By John R. Quain Editor-At-Large & Gary M. Kaye, Chief Content Officer
Every January, the sprawling CES 2016 consumer electronics show in Las Vegas is supposed to portend the technologies to come later this year. Judging by this year’s show, we’ll see several new virtual reality goggles introduced, more fitness and activity bands in stores, and a slew of smart devices for the home, including beds that monitor your sleep, remote control lights, and cameras to protect your home. At Tech50+, we listened to countless pitches, presentations, and demonstrations at the show. While we didn’t, and couldn’t, see everything at CES 2016, here are our choices for Best In Show:
The search for the biggest, baddest TV at the show is a CES ritual. LG’s 77 inch G6 Ultra HD Premium OLED TV was easily the winner this year. Impressing crowds with the brightest, crispest, most colorful picture yet produced by a TV, the set uses OLED technology, which illuminates each pixel individually. The new model is a 4K Ultra HD set, offering 4 times the number of pixels of regular HD, and operates with the new high dynamic range (HDR) format for more color and greater brightness (it supports both HD ar10 and DolbyVision formats). While some HDR sets we’ve seen have colors that are almost exaggerated, the colors on the LG set are brilliant without looking artificial. It is also gorgeously thin – about a tenth of an inch think – complemented by LG’s picture-on-glass design that makes the set appear to float in the air. Price is yet to be announced.
Laptop / Convertible Computers
The Lenovo ThinkPad line has long been considered best in breed when it comes to lightweight business laptops. Now Lenovo has combined its premier ThinkPad X-1 line with its popular Yoga form factor. The result is the ThinkPad X-1 Yoga, which will be available with a stunning OLED screen. It weighs in a just 2.8 pounds and comes with a stylus that stores and charges inside the case. It will have up to 1TB of solid state drive storage. Pricing for the version with the OLED screen has yet to be announced, but the version without the OLED screen will start at $1449.
Lenovo also launched its Yoga 900S, a lightweight 12″ machine that the company says is the thinnest on the market. It’s about 1/2″ thick and weighs 2.2 pounds. It uses Lenovo’s innovative watchband design hinge, which is almost indestructible. The machine features a carbon fiber case. It has an optional 2560 by 1440 display and includes Dolby Premium audio. Prices begin $1049.
In the Internet of Things (IoT), one of the biggest things in the home is the refrigerator. Finally, Samsung has plugged one into the Web with their Family Hub Refrigerator, which features a a 21.5 inch screen, an electronic calendar, messaging, digital photo board, and cameras that look into the fridge. Why, you might ask, would one want a webcam inside a refrigerator? Because the next time you’re standing in the grocery store wondering if you need to pick up cream cheese, all you’ll have to do is check on your smartphone to see what’s in your fridge. You can also decide to avoid the grocery store and order food online directly from the fridge’s screen. Initially, you’ll only be able to order from Fresh Direct and ShopRite. Pricing wasn’t announced, but Samsung’s Joe Stinziano told us he wanted it to be “mass market” and is expecting it to go on sale in the spring.
Hi Res Audio Gear
Now that some leading music labels, retailers like Best Buy, and a host of hardware makers are backing the Hi Res audio standard, we’re seeing a lot of new gear coming to market. Here are some of the items we saw at CES 2016 that caught our ear:
Hi-Res/Noise Cancelling Headphones – Up until now you had to choose – great quality from Hi-Res, or great isolation from Active Noise Cancelling. No longer. At CES we saw headphones from both Audio Technica and Sony that do both. The BlueTooth enabled Sony model MDR-100ABN comes in a variety of
colors. No official pricing yet. The price for the Audio Technica ATR-MSR7NC Sonic Pro phones is $299.95. We were concerned that the combination of the two functions would bring some loss of highs and lows, but both sets of phones do a great job of maintaining the Hi-Res audio quality while keeping out the noise, even on the CES show floor, which is no one’s idea of a good listening environment.
Speakers – These ClairAudient 1+1 V2+ Speakers are not only the best bookshelf sized speakers we’ve ever heard, they are among the best speakers of any size or any price we’ve heard. We heard no coloration. Listening to a jazz cut we could hear the brush strokes on the snare drum, the hammer hits on the piano keys. Color us blown away. And at $2,345 a pair, the price is right.
All-In-One Audio System – Cary Audio Lifestyle AIOs – Cary is been a high-end maker of audiophile gear like tube amplifiers that is moving a bit downscale with its new all-in-one music series. We listened to it paired to the ClairAudient speakers mentioned above and there was nothing downscale about its performance. It will handle music from the Internet, computers, mobile phones and tablets, USB sticks, hard disc drives, SD Cards, or from your other digital and analog connected sources. With five colors of switchable illumination and switchable matching color side panels, as well as small curved aesthetics and and lower price point than its premium offerings, Cary believes the Lifestyle series will have appeal to a broad set of demographics and tastes. And we think the Tech50+ audience will be high on that list. It will play from USB hard drives, thumb drives, SD Cards, aptX® transmit and receive Bluetooth (transmit for listening with wireless BT headphones or speakers), Class AB 50 watts x 2 amplifier, analog and digital inputs, sub-woofer output and more. No pricing yet.
Desktop Hi-Res Audio System – Talk about good things coming in small packages. The Sony CAS 1 (Compact Audio System) is a desktop Hi-Res system that comes with a digital headphone amplifier and a set of desktop wireless speakers. The speakers have a downward facing woofer that produces an amazing sound for such a small system. Ideal for a dorm room or home office. No pricing or availability quite yet.
Cars are now a wildly important part of CES and the area where most of the technological innovation is happening today. Among the electric and self-driving cars of the future was a BMW Mirrorless i8 Protogype sports car — sans side mirrors. The idea is to reduce drag (saving fuel) and improve visibility to improve safety. In the gullwinged i8 prototype, 3 cameras replace the side and rear view mirrors. The resulting images are displayed on a high-definition screen that replaces the interior rear view mirror. The cameras cover wider viewing angles than any mirror could possibly cover, completely eliminating any blind spots. You can see what’s alongside you and behind you at a glance, and the images can be electronic stitched together like a panorama, creating a live image that looks as if there is nothing behind the driver but glass. Tie the cameras into automatic braking and parking systems, and the car won’t let you put in a ding in the i8 at the shopping mall (although it still can’t stop someone else from tagging you).
The Logbar ili Translator is an unassuming necklace dongle with high aspirations. Like a gadget from Star Trek, the ili can translate a spoken foreign language in real time. Whether the ili will ever make it to market remains to be seen. But the prototype is promising given that it doesn’t require an Internet connection and it focuses on primarily translating important phrases (I assume, “Where’s the bathroom?” is one of the first). Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite match the capabilities of Star Trek’s universal translator. The ili can only handle English, Japanese, and Chinese at the moment. The company plans to add French, Spanish, and several other languages in subsequent versions. Price yet to be announced.
Health and Fitness
About the size of a small chocolate bar, the Withings Thermo is perhaps the simplest, easiest to use thermometer yet developed. It has a soft green suction cup on one end with infrared sensors and a large color LED readout in the handle. Place the green end against your temple and it captures your temperature in about two seconds. No poking, prodding or waiting. You can assign the results to a particular family member and track subsequent readings and other health information on a smart phone app. The Thermo runs on 2 AAA batteries, it’s FDA approved, and will be available in a couple of months for $99.
Up until now, blood pressure cuffs for either the wrist or upper arm have been pretty bulky affairs. Now, one of the most established names in the field, Omron, showed off its Project Zero wearable that measures not only blood pressure, but heart rate, and integrates with fitness tracking. Omron notes that this is a medical device, “That’s an important distinction in the market and that clinical support matters to millions of hypertensive individuals who rely on technology to prevent a heart attack or stroke, These new devices and others we now have on the market are designed to work with our new OMRON Connect App which tracks your activity and personal health history, offers insights to improve your numbers and even connects with your doctor as a tool for more insightful care.”
Project Zero Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor users can discretely track real time blood pressure readings with a portable device, free of cuffs, wires or hoses. And because this monitor works seamlessly with the OMRON Connect App, information can be shared with a personal physician for more insightful care. Omron hopes to have FDA clearance by the spring. So far, no announced pricing.
We found two unusual cameras that stood out from the crowd. The Vuze Camera – won the coveted Last Gadget Standing award at CES. It provides a 360 degree, immersive 4K virtual reality image using a combination of 4 4HD cameras to capture a complete sphere. It ships with virtual reality glasses. This is the first we’ve seen with a consumer friendly price point, just under $1000, complete with the glasses. The company claims editing is easy without any special gear. At eye level we saw very little distortion, though that changes as you wander higher and lower in the VR world you create.
Time lapse photography is a small segment of the photographic market, but it comes with some significant challenges. If you are interested in shooting a scene over a period of days or weeks or months there are a number of hurdles to overcome, including power and weather. The Enlaps time lapse system solves these challenges with solar power, and cloud connectivity and a waterproof case. Enlaps calls its system the first unlimited time lapse solution. It’s being funded on Kickstarter. The camera is expected to ship in August, and retail price is anticipated to be about $800.