As with every CES, all sorts of sexy gadgetry parades about the various show venues. And, while I wasn’t in attendance this year, you can bet I was obsessively ingesting of the tech blog coverage and press release fire hose. While some swooned over recycled approaches that are unlikely to move markets and televisions only corporate entities could entertain, I found myself smitten with an inexpensive Anker accessory.

The Internet of Everything seemed to be the overarching theme this year, with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant garnering much attention through all sorts of integrations. Yeah, many of these are superfluous with a number of open questions regarding security, privacy, and reliability. But, but gadgets! As such, the $50 Anker Roav VIVA caught my eye. It’s cheap, fun, and … shipping next month — something you can’t say about so many CES unveilings. No, I don’t need Alexa in my car. But that didn’t stop me from driving around with an Echo Dot like Alan Wolk. In many ways, Alexa is largely inferior to the native Android or iPhone voice assistants as an automative communicator (think text messaging and navigation). Yet, Alexa is so much better with random queries and sports a humgo list of skills (and my daughter loves calling Elmo). Continue Reading…

Beyond doubling down on cable television capabilities at CES, Silicon Dust also announced an upcoming cord cutter DVR. While the company has produced network tuners, basically forever, and been iterating on DVR software recently, the upcoming HDHomeRun Connect DUO+ is the first to merge both solutions within a single box, along with a hard drive. As such, the two-tuner Duo+ includes 250GB of storage, good for 60hrs of HD antenna recording. As opposed to TiVo or Channel Master, the Duo+ is more Tablo-like in that it’s a headless device that streams content through various platform apps, like Roku and Fire TV. Beyond claims of a mid-year release and reference to a DVR subscription fee (currently $35/yr), timing and pricing remain elusive.

As rumored, a newly public Roku will be expanding their portfolio to include audio. And, first up is a Roku-powered “smart” soundbar produced by long-time partner TCL.

This product will take advantage of the Roku OS to deliver a superb entertainment experience. It will offer premium sound, while taking advantage of Roku Connect to connect to other AV devices, and new voice controls accessible through the Roku Entertainment Assistant. Although the TCL Roku Smart Soundbar will be compatible with any TV, it will be even better when combined with TCL Roku TVs by extending hands free voice and audio capabilities to the TV for more control and entertainment functionality.

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Photo via Josh Pollard, Digital Media Zone

Well, what do you know… CableCARD ain’t dead yet. And, at CES, network tuner manufacturer Silicon Dust is showing an updated HDHomeRun Prime. This incoming model doubles the existing unit’s capabilities by simultaneously tuning six cable channels, in a smaller form factor that SIliconDust has been noodling on for several years. It sounds like the $200 HDHomeRun Prime 6 will effectively replace the $130 Prime when it’s scheduled to launch mid-year, within a more premium enclosure than the prototype shown above. Of course, hardware is only half the picture and some sort of software client is required to present content – current options include Silicon Dust’s own HDHomeRun apps and DVR service, Channels for Apple TV, and Plex on multiple devices including Roku. In that vein, Silicon Dust indicates changes are coming to permit access to CCI Byte-restricted channels like HBO (and something I assume is as much certification as it is software engineering).

As TiVo puts the finishing touches on their CES experience, we can clearly see from the “booth” signage (above) that they’re expanding beyond newly introduced native voice control to embrace third parties. While TiVo “Vox” offers far deeper integration and control, including stacked commands, than Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant can provide, those offerings are always-listening (for better or worse) and already installed in many TiVo customer’s homes… and options are good. No word yet on availability, but I assume this will come to all Hydra-endowed retail units and whichever MSOs choose to integrate (who may be limited by regional availability). Continue Reading…

Channel Master just unveiled an $89 “smart” antenna, featuring “seven different reception patterns.” And I had the same question as you – what does that even mean? So I rang up VP Joe Bingochea to get some answers.

It turns out the company has partnered with Ethertronics to integrate a variant of their “active steering” technology, also implemented within Samsung handsets for years and years. The amplified SMARTenna+ incorporates a tuner and some digital circuitry that will automatically scan the airwaves at first power up and then polarize the antenna elements for max receptivity – in this case, they’re going with the highest channel count as the preferred “pattern” (and presumably, in case of tie, higher quality signals would prevail). However, Channel Master recognizes your favorite channel may be an outlier, so the button on the bottom of the antenna manually steps through those patterns, should one need to fine-tune… in the literal sense. As an analogy, Joe reminded me of those old, powered rabbit ears that sported a dial.

Of course, the pinnacle of this technology would be a bundled antenna and set-top to match optimal “pattern” with currently tuned channel on the fly – something it turns out Sezmi had actually implemented back in the day and something Channel Master may look to in the future. Continue Reading…

Although announced last spring and having missed Belkin’s promised fall release, we knew the HomeKit-endowed WeMo Bridge was poised for release… and here it is. The Bridge does exactly what it says in linking up (a subset of) WeMo hardware to Apple’s smart home control — not only do you get direct Siri control of WeMo accessories, they’ll easily interoperate with all other devices in the ecosystem. For example, a WeMo motion sensor could be configured to trigger competing Hue lighting. Or the Philips Hue Motion Sensor, which I highly recommend, could trigger a WeMo Smart Outlet.

While WeMo Bridge pricing is reasonable at $40, it’s an easy decision for me to abstain. No, it’s not my well-documented frustrations with WeMo (since lessened) and HomeKit tepidness. It’s that Belkin has clearly abandoned the portion of the WeMo product line that I continue to rely on.

By way of Cord Cutters News, we learn that DISH subsidiary AirTV has inadvertently leaked upcoming product plans for at least one, if not two, DVR services. AirTV, of course, is designed to harness over-the-air television signals, with the first iteration displaying content locally and the newer edition implementing Slingbox technology to stream OTA around the house or around the world to apps on a variety of platforms including iPhone, Roku, Fire TV, and Apple TV.

While live antenna programming is nice, it’s also available on nearly every HDTV and “appointment television” is pretty darn limiting… so DVR capabilities would certainly enhance the value proposition of these offerings. Based on the pre-release marketing materials, it seems DISH will take divergent approaches in how they handle AirTV DVR based upon hardware model – but we’re reserving judgement until it all becomes official, presumably in the coming days as CES ramps up.

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