New Apple TV, Roku media streamers race to break one million in sales

Curious timing, no? This morning, Cupertino's PR department has blasted out a blurb stating that the newfangled Apple TV -- which only started shipping three months ago -- is expected to cross the one million mark in sales prior to Christmas Day. The obvious remark is hard to ignore: "That's a lot for a hobby." And yeah, it is. But it probably has more to do with trends in consumer purchasing and a delightfully low $99 price point than anything else, and if you doubt that logic, you should probably have a sit-down with Roku CEO Anthony Wood. The folks at Business Insider did, and Wood confessed that Roku media streamer sales have actually doubled since the introduction of the second-gen Apple TV. As the story goes, Jobs did the whole sector a solid by refocusing consumer attention on the set-top box realm, and with the most basic Roku retailing for just $59, it's pretty clear that the outfit drives a tough bargain. Roku's also expecting to sell its one millionth box by the close of this year, but of course it's had a lot longer than three months to do so. Still, for an up and comer, selling one million of anything (let alone looking at $50 million or more in annual sales) is quite the achievement.

Toshiba Glasses-Free 3D TV Debuts in Japan

Toshiba's groundbreaking glasses-free 3D TV will go on the market in Japan this week, with the product set to go global in the next year, the Wall Street Journal reported. The devices arriving in Japan are 12- and 20 inches, although the version coming available worldwide will be 40 inches. For the 3D effect to work, users must sit within a 40-degree area in front of the TV. The no-glasses 3D TV will be shown at CES, according to IDG News Service.

The 10 Apps Every Smart TV Should Have

The popularity of app stores is bleeding over from the smartphone and tablet market and into the living room. Many new TVs come pre-loaded with popular apps to deliver on-demand streaming video, music, and news.There are even a few app stores with free and cheap add ons to download directly to your TV. If you're looking for an upgrade, check out our picks for the apps your TV should have. Click here to see the 10 apps every smart TV should have →

Mobile App Returning to CES

The official International CES mobile app, which was downloaded over 26,000 times during the 2010 event, will return in 2011. Core-apps, LLC will once again appear at the 2011 event. The app, which reached as high as 4th in Apple's App Store download rankings, will be available for Apple, Android and BlackBerry devices as well as on the web. Exhibitors at CES are invited to purchase sponsorships of the app. For a $25,000 Silver Sponsorship, exhibitors can purchase a video, a booth specially colored on the app map, a free banner and landing page and more; only two such sponsorships are still available. Exhibitor banner advertisements are also available for $2,000, while multimedia packages go for $3,000.

Google TV Faces Delays Amid Poor Reviews

Google TV has just enacted its first programming cancellation. The Consumer Electronics Show next month in Las Vegas was meant to be the great coming-out party for Google's new software for televisions, which adds Web video and other computer smarts to TV sets. Although Google already has a deal with Sony for its Internet TVs, other television makers - Toshiba, LG Electronics and Sharp - were prepared to flaunt their versions of the systems. But Google has asked the TV makers to delay their introductions, according to people familiar with the company's plans, so that it can refine the software, which has received a lukewarm reception. The late request caught some of the manufacturers off guard. And it illustrates the struggles Google faces as it tries to expand into the tricky, unfamiliar realm of consumer electronics, and drum up broad interest in a Web-based TV product that consumers want. Google has a long history of putting out new products and then revising them on the fly. But in the consumer electronics market, companies place big, well-timed bets - to attract holiday buyers, say, or back-to-school shoppers.

GE study: ZigBee is better than WiFi for smart grid home communications

A recent GE study on energy efficiency and wireless communication options for smart grid devices found that ZigBee is at least two times more cost-effective and efficient than Wi-Fi. "To realize the benefits of the smart grid, it is critical that the underlying communications technology consume as little power as possible," said David Najewicz, manager, external technology programs, GE Appliances, and one of the paper's authors. "Because of the widespread use of these communication technologies at the residential level in home area networks and in smart devices, the choice of technologies is critical." GE found the two technologies that best meet the overall performance and cost requirements for home-area network communications are Wi-Fi (802.11/n) and ZigBee (802.15.4). These were evaluated under typical HAN, smart-device conditions and in a configuration representative of future mass-production implementation. On average, the ZigBee system consumed 0.39 watts over a 24-hour period, while the Wi-Fi solution consumed more than twice (2.2 times) as much, a total of 0.87 watts over the same period.

Panamax-Furman Joins RTI's Integration Partner Program

Panamax/Furman today announced that it has teamed up with Remote Technologies Incorporated (RTI) to create two-way drivers for the XP-8 remote control processor, providing seamless integration of the BlueBOLT(R)-compatible M4315/4320-PRO power conditioners and MB1500 UPS into RTI control systems for two-way power management control and real-time power monitoring. Developed through RTI's Integration Partner Program, the new two-way drivers allow integrators to implement Panamax/Furman's M4315/4320-PRO power conditioners or MB1500 UPS easily into any RTI control system utilizing the XP-8 processor. Supporting both IP and RS-232 control, the drivers provide a powerful experience for users by allowing them to shut off outlets or banks that are not in use to eliminate wasteful stand-by power and hard-reboot problem devices in the system through the intuitive RTI interface. Visual feedback of line voltage, current draw, and power breaker status, displayed on an RTI handheld or in-wall controller, provides a valuable diagnostic tool to ensure that current draw is not excessive or abnormally high or low

Comcast Tests Combo Internet-Cable Device

Comcast Corp. is testing a new service that knits together television and the Internet, as the U.S. cable giant goes after rivals that threaten to undermine its business. Under the new system, which is being tested in Augusta, Ga., content flows through a set-top box that combines features of the Web with those of a digital-video recorder, according to people familiar with the matter. Users can watch and search a smattering of Web video through their televisions and search across live, on-demand and recorded programming. The service, known to participants as "Spectrum" and internally as "Xcalibur," doesn't let participants freely browse the Web, though they do have some basic connections to social networks to comment on television shows, the people familiar with the matter said.

Weak TV, Laptop Sales Hurt Best Buy 3Q Profit

Best Buy Co.'s third-quarter net income fell more than expected as it lost sales of TVs and laptops to competitors. It also cut its full-year outlook Tuesday. Shares of the largest U.S. electronics chain fell nearly 13 percent in premarket trading as the results raised fears over the holiday season. The company, which benefited when Circuit City went out of business last year, is facing stepped-up competition from online and discount stores. Best Buy, based in Minneapolis, said its market share in TVs, mobile computing and video game software fell. Americans are also buying fewer TVs and other electronics. Best Buy said there were larger than expected industry declines in key U.S. consumer electronics categories for the three months ended Oct. 31.

Comcast Readies iPad Video Streaming

Comcast is close to introducing an app that will let Xfinity TV customers stream movies and TV shows to the iPad. The app, called Play Now, will be available in the "coming weeks," Comcast president Neil Smit said today at a UBS AG conference in New York City. Smit, who joined Comcast from Charter Communications Inc. in March, said Play Now will first work with premium networks such as HBO, Starz, and Showtime. The MSO is working out the rights with other networks. Will Comcast eventually make all its video content available this way? "That's our plan," he said, without providing any time line. It seems likely that Play Now will draw from the 150,000 video items on the TV Online portal, which Comcast launched just a few months ago. By comparison, Comcast's set-top-based VoD service offers about 25,000 titles. These moves are all viewed as a defense against cord cutting, although Smit said Comcast has seen no real evidence of such a trend. Most video subscriber losses have been due to people rolling off of promotional rates and churning to competitors, with a "small trace" leaving to go with free over-the-air TV, he said.

It's That Time Of The Year Again, The CES Season!

It seems to start earlier and earlier each year, but still a month away HomeToys.com is starting to see the CES news and emails rolling in. This years show will take over Las Vegas from January 6th to the 9th and will offer an even wider variety of companies and exhibitions than the past. The Keynote address will come from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. More information can be found at the International website. As for HomeToys, we have launched our Special CES Newspage for all the news and PR related to the show. Make sure to check back regularly for product announcements and information. Also if your company will be exhibiting at CES you can submit your news and PR as well. Enjoy the Show!

HomeToys would like to thank its CES newspage sponsors: Somfy Systems, Mitsubishi, Vidabox, Richard Gray’s Power Company, Home Automation Inc. and Calrad Electronics.

AT&T Has Acquired Home Automation Company Xanboo

AT&T has acquired home automation company Xanboo, part of a spate of activity which could lead to energy management services from broadband providers. Xanboo provides homeowners with a system for managing connected devices, such as security cameras and controllers, from a smartphone, TV, or PC. CEPro reported the acquisition yesterday (hat tip to Earth2Tech). The deal follows Motorola's announcement last week that it has bought home automation company 4Home, in which Verizon also had invested. Earlier this year, iControl and uControl merged their product offerings, which are expected to be used as part of Comcast's Xfinity home security service. Internet broadband providers are pushing into home automation to expand their product offerings as a way to retain customers. They expect that consumers will be willing to pay for security services, where people can access cameras and door alarms from a PC, TV, or smartphone. An AT&T representative today said it is too early to discuss specific offerings around the Xanboo technology. "We see synergies between Xanboo's technology and our offerings for consumers and small businesses. Xanboo's monitoring services are a natural extension of our high-speed Internet, video, and voice offerings and a good fit for our wireless services," she said.

No Longer Tiny, Netflix Gets Respect -and Creates Fear

Netflix's growth surge—at a time of weak DVD sales and increasingly fragmented TV audiences—prompts concern among movie and TV studios as well as other technology companies. One big worry is that the company could end up dominating the electronic distribution of movies and TV the way Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store dominates music. To prevent that, entertainment and technology companies are exploring plans to outflank Netflix with their own offerings. Amazon.com Inc. is developing a Netflix-like subscription service that would offer TV shows and movies, according to people familiar with the matter. That service would be included as a bundle with its Amazon Prime shipping service, which costs $79 a year, those people said. An Amazon spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment. Media companies, meantime, have talked to Microsoft Corp. and Sony Corp., both of which provide access to Netflix's streaming service through their videogame consoles, about licensing TV shows directly to the two companies for offering through subscriptions, said people briefed on the conversations. A spokesman for Microsoft, which already cut one such deal with Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, declined to comment. A Sony spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment. TV maker Vizio Inc. also has expressed interest securing video content for a subscription service, according to people familiar with the talks. A Vizio spokesman declined to comment.

3 Million Households to Buy Connected TV for Christmas

About 3 million U.S. households plan to buy an Internet-connected television through the holiday shopping season, according to a new report. Research firm Parks Associates said the projection suggests another nail in the coffin for brick-and-mortar video stores. Despite the tally, just 38% of households plan to make a CE purchase by Christmas compared to 50% during the same period last year, according to Parks. “Consumers want deals; that is their trigger as economic conditions have made them more cautious buyers,” CEO Tricia Parks said. “Market players must stress the value and convenience of Internet-connected devices.” Connected devices include connected game consoles, Blu-ray Disc players, tablet computers and media players. By the end of the year, more than 40 million U.S. consumers will have a broadband-connected game console, more than 8 million will have a PC-to-TV connection, more than 5 million will have a connected Blu-ray player and more than 4 million will have a networked media player, such as an Apple TV or Roku. “Connected devices are the future of content consumption and entertainment in the living room as they capture the broader trends of integration among different silos in consumers’ lives,” principal analyst Kurt Scheff said.

Apple patents glasses-free, multi-viewer 3D

Apple has been granted a patent for a projection system that can enable multiple viewers to simultaneously view 3D images without the need for those dorky 3D glasses. The patent, succinctly entitled "Three-dimensional display system," is fiendishly complex, but its goal is simple: to provide "highly effective, practical, efficient, uncomplicated, and inexpensive autostereoscopic 3D displays that allow the observer complete and unencumbered freedom of movement." Autostereoscopic is the standard term for the ability to present 3D content without the need for eyewear such as active shuttered or passive polarized glasses, as are used for most current 3D presentations. As the patent states, "...most voyages into virtual reality are currently solitary and encumbered ones: users often wear helmets, special glasses, or other devices that present the 3D world only to each of them individually." Understandably, this is less than ideal - "observers generally do not like to wear equipment over their eyes," the patent notes.

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