GE demonstrates home technologies at International Builders Show

Universal Remotes: Not Remotely Possible

THE universal remote control is one of the modern world's great ideas, right up there with the automatic dishwasher, Wi-Fi and flush toilets. The theory behind this gadget is simple and sublime: In an increasingly automated and connected world, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could manage all our blinking machines from a single super controller? I wish I could tell you that there is a better way. But after testing many different universal remotes - cheap remotes, expensive remotes, smartphone remotes, and a few about which the less said, the better - I don't have much good news to report. Sure, some universal remotes are more useful than others, and one of them is almost pretty good, but in general these devices remain more appealing in theory than in practice. That's because they all suffer from an inherent, usually fatal flaw: universal remotes cannot possibly offer enough buttons to mimic all functions of all devices, so they usually have to make compromises, cutting out buttons here and there. The trouble is, some of those buttons are important.

App Downloads top 2 million on Samsung TV's

Samsung is seeing significant growth in app downloads on its line of HDTVs. The company announced this week that 2 million apps have been downloaded from its sets since its marketplace launched last year. The news comes less than two months after Samsung announced that 1 million apps had been downloaded from its service. The feat is all the more impressive when one considers it took 268 days to hit the 1 million mark. YouTube and Hulu Plus are among the most commonly downloaded apps, according to Samsung. They are joined by ESPN's Next Level, AccuWeather, and Google Maps. The company's marketplace also offers Blockbuster, Twitter, Pandora, and several other applications. When it announced 1 million downloads late last year, Samsung said that more than half of its 2010 line of HDTVs featured the ability to access apps. Samsung said at the time that it believed retailers would sell 6.5 million sets featuring apps by the end of 2010. And it expected that figure to jump to 20 million by 2012.

DEVELOPMENTS IN ADJACENT SECTORS OPEN OPPORTUNITIES FOR HOME AUTOMATION TO REACH A WIDER AUDIENCE

Home automation systems are becoming increasingly simpler for both end users and installers, driving the market forward and acquiring a wider audience. Technology advances also help create innovative and affordable systems that reach a more extensive customer base. New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, European Home Automation Markets, finds that the market earned revenues of €164.3 million in 2010 and estimates this to reach €228.7 million in 2015, at a compound annual growth rate of 5.1 per cent. 'Home automation has witnessed major changes over the recent years; the most significant has been the introduction of tablet computers which are having a major impact on the home automation market, particularly the luxury segment,' states Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Hammam Ahmed. 'So far the market has satisfactorily addressed the new developments and is set to benefit from these advances in a manner that will promote home automation and make it available to a wider customer base.'

Hands-only Remote Control Emerges in Taiwan

A Taipei university team has developed a tiny chip that allows remote control over home appliances with no more than a wave of the hand and features that make it faster, cheaper and more resistant to interference than rival inventions, the professor in charge said on Tuesday. Users of the chip developed by the National Taipei University of Technology's graduate automation institute can switch on televisions, home stereos and air conditioners by hand from two meters away, Professor Chen Wen-hui said. They can adjust volumes or change settings the same way, he said. The graduate institute is applying for a patent to sell what it believes to be a "significantly faster" device-less remote control system that what other research institutions have developed, Chen said. It will also cost less, though Chen said prices had not been set. Signals should be top of the line, he said, given that "what people fear the most is interference."

Boxee may go to subsidized deals to compete with AppleTV

Boxee may turn to subsidies to help get the price down and better compete in the market, company founder Avner Ronen said in an episode of the This Week in Startups show recorded on Friday. He mentioned that the $200 street price for a Boxee Box was "way too expensive" to get mass market adoption and floated the idea as one option for future models. Nothing was definite in the talk and might not necessarily come about with a future deal. Ronen also provided some brief hints at the possible future of Boxee. Gaming was a possibility as he noted that games had often driven technology adoption, but it would most likely occur through the browser in HTML rather than through proprietary apps. A TV tuner had been ruled out in at least the short term as it was a matter of "focus and resources."

Capitol Adds KEF T Series

Distributor Capitol said this week that it is now carrying KEF's T series of flat-panel loudspeakers. "It takes a truly advanced R&D team to design a slim speaker that is on a par with free-standing floor monitors," Jeff Kussard , Capitol's Director of Strategic Development, said in a statement. "As a longtime audio enthusiast, it comes as no surprise to me to see the KEF name behind such a groundbreaking speaker line. The T Series takes up remarkably little space, and the sound quality will satisfy the most demanding audiophiles in the room." The lineup includes three system components.

International research firm Parks Associates anticipates 2011 will mark the resurgence of the Smart Home concept

International research firm Parks Associates anticipates 2011 will mark the resurgence of the Smart Home concept following a series of CES announcements as well as research showing U.S. consumers value energy management as a lifestyle choice as well as a cost-saving measure. Parks Associates hosted the fifth annual CONNECTIONS™ Summit at CES on January 6, featuring record-breaking attendance on the first day of CES, where the firms' leading analysts commented on the expansion of connected home systems and services. "CES 2011 featured several significant announcements for connected home systems and services, smart appliances, and broadband-enabled home monitoring services, including Verizon's Home Monitoring Control offering, which featured applications for a web camera, lighting control, outlet modules, and a communicating thermostat," said Bill Ablondi, Director, Home Systems, Parks Associates. "Consumers are starting to see energy-efficient products and services as a means to improve their home and personal comfort as well as for cost savings, which opens the market for a variety of solutions from utilities, service providers, and manufacturers."

Somfy Launches TaHomA Comprehensive Home Automation Solution

Somfy Systems, Inc. announces the launch of TaHomA®, a home automation solution that enables consumers to easily and efficiently control their homes' "energy triangle." TaHomA begins with an innovative, affordable and easy-to-use Z-Wave home automation solution that allows consumers to control, schedule and supervise their Z-wave enabled window coverings, lighting, and thermostats. Accessible from a computer, iPad or iPhone within or outside the home, TaHomA's user-friendly Web-based interface guides consumers with intuitive graphics and step-by-step prompts as they personalize their home energy functions. TaHomA is a robust yet low-maintenance system that allows users to easily choose their level of involvement—as needed, when needed. TaHomA will grow with the needs of the home environment and provide a Total Home Automation solution for a broad range of lifestyles.

TVs Make Play for Web Games .

Hammered by ever-slimming profit margins, TV makers are turning online to videogames as another way to incorporate Web-delivered entertainment. At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, many television manufacturers touted videogames as an important entertainment category for Internet-connected televisions. Many are forming partnerships to play videogames on the TV without the need for a dedicated game console, and many are courting developers to create apps for the TV. LG Electronics Inc. unveiled a range of smart, or Internet-connected, televisions while showing off a new motion-sensing remote control. The new remote only has six buttons and is similar to Nintendo Co.'s Wii game controller. "Videogames are one of the categories that we hope app developers will take to with the new Motion remote," said Tim Alessi, director of new product development at LG's home electronics division. Samsung Electronics Co., the world's biggest TV maker, held a contest for developers to create the best app for its television. It awarded the top $200,000 prize to a developer who created a game called WeDraw. By keeping the television central to the lives of consumers, manufacturers are hoping to lift the overall value of the TV and keep the industry's relentless price declines at bay.

2011 INTERNATIONAL CES WOWS WORLD WITH INNOVATION AND OPTIMISM

More than 2,700 technology companies across global industries dazzled attendees at the 2011 International CES®, with the ground-breaking event energizing the technology world. The 2011 CES set several new records, including 30,000 international attendees and 22 top CEOs participating in keynotes. Owned and produced by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the 2011 CES, the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow, concluded today in Las Vegas. "The 2011 International CES was a phenomenal worldwide event that spanned global industries including technology, automotive and entertainment markets," said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CEA. "This global technology gathering featured more innovation, more news, more social media buzz and more international attendance than any other show in CES history." Preliminary attendance figures indicate more than 140,000 industry professionals attended the 2011 International CES. More than 30,000 attendees came from outside the United States, with the show attracting more than 80 international delegations. CEA conducts an independent audit of attendance at the International CES and final verified figures will be available in the spring. Major technology trends emerged from the CES show floor including the launch of more than 80 tablets, wireless 4G LTE, connected TV technologies, smart appliances - featured for the first time in show history - and electric vehicles. Ford's Alan Mulally unveiled the company's first electric car at the 2011 International CES with its Ford Focus Electric.

More Manufacturers To Center Business Around Apps

Mobile applications are the new remote controls. The trend is rippling across the technology industry, changing the way products are conceived, as manufacturers of everything from televisions to automobiles look for ways to integrate their wares with handheld devices, like smartphones. according to analysts at the Consumer Electronics Association. "Manufacturers started by letting you control their hardware," CEA analyst Shawn DuBravac said on Tuesday to a crowded room of reporters, bloggers and industry watchers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Now, they're blurring the lines between products and apps even further. DuBravac said many industry heavyweights have cut research on devices like remote controls, choosing instead to create specialized mobile apps that can be used to change channels and lock cars. The apps run on smartphones, including Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone, Research In Motion Ltd.'s (RIMM) BlackBerry and handsets running Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android operating system. For example, DEI Holdings Inc. (DEIXD) makes an app called Viper SmartStart that allows users to remotely lock and unlock their vehicles via an iPhone, BlackBerry or Android device.

What will be the Trends of CES 2011? The HomeToys team heads to Vegas to find out.

Before the Sun comes up Thursday January 6th the HomeToys team will be on the road to Las Vegas and the International Consumer Electronics Show 2011. The team of reporters will be researching and trying to gauge what the top trends of 2011 will be: Tablets, connected TV and of course 3D TV are all obvious trends, but what else will set the show floor buzzing. We will keep you up to date with our Special CES Newspage and via Twitter @HomeToys . Upon our return we will have our “Best of CES contest” entries and plenty more news and information to pass along, so stay tuned. Special thanks to our CES Sponsors: Somfy, Mitsubishi, HAI, Richard Gray’s Power Company, VidaBox & Calrad

Netflix Partnering With Major TV Makers To Add A Netflix Button To TV Remotes

Beginning this Spring, buttons that specify "Netflix" - including some featuring the iconic red Netflix logo - are planned to be situated prominently on remote controls that operate certain new Blu-ray disc players from a variety of companies including Best Buy's in-house Dynex brand, Haier, Memorex, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba. Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba also will place the Netflix one-click button on remote controls for select new Internet-connected TVs. Remote controls for the Boxee, Iomega and Roku set-top boxes also will feature the Netflix one-click remote.

LG to Show TV Upgrader at CES 2011

LG will soon unveil a unique product that can help users upgrade their TVs with apps, connectivity and other special features. The ST600 Smart TV Upgrader will be shown at International CES this week. It will arrive in the second quarter of 2011. "The market for Smart TVs is set to take off this year, and the ST600 offers a perfect entry point," Havis Kwon, President and CEO of LG Home Entertainment Company, said in a statement. "With the LG Smart TV Upgrader, we're taking the excitement and convenience of Smart TV and adding in LG's trademark ease-of-use because we see a significant audience who are interested but not interested enough to buy a whole new TV."

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