Cable Operators

CES 2012: State of the Gadget Nation

1/09/2012 4:01 PM Eastern

The tech faithful will make their annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the 2012 International Consumer
Electronics Show this week, with hearts set on new
products and services that promise to alter the video and
digital media landscape.

But taking some of the shine off the Vegas gadget-palooza,
CES in the last few weeks lost the support of two big
names: Microsoft and Verizon Communications.

LOSING CACHET?

Cover_Story_Image_01/09Microsoft last month announced that the
2012 CES would be its last — ending a nearly
two-decade presence at the show. CEO Steve
Ballmer will deliver a final opening-night keynote
on Jan. 9, which will be his fourth.

“We’ll continue to participate in CES as a
great place to connect with partners and customers
across the PC, phone and entertainment
industries, but we won’t have a keynote
or booth after this year, because our product-
news milestones generally don’t align
with the show’s January timing,” Microsoft
spokesman Frank Shaw wrote in a blog post.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which produces
CES, said the decision was mutual that “the time had come
to end this great run.”

Then last week came word that Verizon CEO Lowell Mc-
Adam had canceled his appearance at the annual Vegas
confab, with the telco citing a schedule change.

McAdam had been scheduled to appear on the “2012
CES Innovation Power Panel” on Wednesday, Jan. 11,
along with Xerox CEO Ursula Burns and Ford Motor Co.
CEO Alan Mulally. Verizon said it was looking into sending
another exec to fill in; at press time, CEA had not announced
a replacement speaker.

At the same time, Verizon will be showing off its latest
developments on the FiOS front at CES. Key among them
is an IP-enabled media gateway for FiOS TV customers,
which it expects to launch late this year, which promises
to cut energy consumption and distribute video wirelessly
to multiple devices in the home, including tablets and
game consoles.

The telco developed the gateway, which will feature six
tuners and up to 1 Terabyte of storage, with Motorola Mobility
at Verizon’s Innovation Labs in Waltham, Mass. Verizon
has not announced specific timing on the availability
of the new device or pricing, according to spokesman Phil
Santoro. Along with the media gateway, the telco will distribute
smaller set-top boxes — which eventually be small
enough to Velcro to the back of a TV.

HOOKED INTO TV

The connected-TV revolution will continue to gather insurgents,
with announcements and demos expected from
Google TV, Sony, Nintendo and others.

At CES, Roku will be pitching its idea to Internet-enable
millions of TVs, including Best Buy’s Insignia line, with a
version of its streaming-video set-top box that it has boiled
down into a stick about the size of a USB flash drive. “We
think there’s opportunity to expand our streaming platform
to smart TVs,” Roku founder and CEO Anthony Wood
said.

The Roku Streaming Stick, to be available in the second
half of 2012, plugs into a TV’s HDMI port and “makes your
TV a fully integrated smart TV,” Wood said. Th e stick includes
Wi-Fi connectivity, processor and software, and
communicates with the TV using the Mobile High-Definition
Link (MHL) specifi cation.

Roku’s first partner for the Streaming Stick is Best Buy,
which will offer the device for its Insignia line of televisions.
Roku expects to line up other TV manufacturers as
well and will sell the Streaming Stick at retail for use with
any MHL-compatible set. Wood expects the device to cost
$50 to $100.

Roku has sold about 2.5 million set-top boxes through
the end of 2011, boosting unit shipments 300% last year,
according to Wood. The privately held company, which
had about $100 million in sales last year, now wants to
expand its footprint beyond standalone devices with the
Streaming Stick.

Roku now offers more than 400 channels, including
Netflix, HBO Go, Disney, Fox News, Amazon Instant Video,
Hulu Plus and a sampler channel from Showtime Networks
that launched last week.

But alongside the Internet-to-the-TV storyline, major
manufacturers — coming off a dreary year of sales and
plummeting retail prices — will also be focused on delivering
HDTVs that are mainly bigger, thinner and brighter.

Hoping to dazzle show-goers, LG Electronics plans to
show a 55-inch full-HD 1080p organic light-emitting diode
TV at CES, billed as the world’s largest OLED display.
Samsung Electronics also is expected to debut an OLEDbased
set at the show.

With OLED, manufacturers can produce ultra-thin and lightweight panels: LG’s 55-inch model is just 4 millimeters
(three-sixteenths of an inch) thick and 7.5 kilograms
(16.5 pounds). The technology also promises
enhanced contrast ratios and color reproduction purported
to be 50 times greater than current-generation
LED-backlit LCD displays.

The caveat: They’re going to be ultra-pricey. The 55-
inch OLED HDTVs will carry a list price of about $8,000
when they begin shipping in the third quarter of 2012,
according to research firm NPD DisplaySearch. That
will fall roughly by half by the end of 2013, but even at
$4,000 the sets will be more than four times as expensive
as their LCD cousins, DisplaySearch estimates.

VIDEO SLINGING

The ongoing migration of video content to a swarm of
tablets and smartphones will again be a big CES theme.

Broadcom, for one, is integrating EchoStar Technologies’
Sling Media place-shifting software into high-performance
set-top and gateway chips.

The chip-maker’s BCM7425 HD Dual Transcoding
Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) 2.0 Gateway
system-on-a-chip now supports Sling Media’s licensed
software. That will let set-top box and consumer-electronics
manufacturers deliver “SlingLoaded” products
for watching live and time-shifted TV on a wide range
of Internet-connected devices.

Broadcom-powered set-tops and gateways that support
the Slingbox software are expected to be available
by the third quarter of 2012.

“It’s clear that consumers expect a wide array of
television viewing options on their favorite wireless
devices, and EchoStar’s Sling Media technology solution
is the gold standard for place-shifting,” Dan Marotta,
executive vice president and general manager of Broadcom’s
Broadband Communications Group, said.

Zenverge, a developer of advanced media chips,
will showcase multistream transcoding and encoding
products for the North American cable market, which
provide the ability to simultaneously transcode up
to four HD channels (or up to 16 standard-definition
stream) for delivery to devices in the home. Investors
include Motorola Mobility and Entropic Communications.

Another company looking to make multiscreen waves
at CES is Shodogg. The Valhalla, N.Y.-based startup is
pitching a solution to TV makers and content owners
that lets smart phones send any Internet-hosted video
content to connected-TV devices.

“We’re AirPlay for everybody else,” said Shodogg CEO
Herb Mitschele, referring to a feature of the Apple TV
set-top that streams content from iPads and iPhones to
television sets.

But Shodogg’s approach simply facilitates the playback
of Web video on connected TVs, so content owners have
complete control over how it’s distributed. The company
has approached several TV makers about embedding its
playback client in their Internet-connected sets.

The technology was developed David Strober, an information-
technology professor at Westchester Community
College. His brother is Michael Strober, Turner
Broadcasting System’s vice president of advertising
sales in New York, who is listed as one of Shodogg’s
founders. The company, founded in May 2011, has
raised a $1.7 million seed round of funding from individual
investors. (Disclosure: Bill McGorry, chairman
of sister pubication Broadcasting & Cable’s Hall
of Fame, is on Shodogg’s advisory board.)

Elsewhere in the cross-platform arena, Civolution
will demo a new real-time content triggering service
that enables synchronized ad delivery to second-screen
applications. The service uses Civolution’s broadcast
monitoring infrastructure of more than 1,700 TV channels
worldwide, of which more than 1,250 are in North
America.

BUILDING A SMARTER HOME

CES also will feature advances in products and technologies
aimed at letting consumers live the “connected
lifestyle,” to access media more easily on a range of gadgets
and control the electronic systems in their homes.

Motorola Mobility, for example, will roll out a device
it touts as the brains of the connected home of
the future.

The Connected Home Gateway, built on Motorola’s
4Home platform for home automation, security and
energy management, plugs into any outlet in the home
and automatically connects to the diff erent devices it
discovers. That promises to let service providers sell
new services that let customers remotely control and
monitor their lights, thermostats, security systems and
other “smart home” components.

“People want anywhere, anytime access to their digital
lives,” Motorola Mobility president Dan Moloney
said in a statement. “Our suite of award-winning products
addresses the new ways that people are embracing
their connected lifestyle in the home.”

The gateway is built on Marvell’s 800-MHz Armada
processor (upgradeable up to 1.2 GHz) and supports
a range of networking technologies, including Wi-Fi
802.11.n, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, Ethernet and a USB 2.0
host port. Th e two-pound device measures 4.5-by-1.5-
by-4.5 inches.

The Connected Home Gateway includes Motorola’s
Edge Service Assurance software for remote support,
troubleshooting, proactive quality assurance and service
activation.

The 4Home system has been deployed by Verizon
Communications, which introduced its “smart home”
services last fall. Motorola acquired 4Home, whose investors
included Verizon, in December 2010.

Motorola Mobility is in the process of being acquired
by Google for $12.5 billion, pending regulatory approvals.
The deal is expected to close in early 2012.

September