Saturday, January 21, 2012

Vox Populi: SOPA and PIPA Put on the Shelf

[Article first published as Vox Populi Puts SOPA and PIPA on the Shelf on Blogcritics.]

Looks like it’s over.  Senate bill PIPA and its house companion bill SOPA have been shelved indefinitely by their sponsors.  On Friday, the announcements were made by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).  And it wasn’t the pundits or political experts that made it happen.  It was the people of this country – our nation’s collective vox populi – that made it possible.

On Wednesday we looked at the Internet blackout – sites like Wikipedia, Reddit, Wordpress, Tumblr and more replaced their regular daily content with black screens, featuring information about PIPA and SOPA instead, citing reasons for its detriment to the internet age, and a number of resources for how to take action if the reader user chose to do so.  Even webcomic artists like XKCD’s Randall Munroe and Questionable Content’s Jeph Jacques joined in the blackout for solidarity, while Ars Technica hosted “SOPA Resistance Day.”

January 18th marked the largest protest in the history of the internet.  By the numbers, there were 10 million petition signatures.  Through the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress and Fight for the Future, over 3 million emails were sent to Senators and Representatives.  All for one singular purpose – convincing their politicians to drop support for these bills.  And damn did it ever work.
“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy," Smith said. "It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products."  This statement came just hours after a tweet from Senator Reid stating “In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday's vote on the PROTECT IP Act #PIPA

I remember watching the first SOPA markup session in the House Judiciary Committee on a live stream and seeing Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) stand up to point out the flaws in the bill.  While it seemed like there wasn’t enough knowledge in the room, these two representatives called for a hearing with technical experts to discuss every provision, including those covering DNS blocking.  Back then SOPA and PIPA never made the news cycle, and everyone outside of my circles of nerds looked at me cross whenever I mentioned it (They thought I was talking about soap, soup, and now-global sweetheart Pippa Middleton).

So while the movement against SOPA had support, that support didn’t have numbers.  There simply wasn’t any awareness in mainstream media or an understanding in non-technical people as to what was being discussed in Congress.  That’s where the January 18th blackout protest came in.  In addition to the millions online, people physically took to the streets in protest and generated a grassroots protest the likes of which we have never seen before.

Any of you that have read my articles with any regularity know what my stance was on SOPA and PIPA.  Ever since I saw that SOPA live stream, the overturning of these bills became a big cause of mine.  The internet is the greatest innovation in the history of the world – it connects us all, allows us to share, and is integral to not only the innovation and economic health of this country, but the entire world.  I’d like to personally thank every person that took action on this issue over the past few months.  Whether you wrote your congressman, stood in protest, joined the blackout in solidarity, posted messages on social media, or even just spread the word and educated those around you, it was everyone’s action together that helped to keep our internet free.  And to members of Congress, I commend you for hearing the voice of your constituents. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

3-Part Harmony: Web Blackout slaps SOPA, MPAA Slaps the Web Blackout, Technical Fowl Slaps the MPAA

SOPA and PIPA lost 3 co-sponsors this afternoon, presumably in response to the blackout protests by many prominent internet sites such as Reddit and Wikipedia.  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) withdrew his co-sponsorship of PIPA while Reps. Lee Terry (R-NE) and Ben Quayle (R-AZ) did the same for SOPA in the House.  To explain why he withdrew his support, Sen. Rubio states on his Facebook page that while he maintains a "strong interest in stopping online piracy that cost Florida jobs," that we "must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies."  His statement came in response to overwhelming feedback he received from his Floridian constituents, and further goes on to encourage his colleague Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) to stop from rushing this bill to the Senate floor.

While not outright dropping support, other politicians like Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) also wrote on his Facebook page that Congress needs to slow down, citing that it's more important to do this right than to do this quickly.

The  MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) also had their say – they claim that the web blackout is nothing more than a political stunt by technology businesses.  Speaking from what I can only guess is a platform of an ego over-inflated with our money and ticket stubs, here’s what MPAA CEO Chris Dodd had to say to USA Today:

"Some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem."  Further, "A so-called blackout is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently."

Well allow me to retort.

Here’s the thing, Mr. Dodd.  We support the blackout.  We know better, and we support decisions and provisions that protect the rights of our citizens.  My profession is Information Technology and as such I’m a heavy internet user, and I don’t feel punished by the blackouts in the least.  I admire what these sites have done.  And when you speak about an unwillingness to come to the table to discuss options, please don’t do it without mentioning that the MPAA had the luxury of being consulted before SOPA went to a markup session in House Judiciary Committee.  Curiously absent were technical experts from around the country.  Fathers of internet technology like Vint Cerf had to make their opinions known with help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation in an open letter on the web.  You see, unfortunately for them, and us, they don’t have a lobby powerful enough to warrant an invitation to the table as the MPAA had.

While the interests of the MPAA and similar organizations can be secured with money and a powerful lobby, the rest of us use the tools we have at our disposal:  knowledge and numbers.  And as for punishment of elected officials?  You’re absolutely right.  They work for us.  For democracy to work, or a democratic republic as it were, the onus is not only on the politicians, but on the people to make their voices heard, so that those who represent us can, in fact represent us.  This is the internet age Mr. Dodd, and the American nerd will be the single strongest force in determining this world’s digital and technological future.

You want to stop piracy?  Fine.  I’m not arguing with you.  But there’s other ways of doing it than firing a missile into a village just to get one man.  What’s required is a surgical strike.  But naturally you and your colleagues would want SOPA and PIPA to go through in their broadest forms.  You wouldn’t mind a void where a host of user generated content used to be, so the exclusive source of what you shamefully call entertainment is in your hands and your hands alone.  Who cares if it stunts American innovation and creativity?  Who cares if this will cause ripples throughout the entire world?  Who cares if entire domains are blacklisted for the crimes of a few?  You’d get yours, and that’s all you care about.

I absolutely cannot wait for the children of the Internet Age to run the show.

The Day the Web Went Dark

[Article first published as The Day the Web Went Dark on Blogcritics]

A lot of Internet users today are checking in with their daily websites to find that those websites aren't up and active.  They're instead finding that some of those sites have gone dark, putting a halt to their operations today to raise awareness on two bills currently in Congress: H.R. 3261 and S. 968, known as the "Stop Online Piracy Act" and "Protect IP."  For those of you that don't really follow news in the tech world, these are two bills whose aim to stop online piracy. OK. Fair enough. The problem arises when one actually sits down and reads the language of the bills - SOPA and PIPA are so overreaching and broad in scope that they threaten the web itself, inadvertently targeting websites that thrive on user-generated content. Sites participating in a full blackout are WikipediaReddit,GamePolitics and others. Other sites like the EFF and Ars Technica have changed their sites to a dark blackout theme in solidarity.  While this argument has been going on for months, it's something that the mainstream media is just picking up now, so please don't think that this is some new thing that just started.  SOPA in particular has already gone through a round of markup hearings in the House Judiciary Committee (showing us the huge disparity between knowledge and power) late last year and PIPA has also been making the rounds, with a vote pending on January 24th.

For those of you that aren't familiar with what the overreaching methods I discussed are all about, let me give you a quick nutshell.  SOPA and PIPA more or less state that ISP's (Internet Service Providers) can be compelled by court order to block user access to websites that are accused of either infringing or supporting the infringement of copyrighted material.  "Accused of."  This hands copyright holders (i.e. MPAA, RIAA and other big media) a kill switch the internet.  Sure, it'll work, but at the cost of censorship, an active web blacklist, the 1st Amendment, and the very nature of the internet itself.  All it would take is a good faith belief that a site is infringing on copyrighted material and a court order can be obtained to not only take it offline but choke off payments to it via PaypPal and other payment methods.  Now while recent alterations soften the language a little bit, the spirit of the bills stay the same.

Some of you who may not follow technology news may not really think that this is such a huge thing, but it affects every internet user. How does a world governed by SOPA and PIPA affect you, the everyday internet user? Let's go back to the meat of the bill - if it's thought that any part of a website contains infringing material, the entire website can be blocked. Think about those cloud storage services you use to keep all of those photographs and videos you share with your friends and family. Think about Facebook. Reddit. Twitter. Tumblr. Think about everyone that blogs through blog services like Blogger and Wordpress. And I don't even want to think about a Google Images search gone awry. If this goes through, wave bye bye to your digital presence.

There are other reasons why these bills are pointless. The DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) which is already in place seems to be working. I'm sure many of you have gone to YouTube or other video sites only to see that a "video removed" message replaced the content. See how they did that? They removed the copyrighted content without blocking the user's access to the site, as SOPA/PIPA would do. Secondly, these bills were originally written to target foreign sites supporting piracy. Foreign sites. If that's the case then why are those made to pay the consequence American users? Do you think the Pirate Bay is scared? I guarantee you they're not, and still running their torrent service like they always have been. Plus, anyone with even a shred of internet knowledge can go around DNS and get where they want to go through an IP address (Internet Protocol in this case, not Intellectual Property).

So what can you the user do about it?  The most important thing that you can do is to be heard.Contact your local politician and tell them NO on SOPA and PIPA.  Don't know how to do that? Don't worry, you know I've got you covered. Google has also started a petition to stop SOPA and PIPA, and put it better than I ever could – End Piracy, not Liberty. Check the following links: 

Here are some other resources so you can get more information on SOPA and PIPA:

Also, here's a handy guide to where Representatives and Senators stand, complete with campaign contributions:

Sometimes change has to start with We the People.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Takeaways from CES 2012

[Article first published as Takeaways from CES 2012 on Blogcritics.]

Time for everybody to pack it in and head home.  CES is done for 2012 – all the tech is being packed up and shipped back, and attendees were probably trying their last minute luck on a couple of slots before they fly out. But they didn’t leave without onlookers being able to check out a couple more digital goodies. Even though there were hundreds of things to share from the show, over the course of this feature I really focused on stuff that I could picture purchasing for myself.  So today I’m only going to highlight a couple of items, one of them for mobile media and the other as something that could make you the Obi-Wan Kenobi of your television. 

Macrovision and WOWee join forces

I love all the things my mobile device is capable of doing, including the ability to view media on the go and store it in my pocket.  But what would be really nice is to be able to project that media onto a screen or a wall and get not only decent picture, but some deep sound too. Yesterday, a little tech teamwork from WOWee and MicroVision may make that possible. MacroVision already manufactures the PicoP laser projectors, which provide some pretty nice picture for a pocket-sized portable device. WOWee already manufactures the ONE speaker, which is one of the better devices on the market that claims to be able to turn any surface into a speaker. But as of the end of this show, both companies have entered into a partnership, and will begin bundling their devices together to provide mobile users with “an immersive viewing experience virtually anywhere.”  The new partners are advertising that mobile and tablet users will be able to use these bundles to watch media on a 200” diagonal projection with booming sound. They may be only bundled devices for now, but I can see this partnership eventually making one hybrid unit that provides both video and sound. Something like that would definitely be a traveling media junkie’s best friend, and doubles in usefulness with some business potential – an easy set up for client presentations on the road or board meetings too.

Jedi mind tricks on your TV

We already took a look earlier this week about controlling Windows 8 navigation with your eyes, now how about controlling a TV with your mind?  We’ve all wished it at one point or another – sometimes those remote controllers seem to just grow legs and hide.  To initiate mind control, Haier has developed their Brain Wave headset that puts a little metal pad on your forehead and a clip on your earlobe to translate your thought power into control.  Unfortunately Haier didn’t have a traditional TV interface for doing regular TV things like volume control and changing channels.  Instead, they had a little game where you use the controller to guide a bird through a maze.  But so far it doesn’t look like it may be very easy to use. In Engadget’s hands-on video, you can see that there was a little bit of trouble doing much more than making the bird float and move up and down. I’m sure there’s more improvements to come with this technology, but it still doesn’t remedy one problem versus a standard remote control – if you’re not wearing it, you can still misplace it.  So I guess you can put the lightsabers away for now.

CES Takeaways

CES always sets the tone for the kind of consumer tech we’ll see over the year.  There’s still a number of trade shows yet to come in 2011 and a lot of stuff we haven’t seen yet –  we still have the Mobile World Conference in February, E3 later this year, and of course Apple’s WWDC always has some interesting stuff.  Nevertheless, there are still some themes set at CES, specifically two main ones in my eyes.
Not surprisingly, the first clear theme is mobile.  There were an overwhelming number of products that are aimed at being useful on the go.  Ultrabooks got more exposure than both tablets and traditional laptops over the four days of the show.  Manufacturers really focused on showing off notebooks with super-thin form factors that don’t force users to have to trade portability for power the way current-gen netbooks do.  For me personally that tradeoff is a big problem, and I imagine I’m not the only one.  There’s one very prominent problem that prevents me from buying a tablet or a slim netbook right now – they just don’t do everything my laptop does. There’s no sense in me spending that kind of money (and even more on peripherals) when I’m not getting everything I want.  HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Samsung and Vizio have tried to remedy that problem by putting out some really sleek units that use the strength of newer construction materials to lower unit weight – carbon fiber, glass, gorilla glass and magnesium alloy.  And if there’s one thing I like more than power, it’s power that weighs in at 3 pounds.

Thankfully, another theme was that no one really cares about 3D in their living rooms. Well, not as much as the industry was banking on (I do so love it when industry agrees with me). Instead of televisions that attempt to provide huge strides in 3DTV technology, what we saw instead were units that enhance the 2D HDTV experience with newer technologies that finally made it to larger screens. Samsung and LG showed off some excellent units using OLED technology and Sony showed us a prototype of their Crystal LED televisions – both technologies that take backlight out of the picture, providing true blacks and sharper picture. As we already looked at though, it wasn’t just about beauty.  There were also some enhancements in the “brains” department.  Integrated voice command technology, built in receiver boxes and built in DVR’s were touted to make television sets not only brighter, but smarter.  All of this is made possible by TV sets that speak to the outside world, thereby connecting the user without any other tech necessary.  And again, none of that was in 3D.

Well that’s all I have for you for CES 2012. Part of me is a little upset that I didn’t take some vacation time and just go myself, but another part of me is relieved after reading about the experiences ZDNet’s Ed Bott shares with us about the hassle, sea of humanity, the secondhand smoke, and the invariable colds and flus that get passed around when that many people are crammed together like sardines in a jar. But oh, all the toys! 

Friday, January 13, 2012

CES 2012 Day 3 - More Digital Treats from the Desert

[Article first published as CES 2012 Day 3 - More Digital Treats from the Desert on Blogcritics.]

Welcome back to my armchair coverage of CES 2012.  I’ve been highlighting what I think are the cool gizmos and what have you from the show by scouring much of the interwebs in the hopes that you don't have to.  Today we have an eye opening control scheme, tiny hotspot tech, some Verizon Android news and a new console.  I threw that last one in there since I'm sure you're still weeping from no Xbox or Playstation announcement.  Wipe those tears away.  You're welcome, citizen.

The eyes have it: the Tobii Gaze UI

Ever want to control a computer with your eyes?  A company called Tobii Technology may have you covered.  Their Gaze UI abandons the mouse and uses them two eyeballs in your head to make things go.  Once it takes a few minutes to map your peepers to its sensors, you can use its gesture-based interface that tracks your eyes as an on-screen cursor, and it’s designed to handle all of the touch commands of Windows 8.  They still have a touchpad as part of the system to supplement the optical controls, used for tapping instead of dragging your finger around for navigation.  Or you know, in case you’re all jittery.  The unit is still a prototype, and Engadget has a nice hands-on video if you want to take a look, complete with a couple of snags (cut them some slack, it's a prototype).  It shows a user using the eyeball tracking with the touchpad for the occasional tapping (sans dragging) and runs with Metro stylings of Windows 8.  I'm curious if it's the touch-friendly Windows 8 interface that allows this to work as well as it does (so far).  If that's the case then this could be applicable to other touch-optimized OS's on tablets like Android devices and iPads.  Well probably not on iPads, unless Apple decides to buy Tobii and keep it all in-house of course.  The video is pretty impressive considering this being Tobii’s first public outing with this technology.  Plus it’s not a final release of Windows 8 it’s running on either.  So while it’s still rough, once it gets a little bit more work and development we could have something pretty phenomenal that can run on tablets while you're on the go, but hopefully not on a shaky bus.

SD Marks the Hotspot: Toshiba FlashAir

You’re probably familiar with Eye-Fi cards – SD style flash memory that have Wi-Fi capabilities to transfer pictures or files to a computer from a camera.  This year’s CES brings us a bit of an upgrade with Toshiba’s FlashAir card.  Not only does it have the capability to join a wireless network like the last iteration, but it can broadcast its own 802.11 b/g/n hotspot.  But that’s not all – the card is pre-programmed with webserver software, meaning that anything stored on it can be accessed from the web using any internet connected device.  And with more and more devices being equipped with wireless capability, you can get any of your photos or video from a camera or a netbook or tablet to a web enabled HDTV.  Seems like it would definitely be good for media streaming, assuming the power drain isn’t too severe and the range is better than its Eye-Fi predecessor.

No PS4, no X720, but there is the Nintendo Wii U

While yesterday we heard from Sony officially say that they’re sticking with a 10-year lifecycle for the PlayStation 3, and not to expect any PlayStation 4 announcement anytime this year, including later this year at E3.  So while Sony and Microsoft are pumping their efforts into current-gen hardware, Nintendo’s taking the dead air on console announcements as an opportunity to officially show off their new Wii U console.  There was a lot of speculation and mystery surrounding the console, starting back from their first announcement back in April.  Back then all we knew about it was a strange touchscreen type of control scheme which seemed weird at the time, but since seeing Razer’s Fiona and other similar products at this year’s show, it seems almost par for the course now.  The tab-style controller has analog sticks and control buttons in the upper corners.  There are regular controllers too, but the touchscreen controller has an interesting bonus.  For example, in the “Chase Mii” game, players with regular controllers can see themselves on the big screen, but the holder of the touchscreen controller gets a overhead view of where everyone is and where they’re going.  It also allows transferring what’s on the touchscreen to the big screen and vice versa, adding a different spin to multiplayer.  They didn’t have single player ability set up at the show, but did have some Zelda video rolling.  Nintendo’s still being pretty tight lipped about titles under development and other functionality for the touchscreen controller, but I’m sure we’ll see some more from them at E3.  Sony will be shilling games, Microsoft will be pushing their ecosystem and other folks are going to be pushing digital game delivery like Steam and OnLive, probably leaving Nintendo the whole stage for physical console news.

Verizon's 4G LTE Mandate and Motorola’s new Droids

Even though I love Android devices, I really wish that there was a Windows Phone on display for Big Red this year.  Unfortunately for me (and other VZW customers) that sweet Nokia Lumia is going to other carriers.  There may be a reason why – VZW has announced that 4G LTE is going to be a “hard requirement” for any new hardware they plan on shilling.  That includes not only Android devices, but devices from Blackberry and Windows Phones.  By that logic that may mean that even the iPhone 5 will be talking to the world 4G LTE style when it comes out.  Or it also may mean Verizon won’t have an iPhone 5, but we'll see.  I guess we’ll have to wait on word from Cupertino.  Anyway, that aside, two 4G LTE devices available for viewing were the heirs apparent to Verizon's mobile Android game – Motorola’s Droid 4 and Droid RAZR MAXX.  The Droid 4 of course is next in Moto’s keyboarded Droid family line, but the first one to run on Moto’s LTE network.  This was one of the big drawbacks on an otherwise solid Droid 3.  The D4 also looks like it's going to be geared for more business use than past models, as it has encryption on business functions like email, calendars and task lists.  It's not just any basic encryption either, it's FIPS 140-2 (government grade for those keeping score).  Business users will be able to run virtual environments too, coming pre-loaded with Citrix Receiver for Androids.  I know I'd rather use an Android than a BlackBerry for my work stuff.  If any of you have either felt the frustration going from your personal Android to your work BB, or ever had to configure and manage a BB Enterprise Server, I know you understand.

The RAZR MAXX on the other hand, instead of boasting big improvements on its predecessor, has the same hardware and software as the RAZR.  The only difference is the battery.  One of the biggest weaknesses of the original Droid RAZR was that its impressive sounding 1780mAh battery got you absolutely nowhere.  The RAZR MAXX has remedies that, with a 3300mAh battery that lasts for 21 hours of talk time.  It picked up a little bit of girth an weight in the process, but that's not really saying much seeing how light and thin the original Droid RAZR was.  Both phones will be available soon.  Which is good, because I’m getting me a RAZR MAXX, regardless of the near-adult-film-star model name.

Those are my highlights from day 3 - I'll be back again for the fourth and final day with a wrap-up before your weekend. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CES 2012 Day 2 - Even More from the Highlight Reel

Article first published as CES 2012 Day 2 - Even More from the Highlight Reel on Blogcritics.]

Here we go folks!  As promised, I’m back for another day of the sweet Las Vegas goodness that is CES 2012.  Yesterday the stuff I highlighted was a block of ultrabooks and a couple of high-end televisions.  Today we’ve got more of a variety of things to look at for the highlight reel.  One’s a gaming laptop by the same people that brought you a gaming tablet.  I’ve also got a phone, a tablet, a non-announcement, and a couple things that are just outright cool.

Razer Blade Gaming Laptop

We’ll start with Razer.  One of the units I’ve been teased by for months has been their Razer Blade gaming laptop.  I imagine playing World of Warcraft on it would be phenomenal.  Yesterday we looked at their gaming tablet, Project Fiona, but today there’s more information about the Razer Blade, which holds a little more true to the traditional laptop form factor.  A little.  Instead of a funky tablet, the Razer Blade is a 17” gaming laptop with a ton of enhancements over just having a screen, keyboard and trackpad.  The unit has a mini web browser and what they call the Switchblade UI, which has 10 programmable macro keys above an LCD that has 2 modes – ultra-sensitive touchpad or an additional screen that shows game info.  It’s a great little tool if you need to see a minimap playing an RTS, or picking off enemies with headshots in your favorite FPS.  And at 0.88” thin, gives you some portability too.  Unfortunately it’ll set you back a pretty penny, at $2,799, but come on look at the damn thing!  It may be a little high for the dual core Intel i7 and nVidia GeForce GT 555M, so ask yourself if the SwitchBlade UI is worth the extra bucks before you go after this one.

Lumus See-Through Wearable Display

Reason #2376 I wish I was at CES is the Lumus see-through wearable display.  It’s the type of thing where I would have someone take a video of me getting a hands on tryout, and post it to YouTube regardless of how ridiculous I look.  Using a Light-guide Optical Element, a micro display pod and an Optical Engine for projection, this wearable display shines imagery at your eyes using a series of reflectors in the lenses.  All these things together make up 720p, 3D-capable eyewear that weighs just a shade less than 1 ounce.  Engadget has a good hands-on video that you can take a look at.  The best part of the system is that you can still see what’s in front of you while you’re watching your movies – that way you can watch your cat videos on YouTube without running into a wall.  There’s also a lighter monocle version that can be fit over one eye.  Maybe for safety during movement?   Maybe to be lightweight?  Please, let’s be real, after seeing the monocle all you’re really thinking about is Vegeta’s “Over 9000!!!!!??” from DragonBall Z and planning your next cosplay idea.  Damn you, Kakorot!

Intel + Android + Lenovo = the K800 Phone

Intel announced that phones were going to start packing their “Medfield” Atom chip, and more specifically in the near future, partnering with Lenovo with the K800 – the first announced phone that brings Intel and Android together.  Of course, this won’t be in the United States, but still, Intel is finally getting into the phone game and going up against ARM architecture processor.  The phone itself has what I’d call decent features – it has all the basics like WiFi, Bluetooth and 1GB of memory.  The weird part is that the internal storage space is limited to 500MB.  But the 4.5” 720p multitouch TFT might be enough to get over that.  The Medfield inside runs at 1.6GHz, giving us (well, giving China) an Android-powered device that will eventually be running Ice Cream Sandwich (currently their LenovoMagic UI) on an x86 architecture.  That’s pretty significant, especially when you think of the ramifications.  By having this particular Intel x86 architecture, WiDi is also a feature on this device.  WiDi, as in Wireless Display, is a feature available on laptops running Intel’s i-series of processors, which allows you to throw whatever image is on your laptop onto a HDTV through a HDMI-connected wireless receiver.  Maybe it’s more of a novelty on a phone for now, but I can see some uses for it, like sharing pictures at home or presentations at the office.  At any rate, Intel + Android in handheld feels like it was a long time coming, especially when ChromeBooks run Atom processors.

5.1"? 21:9 Aspect Ratio?  Is this a Tablet?

Next, the useless.  We’ve seen tablets and laptop-tablet convertibles at 7, 10, and 13 inches.  But if you’re looking for a smaller tablet you can look at Toshiba’s new prototype.  A 5.1 inch screen and a 21:9 aspect ratio.  I mean I guess it’s kind of the same concept as the iPod Touch, but much like that device I find it more or less useless.  Personally I have an Android smartphone, what the hell would I need a 5.1” Android tablet for that has an awkward aspect ratio?  And with smartphones, Android or Apple, being damn near everywhere, I don’t see this prototype going very far.


Just because we’re looking at a show that’s chock full of digital toys, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be any kind of devices there made in the name of altruism.  This one was brought to us by OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) in the form of the XO 3 in conjunction with semiconductor Marvell.  OLPC is an organization that works to provide low-cost, low power, connected laptops.  Enter their XO 3, which has a hand crank as well as a solar charging lid, and allows children to be able to play and learn on a rugged rubberized unit.  The tablet itself runs on SugarOS but can run Android.  Thinking about the design it’s more cost effective to produce, since there’s no keyboard localization needed.  One-model production can let the XO 3 be sent to more locations, with just a few software update pushes for localization.

Seriously people, NO PS4 THIS YEAR!!

Sometimes what isn’t there is as important as what is there at one of these shows.  And what wasn’t there (and what won’t be) is game consoles.  For a while now, there has been speculation that 2012 was going to be the year for Microsoft and Sony to announce their next consoles, the Xbox 720 (I guess?) and the PlayStation 4.  I’m really not sure why.  Why would there be an announcement on these products when both MS and Sony are making huge efforts and inking deals to add more functionality to the Xbox360 and the PlayStation 3?  Well, it turns out my skepticism was right.  When asked today, Sony’s Kaz Hirai confirmed that NO, there will be no PlayStation 4 reveal at CES 2012, and not to expect anything for this year’s E3 either.  This was the same sentiment as Andy House, the head of Sony’s video game division.  “I’ve always said a 10-year life cycle for PS3, and there is no reason to go away from that.”

That wraps it up for me for highlighting everything I second-hand saw for CES Day 2.  The show continues tomorrow, and I’ll be back again to show you even more shinies. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CES 2012! Toys for the Living Room and Your Mobile Life on Day 1

[Article first published as CES 2012! Toys for the Living Room and Your Mobile Life on Day 1 on Blogcritics.]

It’s CES time!  That’s right folks, nerdkind from around the globe descend upon Las Vegas this week for the annual Consumer Electronics Show.  Every year CES brings us a bevy of new tech, from mobile to gaming to crazy kinds of media, waiting to be snapped up and fawned over by the masses.  Now unfortunately I’m not able to be there myself because my job description doesn’t have a bullet point that says “go to CES and see awesome things.”  But I can do the next best thing.  Through all the coverage and videos and liveblogs I can still see everything that’s going on, and show you fine folks what I thought was cool.  Day 1 didn’t disappoint, and of course provided toys needed to fight the war for your living room and the war for your mobile life.

We’ll start with the living room first – which is nothing without a TV.  We’re at an interesting time in television tech – after the big push manufacturers made with 3D sets I’ve never really seen them take off.  And to be quite honest they’re really not all that impressive.   Manufacturers seem to agree, and are going in different directions to try to sell more units.  They’re making them smart, they’re making them big, and they’re making them super sharp.  Samsung and LG have finally brought OLED (organic LED) tech to larger 55” screens.  OLEDs are awesome because it takes backlight out of the picture, making the blacks purely black – giving the user better black level and picture.  Not to be left behind, Sony unveiled their Crystal LED TVs today – something new that runs on completely different tech.  They showed off sets featuring 6 million crystal LEDs that give brighter and crisper color, and at the same time have a response time 10 times faster than traditional LEDs.  So the result?  Super thin screens with super sharp images.  The OLED TVs will be available later this year, while Sony’s Crystal model is still a prototype.  You can see a side by side LCD / Crystal LED video on Mashable and see for yourself.  Like I said though, the TVs weren’t just about pretty faces.  Vizio introduced TV models with a Chrome browser and VIA (Vizio Internet Apps) and built in Google TV.  Samsung went the same route, partnering with DirecTV to provide a boxless, minimalist TV experience.  Both with some slick design.

Next came the strike on our mobile world.  While tablets are flying off the shelves, from king iPad to Amazon's Kindle, consumers are more and more beginning to adopt mobile solutions for videos and music.  But for me I'd rather have a mobile unit that can do more.  something with a keyboard and hot specs that can do everything i need to do.  something... ultra, perhaps?  More than the much anticipated Nokia Lumia 900 and Verizon’s 4G LTE hotspots, “ultrabook” seemed to be the phrase of the day when it came to mobile.  Dell, Lenovo, HP and Vizio all introduced light, powerful and super thin mean machines, entering the fray against the Macbook Air.  Adopting the philosophy of "thinner, lighter, faster" and ditching plastic for aluminum and carbon fiber, these machines don’t sacrifice weight for performance.  Packing solid-state drives, gorilla glass for strength and processors up to Intel i5’s and i7’s each of the devices provide almost instant-on.  Still, with how cool the Dell XPS 13, HP Envy Spectre and Vizio’s offerings are, Lenovo’s IdeaPad YOGA caught my eye with its design.  With a 2-hinge edge, it can be flipped to function as a 13” tablet, and has been confirmed to come metro style with Microsoft Windows 8 – not to mention a 10 point capacitive touch screen.

While those ultrabooks were coveted by CES gamers, it wasn't the only thing by a longshot. Possibly the coolest device at CES today was Razer’s Project Fiona – which turned out to be a tablet with some weird flightstick style functionality.  Razer really set us up for this one, dropping teasers that Project Fiona was going to be gaming in an all new form factor.  Well, here it is.  Funky, isn't it?  Project Fiona is a 10.1” tablet with what looks like 2 PlayStation Move-style controllers on the side.  It’s not lacking in specs either – it will have Intel’s Ivy Bridge Core i7 and have the ability to play full PC games.  Razer plans to release Fiona toward the end of 2012 with Windows 8 for the touchscreen interface. That wasn’t the only toy that brought with them though. The PlayStation Vita also made a splash for gamers, with Sony announcing AT&T data plans for next month’s release.  But there were no hardware changes from the version foreign to our shores.
So that's what I thought were the highlights of day 1.  I'll be back tomorrow to see what day 2 has in store for us in the deserts of Nevada.