WeMo’s CES 2015 Lineup Prefaces Big Advances For Home Automation

WeMo Sensors_group 12.17.14 Belkin’s WeMo home automation gadgets started off pretty modest in scope, but over the past few years they’ve launched more and more WeMo devices, first on their own and later with partners who have far more experience in specific verticals. This year at CES, WeMo expanded its LED smart lighting lineup with bulbs from OSRAM Sylvania and TCP. It also debuted new home sensors, which… Read More

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JBL’s CES Speaker Lineup Includes Portable Bluetooth, Beat-Pounding Boombox And Compact Lightning Varieties

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JBL will be at CES this year, which is no surprise, and it’ll be showing off at least a trio of new speakers, which also isn’t that surprising. The speakers themselves have some interesting features and quirks, however, and look like solid options for mobile device owners of all stripes. Also coming to the show are two new Harman Kardon receivers, each of which boast compatibility with Apple’s AirPlay audio streaming.

First, there’s a new addition to JBL’s line of Lightning-enabled speaker docks called the OnBeat Mini, which will work with the iPhone 5, iPad mini, new iPods and iPad 4th generation devices, providing charging for those Apple gadgets when plugged into the wall via AC connector. The OnBeat Mini follows the OnBeat Venue LT and Micro, both of which were introduced late last year and also sport Lightning connections. This one is designed to strike a balance between portability and support for larger devices, and boasts 5 hours of battery life, the ability to charge Lightning devices when plugged into the wall and a USB audio port for connecting non-Apple devices.

Another new portable speaker from JBL on display at CES this year will be the JBL Charge, which is a cylindrical design that follows the examples of the Jawbone Jambox and Philips Shoqbox, with a 12-hour battery life, Bluetooth connectivity and a ruggedized exterior design. As its name implies, it also acts as a backup battery for portable devices, allowing them to sip juice via USB from its 6000mAh onboard battery. The JBL Charge will also run for $ 149, and begins shipping sometime in the first quarter of 2013. The battery backup is a nice feature, and the price undercuts many of its competitors, but we’ll have to wait to go ears-on to see how it stacks up.

The final new speaker is the JBL Rumble, another Lighting speaker dock, but one that also offers Bluetooth capabilities, 50 watts of output power and a 4.5 inch downfiring subwoofer for ample bass. It’s clearly designed to rock the party, and JBL says it’s compatible with DJ apps on iOS devices when connected with Bluetooth (as are pretty much all Bluetooth speakers, of course, but this one is aimed at the demographic which might be most interested in actually using those apps). It will be available sometime in the spring with a price tag of $ 399.

Finally, JBL also has two new Harman Kardon home theatre receivers at the show, the AVR 2700 and AVR 3700. These are 7.1 and 7.2 surround sound receivers, priced at $ 799 and $ 999 respectively, and both feature AirPlay streaming built-in. The more expensive AVR 3700 also offers 4K pass-through, which most likely won’t be able to take advantage of for a little while yet, and both also provide iOS direct play through USB connections, eschewing the need for a standalone dock, as well as vTuner Internet and terrestrial radio. They’ll be available to consumers sometime during the first quarter of 2013.

All of these will be on display at JBL’s HARMAN booth during CES next week, so we’ll try to get up close and personal with the devices above to see how they pan out in the real world.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

GoPro, The Little Action Camera Company That Could, Unveils Its Latest Line-Up

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GoPro, the Half Moon Bay-based camera company that’s etched out a very big niche for itself in action sports, just unveiled its latest line-up of Hero cameras.

The company, which just turned 10 years old last week, has come a long way from its very lowly beginnings making camera straps for surfers. They’ve sold 3 million cameras since late 2009, when the company had about a dozen employees (virtually all of whom were either related to or went to high school with GoPro’s founder Nick Woodman).

“We started out helping surfers share their love of the ocean,” said Woodman, a surfer who studied visual arts and is pictured below. “Now we’re the fastest growing camera company globally. What we’ve found is that the world is really full of all of these passionate people who want to capture and share their experiences.”

To give you an idea of what it can shoot, here’s a video the company filmed entirely with Hero3 cameras (and yes, it is completely captivating).

So what’s new? The top model, the HERO3 Black Edition, is 30 percent smaller and 25 percent lighter than the HERO2 with a $ 399.99 price tag. Its image processor is twice as fast, and the camera can capture 4k video at 15 frames per second, 2.7k video at 30 frames per second.

It’s three times as fast at photo capture and can do up to 12 megapixels for still photos with burst shots of 30 frames per second. “It’s actually almost too fast,” Woodman said.

Wi-fi is now built into every GoPro from the top-end model on all the way to the HERO3 “White Edition,” which Woodman says to basically think of as a souped up HERO1. There’s a middle-range offering, called the “Silver Edition”, which is basically like a HERO2 plus Wi-fi.

They also improved on sound recording with this version. “It could handle motor sports with reduced noise, but we’ll admit that the HERO2 came up a little short when it came to capturing your latest guitar jam or people’s voices,” Woodman said.

They company has also upgraded all of its companion software on smartphones and tablets. GoPro’s apps can control the cameras, and preview and share content on the web.

Instead of cannibalizing the company’s core business as smartphones have with Kodak and other venerable camera brands, smartphones have actually helped GoPro, Woodman argues. He says that now that consumers don’t have to spend money on a basic point-and-shoot, they can consider alternatives that really have something special to offer.

“[The smartphone] is our friend,” he said. “People are no longer buying traditional cameras because they’re looking for differentiated ways of capturing their life experiences proactively instead than reactively with their phones. These guys have actually helped us clear the landscape from a competitive point of view, freeing people’s minds and dollars to capture their active lifestyles.”

However, Woodman doesn’t want the company to stay confined to surfing, race car driving or base jumping. He sees GoPro as a way for people to share passionate, life experiences. To wit, he even showed footage of the birth of his son to room full of press in announcing the HERO3 tonight. Plus, the GoPro footage he’s most proud of at the moment is not of heli-skiing. It’s a video that captures his infant son’s facial expressions while on a bike with Woodman for the very first time.

GoPro is actually Woodman’s third company after the last one, a web marketing company, flamed out in the original dot-com bust. After going on a half-year, round-the-world recovery trip involving lots of surfing, he became determined to find an effective way to film himself out in the ocean. It started with camera straps, but then Woodman soon realized he would need to get into actually building cameras.

After finding a trustworthy supplier in China, a real inflection point came for the company when it switched from film to digital. Many seismic, industry-changing shifts have coincidentally helped GoPro along the way. Woodman jokes that the company has slipped on a “banana peel of luck” countless times.

The emergence of YouTube and Facebook helped GoPro find a passionate community of supporters without needing to pay for mainstream marketing until later. Before they ever showed up in Best Buy stores, GoPro already had scores of dedicated surfing and racing customers. Footage like this video of some skiiers escaping an avalanche or this NSFW video of hula hoopers at Burning Man have attracted millions of views and fans.

“We’re the 10-year overnight success,” Woodman said. That momentum is now attracting rival products from hardware makers like JVC and Sony. But the thing is that the vast majority of GoPro’s actual sales are through smaller, action sports-oriented retailers, which would require a network of relationships and the kind of brand loyalty that’s hard for a giant, lumbering hardware maker to copy.

Still, to protect itself against much bigger competitors, GoPro did raise a venture round of undisclosed size last year. Disney’s Steamboat Ventures, Riverwood Capital, Sageview Capital, Walden International and US Venture Partners participated.


TechCrunch » Gadgets

Sony Pumps Up Mobile Lineup At IFA With New Xperia T, V, And J Smartphones

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After a bit of on-stage patter (and a rather pointless Wonderbook video), Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai officially pulled back the curtains on a slew of new Xperia handsets — the Xperias T, V, and J — at IFA in Berlin.

The Xperia T (previously known as the Mint, left) is the clear standout in this crowd with its 4.6 inch display, which also takes advantage of the company’s Mobile Bravia Engine to produce to eye-popping (some would say “lurid”) visuals.

Taking a look inside the T reveals a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Krait MSM8260-A chipset, and the whole package runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, though a Jelly Bean update is in the works. As previously reported, the flagship Xperia T also packs NFC and a 13-megapixel camera, which Hirai says can go from sleep mode to snapping shots “in just over a second.”

Sadly, the other two models didn’t warrant more than a sentence apiece from Hirai. The new Xperia V (center) packs support for LTE, and “highest level of water resistance” seen in a smartphone. Hirai didn’t dive into much detail about how exactly that works — he’s bounding from topic to topic like a madman — but expect more to come shortly. The slightly-tinier V keeps the same 13-megapixel camera and Ice Cream Sandwich build as its big brother, but Sony opted for a slightly smaller 4.3-inch display and a slightly different dual-core 1.5 GHz Qualcomm MSM8960 processor.

Meanwhile, Hirai didn’t have much to say about the Xperia J (right) aside from pointing out that it’s cheap, which I suppose is better than nothing. A recent leak revealed that the wallet-friendly J features a single core 1GHz Snapdragon processor, a 4-inch display, and 512MB of RAM, which explains why Hirai was so quick to talk about something else.

Of course, hardware is only part of the equation, and Sony has plenty of audio and video content at its disposal. Just to get people on board with Sony’s oft-overlooked Music Unlimited service, anyone who purchases one of these new Xperia handsets will get a 60-day premium service trial.

No word yet on pricing and availability yet, so on the off-chance you’re downright smitten with one (or more) of these things, you may be in for a bit of a wait. In the meantime, you may want to peek at these promo videos that Sony has whipped up to help keep the heartache at bay:




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