increasing sales of the new models. Also dead are edge-lit LEDs for TVs. All the major manufacturers, even budget lines, were transitioning to back-lit models for ostensibly more even illumination, better contrast ratios, and more control for detail and illumination. Take that, edge lit technology! Of course, the technology needs to be properly implemented which will vary model by model.
We think that 1080p has a lot of life left in it, but as the price of 4K comes down, one has to imagine that on the next visit to a big box store, you will stack a 1080p model next to a 4K model, and the choice will be tough. Currently, the most affordable 4K models are on the small side. Another feature everyone touts is smart app-enabled TVs, but seriously, how many of those apps do we need? Most folks seem to have a set, a cable box, a Blu-Ray player, a streaming box and most seem all to just mirror the other’s apps. The reality is that folks are tired of wires, yet want good sound, so Sound Bars are definitely a growth industry! We visited Vizio and saw their TVs and Sound Bars, and their entry level to higher-end products all exemplified a higher quality and expanded feature set at even a lower price point.
For more information on Vizio TVs and Sound Bars visit: www.vizio.com
9) Escort Passport Max & Social Media: Better radar detectors are now coupled with social media as well as with apps. We tested the Escort Passport Max detector last year and it was easily the best one we’d ever used, but just as interesting is the addition of social apps, warnings about other drivers, and dedicated databases that warn of red-light cameras and such. Smart phones are a real threat to traditional GPS units, but radar detectors are radar detectors, so not a function easily taken over by cell phones’ GPS apps. What not might be sustainable are the fairly expensive plans to keep GPS and other units current in terms of updated maps, the Defender Databases, and more, all of which are essentially free with smart phones. Will the prices of traffic citations go down anytime soon? Not in your dreams. Will detectors help here? Sure. But remember, you shouldn’t be speeding anyway! Statistics show that speeding doesn’t really get you there that much faster, but you do get bragging rights to be the first one waiting at the red light up ahead. And with the help of Social Media, you can check out great food while waiting for the light to change.
10) Better entry-level products: For example, Sentry, a 45-year-old manufacturer of what they describe as “opening price point” products, is emblematic of firms whose products that carry much of the same technology of better known and more expensive products, but at much lower prices. A few years ago, portable-battery powered LED lamps carried a premium price tag, as did decent-sounding Bluetooth headphones. Not so any longer! Sentry has a full line of both. You might never have heard of Sentry but their products are in more than 50,000 retail locations, including airport shops other retail stores. The key is that companies like Sentry were once known for following the trends but at a lower price point, but today they are innovating and introducing their own products. Due in part to the impact of digital manufacturing, rapid prototyping, and more open trade relations, consumers have more choices at differing price points then ever. We liked their LED lantern and Bluetooth headphone line.
For more information on Sentry visit: www.sentry.com
11) Smart USB Chargers: We have seen a lot of chargers in the last few years, all of which promise you the world, but most of the time they are either simply batteries to top off your phone, or chargers to charge your phone, so rarely do they delineate their differences, except in color, design, fit, and finish. Once in a while a new charger comes along that makes a difference. During one CES press event, a small company gave out samples of its units with the promise that they would charge our phones faster. Why? Well, it turns out that most phones have a handshake of sorts that determines the charge rate, so when you plug your iPad for example into most laptops and it takes forever to charge it, the reason isn’t the current capacity of the laptop, but rather that the proper handshake isn’t taking place, so charging is set to a lower, slower rate. Anker’s PowerIQ™ technology “intelligently identifies your device and speaks with the language it needs for full speed charging.” With another manufacturer’s portable power supply, my Samsung III phone was dead, and after two hours it was only at 40%. By comparison, the Anker 2nd Gen. Astro 6000mAh Portable External Battery took it from dead to fully charged in less than an hour, and still had plenty of charge left. Consider us charged and impressed! At home the Anker 40W 5V/8A 5-Port Family-Sized Desktop Charger will charge a variety of units all with differing charge needs at their maximum.
For more information on the Anker chargers, visit www.ianker.com
12) Hearing and Fitness: One of the fastest growing sectors at CES is personal technology. This can take many forms, like the Fitbit sensors that keep track of your movements, save via Bluetooth to your computer, tablet, or phone, to heart rate monitors, sleep analyzers, and more. Since we cover audio, one of the most interesting new products we saw was from in-your-ear earphone pioneers Etymotic. While anyone serious about high-quality audio is familiar with the respected Etymotic line of earphones, a new product of theirs, the Home Hearing Test, (or, HHT), brings a simple, yet accurate approach to in-home hearing testing. Comprised of a set of calibrated earphones, software, and a USB adapter for your PC, the HHT isn’t designed to create a diagnosis, but it does give you a firm idea of one’s audio response, and indicate if a doctor visit would be warranted. I’ve been tested for hearing at NAMM shows, used the new online version of the Munsell Color Test that test visual acuity and accuracy, but this is the first time I had been able to test my hearing, and that of my family and friends. With hearing loss fast becoming a serious health issue in our society, especially with the use of earbuds and portable music players, this is one way to keep tabs on hearing health. For musicians whose lives are earned with their ears, this can chart their baseline, and track any changes.
For more information on the Etymotic Home Hearing Test visit: www.etymotic.com
For more information on Fitbit visit: www.fitbit.com
13) Storage: With all the data we are creating, the problem of storage is a vexing combination of larger hard drives, online or “cloud” storage, as well as optical and SSD storage. During the Storage Visions Conference at the Riviera topics ranged from data recovery from SSDs to the nuts and bolts of how encryption works. One point spanned all the discussions, panels, and vendors: the ever increasing race between the ability to create data, and the ability for storage vendors to keep ahead of that tsunami of data creation and consumer expectation of safe secure data storage. Thunderbolt took a large step forward with the introduction of the new MacPro from Apple, which left Firewire off the table, forcing serious users to either stay with legacy machines or use the few Thunderbolt-to-Firewire adapters and hubs. Since the new MacPro is almost totally reliant on external storage, the issue of external storage has gained even a new priority.
We met with Seagate and LaCie, and saw drives that ranged from the beautiful LaCie Christofle Sphere 1TB drive made of polished Christofle Silver, to Seagate’s improved models in their respected Backup Plus series of external hard drives, as well as a very cool rack-mounted Business Storage 8-Bay Rackmount NAS that packs a ton of punch into a small, thin, 1U form factor. It doesn’t need to live in a rack; in fact we can see a lot of professionals using it to consolidate their stacks of external drives into one seriously well-built unit. Finally, the Seagate Central has been tweaked for extra features and larger capacity, continuing to bring remote and shared access to consumers.
For more information on Seagate visit: www.seagate.com
For more information on LaCie visit: www.lacie.com
14) Action Audio Gear: Lots of folks make headphones, earphones, and in-your-ear earphones designed for action. Some are waterproof, some have flashy celebrity tie-ins, and the price can range all the way into the hundreds of dollars. Most of them sound pretty good, not audiophile grade, but solid. And why should listeners expect an earphone designed to withstand sweat, water, and grime and used while running, skiing, snowboarding, sailing, or walking the dogs to be an audiophile experience? The new Audio-Technica SonicFuel ATH-CKX5iS is representative of the new direction that Audio-Technica, known best for its line of high-quality audio gear, is taking. Cool looking, with a wide choice of colors and superior sound and fit, these are earphones that will stay in your ears no matter how hard you try to shake them out. Potholes might take out your shins on your morning run, but the SonicFuels will stay put. Best of all, even if your sport of choice is simply couch surfing, you’ll still look the part of the triathlete!
For more information on the Audio-Technica SonicFuel ATH-CKX5iS visit: www.audio-technica.com
15) Hip Accessories for your Digital Life: Ok, so the iLounge Pavilion at CES was awash in iPhone, iPad, computer cases, chargers, batteries, and stylus replacements by the boatload. Most are very good, solid products, but occasionally there is that magical convergence of hipster design, elegance, and execution.
Witness products from Rain Designs, who have been rethinking the design aesthetic, with finely wrought aluminum products such as the popular mStand for your Apple laptop or mBase stand for your iMac, or their instantly identifiable iGo computer desk designed for the iMac. All are solid choices for your systems.
Or the tough cases from Evutec which combined DuPont Kevlar for a light weight case that is 5X times stronger then steel, or my favorite, a case that combined DuPont Kevlar with Bamboo wood, yet felt like pure Bamboo. Want to protect your iPhone in style, yet protect from damange, go no further then Evutec.
Another area we saw was cable management, and the coolest take on this was a small startup named Mosorganizer.com whose softly finished triangular blocks of aluminum hid strong magnets making it easy to keep your cables organized. Designed in Utah, their Magnetic Organizer System’s are innovative looks at an old problem. The blocks held our iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, and Lightning connectors and power cords without any muss or fuss, all the while made us look organized and cool, which rarely happen to us.
Need more space on your Apple MacBook Air? Try the small aluminum NiftyMiniDriveAir adapter that allows you to use a MicroSD card in the SD card slot. Simple, elegant, and one of those “why didn’t I think of that” designs, it’s a painless way to add some memory to your Apple MacBook Air.
We never seem to have enough sockets to plug into, and we love anything that glows and looks like a flying saucer. Although it arrived after CES, the Accell Poweramid combines 6 sockets, two USB ports, with a glowing light in the middle, and 1080 Joules Surge Protection, and yes, it looks like it could star in a bad UFO home video. Which means we like it!
Ok, we admit it, most USB chargers are well, how to put this politely, all pretty similar, at least on the outside. Not so the Kanex Sydnee which is a neat, rounded, vertical shelf, and tube that will charge 4 devices including 2 tablets, 2 phones, or some variation of your choosing. We happen to be Kanex fans, they make solid, well-engineered accessories, all with a lovely fit and finish, and good enough to replace similar products manufactured by Apple. We have reviewed their display adapters, a very easy to use and solid Bluetooth AirBlue wireless audio adapter in the past, all to rave reviews. The Sydnee follows in that tradition, and solves the footprint problem of needing to charge a lot of devices, but not if it means cables and devices all over the table. The Syndee is stylish, works great, and with a small vertical footprint keeps your mess to a minimum.
Lastly, while the iPhone 5 has a great camera, the lens is the limiting factor for more serious photographic pursuits. Enter ōlloclip, whose line of lenses for iPhones have a wide following among photographers. They combine first-rate engineering, strong glass multi-coated optical designs and performance, all at reasonable price points. We fell in love with their new Macro 3-in-1 Lens that offered a choice of 7x, 14x, or 21x magnification, so you can turn your next outing into nature into a dive into the world almost too small to see! Need a view that isn't limited only to close ups? Their 4-IN-1 lens system provides a Fisheye lens with a 180° field-of-view, a Wide-Angle lens, and a 10x and 15x magnification Macro lens. Bring out the inner Richard Avedon in you!
For more information on Rain Design visit: www.raindesigninc.com
For more information on Evutec visit: www.evutec.com
For more information on NiftyMiniDriveAir visit: www.theniftyminidrive.com
For more information on Accell Poweramid visit: www.accellcables.com
For more information on the Kanex Sydnee visit: www.kanexlive.com
For more information on the ōlloclip visit: www.olloclip.com
This is my Bakers Dozen + Three CES Report, but there is more to come, so stay tuned!
Harris Fogel, posted 4/6/2014