CES 2018 Wrap Up

CES 2018 Wrap Up


Blackfire Research is back from Las Vegas, where we spent the entire second week of January at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This year was packed with productive meetings in our official CES Suite at The Venetian Hotel and Casino. However, we did manage to get down to the Sands Expo and Las Vegas Convention Center to check out all the cool, new tech for 2018 – here’s what we saw at CES this year and our takeaways from the show:


Hey Google

If last year’s CES was dubbed “The Amazon Home Takeover,” this year could be summarized by one simple greeting: “Hey Google.” The search engine giant was everywhere this year: literally. They had a massive 3-story booth right outside the convention center, and at every booth that featured products touting Google Home smart speaker/Google Assistant functionality, a Google representative was there, donning a white jumpsuit fresh out of George Orwell’s dystopian vision of 1984. But Google’s overwhelming presence at the show paid off: this year, all eyes were on them. From Whirlpool appliances to smart speakers with video displays, you couldn’t escape the latest “Google Home Takeover.” Amazon was present at CES of course (Whirlpool also featured appliances with Amazon’s Dash Buttons built-in, which is pretty neat and useful) but if a winner had to be chosen for CES 2018, Google would be voted “Best in Show.” Speaking of which…


All (Robot) Dogs Go to Heaven

Sony has brought back their popular Aibo robot dog and everyone at the show couldn’t have been happier. This very good boy is new and improved for the AI age with a camera on his nose so he can recognize members of his family (awww) and find his bone (awww). He also features a camera on his back to help him navigate the house to find his charging station. With touch sensors on his head, back, and chin, he can respond to touch like any ‘ol dog would: by wagging his tail, moving his head, and stomping his widdle feeties. With his adorable LED-lit eyes, this is by far the best, and most realistic, pet robot on the market. Unfortunately, Sony hasn’t announced plans to sell Aibo in the US anytime soon. Doggonit!


A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words…

This year, we’ve officially stepped into the world of 8K. But since 4K is barely a thing yet (because there’s hardly any 4K content available still) Samsung has gone around the issue of total lack of 8K content by unveiling it’s Q9S 8K TV with AI Upscaling, meaning, that this TV can convert any content into 8K resolution. And from firsthand experience, we can tell you that 8K resolution is pretty darn good. The picture was so incredibly clear that jaws dropped during the demo. Another Samsung showstopper this year was their enormous, bezel-less The Wall: a 146-inch modular MicroLED TV.


Honorable Mentions & Takeaways

5G cellular technology, the latest and greatest approved standard, wasn’t on display much at CES this year, mainly because the hardware needed for it isn’t quite ready yet. There were a few booths demonstrating it’s super-fast capabilities, but overall, it was all quiet on the 5G front at CES. But don’t expect that to last long: with 5G technology coming to the main service providers fast, it’s sure to be all the rage at next year’s event.


Once again, this year’s CES felt more like a car show than anything, with a plethora of smart, autonomous vehicles on display (some of which seemed to be taken straight from an episode of Black Mirror). Also, Wireless charging was big this year, especially since Apple announced their commitment to the Qi Wireless Charging standard last September.

Overall, between the rain and loss of power, this year’s CES was a bit chaotic. But we still managed to see some pretty neat tech that was useful, inspiring and – we hope – becomes available soon (we’re looking at you, Aibo!)

The Future is Wireless

The Future is Wireless


It’s hard to imagine a world without wires, but that’s precisely where we may find ourselves in the next few years, with 2018 serving as an especially pivotal moment in wireless adoption and breakthroughs. For years, manufacturers have promised an end to “wirey, tangled-mess woes,” but it’s looking as if they are now making good on their promise. With the prevalence of Wi-Fi in homes, cafes, airports, and basically anywhere else you may find yourself needing internet, the need for physical network cables, like ethernet cables, have pretty much become obsolete. And speaking of cafes and airports: many of them now offer free wireless charging stations.


Since Apple unveiled their commitment to the Qi wireless charging standard in their latest iPhones this past fall, the wireless charging industry, which had been plagued by a lack of standardization, seems to be siding with Qi from here on out. Soon after the big Apple announcement, Powermat, who provide wireless charging mats at Starbucks, said that they will add Qi compatibility to their product. But Apple isn’t the only company who has sided with Qi: Samsung (Galaxy S8, Note 8), IKEA, and a plethora of automobile manufacturers have began to support Qi wireless charging. Who else will begin to support this standard in 2018? We expect a lot more manufacturers to follow suite. However, this sort of charging isn’t technically wireless (the charging mat still needs to be plugged into an outlet). But there are a few companies who are creating charging options that are truly wireless, such as Energous, Ossia, and Wi-Charge. (To learn more about these companies, check out this blog post).


To the irritation of many users, smartphones are doing away with the 3.5mm audio jack, paving the way for the exclusive use of Bluetooth wireless headphones (unless you use a dongle to plug your wired headphones into your phone’s Lightning port or USB-C port). But companies like Apple and Google would rather you spend $150+ on a pair of their wireless AirPods or Pixel Buds. And unfortunately for all us audio-enthusiasts out there: the audio quality produced by Bluetooth headphones is worse than a wired headset because audio is re-compressed over Bluetooth. So, the extinction of the audio jack on the smartphone may solve the problem of having to untangle your headphones before each use, but it significantly cheapens the user’s listening experience.  


But there are many things to look forward to in the years ahead: there’s the expansion of wireless charging for laptops and 5G wireless services, just to name a few. And we’re sure to see many more innovations down the road, because wireless technology is essential to the smart home of the future. But one thing we know for sure: with Blackfire technology embedded into a smartspeaker, smart TV, set top box, smartphone and more, the whole home can be wirelessly connected. Combining individual entertainment systems to work together, creating a truly connected smart home is non trivial – it requires precise synchronization, low latency for lip sync, and a general reliability over standard Wi-Fi (the best and most commonly used communication protocol for the home.) Something like this has not been done before – until now.

Blackfire provides the industry’s only wireless and entertainment-centric infrastructure software framework built from the ground up to both overcome the limitations of Wi-Fi when used for media applications, and meet the needs of wireless entertainment-related consumer applications and products. It’s not enough to merely have Wi-Fi connectivity between consumer products. Real-time exchanges of entertainment content require a common framework that can work reliably over Wi-Fi, and has a rich set of features for a broad spectrum of entertainment products. Blackfire technology also supports low latency and multi-channel, which other wireless solutions do not.


It may be hard to imagine a world without wires, but with Blackfire in your entertainment devices, cutting the cord has never felt more seamless.

Revenge of the Smart TV

Revenge of the Smart TV


According to research firm Parks Associates, 45% of U.S. broadband households own a Smart TV, “making it the most commonly used platform for streaming video content among this group.” Additionally, roughly 60% of the those surveyed said that the device display on a Smart TV is easier to navigate and easier to find content than other connected devices, such as a set top box (STB).


Despite the high praise from devoted users, overall sales of Smart TVs, including those with 4K/Ultra HD resolution, have plateaued in recent years. “As a result, we are seeing new partnerships among device manufacturers focused on ways to improve or refresh the UI [user interface] of the smart TV, to make the device easy to use and a single point of content in the living room,” says Jennifer Kent, Director of research quality and product development at Parks Associates.


Additionally, streaming services are only gaining in popularity. Thanks to engaging, original content and an abundance of mainstay classics, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are gradually killing cable. Data from financial services company Raymond James “shows that 31 percent of Internet users polled in November cited a streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu as their primary source of video content, up from 24 percent a year ago and only a few percent behind the 35 percent of survey respondents who named cable as their primary video source.” (Sound and Vision) That means, now, more than ever, entertainment device manufacturers need to start designing their products with streaming at the forefront.


Another feature that has been gaining traction over the last few years is voice control, and we should expect to see more entertainment devices, such as Smart TVs, unveil voice control functionality in 2018. Research from Parks Associates shows that “consumer demand is pushing voice control into the connected entertainment area” fueling it’s growth in the market.


This study proves that instead of having many disparate devices that play media throughout the home, consumers want to have access to all their entertainment content – such as music and video streaming services – from one central place. And what better place than the living room TV? Establishing the living room TV as a central hub from which all entertainment content can be easily accessed (and sent out to other devices in a multi-room setup) cuts down on the confusion for what can be played from which device. It’s time the TV stepped into the 21st century…

Implemented into the home’s central Smart TV, Blackfire’s revolutionary new protocol, The Blackfire Realtime Entertainment Distribution (RED) framework, allows users to to create a wireless, whole home entertainment system. With the Blackfire RED framework embedded in wireless speakers and the Smart TV, users can finally enjoy a truly wireless, connected home. The Blackfire RED framework is the most synchronous, reliable, and cost effective wireless solution on the market, and can be integrated into a broad spectrum of high quality voice service applications as well. Many companies have already stepped into the future by leveraging Blackfire’s technology. Now is your chance. Join the Blackfire Revolution today.

CES 2018: One Week Countdown

CES 2018: One Week Countdown


The Consumer Technology Association’s annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is only one week away, and boy are we excited! For those who don’t know, CES is the largest consumer electronics show in the world, showcasing more than “3,900 exhibiting companies, including manufacturers, developers and suppliers of consumer technology hardware, content, technology delivery systems and more…with more than 170K attendees from 150 countries.” (CES). At last year’s CES, we were witness to paper-thin TVs, autonomous vehicles, multi-screen gaming laptops, VR headsets, and, of course, every connected device imaginable with Amazon’s Alexa built-in. But what will CES 2018 bring to the ever-changing technology landscape?


Here are a few things we know so far:


Samsung always makes a big splash at CES, and we’re hoping that 2018 is no different. Rumors are circulating that Samsung’s “bendable” smartphone, the Galaxy X, could be debuted during the show, as well as the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9 Plus, and a huge 150-inch TV featuring MicroLED technology.


Judging by their CES 2018 event tagline: “Reality has never been so exhilarating,” it seems that this year, Lenovo is all in for VR. The computer manufacturing company is hosting a launch event the first day of the show, most likely to unveil its standalone Google Daydream VR headset.


In the past, Google has made their presence known at CES through their third-party hardware partners, but this year, the search engine giant will take center stage themselves with a large outdoor booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center. And what will they be showcasing? Most likely the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL, the new Google Home Mini and Google Home Max, and the latest Daydream View virtual reality headset. But this is CES, so there are possibilities for a surprise as well – a new Chromebook, perhaps?


One of the main highlights at CES over the past few years has been the incredible showcase of autonomous, electric, and concept cars. It doesn’t look like last year’s “Tesla Killer,” Faraday Future, will be making an appearance this time around, after a turbulent year for the electric car company forced them to halt production on the FF 91, at least for now. However, it seems that Fisker, an automotive company based out of Southern California, will be taking the reigns from Faraday Future at CES 2018 with the debut of their latest luxury electric automobile, Emotion, with a reported range of over 400 miles. We’re also looking forward to more impressive concept cars from Toyota and Hyundai, which recently announced their “New Mobility Experience” at CES 2018, which will “introduce its vision of the car of the future, new and original future car technologies, as well as disclose its developments in autonomous driving, electrification and cockpit experience, including products that have the potential to be mass-produced within the next one to three years.”


Regardless of what the thousands of CES exhibitors show, we are certain that this year will have one major parallel to last year: and that’s more Amazon Echo and and Google Home product integration. So, what new, connected smart home devices can we expect to see at the show this year? A talking blender? How about an Alexa-enabled toilet? We’ll have to wait a few more days to find out.


CES will descend upon Las Vegas Nevada next week from January 9 – January 12, 2018.

The Smart Home: Where it Stands at Year’s End

The Smart Home: Where it Stands at Year’s End


Up until recently, the notion of a smart home had been a sci-fi fantasy, with tech enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the day their kitchens or living rooms resemble the deck of the Starship Enterprise. To the joy of many, 2017 was labeled “The Year of the Smart Home,” when smart home products that had, up until this point, been popular with niche tech groups and the early adopter crowd would finally make it big in the mainstream market. The year began with an abundance of connected, “smart things” at CES in January – from washer/dryer units and refrigerators, to security cameras and thermostats – many of which incorporated built-in Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice control capabilities. But overall, how did smart home products live up to the hype in 2017?


It was the introduction of the Amazon Echo Smart Speaker back in 2014 that triggered interest in mainstream smart home gadgets. For the first time, the market had an inexpensive, easy-to-use, beneficial smart product everyone in the home could enjoy. Since then, tech companies and manufacturers have been playing “catch up,” some fairly successfully, like Google, and othersnot so much. With the introduction and influx of smart speakers, other connected products, like Philips Hue Smart Lighting, have gained popularity because they serve as perfect additions to the Echo connected things ecosystem. And, thanks to Amazon’s Echo, voice control has now become the key remote interface within the home.


Media research group, Kagan, reports that the number of smart homes in the U.S. grew to over 15 million by the end of last year, which equated to about 12.5% of all U.S. households. According to another report, 26.5% of all U.S. households in 2017 now have at least one smart home product.


However, in 2017, consumers are still skeptical about the security of these pricey gadgets. And in a year full of cyber-security disasters, homeowners are growing more anxious about the safety of these products, with a common fear amongst consumers being that intelligent alarm systems and locks can be easily hacked by intruders and that smart TVs and speakers will spy or eavesdrop on unsuspecting users. But according to Business Insider, 2017 smart home adoption problems don’t stem from security issues, but rather, from issues that have plagued these products since the get-go: “high prices, technological fragmentation, and consumers’ lack of a perceived benefit from the devices.”


Although prices are steadily dropping, there hasn’t been a strong enough demand for these products to justify the cost. Consumer awareness of the value of smart home products is helping somewhat, but there are plenty of challenges still facing these device brands and manufacturers, such as interoperability issues, security, and overall usability. In 2017, the connected living expanded significantly, and in 2018, it’s expected to continue to grow steadily in the U.S., driven by an expanding number of connected, smart devices in the market.