CES 2015: webOS, tablets and funky tv’s

The 2015 International CES is over.  Among the products and product lines shown off were curved Televisions, 4K TV, ‘quantum dot’ TV, TV dongles, tablets, smartphones and accessories, self driving cars and more computers-of all shapes and sizes. Oh, and smart watches and fitness bands. Lots of them.

So, where do we start?  Well, lets start with one of my favorite operating systems. This OS is now in televisions, phones and … soon, smart watches.  Yep, webOS is making a splash with LG spearheading the way.  They purchased the OS from HP in 2013 and began adapting it for use in smart televisions.  The first effort, while it sold five million televisions, was less than stallear. webOS 2.0, however, is said to be fast and easier to code for than the previous release.  It has also been shrunk down to watch size.  LG has, seemingly, teamed with Audi to produce a watch that can open the car doors, place calls and a plethora of things.  LG denies it and Audi was just trying to show off the car.  The Verge reports seeing an ‘about’ screen that shows the webOS version.  For a dead OS, it sure is making a splash.  The interesting thing is that, at the current rate, LG will have more webOS devices in the wild than Palm/HP Palm ever could.

Intel showed off its Compute Stick, an HDMI dongle for your Television that is a complete Windows computer on a stick.  Selling for $149, the Compute Stick features an Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and features a micro-SD slot for future expansion. So, it is a rather spartan PC, but, it is very portable and Wifi enabled,so you could just throw it in a bag, your pocket, whatever and take it with you instead of a laptop. The drawbacks, of course, are that you do need a keyboard and mouse AND an HDMI enabled display. But, if you don’t mind these limitations, the Stick might just be your travelling companion.  A cheaper, $89 version running Linux will also be available.  Though, the Linux version sports half the RAM and only 8GB of storage.

I’m no Sony fan, but, I would definitely purchase their newest 65 inch set. This thing is 4.9 mm thick. The 4K set is thinner than most current smartphones.  It is edge to edge awesomness.

In a big nod to Microsoft’s Surface tablets, a group of former Google engineers introduced the Remix. To be offered up next month via a Kickstarter campaign, the device has many of the same features of Surface, looks like the Surface and its software, another Android fork, even resembles Windows 8 applications and its mail client is a rip off of Windows 8 mail.  Still, It says much about Surface that these gentlemen would decide to ‘me too’ the tablet.

Speaking of tablets, there were plenty to choose from. From a six inch Windows tablet all the way up to a 65 inch, 4k enabled tablet from FUHU.  Perhaps the most interesting ones, however, are the under $150 Windows tablets which are going to be available in the next month or so.  There were no new Kindles, but there were a bunch of Android tablets as well. No one tablet really stood out (well, maybe that 65 incher) but they were all well represented.  Have a look on CNet’s News.Com for more.

For a complete wrap up of the events at CES, the Verge has a good summary.

Retro-Gaming: Emerson Arcadia

This week is the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The latest in consumer technology will be displayed.  Numerous televisions, computers, MP3 players, Blu-Ray disc players, automobile accessories, you name it, they will be displayed.  Microsoft gave its last (for now) keynote address in which they showed off the latest version of Windows, Windows Phone and, of course, XBOX.

Arcadia boxXBOX represents the current state of home video games.  It has innovative controllers like Kinect and high resolution graphics. It is the penultimate gaming console for this generation.  Now, let’s rewind some thirty years and take a look at gaming in the early 1980’s, specifically, the Emerson Arcadia.

Emerson Arcadia?  I bet you’ve not heard of that one. Well, that’s OK.  Most people probably won’t either. 

Emerson has long been a brand in the United States.  For quite some time, in fact, it was as ubiquitous as General Electric or RCA.  Your parents or relatives may recall watching Emerson TV’s or listening to an Emerson console radio.

Well, during the early 80’s, video games were hot.  The management at the company decide that it, too, needed a console. They wanted to compete with Atari, who was still cashing in on the VCS, THE console to have at the time. Arcade games were all the rage and Atari was cashing in with home versions of those games.  Emerson saw a huge market.  The Arcadia would be more powerful than the Atari and, at least on paper, on par or a little better than Atari’s competition, the Intellivision.

So, in 1982, the Arcadia hit the market.  To build up the library of games, and hoping to cash in on the arcade phenomenon, Emerson brought out copies of hit games. Problem was, most were not licensed and licensing the arcade games for home use was becoming a lucrative deal.  Companies began to sue and win.  The most famous such case was against Magnavox and the KC Munchkin game.  KC was an Odyssey 2 game based loosely on Pac-Man, THE hottest game at the time. Fearing the lawsuits, Emerson exec’s panicked and many of the clones were either reworked or cancelled. As a result, Arcadia had few games at launch that anyone would recognize.  The system was cancelled almost as soon as it was released. It hit clearance bins almost immediately.  Couple that with the release of the Colecovision, which featured arcade quality graphics and sound, and you can see that Arcadia was obsolete before it got going.

Arcadia failed right away and Emerson withdrew from the market.  I cannot say that had they stuck with it, we might be playing EmersonStations today, but I think the system COULD have found a following. It wasn’t all that bad and was superior to the VCS.  It more closely resembled the Intellivision. It’s graphical ability was similar and the controllers were near copies except they had little screw on joysticks for the controller discs.

Cattrax The games for the system were mostly re-worked clones, of which a few are standouts like CatTrax, a Pac-Man like game. There were a few actual licensed titles like Jungler, but those were games that were not nearly as popular (and probably why Emerson could license them, they were probably cheap to license.)  In fact CatTrax and two other games were ported to the Atari VCS and were moderately successful on that system (probably more so than on the console for which they were developed.) I have played CatTrax and love the game.

I don’t know how collectable the Arcadia really is, I’ve not yet been able to acquire one, though I would love to so.  I have played around with the games via emulation and they are mostly mediocre, but the CatTrax game is clever and fun. 

Arcadia 2001 gamesComparing this console to something like the XBOX or the Wii is not fair to either system. But, there is something to be said about the rather simple nature of the Arcadia (and, indeed, most of the games from that time) games. I may be addicted to Call of Duty, but I get just as big a kick from CatTrax.  Emerson is no longer a household name (nor a standalone company for that matter) and their only true contribution to video games is a console that went straight to the bargain bin yet there is that question ‘what if’. What if they had done things right? What if they had not out and out lied about the abilities of the system (claiming it had 28K memory when it like 2k) or what if they had more hit games to sell the system.  What if…

As was the case with the Magnavox Odyssey 2, this system was sold overseas and actually did fairly well in some areas, though it still did not have a long life.  The system was sold with strange design changes and, worse, the cartridges were not always electrically compatible with the US counterpart. I guess that just confirms most people’s opinion of the console: Odd. It was an odd console. It was odd for Emerson to put so much effort into the product, only to pretty much abandon it at launch.  Very odd, indeed.

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CES 2012: the replicator and Roku

This past week was highlighted by the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This is typically the trade show where companies show off the gee-whiz technology products for the coming year. Indeed, some really nifty tech has been introduced and showed off at CES.  Every year, at least one product or category tends to stand out. Last year, it was 3D television and tablet computers.  This year? Well…nothing, really. Oh, there were lots of both, but no one stand out product or category.

In fact, the show seems to be kind of a dud.  Granted, I was not there in person, but, then again, with all of the coverage and live blogging, I didn’t need to be.  In fact, I don’t feel the need to even really cover it since it is already over covered.  However, I do feel like I need to say something about it…it is, after all, a big deal.

So…did anything catch my eye? Well, yeah, a few things did.  The MakerBot Replicator 3D Printer, for me, is the most exciting product shown off at the show. The printer, much like the replicator on the Star Trek the Next Generation program, MAKES THINGS. Yes, it is a true 3D printer.  Feed it a pattern and it will, layer by layer, build a real 3D model for you.  Now, you won’t be able to replicate, for example, a television or a full size auto, but you will be able to make individual parts, toys, forks and other small things.  This is great for prototyping, toy making, replacing smaller parts, etc.  I see all kinds of uses for this thing.  Miss that Lego brick? No problem…print a new one.  And therein lies the problem too.

As with video and audio, copyright infringement will come into play.  Go ahead, make that Lego brick and risk breaking the law.  Just imagine the wheels at the Lego company when they figure out how easily their product can be reproduced.  These printers and the material are currently very expensive but they are coming down in price.  $2000 will get you a dual color MakerBot replicator.  Next year, they may cost half that.  As soon as they break the $299 barrier, that is when you will see a real cry from companies that, previously, did not normally have to worry such things as homemade parts.  Oh man…DRM on 3D patterns.  Progress.

Another product that caught my eye was the Roku HDMI stick. Until, that is, read more about it. ON the surface, it looks great. Roku’s next set top box is not a box but a dongle. An HDMI dongle. They squeezed an entire Roku into something not much bigger than a USB stick.  Pretty amazing…but…most HDMI equipped sets will not be able to use this thing as it uses a different type of HDMI connector…one that is not yet on most devices.  Sigh.  I would buy one, two or more of these things but…not going to replace my TV’s any time soon.

So, two products out of thousands.  Not good.  I am starting to think I have gotten jaded.  I’ve grown so used to be being wowed and, when I’m not, I’m really bummed and that is how I feel about CES this year. Just not much happened.  Other than Nintendo demoing the Wii U to a handful of people, that is.  Oh well, I guess there is always next year. Or Apple’s next big announcement…I wonder what that could be.

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