Last year, one of the highlights of CES were the ivee voice-controlled talking radio and alarm clocks. This CES, ivee announced it’s tired of being just a bedtime companion. Later this year, ivee will introduce the ivee Sleek, a Wi-Fi, voice-activated intelligent “assistant” that can use natural language understanding, machine learning, and Wolfram Alpha’s computational knowledge engine to answer basic questions (regarding weather, stocks, or other internet-available information), obey commands (set alarms, reminders, and timers), and control a variety of Wi-Fi devices (thermostats, lights, security systems, etc.) ivee says the small, tabletop Sleek “assistant” will even be able to communicate with the super-slick Nest thermostat – something that most automation systems can’t do. The $199 ivee Sleek is available for preorder now and is scheduled to being shipping in May. (If you have any additional questions, you’ll have to ask ivee’s Sleek…)
In what can only be described as the single most tedious press conference in the history of CES (just beating out the i’m Watch press conference that, interestingly enough, also took place this year), 40-year-old Chinese company (and self-proclaimed “world’s fifth-largest TV manufacturer), Hisense, announced plans to grow from a regionally known to a globally dominant CE manufacturer making everything from smartphones to smart-home appliances.
Despite the lackluster presentation, Hisense had some exciting things to announce, including two models (84- and 110 inches) in the company’s flagship XT900 series of 2160p Ultra HD U-LED flat-panel Smart TVs (with Google TV). Also unveiled was the XT880 series of 4K Ultra High Definition 3D and Wi-Fi-enabled Smart TVs in 50-, 58-, and 65-inch screen sizes. As with the XT900 TVs, the XT880-series sets incorporate a detachable USB-camera mounted on the top bezel of the TV while the TV’s remote control features a built-in microphone. Hisense also presented a concept prototype of the GF60XT980 glasses-free 3D TV that uses a facial tracking system that “discretely tweaks each sweet spot to give viewers the best experience possible.” No pricing, expected availability, or distribution details were announced.
Sookbox showed off a prototype of their modestly priced high-performance home media “personal cloud” server/computer in the Eureka Park section of the Venetian. Sookbox is designed to take all of your media content – whether it’s your personal media, a subscription service, or media available for free from the internet – and host it on a single, unified framework so you can access it anywhere using a smartphone or tablet and allow you to play that content on any target device. Sookbox says it’s different from the typical media server product because of three things: the Sookbox software includes a true internet browser that eliminates the need for proprietary apps; the Sookbox framework devices are all IP addressable and globally accessible; and the Sookbox control app is open-source API, something which will hopefully encourage a great deal of creative development by other companies and even users. The main components of the Sookbox include the Sookbox Server with four HDMI outputs, 16 analog audio outputs, 1.5 TB storage capacity, simultaneous multizone delivery of content, and more. The Sookbox Stream Runner is a small, black-box-style device that provides two-way IP connectivity along with an HDMI connection for a display, 3.5 mm analog audio output, and built-in Wi-Fi. Sookbox says an unlimited number of Stream Runners can connect with any one Sookbox Server. The Sookbox Software is what glues the system together, includes a built-in browser, is iOS, Android, and Windows compatible, and allows for gaming without a location-dependent console. Pricing and final form factor hasn’t been determined, but 50 beta units will go into production later this month.
Home automation and energy management had a big presence at CES, and Nexia Home Intelligence came to the Show to show off some recent additions to the growing portfolio of Z-Wave-enabled devices that are compatible with the Nexia ecosystem. Primary among those were: the new Schlage Touchscreen Deadbolt that provides keyless entry and built-in alarm technology that will notify you if someone tampers with the lock or tries to break into the home while you’re away; the new eMonitor Trane Energy Management Solution that monitors energy usage data 24/7 and provides overall energy usage reports, as well as real-time alerts and notifications of situations such as circuit overloads – or even if a freezer door has been left open; and new zoning capabilities with the Trane ComforLink II Control command center/thermostat that uses zone temperature sensors to figure out which areas of your home need additional heated or cooled air. (Unfortunately, the zoning features aren’t compatible with all HVAC systems – including mine…) While indoor/outdoor cameras, networked appliance and lighting control AC modules, wireless deadbolts, heating/cooling control, energy management, and web/smartphone control of the system are all features within the Nexia architecture, home AV control is not.
Noise-cancelling headphones are great for travelling and using in noisy public environments, but they’re not terribly useful when you want to watch a movie in your home theater. There, things like Sony PS3s, NAS drives, satellite receivers, and any other device with a built-in cooling fan that may happen to be sitting in your equipment rack – including, sometimes, cooling fans for the rack, itself – can be irritating sources of background noise that take away from the enjoyment of whatever it is you’re watching. Silentium’s AcoustiRACK ACTIVE (ARA) combines passive noise reduction with the company’s unique and highly effective active noise cancellation technology to achieve pretty incredible noise reduction levels of up to 30 dB. The ARA is specifically designed for data centers with racks of servers and other noisy, heat-producing components and has the ability to dissipate up to 8 KW of heat while also protecting the gear from dust. While I was at the Silentium booth, the folks there demonstrated how well their active noise cancellation technology is by displaying two wooden cabinets with identical exhaust fans built into the top. The first cabinet contained the fan and nothing else – and was appropriately noisy. The second cabinet included Silentium’s circuitry and hardware within the cabinet – and it was very noticeable how much more quiet the fan was compared to the untreated display cabinet. Silentium’s ARA racks (in 15U and 33U sizes) cost multiple thousands of dollars each, but the Silentium representative said the technology could potentially be adapted to home AV racks, as well.
After filming a brief interview yesterday with Winston Cheng, VP of Development at Aeon Labs, at the Z-Wave Pavilion where the company was showing off its soon-to-be-released DIY LCD window film, I had the chance to stop by the SONTE booth for a brief demo today. Much like the product from Aeon Labs, the 0.7 mm SONTE FILM can be applied to any glass surface and can switch from transparent to opaque in under one second. SONTE FILM, however, is controlled via Wi-Fi, so it can be controlled by a wide variety of IP-based control/automation systems. The flexible film comes in 1 x 1 meter sheets, and they can be daisy chained to cover large windows. They can also be trimmed to fit smaller windows. One potential use on large windows is to incorporate multiple sheets side-by-side on the window, but without daisy chaining them together. Theoretically, you could then control each film-treated section independently – and be able to use your automation system to block out direct sunlight panel-by-panel as the sun moves across the sky. The SONTE FILM improves the window’s insulation rating, although the company did not give any specs on by how much. The SONTE FILM isn’t totally clear – nor does it block 100% of the light. In the transparent state (energized), the film is transparent with a “Haze Coefficient” of 7%. With the power off, the film turns opaque with a Haze Coefficient of 67%.
Another interesting use of the SONTE FILM suggested by SONTE is to use the film to turn any large window or glass partition into a rear-projection screen. (With the projector supplied by the homeowner, of course.)
Pricing hasn’t been determined, but SONTE hopes to have DIY product available in the next three to four months.
Over the many years (this being my 24th or 25th trip to the magic kingdom known as Las Vegas during CES) of attending the International CES, I've noticed just a few changes. One small change, for example, is the ubiquity of this newfangled thing called “the internet”. From a journalistic perspective, one of the most notable changes has involved the lowly press release. No, they're not being written any better. (At least they're not being written any worse…) What's changed is the method of distribution. In the olden days, an intrepid fact-finding writer would scour the press room's stacks and stacks of press releases looking for a rare gem or two to write about. (All the while lamenting the loss of so many trees to produce so many useless sentences.) Not only was the process time-consuming and inefficient, it resulted in plenty of extra weight that had to be lugged home in briefcases and suitcases. You can imagine the shouts of joy that arose once the majority of PR departments switched to the now-archaic CD-ROM as the method of information distribution. The real breakthrough in making press coverage less backbreaking, however, was the introduction of the flash drive. Not too long ago, getting a press kit on a 256 MB flash drive was something you talked about in the taxi line. Now, the truly jaded among us don't even attempt to hide our disdain for flash drives with less than 2 GB capacity. Or, as a friend told me, “Two gig is the new 512 MB.” Unfortunately, it won't be long before the press page on the company's website becomes the new 2 GB…