April 9, 2012
Whoever said 90 percent of life is showing up will be proven wrong in the next few years. We’re increasingly seeing more affordable technology that can work with Wi-Fi or cellular connections – and usually smartphone apps – to enable us to remotely control and monitor just about anything and video chat is becoming ever more feasible.
But there are certain applications for which the nearly complete removal of distance confines may have questionable utility. Take, for example, Evoz, “the baby monitor with unlimited range.” The idea of remotely monitoring a room with what is essentially a network-enabled microphone and companion app has obvious interest to those who practice espionage. However, I first saw the product on ThinkGeek, where a commenter snarked that the product was a good fit for parents’ “for when you leave your baby at home while you go to the grocery store.”
Then there’s the Viper SmartStart, which lets you unlock and start your car from afar. You won’t find any accusations of bad parenting to go along with this product; the remote range is a neat feature to have when, say, you are leaving an office building on a wintry day. Here, cellular is a real enabler, but the notion of unlimited range is again questionable. I can see the case of remotely unlocking a vehicle in case someone accidentally got locked out, but how often does one really need to be able to start one’s vehicle from across the country?
Tags: anywhere, appcessories, apps, baby monitor, evoz, remote start, telepresence, viper smartstart
July 8, 2011
I can now say that MusicLites, the networked speakers that think they’re light bulbs (because they are), put out some very nice audio (certainly suited for more than ambient soundtracks and better than other “whole home” systems I’ve tried) from an ingeniously discreet and fairly effective source location over your head. This is not too surprising given the audio was engineered by Artison, a high-end speaker manufacturer that would not want to compromise its brand in the name of audio novelty. While they are impressively small for quality speakers, though, the MusicLites are rather large for light bulbs. For example, each MusicLite speaker weighs about 1.75 lbs. Compare that to a compact florescent bulb that weighs about six ounces.
Before you jump in, know that MusicLites were designed for ceiling lighting wells (making them one of the rare high-tech products explicitly designed to get screwed in a recession). This isn’t to say that they won’t fit into other lamps and ceiling fixtures, but the first three fixtures I tried putting them into were all too small, and the helpful YouTube videos that Artison has put up regarding MusicLites note that even some recessed wells may have challenges accommodating MusicLites. The designers of many of these lighting products simply never anticipated anything like the product. The system has some other imitations, but as retrofits go, it seems to be a promising approach.
Tags: Artison, contros, Home Automation, lighting, mesh networks, multi-zone audio, music, MusicLites, Osram Sylvania, Sonos, whole-home audio
December 11, 2010
There’s been a lot of doom and gloom around Wireless USB. Certainly from a video perspective, it seems that there are more robust choices entering the market although the folks at Veebeam seem to have gotten Ultra Wideband working cross-platform doing 1080p for less than a Benjamin.
Still, I haven’t had a lot of luck trying out the Warpia EasyDock, a WUSB-based solution. When I tried it a few weeks ago with a Core 2 Duo PC, I saw lags in the video performance that was supposed to be set to a relatively low resolution anyway. Trying it this week with a beefy Core i7 laptop, I got blue screens. Some of this may be Warpia’s support. When directed to download the latest driver, I saw two choices that looked like the product I was trying, but the model numbers didn’t match either of them, and there was a stern warning about using the wrong driver potentially causing damage. Oh, just forget it.
I look forward to catching up with the USB Implementers Forum at CES Unveiled next month to hear more abut what’s on tap for WUSB, an approach I still think is interesting for certain kinds of peripherals such as printers (although these, too, are now being addressed with standards such as Wi-Fi Direct) 2011 should be the year for USB 3.0, but failing a dramatic change, it could be the last gasp for Wireless USB.
Tags: AirPlay, amimon, Beebeam, DLNA, EasyDock, Imation, Intel, sibeam, USB 3.0, Warpia, whdi, WiGig, Wireless, wirelesshd, wirleess USB, WUSB
July 2, 2010
It takes a lot to out-cute Doxie, the socially savvy sheet-fed scanner strewn with pink hearts, but the Flash animation on ThinkEco’s site for its Modlet product may have one-upped “her.” One of the products I saw at the CEA Line Shows last week, Modlet plays on the interest in green electronics. It consists of a simple pair of electrical outlets which turn on and off based on a schedule that is set in advance. Modlets communicate with PCs using the Zigbee protocol via a small USB dongle; it seems like an inexpensive and .
Whenever I see products like the Modlet, I get to thinking about lighting and why it has been so difficult to get that part of the amorphous home automation market to take off. A huge part of it is, of course, the difficulty in doing retrofit installations. However, Zigbee radios are small. Isn’t there a way to embed them in the base of light bulbs themselves? If heat is an issue, I would think compact fluorescents or certainly LED lighting would alleviate that. While LED bulbs may be expensive, they are a pittance compared to the labor cost for an electrician to come in and install Zigbee controls in every wall switch.
Tags: green, lighting, Modlets, Zigbee
May 3, 2010
When I wrote about the Sony Dash for Engadget, I said that it signaled a more practical approach to delivering new category-shaping products by delivering new functionality for less than $200. Another other difference between Dash and some other recent Sony flops is that it has a clear lineage, serving as a mashup between a connected digital picture frame and an alarm clock, a category where Sony still participates.
One compromise that Sony had to make to reach that magic price point was to make the Dash a corded product. However, it does allow it to be used in two orientations, one being it lying flat on its back. In that instance, the screen orientation flips and the device becomes easier to see from a standing position. Another compromise includes a ascreen that certainly feels like a resistive device. In fact, I’ve found that I most effective way to operate the Dash is by cradling the top with my fingers and pressing buttons with my thumb. Perhaps it should befriend the Weighted Companion Cube.
Tags: Chumby, Internet appliances, SonyDash, widgets
November 25, 2009
Comedian George Carlin recognized that necessity is the mother of invention in a comedy routine (Warning: adult language) on the origin of flamethrowers:
“[A]t some point, some person said to himself, ‘Gee, I’d sure like to set those people on fire over there, but I’m way too far away to get the job done. If only I had something that would throw flame on them.. .””
The observation applies to less violent tasks that have driven home technology since the advent of the TV remote control . Indeed, the Windows 7 feature that probably received the most attention at the launch event was Play To. Play To simply enables one to “push” content such as music as photos to compatible DLNA receivers, and Microsoft used it to show how Windows 7 could simultaneously serve ten video streams (over wired gigabit Ethernet,)
But with Play To, unlike as with a flamethrower, it’s far more likely that you want to “pull” the output from a source than push it. Any serious media receiver around the home such as Sonos, a Logitech SqueezeBox or Apple TV provides a way to navigate sources remotely. This was a usage problem when Apple introduced AirTunes. Another shoe needed to drop and finally did once Apple finally released the Remote software for the iPod touch and iPhone years later.
Microsoft or its partners need to plug the Play To remote hold in similar fashion via iPhone software, Windows Mobile software, or some dedicated device because, in the world of DLNA, the same device can serve as server, renderer and controller, making things very confusing for the consumer. I’ll have more to say on the demands of this level of remote control in the near future.
Tags: AirTunes, digital media adapters, digital media receivers, DLNA, Play To, rremote control, Sonos
Maybe. Years ago, a standard called WDS (Wi-Fi Distribution System) was approved that enabled access points to act as bridges or repeaters to extend a Wi-Fi network. Vendors should have heaped love on WDS because it suddenly opened up households to having multiple access points. And even better (from their perspective) WDS was most likely to work if the base stations came from the same company.
But lack of interoperability was only one of the problems of WDS, which could also involve a serious performance hit. WDS has become less relevant in an age of 802.11n networks with superior range. And WDS has been hard to configure. You have d to enter the MAC addresses of both the “server” and “client” WDS nodes and there has usually been little to no feedback that the access points were linked.
Not surprisingly, Apple got around this by using Bonjour to link WDS access points with two simple check boxes in the AirPort Utility. But now, other companies should be able to approach that level of ease by using Wi-Fi Protected Setup, which uses a button on the router to more easily connect other network products. Even if WPS works for adding WDS repeaters, the tradeoffs and arcane nature of the standard will prevent it from being more of a mainstream consumer phenomenon, though. What we really need is true Wi-Fi mesh networking. I know standards have been kicking around IEEE for a long time, but as far as I know one has yet to be approved.
Tags: access points, Airport Extreme, Bomjour, routers, WDS, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Distribution System, Wi-Fi Protected Setup, WPS
October 2, 2009
Pioneering gadget site-turned-blog The Gadgeteer reports that — following in the footsteps of such tech products as the TomTom One, the Gateway One, and the Acer Aspire One — Chumby Industries will release the second generation of its hacker toy-turned-widget playback device, the Chumby One. Selling for about $100, the revamped device has a far more modern appearance, albeit one that says more “kitchen” to me than bedroom.” In fact, I had been thinking of duplicating my iPod touch kitchen setup on my nightstand.
It will be interesting to see what changes Chumby makes in the name of role optimization. For example, the protuberance on its right side may be some kind of knob, and perhaps the top can be outfitted with a proper snooze button. As a long-time Chumby user, the main change I’d make is an easier way to manually move among a few multiple widgets (a la Exposé or HTC Sense) versus continuously cycling through hem slide show-style. The quest for a proper MP3 alarm clock may be at its end.
Tags: Chumby, kitchen Chumby One, widgets
Regular readers here and elsewhere and elsewhere know that I had high expectations of the Avaak Vue following in the tradition of products such as the Flip, Eee, Sonos, Peek and PogoPlug in simplifying and expanding the market for what has been a challenged category. It must be noted off the bat that the Vue is not intended to replace a full-scale monitoring system installed by a monitoring company such as ADT or even a DIY system strung together with IP cameras (such as the recently debuted Viaas system shown off at DEMO Fall ‘09). Rather, like so many other of these products, it is focused on secondary functionality, in this case, “checking in” on a property, people or pets for a few minutes at a time.
Previous whole-home video systems have been expensive, unwieldy and complex, partly because of the need to supply power to the batteries, but not the Avaak. Simply plug the base into your router, press the Sync button, and attach the AAAA battery-powered, golf ball-sized camera to one of the amazing tiny magnetic mounts. Then go to the Web site and enter a unique ID for your base station and you’re ready to view and record video from a browser.
It all works brilliantly. I would of course be nice of the Vue could perform the kind of self-identification magic that the PogoPlug can, but Avaak appears on its way to creating the first multi-room video streaming system that can be used by ordinary consumers. I’ll certainly have more to say about the Vue system soon.
Tags: home monitoring, telepresence
August 11, 2009
I welcome a tweeting representative at ViewSonic Corp. as one my most recent Twitter followers; I am following him or her as well.. ViewSonic has always been a progressive display company, which I suppose it has had to be as one of the few independent brands in the PC monitor marketplace. Seeing ViewSonic in my followers’ list got me thinking about the company’s various forays to market intelligent displays.
Back when Microsoft launched Smart Displays, tablet terminals that used Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol to access a PC from around the home, it positioned the devices as the future of the monitor. Smart Displays were contrasted against Tablet PCs, which were positioned as the future of the laptop. Clearly, the latter had greater longevity although neither initiative became the future of anything.
Still, I liked the Smart Display concept. If netbooks indicate that price was the main obstacle presenting consumers from buying ultraportables with 11” and smaller screens, perhaps a lower-cost tablet could vindicate the Smart Display form factor (if not its design goals). Certainly that’s what the CrunchPad is setting out to do. In any case, VviewSonic was the leading brand in the doomed category, offering AirPanel Smart Displays in both 10” (pictured) and 15” screen sizes with a USB keyboard.
More recently at this year’s CES, ViewSonic jumped on the netbook/nettop bandwagon, showing a number of PCs such as a backpack PC intended to affix to the back of a monitor, an all-in-one, and a netbook. The challenge, though, is that while the netbook market has raised Asus’ profile, consumers are increasingly thinking about netbooks as little Windows PCs, and in turn are looking to big Windows PC brands, On the other hand, maybe a big “PC” brand like Apple can open up the tablet category.
I don’t know if ViewSonic has it in them, so to speak, but if Archos as well as the CrunchPad and Touch Book teams were able to do it, I’m sure ViewSonic could as well. Maybe it could embed Android (which would probably be the way to go despite large-screen Android misgivings), or one of the “instant on” operating systems such as SplashTop or HyperSpace. In any case, ad at the risk of damning it with faint praise, the Web tablet is probably the best opportunity since Smart Display for a monitor manufacturer to really differentiate itself technologically.
Tags: crunchpad, Smart Displays, smart monitors, Touch Book, ViewSonic, Web tablets