The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held once again in Las Vegas two weeks ago, this time breaking attendance records with over 170,000 visiting, of which 50,000 were international delegates. It also reportedly hosted around 3,800 exhibitors, utilising in excess of 2.5 million square feet of exhibition space, while also being covered by 6,000 [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

CES 2016: Netflix adds over 130 countries, including Sri Lanka


Intel CEO Brian Krzanich enters the stage in a Segway personal transporter from Ninebot that can transform into a robot

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held once again in Las Vegas two weeks ago, this time breaking attendance records with over 170,000 visiting, of which 50,000 were international delegates. It also reportedly hosted around 3,800 exhibitors, utilising in excess of 2.5 million square feet of exhibition space, while also being covered by 6,000 journalists representing publications the world over. Quite a feat for a close to 50 year-old trade show! However, the reason this mammoth event continues to be relevant to this day, even for us on the opposite side of the world, is because of the continually paradigm shifting, close-to-market gadgets and technologies unveiled virtually every year at a show that has now taken on the character of a DisneyWorld for almost-here cool-tech. And CES 2016, once again, did not disappoint.

Maybe most relevant of all for Sri Lankans this year was not a specific piece of hardware, instead it was the announcement at CES 2016 by Netflix that over 130 countries, including Sri Lanka, will have immediate access to its paid, online TV and movie steaming platform, enabling local consumers with enough Internet bandwidth to stream a very large library of content for a fixed monthly fee, making it Sri Lanka’s first official cord cutter alternative to terrestial and satellite TV channels. On the other hand, this move has already sparked intense debate amongst early adopters about whether local Internet connections are adequate for this already in-demand service.

Already widely reported locally, Netflix is immediately available for US$7.99 per month in Sri Lanka, according to its website. At the same time, the show also showcased a number of new gadgets and services. But, before we get to these, another major, and highly anticipated, development at CES 2016 was the revelation that Facebook’s Oculus Rift VR platform, that has so far garnered rave reviews at every CES for going on three years, will finally make its retail debut in March this year, for $599. At the very least, the unveiling of the latest Oculus Rift, as well as that of the competing Valve-powered HTC Viva Pre and Sony’s Playstation VR, both also showcased at CES, finally heralds the arrival of Virtual Reality technology for mass-scale consumer adoption.

And in other big news, exclusively revealed by tech blog CNET, Motorola Chief Operating Officer Rick Osterloh was quoted as stating that his well-known brand, stemming from a time during the birth of the mobile phone itself, was being phased out, instead being replaced by the moniker “Moto” on its high end devices going forward. Lenovo bought Motorola in 2014, and its current offerings focus mostly on its budget brand “Vibe”. Circling back to this year’s so-called cool tech, one of the most interesting devices showcased in my opinion was actually one of the first wireless routers for the new WiGig standard, the TP-Link Talon AD7200 Multi Band router, which also supports WiFi. The most important aspect of this device is its early adoption of a new Wireless standard, which takes the limits of wireless transmission to 7Gbps, paving the way for a whole new realm of ultra-fast connectivity once broadband Internet connections finally catch up. So, something to look out for in the future.

Ehang 184 Drone Copter
CES also witnessed the unveiling of a novel twist on drones, the current must-have piece of cool tech for any photographer or aerial enthusiast; the Ehang 184. So, what’s so unique about this drone . particularly when CES has an entire pavillion dedicated to these devices? The Ehang 184 Drone Copter can carry a single passenger (up to 100kg) for 23 minutes. Further, the vertical take-off drone has an average cruising speed of 100km/h, and is controlled via a smartphone app that requires only the inputting of a destination, thus negating the need for the user to have a pilot’s licence.This year’s event also witnessed the return, once more, of 8K TVs from LG, Samsung and Sharp. But, unlike last year when Sharp reportedly sold a few 8K ULTRA HD TVs for $120,000 each in Japan by year’s end, the price point in 2016, and even 2017, is predicted to be much, much more palatable, according to both LG and Samsung, who are currently in a race to bring a consumer-friendly 8K to market. More details to be revealed soon.

Ehang 184 Drone Copter

LG 18-inch rollable display
And, if that’s not enough, even more innovations in the field of displays with LG revealing a new 18-inch rollable display prototype that may be the new standard for a scalable display technology eventually replacing static displays in everything from mobile phones to TVs and outdoor advertising displays, and this shift could come about in the very near future.Meanwhile, CES 2016 also proved to be the venue where Intel begrudgingly confirmed its new gamer-oriented Skull Canyon NUC computer to blog Tom’s Hardware, which in turn also speculated that the device could run Steam Machine and be officially launched as early as Q2. Less than an inch thick, it reportedly runs an H-series Skylake chip with Iris Pro graphics while utilising DDR4 RAM and M.2 SSD.

But that was not all from the chipmaker at CES 2016. Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich, as part of his CES 2016 keynote speech, unveiled a “collision avoidance” add-on for the buzz-worthy Yuneec Typhoon H hexacopter drone range, which utilises Intel RealSense technology. And, if that was not enough, he also rode in on a Ninebot Segway for this speech, a device which later transformed into a robot butler, while additionally also debuting the Daqri Smart Helmet with its Augmented Reality functionality’s positive impact on real world work environments such as construction, etc. However, despite Intel’s antics, which also included setting a world record for flying the most amount of drones at once, the attention of 170,000 CES visitors inevitably shifted to much more unique, even unusual, fare. More on that later

Let’s first talk about phones and computers. Because Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has now become the de facto venue for high profile smart device launches, CES in 2016 only showcased a few new offerings in this field, and primarily from Chinese phone makers. These included the LeTV Le Max Pro, featuring the new Snapdragon processor, and the Huawei MediaPad M2. The only truly novel innovation in this field was the revelation that Lenovo was making a Google “Project Tango” 3D Augmented Reality smartphone, which would be available by H2, for around $500. And, when it comes to computers, CES 2016 could only offer up one true innovation, the Razer Blade Stealth ultrabook. Alongside it, there were launches of a new Dell Lattitude 13 (7370) business laptop, as well as a host of other, power-packed offerings rom Asus, Lenovo, Toshiba and MSI that slightly raised the bar for the field in 2016.

MyFC Jaq hydrogen fuel cell charger

MyFC Jaq hydrogen fuel cell charger
However, the one new invention that was most exciting, which could be described as smart device adjacent, was the launch of the MyFC Jaq hydrogen fuel cell charger, which uses salt and water cartridges to provide 1,800mAh of current. In other words, 100 per cent clean energy. Expected to be offered via a subscription-based model, through cellular networks, the price and related distribution details are yet to be finalised by Swedish company MyFC. Other category-bending notables at CES 2016 included such smart devices as the CleverPet game console for dogs and the In&Motion Smart Ski Airbag Vest, adding even more craziness to a tech exhibition already known for being somewhat zany. As the name implies, the CleverPet is a way for dog owners to entertain their Home Alone furry friends all day, whereby treats are doled out on completion of games such as “catch the squirrel”, where the dog is encouraged to put their paw on flashing light, and even complex light pattern recognition game, “pattern plan”. The device already has over 1,000 happy customers following a round on KickStarter, with plans to begin retailing for $299 within the next few weeks.

In&Motion Smart Ski Airbag Vest
While the James Bond gadget emulating Smart Ski Airbag Vest, from French company In&Motion, provides an individual airbag vest, which deploys in a split second to stop injury on the ski slope. Unique to this device, this is a full airbag that also envelopes the hips, back and vital organs, along with the head and shoulders, for maximum protection. It is also noteworthy that this device uses motion technology currently utilised in smart watches and fitness trackers, including a GPS, a gyroscope and an accelerometer, to identify if a dangerous fall has occurred, and a result releases the airbag within a tenth of a second if this proves the case. Interestingly, this vest has already been approved for adoption in competitive professional races by the International Ski Federation.

Adding to these novel CES 2016 experiences, yet another cool piece of tech, which once again may only loosely be described as a wearable, is the Ili Wearable Translator ‘necklace’, offering real time translations for face to face conversations. Not requiring an Internet connection, this 50,000-word database is particularly ideal when there is no Internet connectivity, with this device being worn as a necklace and the user speaking into it and pressing a button for simultaneous translations into Chinese, English and Japanese, with plans for Arabic, Italian, French, Korean, Spanish and Thai to be added soon.

Sensorwake Olfactory alarm clock
And if things at CES 2016 are not already weird enough, the event was also the venue for this year’s launch of the Sensorwake, a device which promotes itself as the world’s first olfactory, or smell based, alarm clock. Invented by French teenager Guillaume Rolland, this still-in-production concept currently offers six scent cartridge options to wake users up, including ocean, lush jungle, croissant, coffee, chocolate or peppermint, with even more scents likely on the way thanks to an existing partnership with scentmaker Givaudan. Impressively, it claims a 99 per cent success rate. The product is currently available for pre-order at a special price of $89 and plans to ship in May.

Tracking back to concepts that are less unusual but still push the boundaries in their respective fields, no CES 2016 story can be complete without the inclusion of the Parrot Disco drone. This device was exceptional in that it continued to raise the bar for drone behaviour, opening up new vistas for the future thanks to its 45 minutes of flight time and 80 km/h speeds where most other drones are just content to hover for 30 minutes.
Mostly made of foam, the Parrot Disco drone is a single-propeller alternative that utilises a one-directional flight pattern and design, which requires that it be launched by hand, in the same way as a paper airplane is thrown, instead of the more conventional copter-type lift-off and hovering seen by drones to date.

In conclusion, Denmark’s much loved Lego also made its mark once again this year by using its colourful bricks to create awareness amongst students about the power of coding. Via its Lego Education WeDo 2.0 learning kit, which allows kids to build robots using just 280 Lego bricks, and an Android or iOS app that enables them to give these robots commands, the company has created a fun and easy-to-use platform for pre- and early-teens to develop and programme their unique robot creations to roam around, detecting motion and moving limbs accordingly, while also playing sounds. Created for kids, this learning kit offers what can only be described as a simple, icon-based coding tool to develop commands that are then translated into code for projects. However, just like the Lego bricks themselves, kids will soon figure out that this could lead to very imaginative, and complex, creations that will hopefully inculcate in them a desire to learn and experiment with coding even more.

Happenings in new technology

The specialist columns that we have carried in the TechKnow pages will return, bolder and brighter next month. The writer is the Business Times’ specialist IT and technology correspondent. Here he examines the annual Las Vegas consumer electronics show and its relevance to Sri Lanka. He can be reached at

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