Author Archive | Yardena Arar

Home Automation for the Masses, Maybe?

Home automation means different things to different people, but generally speaking it covers remote control and monitoring technologies that most of us don’t have, either because they’ve been too expensive or too complicated to install and use. That may be changing: Verizon is launching a $10-a-month (OK, $9.99) service that will support scores of devices, from webcams to thermostats.

The service, initially available only to Verizon’s 4.5 million FIOS subscribers, will empower customers to use mobile devices (such as cell phones and tablets), computers, and/or FIOS TV to monitor and manage equipment based on Sigma Designs’ Z-Wave technology. Z-Wave devices use wireless mesh network technology (not Wi-Fi) to communicate with a base station or gateway that interfaces with the outside world through a broadband network.

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Happy Wi-Fi Day!

Qualcomm Atheros created this art to celebrate 802.11 day, a holiday it invented.

I bet you didn’t know it, but today is 802.11 day. (I didn’t know it either until a PR person for Qualcomm Atheros–the Qualcomm division formed after Qualcomm acquired Wi-Fi chipmaker Atheros–e-mailed me.) Not because of any scientific milestone involved in creating the IEEE standard more commonly known as Wi-Fi, but because, well, it’s really 8.02.11. Get it?

The folks at Qualcomm Atheros seized upon the tech equivalent of a bad pun to update a group of journalists about what’s next for the popular connectivity technology–and although the excuse may have been lame, what they had to say was interesting. The last big upgrade, 802.11n, delivered speeds on the order of 100mbps Ethernet, so the standard now in the works is going for the next speed hurdle–1 gigabit.

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A Better Way to Put Phone Video on TVs

One of the neater features on many recent smartphones is support for displaying high-def video stored on the phone on an HDTV through an HDMI connection. I just bought an adapter for doing this with my iPad, but using it can be a little awkward: Once you hook up the phone to the TV, you often have to worry about also connecting it to a power source, and to pause or otherwise control the video on the phone you might have to crouch next to the set since connector cables typically aren’t that long.

A nascent standard called MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) seeks to address these issues.  It allows the TV to charge the mobile device over the same HDMI connection used to deliver video and other content to the set. The MHL spec (version 1.0 is already out) also  lets you use your TV’s remote to control playback on the connected device.

It might take a while for the technology to gain traction since both the mobile device and the HDTV must support it. But at least you wouldn’t have to get a new TV: The MHL Consortium says you should be able to add MHL functionality to your TV through an short adapter cable that hooks into an HDMI port. As for phones and mobile device support, MHL Consortium members include Nokia, Samsung, Silicon Image, Sony, and Toshiba, so that’s a decent start in the manufacturing community.

I hope MHL catches on: I hate crouching by my TV.



Tunebug Turns Tabletops Into Boom Boxes

A little smaller than a hockey puck and triangular in shape, a Tunebug turns pretty much any hard surface into a decent speaker for digital music from any device it can connect to via a standard audio jack or, depending on the model, Bluetooth.

While David Pogue at the Times recently took a look at Bluetooth speakers, they were (as I understood it) conventional speakers. Tunebug’s SurfaceSound technology makes the surface part of the speaker.

The company offers a wired version, the $70 Tunebug Vibe, that connects to a digital audio source (e.g. iPod, laptop, MP3 player) with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Tunebug says the Vibe’s internal rechargeable battery can power the device for up to 5 hours.

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Why Wireless Carriers Both Promote and Dread 4G

Here at the CTIA Wireless show in Orlando, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse says that with the planned summer launch of HTC’s 3D EVO and 4G EVO tablet, Sprint will have 22 4G devices, more than any of its rivals. Verizon says it will bring its 4G LTE network to 147 markets by year’s end, while AT&T is simultaneously building out its HSPA network while preparing to launch its LTE network later this year.

No question, 4G is the next mobile battleground for what shapes up to be a smaller field of national carriers. But at a day of sessions on the subject (sponsored by Fierce Wireless, which among other things publishes a first-rate daily newsletter on the wireless industry), the dominant theme seemed to be that the carriers may not be ready to deal with the enormous bandwidth demands their fast devices and networks will inevitably produce.

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Wi-Fi Alliance To Certify Hotspots

How many hotspots do you use on a regular or semi-regular basis? At this point in my wanderings I’ve amassed so many Wi-Fi hotspot log-ins that I don’t really remember them all–to the point where I try to create new accounts for services that I already have patronized. And when I’m in an area with multiple hotspots, I’m not always sure which one I want to hop on. Is one going to cost me more than another?

Hang in there–the Wi-Fi Alliance is working on a cure for hotspot overload. Sometime in the first half of next year, if the current timetable stands, the Alliance–the trade group that certifies Wi-Fi networking gear from different vendors for interoperability–will start certifying hotspots, along with the devices that access them.

Among the benefits of the program for consumers will be streamlined network discovery, account setup and login: Your device will automatically figure out which hotspots you already have accounts with and log you in based on your preferences. Certification will also require use of the strongest available Wi-Fi encryption, WPA2.

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Cisco Valet Tries to Make Wi-Fi Drop-Dead Easy

Can setting up a Wi-Fi network ever be drop-dead easy for non-technical folks? Maybe not, but Cisco gives the problem its best shot with a new brand, Valet, that will co-exist with Cisco’s well known Linksys line, now being positioned as “enthusiast” products. Setting setup aside, Cisco has definitely come up with some nice Wi-Fi management software—but I wish there were a way to sell people Wi-Fi gear without removing the technical information that explains how one product differs from another.

At launch, the Valet line consists of three items: the $100 Valet and $150 Valet Plus Wi-Fi routers, and a $100 USB adapter. The somewhat Apple-esque packaging for the Valet router I tried out was covered with aspirational taglines such as “Home wireless made easy” and “Welcome to the new home wireless experience.”

The box was also free of most pesky specs, apart from the Wi-Fi Alliance logo showing certification for 802.11b/g/n. That at least told me that while the Valet does support the fastest Wi-Fi standard, it only supports it on the 2.4ghz band, which in many places is woefully overcrowded by signals from neighboring networks, Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens and some cordless phones.

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3D TV for the Rest of Us? Maybe Next Year

When Las Vegas cab drivers start asking you about the 3D TVs at CES, you know 3D is a big deal. The question is, how soon will it become a real deal for most of us?

There’s no question that 3D content is coming. Last month, the Blu-ray Disc Association announced the specs for 3D content on Blu-ray; ESPN plans to broadcast 85 events this year over a new 3D channel; Panasonic and DirecTV announced 3D delivery plans, as did Sony in conjunction with the Discovery Channel and IMAX.  Everyone is buoyed by the phenomenal success of Jim Cameron’s 3D blockbuster, Avatar, which is introducing many to the artistic possibilities of today’s sophisticated technology. “This is not your father’s 3D” was a mantra for attendees at a CES panel called 3D: Hope or Hype?

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