Lifestyle

CES Impressions 2018

CES 2018--Altered Carbon (Netflix)

I can now join the ranks of pretty much every journalist I talked to at CES who’s affirmed it’s become impossible to do a comprehensive show report. CES has gotten too big for any one human to cover it all.

 

Clearly, home entertainment AV products and manufacturers are no longer the focus, although exhibitors like Samsung, Sony, and other big guns were present, headphones and Bluetooth audio systems were abundant, and there was a floor or so’s worth (rather than a hotel’s worth as in years past) of high-end audio companies at the Venetian.

 

Much of what I saw and read about was all about “connectivity,” the Internet of Things, “smart” this and thatjeez, even Bluetooth hair-care systems and yadda yadda. Well, even though I’m a tech head, I don’t care about most of these things. I care about having an emotionally moving entertainment experienceand the products and technologies that can deliver it.

 

There were many times when this Baby Boomer felt alternately intimidated and overwhelmed by all the new tech, as opposed to being in my comfort zone attending AV-oriented shows like Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and CEDIA and checking out the high-end rooms at the Venetian. Perhaps CES by its very nature now presents a skewed picture of what’s really happening in home entertainment. The show used to be more representative of “our” world. Google “media room” and you’ll get about 1,230,000,000 results. That’s not a typo. So there’s lots of real world interest in the subject. Hmmm.

 

A bright spot (more like a bright acre or two) was the proliferation of virtual reality and augmented reality exhibits in the South Hall. Total home entertainment immersionnow that appeals to me, and judging by CES 2018, I have plenty of company. This isn’t just a gamer-geek novelty anymore.

 

Much was made of the power failure in the Central Hall on the second day of CES. The irony was lost on no one. It made me realize that any consumer electronics product is worthless unless it works. After the show, I visited a friend who spent much time yelling at his smart-home control so it could “hear” him. The man-machine interface ain’t perfect yet. Will CES 2028 have a Brain Implant Device Pavilion?

 

Seems like “artificial intelligence” has become the consumer electronics buzzword du jour. But how much of it is merely hype? This is something I want to investigate. Having your refrigerator create a shopping list or having a car with facial recognition isn’t exactly the same as IBM’s Watson or even Sophia the Robot.

The most subversive booth I saw was the Netflix exhibit promoting the upcoming Altered Carbon sci-fi series (shown at the top of the page). It featured highly advanced future tech that was completely fictitious. As I left the booth, I wondered how many people thought it was real.

 

What was the Big Picture here? I don’t know if anyone can see it anymore. Literally. Maybe a few years from now, publications will be sending AI-enabled robots that unlike us mere humans might actually be able to cover the whole show.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

CES 2018: Beyond the Usual Suspects

Most people equate CES with fancy large TVs with crazy high resolution. But if you go beyond that, to the back of the main exhibition halls or over to the Sands Expo Center, you can find off-beat products and prototypes, and ideas that aren’t always reality—yet.

 

VR was everywhere this year, and there were plenty of robots to entertain us. Wearables are evolving—instead of trying to do all things, they’re branching out to take on specific tasks; and they’re finally beginning to show up in places beside the wrist. As expected, voice control also dominated the show.

 

Here are a few of the more unusual products I found.

CES 2018--Mira VR goggles

The Mira Prism VR unit ($149) has clear goggles and uses your smartphone as the processor so you’re no longer socially isolated when you experience VR. That made it different from the countless other VR units on display at CES—and for a girl who gets a bit motion-sick, a more likable experience.

 

Spire was one of my favorite finds this year. It makes wearables, well, wearable. The units are small devices that fit onto your clothing, like your bra. They’re sold in packs of one, three, or eight, and last up to a year and a half with no battery to change or charge—ever. The unit syncs to your phone when in range, but can retain information up to 24 hours if you’re not within range. The best part is you leave it on your clothing, even in the washer. I would love to test this item when it begins shipping in March.

 

Another wearable was Geo Sentinel’s Alzheimer watch. This device can collect and transmit data in real time, from heartbeat to blood pressure, and helps make sure your loved one doesn’t wander away.

 

The $100 Styx bracelet calls for help if you’re ever in trouble. I’m sure any parent would feel better if their daughters had this on their wrists when leaving for college.

 

Vivant launched an app called Steety that lets you share information with your neighbors about what’s happening around you. Did that mailbox get knocked over? You may not know what happened, but maybe Jim next door does and he can share it via the app.

ShadeCraft’s Sunflower is a remote-control outdoor umbrella complete with sensors that automatically open and close it. It also turns itself to keep you in the shade as the sun moves, and a neat bonus is that the shading fabric is made from 3D printing.

CES 2018--Hease robot kiosk

Hease is a robot kiosk that interacts with a client when they come into a building—not replacing the secretary, but providing information while simulating emotional reactions.

 

There was even a company named VocalID that collects, transforms, and regenerates voices. Anyone ever seen the Black Mirror episode where a loved one passes and a company takes their voice data to allow the person to still communicate with you?

CES 2018--Hypnos sleep mask

Want to keep those New Year’s resolutions? Dreaminzzz’ Hypnos eye mask ($99) uses light and vibration to help you sleep and teach you to breathe, and promises it can help you break your addictions.

 

Help was available in all shapes and sizes at CES. From the robots to Bite Helper, which promises to ease pain and itchiness from insect bites using thermo-plus technology.

CES 2018--Xoopar speakers

An honorable mention must go out to Xoopar for cutest mini speakers, which are shaped as little aliens in multiple colors. I can’t promise great sound because the area was packed, but man were they endearing.

 

Why put pictures of your children just on your phone? Now you can print them on your finger nails using a mobile printer by O’2Nails.

 

Another device that caught my eye was Grobo, a pod that allows you to grow great cannabis automatically. Because, why not?

 

But of all the fun, brilliant, surprising ways to use technology, my favorite at the show was Opcom’s Cube, a hydroponic herb and vegetable wall that lives inside your home. For $700, you can own your own wall and eat healthy all year long. Opcom also has a smaller unit for vine growing called the Grow Tent ($500).

—Heather Sidorowicz

Heather Sidorowicz is a frenzied mother of two who happens to also own an audio/video
technology company (Southtown Audio Video) in Buffalo, NY. When not designing or
selling or project managing or pretending to do financials, you can find her attempting to
stand on her hands at the yoga studio or writing in the third person.

My New Tech Resolution

There are two people in my life whose book recommendations I never ignore. The first is my daughter, with whom I share a brain. The second is my friend and mentor Brent Butterworth, who is, without question, the smartest human I know. So when he casually dropped a reference to Robert Lustig’s The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains in a conversation last week, I immediately rushed out and bought it. What followed was two days of outright fascination, a bit of righteous anger, and a ton of self-reflection.

tech gadgets--Hacking of the American Mind

I mention this merely because that book was weighing heavily on my mind when I read Adrienne Maxwell’s missive about all the technology that enters our lives during the Holidays, and the stress some of it brings with it.

 

What could those two things possibly have to do with one another? Well, perhaps it’s worth explaining what the book is actually about, because its title is a little vague. In its 352 pages, Lustig digs deep into three of the primary limbic pathways in our brains and bodies: cortisol (stress), dopamine (pleasure), and serotonin (contentment). I won’t spoil the meat of the book, since it deserves to be read with a fresh mind, but one of the key takeaways is that we as a society have, through no fault of our own, been conditioned to conflate pleasure with happiness. And that conflation is, very literally, killing us.

tech gadgets--Roku Ultra

Adrienne’s post also hit home with me because I had my own experience with tech-related elation and stress this Christmas. One of my favorite gifts this year was a Roku Ultra, a desperately needed upgrade over my tired and overheating Roku Stick, which served me well for five years but has recently become more a source of frustration than streaming bliss.

 

Here’s where the problem begins, though: The Roku Ultra supports the latest in Ultra HD and high-dynamic-range video, but to unlock all of that video goodness it also requires the very latest in digital copy protection, which my TV supports but my surround sound processor lacks. And the Roku Ultra doesn’t have dual HDMI outputs as my Ultra HD Blu-ray player does, so there’s no workaround!

 

As soon as I unboxed it, I felt my cortisol-fueled dopamine pathway begin to kick into overdrive. I need to replace my surround sound processor, too, if I want to get the most out of this little black box!

 

In the end, of course, that’s ridiculous. I’ll eventually replace my surround processor when the time comes. For now, I’m perfectly content with the faster operation, fewer lockups, and more reliable streaming provided by the new Roku. As I should be. I wasn’t unhappy with my old Roku because it lacked the latest in video format support—I was unhappy with it because I needed to reboot it every day. The new box solved that problem. So why did I immediately find myself wanting more?

 

I don’t want to give the impression I’m anti-technology here. Someone whose home has its own operating system has no place going on any sort of anti-tech rant. My point in all this is that, going forward, I’m going to focus more on tech upgrades that alleviate frustrations from my life rather than give me a quick dose of dopamine and long-term stress.

tech gadgets--Ecobee thermostat

My Ecobee thermostat, for example? It gives me all sorts of fascinating readouts and data to peruse. It feeds my dopamine pathways by rewarding me for making slight tweaks to my programming, informed by the charts and graphs it generates each month. In the end, though, all of that fuss saves me mere pennies. My time and energy are better spent letting it do its own thing. In other words, as with most of the technology in my life, I’m happier when it disappears—when it doesn’t call for my constant attention.

 

I’m generally not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m making one this year: Any new tech I add to my home (and believe me, there’ll be plenty) must meet that criterion. It must remove stress from my life, not add to it. So, instead of that shiny new iPhone X I’ve been drooling over and absolutely don’t need? I think I’ll add a motion sensor to my shower instead, to automatically turn on the bathroom vent fan when I bathe, which I always forget to do on my own (much to the displeasure of the missus). Instead of upgrading my Control4 remote in the bedroom to the latest model? I think I’ll add a second remote to the media room, so my wife and I stop bickering over the one in there now.

 

In other words, all new tech purchases this year will be made with an eye toward happiness, not pleasure. Because I never realized before just how much those two emotions conflict with one another.

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Merry Techfest!

tech gadgets--walkie talkies

If your Christmas Day was at all like mine, you spent about one hour opening gifts, one hour eating items with the word “candied” somewhere in the description, and eight hours performing some manner of tech support.

 

Yes, it was another tech-centric year in the Maxwell household, complete with Apple Watches, Echo Dots, and even some old-school walkie-talkies—which, judging by the amount of neighborhood chatter we eavesdropped, are making a huge comeback with the kiddos.

 

Somewhere around Hour Five of staring at LCD screens, rebooting routers, resetting passwords, and explaining to the eight-year-old how Stranger Danger applies to the world of short-range radio, I had a bit of a Charlie Brown meltdown. Is this really what Christmas is all about?!

tech gadgets--Echo Dot & Apple Watch

OK, I might be exaggerating. In truth, the Apple Watch and Echo Dot are some the easiest devices I’ve set up lately. (I’m looking at you, Xbox One X.) I think my frustration really stemmed from the question that nagged at me all day long: Do we really need any of this stuff, or have we reached the point where we’re just buying tech for tech’s sake?

 

The Apple Watch is cool, but it’s just a pricey conduit for the iPhone located 10 feet away. Have I really gotten so busy (lazy?) that I can’t just walk over and pick up my phone to access the exact same information? Yes, but waiting for that fingerprint recognition to unlock the screen takes soooo long . . .

 

As for the Echo Dot, Day One left me feeling like it was a nifty parlor trick. Perhaps as I more fully integrate the device into my life over the next few weeks and months, its worth will become more evident. I have several friends who absolutely love their Echo products. Voice control has become an indispensable part of their whole-house control systems.

 

The problem is, I don’t own a whole-house control system. I’ve got a couple of smart Lutron Caseta lighting switches and a smart Honeywell thermostat—both of which support Alexa, so integration was a snap. Admittedly, it was fun to be able to say, “Alexa, turn off the living room lamp” at bedtime. Of course, my very next thought was, “I really need to add more smart home products to make the most of this thing.”

 

I guess I know what to put on next year’s Christmas list.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

How to Save Money by Spending More

“Give yourself an extra hour back this week.” Sounds like an ad that shouldn’t be trusted, right? I’ve often felt that, in this day and age, you couldn’t give someone a free car because no one would believe you. And yet I’m here to tell you this ad was true to its word.

 

As I sit here writing this, I’m receiving text messages from my own personal shopper, Nick. No, I didn’t win the lottery since my last post. I’ve decided to try Instacart.

 

Instacart is a website and mobile app that lets you order your groceries online and then a shopper goes to the store to do the actual shopping. If they have a question, or if something is out of stock, they’ll text you from the store. They’ll let you know if there’s another brand available, and since it isn’t a robot but a human, it’s quite fun.

 

The service makes its money by upping the fee for each item (sometimes as much as 20%). You also pay a service fee and are asked to leave a tip. (Do you want bruised apples or shiny ones?)

Instacart

The crazy part is that my total was $25 less than if I’d gone to the store myself, even after the service fee and tipmaybe because there were no impulse buys and I could see the amount of the total purchase as I added items. Another benefit is they alert you for coupons. For example, when you add something, a window pops up informing you that if you add a few more items, you qualify for a specific coupon.

 

As I sat working on an important price quote for a client, my shopping was done for me. I had my personal shopper leave the groceries on my doorstep. (It’s 26o out with a threat of more snow, so leaving my food outside was the same as already having it in the fridge.)

 

Tonight, I’ll go home, feed my family dinner, and then we’re off to my youngest daughter’s concert. As you can imagine, time is of the essence, and knowing my grocery shopping for the week is donethat’s a win!

—Heather Sidorowicz

Heather Sidorowicz is a frenzied mother of two who happens to also own an audio/video
technology company (Southtown Audio Video) in Buffalo, NY. When not designing or
selling or project managing or pretending to do financials, you can find her attempting to
stand on her hands at the yoga studio or writing in the third person.

What is the Price Tag of Experience?

Opus One

About a year ago, one of my manufacturers invited me to attend training in California. Since I was going to be flying across the country, I called up a good friend who lives just outside San Francisco to extend my stay.

 

What does one do when hanging out in northern CA? Wine tasting, of course!

 

We planned a grand day of tasting some delicious, exquisite wines, as reservations are required. As we were driving through Napa finishing up our day, we passed Opus One.

 

“Man, I wish I could have gotten us a reservation there,” my girlfriend chimed in. “They were booked.”

 

“Let’s try right now!” I pushed. “What do we have to lose?”

 

“Heather, their last tasting is at 5, and it’s already after 4:30,” she scolded.

 

Luckily, my husband was driving and knew I would not be satisfied unless I tried (I can be pretty persistent), so he swung the car around and drove us up the grand drive to Opus One and dropped me off at the door. I rushed in and beelined for the hostess. (Yes, there was a hostess at this elaborate estate.)

 

“Hi. My name is Heather, and I’m writing an article about”I paused slightly as my brain searched for a good story“on wine cellars and would love to taste your Opus One for my article.” Oddly enough, it worked! They let us in–not for free mind you, but for $75 a tasting!

 

For those of you not aware of what it costs for a typical wine tasting, I assure you it is not $75. That is more than any bottle of wine I think I have ever purchased.

“That would be splendid,” I told the hostess as I handed over my credit card. At Opus One, they do not pour where you pay. As my party joined me, we were first escorted to the tasting bar, but then invited up to the second floor to the open-air patio to enjoy our prize.

 

The wine was fantastic. The experience, along with the story, made it priceless.

 

We often get so caught up in the price of something that we miss the experience. I’m sure many would have passed up this opportunity and choked on the fee instead of just letting the story lead. I, on the other hand, have never regretted it.

—Heather Sidorowicz

Heather Sidorowicz is a frenzied mother of two who happens to also own an audio/video
technology company (Southtown Audio Video) in Buffalo, NY. When not designing or
selling or project managing or pretending to do financials, you can find her attempting to
stand on her hands at the yoga studio or writing in the third person.

Those Movie Moments

A Monster Calls

There are movie moments in your life. These are the moments that catch you—they make you cry, sob, laugh, scare the crap out you. And they taste good. You want to hold on to them, and you want to share them.

 

Around the dinner table, you tell the story of a movie you witnessed and regal the others with just enough of the story so they will want to see it too. I still remember bawling like a teen who just lost her first love after seeing Big Fish. I remember the weather—cold and chilly—on that murky dark evening after the credits rolled. 

 

Last week, my youngest daughter was invited to a sleepover, which left our eldest to become the only child for one brief evening. We asked her to choose how we would spend the date night, just her and her parents. My homebody picked dinner in, and a movie.

 

Earlier this year, we remodeled our living room into a livable theater, complete with a Sony 75 Z Series TV and an Atmos surround sound system. That evening, we decided on the movie A Monster Calls.

 

The story is about a boy who is not yet a man but is still forced to deal with the overwhelming sadness of this world. He is visited by a monster who tells him three stories and requires him to narrate the fourth, and through this he begins to heal.

 

The tale captures you as the sound envelops you, pulling you into the story. The visual effects are stunning, and yes, my eyes welled up at the end—OK, I all-out cried.

 

Our little evening was unexpected and heartfelt, and I suspect when my dear daughter looks back on our date night, her sentiments for the movie will return, for she has experienced one of those movie moments.

—Heather Sidorowicz

Heather Sidorowicz is a frenzied mother of two who happens to also own an audio/video
technology company (Southtown Audio Video) in Buffalo, NY. When not designing or
selling or project managing or pretending to do financials, you can find her attempting to
stand on her hands at the yoga studio or writing in the third person.