CES

SlingMedia Launches 4 New Products…Flash Support More Important

Full Disclosure: I freaking love Sling Media. On the time line of groundbreaking home theater technology the Slingbox falls between the TiVo and 3D TVs.

[ NOTE: Real quickly for those that don't know, the Slingbox enables 'place shifting' which is a fancy way of saying you can watch YOUR TV from anywhere you've got an internet connection and laptop (or properly enabled mobile phone).  If you are on a trip you can control your TV and cable box (TiVo, DVD player, etc) remotely just as if you had your remote in your hand.  It's fantastic. ]

At CES this year Sling Media announced 4 pieces of hardware and one software change that may be the most important of all.  All of this works into the ‘TV Everwhere’ movement that is the buzzword du jour of the cable companies and all of these products will only be available directly through cable providers (only Dish Network, so far).  It should be noted that Echostar bought Slingmedia (they also own Dish Network) and all of these products are integrated or compatible with Dish’s new products.

[Editor's Note: Everyone I spoke to said that these devices will be available through providers other than Dish Network.  When I jokingly said, 'Ya, when EchoStar allows it.' They all rolled their eyes, dropped their heads and said, 'Ya, there are some challenges. It'll happen eventually.'  Not sure how bad a sign that is, but I have to assume it's EchoStars strategy and other providers are not eager to boost EchoStars bottom line (that is 80% speculation).]

Slingbox 700U

Slingbox-700uThe 700U is designed to be sold by the cable and satellite companies as a USB connected add-on to DVRs and cable boxes.  It should reduce the cost to the customer, but it will require providers to make their boxes compatible.

This is a good idea and a logical way to expand the market of users, but it’s definitely not groundbreaking.

Sling Receiver 300

Sling-Receiver-300The Receiver 300 is basically an extender box.  It has to be used on a network with an existing ‘SlingLoaded’ device and in standard Sling fashion, it allows you to watch / manipulate your primary TV source on a second TV.  It’s small and meant to be mounted on the back of a TV or on a wall.  The idea here is that the customer could use this device to get a HD signal to a TV without having to run additional wires (perfect for a 1 bedroom apartment with 2 TVs).  The device connects through HDMI and presumably slings the signal through WiFi.

Sling Touch Control 100

Sling-Touch-ControlThis is basically a really fancy IP-based universal remote.  Just like any remote, it will control all the devices in your entertainment center.  It’s trick is that IP-based part.  It’s a WiFi enabled device that use your home network to control compatible devices over your home network (it uses IR for ‘legacy’ products) while delivering a streamlined user experience to the 4.3″ screen.

The whole SlingGuide product is just an enhanced channel guide.  It provides additional ways to search your channels while also providing more access to additional information on a particular show.  SlingGuide is really Slings way of standardizing the channel guide experience across their products.

All in all, this is a pretty slick universal remote but depending on the price might not be worth it (no idea what the price will be).



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Sling Monitor 150

Sling-Monitor-150Continuing the TV Everwhere trend this is a 15.6″, 720p display that includes speakers and 802.11n wireless.  This is basically the Sling Receiver 300 with a screen.  It’s meant to be setup (wall or countertop) anywhere running a TV source wire would not be practical.  Again a very cool product that isn’t groundbreaking and whose adoption will likely be defined by it’s price.  For the record, it doesn’t have a battery and requires WiFi so it’s not portable (now if someone could add a battery pack and wireless 3G card…THAT would be a product).

Support for Adobe Flash

adobe-flash-player-iconLastly, but possibly most importantly, is Sling’s support of Adobe Flash Player and Flash streaming protocols in the Pro-HD and SOLO.  This means that any device that supports a Flash Player will be able to receive the Sling content.  Since Flash is already so heavily used for streaming, support across devices is very very high and Adobe recently announced Flash for Mobile there will be a rapid influx of ways that you can receive your Sling’d media (Fingers crossed that means a WebOS Sling player in the next few months).

In Conclusion

Sling has a fantastic technology.  EchoStar has integrated that technology into Dish Network’s products pretty well.  In an effort to expand their user base EchoStar is pushing the idea of ‘TV Everywhere’ and all of these products go a long way towards enabling that technology.  Hopefully TiVo will support this technology and I can continue my love affair with TiVo and Sling the way it should be (i.e. without IR blasters).   Most of all, the support of Flash will break down the most frustrating wall of Sling’s products … the mobile players.

3D TVs Have Arrived…and they are here to stay.

3D TVs are here for real.

JVC, Samsung, Sony, LG and others are pushing 3D TVs BIG TIME.  Sony and Samsung in particular will have many many 3D ready models this year and everyone one of those models will include the ability to convert 2D to 3D in real-time.  I played with this for a bit and was underwhelmed by Samsungs real-time conversion. I see, maybe, a bit more depth, but nothing worth be exciting about.  On the other hand, JVC’s real-time 2D to 3D was unmistakeably better, but also not available to consumers and over $30k for the unit. 

Bluray is probably the most effective application of the 3D technology and with the Blueray 3D standard set there were plenty of 3D players to back up all the TVs (Yes the PS3 will also support it).  Depending on the size and quality of your TV Blueray 3D is definitely the way to get a movie theater experience at home.

3D Gaming

At CES, for some reason, people were scared to pick up gaming controllers in front of 3D gaming demos, but I was not.  It is as good as any other 3D technology I saw AND you get to control the action.  I was playing Avatar 3D and the holy crap moment for me was running up a creek I saw a waterfall in the background… It actually looked far away.  Not  just smaller because of distance, it had actual depth and it was very striking (I also played a couple different driving simulators in 3D and that just re-enforced how effective the technology is).  This may be the single most immersive application of 3D technology.  Depth combined with controlling your world.  It’s an amazing gaming experience. 

The Challenges

Price - Pricing is still in question, but it sounds like TVs will cost about the same as plasma TVs when they were becoming mainstream.  Figure $5k – $10k to start, but you might be able to get one as low as $2,500 (maybe).

Setup – Depending on the technology (passive vs. active glasses) there is a little bit of setup required.  With active glasses you have to place an IR transmitter in a location visible to the glasses.  This probably wont be any more complicated than placing the Wii sensor bar, but just like the Wii sensor bar, it will pose problems for a small percentage.

Wearing Glasses – This is probably the greatest source of skepticism.  First off, active glasses means they need batteries, which means batteries can die.  How pissed will you be when your glasses stop working mid movie (or, almost worse, mid gaming session)?  Even if you are using passive glasses some people don’t believe they’d wear glasses for extended periods, particularly not for general TV watching.  To those people, I say, go see Avatar in 3D.  I think that Avatar has proven that given a compelling / engaging enough viewing experience most people don’t have significant issues with eye fatigue (there will always be people with some issues in this area, just like some people can’t watch IMAX because of motion sickness).

The Lowdown

I believe strongly that 3D is a good enough technology to earn a lasting spot in the evolution of video technology.  Movie theaters and movie makers have embraced 3D and people are flocking to the theaters to see it.  That will trickle down to putting on 3D glasses when you watch a movie at home (be it Blueray 3D or streaming 3D Video on Demand…yes that was also being demoed).  In it’s own right 3D gaming will pick up steam as the PS3 supports it and hardcore PC gamers install 3D ready cards.  Kids are always more receptive to this type of technology leap and they will play a large part in the adoption of 3D across both gaming and movies.

These two technologies will essentially squeeze the middle market into the 3D viewing experience.  It will be a natural evolution to watching some percentage of TV broadcasts in 3D.  The launch of 3D programming by both DirecTV and ESPN combined with various TV’s native ability to upconvert to 3D in realtime (even if that particular technology isn’t quite amazing…yet) will provide a significant amount of 3D content at launch so those early adopters will be rewarded.

Regardless the manufacturer or technology 3D is coming to your home and it’ll be readily available in 2010.

Tech to Live By is Headed to CES!

Leaving for CES late tonight and hope to be there for Mulally’s Keynote…

Can’t stay for the whole show, but I can’t wait to see all the great electronics, argue the future of technology and get some free stuff!

If you’ll be there drop me a comment or e-mail techtoliveby@techtoliveby.com

IMAX 3D is the COOLEST! An Absolute Must See.

IMAX LogoIMAX 3D is without a doubt the coolest thing I’ve seen in recent years.  Even more amazing then the Pioneer Kuro Extreme demo at CES ’07 (which was freakin’ unbelievable).

My first experience with 3D was the magazines with blue and red glasses as a kid.  It did not work well.  My next experience was with Captain EO at Disneyland (which is coming back in February 2010…hell ya!).  It was significantly better.  Captain EO is only about 17 minutes so eye fatigue was not really an issue and the effects definitely worked (things fly out at you, depth in the screen, etc), but the whole thing seemed cheesy.  That level of 3D pretty much kept up through Honey I Shrunk the Audience (another Disney attraction).

At CES ’07 I saw the next generation of 3D using alternating lenses connected to a 120hz TV. This was very impressive. It was the first time I had really considered 3D in the home and since then 3D has gained steam but hadn’t really hit the mainstream.

The technology is game changing without being gimmicky.  In fact, the experience was almost overwhelming.  I saw Avatar (I’ll gloss over how useless the actual plot was) and my mind was blown before I was through the IMAX 3D previews (bastards make you watch a full set of regular trailers then a full set of IMAX 3D ones?! I hate trailers, but I digress).

Overall, it didn’t feel like I was immersed in the movie so much as it was just a richer, deeper viewing experience…like I was watching a play and not a flat screen.  It was far more engaging than traditional projection and kept my attention through an otherwise predictable and long movie.

At first there was definitely the opportunity for a bit of motion sickness (I’m sure some movie will take it to the extreme.  Jackass 3D I’m looking at you.), but it settled down.  Avatar is over 2.5 hours and my eyes did get a bit tired, but I’m pretty sure that was over 2 hours into the movie and the feeling went away after a minute of taking the glasses off.

I’m not a big movie goer (in fact, i generally despise the movie going experience), but I will see every IMAX 3D that comes out in 2010 (and I’m upset I missed previous ones).  You should absolutely do the same.

How do you like IMAX 3D?

Video Camera in My Goggles? It’s about time.

Liquid Image Camera GogglesIn a ‘what took you so long’ moment Liquid Image will be unveiling it’s 335 Snow Camera Goggle at CES this week.

This thing doesn’t mess around either… 5MP camera, video recording w/ audio, integrated controls, over 2 hours of video recording battery life  and expandable memory!  What more could you ask for!!

It’ll go on-sale for about $150 sometime this summer (with plenty of time to spare before the next season and perfect timing for my birthday).