by Arpad

RightPlug Technology

July 13, 2012 in Electrical Safety, Wiring by Arpad

Electric Plug with Information Tag

RightPlug Technology in Electrical Plug

RightPlug technology is a standardized way to embed information about a particular appliance into its own plug. This information can be read by a handheld device or an intelligent receptacle outlet. This allows manufacturers, warehouses, shipping companies, customs agents, etc. to identify the product and handle it more efficiently. It also allows the electrical system to read what to expect from the appliance under normal conditions (current, power usage) and alert the system if the actual values are out of the normal range.

 

RightPlug is a standard created by the RightPlug Alliance (a non-profit corporation in Illinois). The members of this organization hope to create a universally accepted way of coding the necessary information into inexpensive microchips based on an open standard. RightPlug digital encoding uses the IEC/ISO 14443 Standard for Proximity Identification Cards. The primary application of this standard is RFID technology widely used in identification and tracking of freight, digital payment cards and electronic ticketing. ISO14443 is a short range passive technology designed to work in the 0 to 10cm range.

 

A RightPlug encoding tag consists of a passive transponder chip based on the ISO14443B standard and a patch antenna assembled in a form factor that fits into electrical cord plugs. It does not require any power source. The antenna receives the signal that is basically a request to provide the information. The chip turns some of this energy into electricity powering the circuit and transmits the encoded information back using the antenna.

 

The information in these tags contains the code for the manufacturer, model number, and some other identifiers. This makes it possible to track and direct the appliances. It also enables the system to filter out counterfeit items that are potentially not manufactured to the required electrical safety standards and as such possibly dangerous.

 

The information in the tag can also contain data related to the maximum ratings of the expected electrical values. If an appliance would consume 2 Amps under normal conditions and all of a sudden it is pulling 5 Amps, it would be a clear indication that the device is faulty. When the appliance is plugged into an intelligent outlet the receptacle can measure the current. If the plug can also tell the outlet what is out of the ordinary, the outlet can make a decision that the appliance is faulty and disconnect the specific receptacle thus potentially avoiding any accidents (a person getting electrical shock, or starting a fire).

 

If these intelligent outlets are connected in a network, the system can alert a maintenance technician right away about a potential issue at a certain location. A decision making algorithm can even offer a diagnosis and possible solutions based on the measured values by the receptacle.

 

All these may sound futuristic and expensive. The RightPlug technology may not even be the winning standard at the end. The RFID tags are widely used already in other competing formats. However, safety certainly seems to increasingly overwrite concerns about cost. The decreased maintenance cost might even balance some of that out.

More about the RightPlug Alliance at http://www.rightplug.org/

by Arpad

The New Google Tablet Nexus 7 Powered by Jelly Bean

June 27, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Google Nexus 7 Tablet Running on Jelly Bean

The new Google Nexus 7 Tablet running on Jelly Bean

Google has stepped back into the hardware arena with a new tablet called Nexus 7. It is powered by the new Android flavor Jelly Bean. Google has been very successful with their Android platform. The company announced that their platform powers 400 million devices around the world with 1 million new devices each day. Google has chosen to provide an open platform for any manufacturer that enabled them to surpass Apple that owns both the hardware and the software. However, Google has been less successful with tablets.The other problem is that the open platform model allows others to make Android their own. That is what happened with the most successful Android tablet products. It is owned by Amazon and increasingly becoming its own world. The new Nexus 7 probably combats that more than anything. The size and the price seem to indicate that they are aiming to compete with the Fire and not so much with the iPad.

Google’s new tablet, Nexus 7, was introduced a at the company’s annual “Google I/O” developer conference, as well as the next version of its popular Android operating system: version 4.1, code named Jelly Bean.

The $199 tablet weighs 12 ounces, has a 7-inch screen more like the Amazon Kindle Fire than the 10-inch Apple iPad, and has up to 300 hours of standby time.

“It’s built for Google Play. It’s running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. And here it is,” said Hugo Barra, director of product management for Android, showing off the new tablet for the first time. The Nexus, which was built for the company by Asus, has a 1,280 x 800 display, a chipset from nVidia with a quad-core CPU, and an eye-popping 12-core graphics processor.

“That’s basically 16 cores,” he noted. Few modern computers exceed four cores.

Google demonstrated several neat features of the Nexus, including improved mapping features thanks to a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, a Google Play magazine app that works like a newsstand, and a variety of games that take advantage of the device’s powerful graphics hardware. 

“Who says mobile gaming has to be casual?” the company joked.

The device is available for pre-orders today starting at $199, Barra said, and will ship in Mid-July. It comes with a $25 coupon for the Google Play store as well. 

Google also unveiled a “cloud computer” for the living room called Nexus Q, designed to stream music and videos to the television from your Google devices. 

The show began with Barra touting the features of the Jelly Bean OS.

“Jelly Bean builds upon what we created with Ice Cream Sandwich,” Barra told the crowd of developers. The new software offers smarter resizing of screen icons, improves text input thanks to a predictive keyboard that guesses the next word you type, and boosts speed.

Jelly Bean can also see the future.

’1 million new Android devices are activated every single day — that’s about 12 new Android devices every second of every day.’

- Hugo Barra, Director of Product Management, Android

The operating system anticipates where your fingers will touch the screen and plans accordingly, explained Dave Burke, Android engineering director. This and other modifications designed to improve the operating system were part of a program called “Project Butter,” Burke explained.

The new version of the software rethinks search as well, based on the massive revamp to the company’s search engine unveiled in mid-May. 

The company calls it the Knowledge Graph, and it has more than 500 million such things, with 3.5 billion connections between them. 

Earlier versions of Android used voice recognition to translate your speech into emails, but the engine doing the translation was online. If you’re on a plane, you can’t use it.

The speech recognition function has been built into the Jelly Bean version of Android, Barra said, so that it will work offline. Google also added 18 new input languages, including Persian and Thai.

A new dimension to the search experience is Google Now. “Google Now knows that I’m a Giants fan and knows that there’s a Giant’s game coming up in a few hours,” Barra said. The app updates in real-time and if you want, you can conveniently buy tickets from Google Now cards.

A software development kit for Jelly Bean would be made available to developers immediately. Google said it would roll out update over the air to the Galaxy Nexus and Xoom devices in Mid-July.

by Arpad

The new Microsoft Surface – a PC that is a tablet

June 19, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Surface Microsoft PC tablet

Surface Microsoft PC tablet

Microsoft made a major announcement on June 18, 2012. Speculations were building due to the mysterious nature of the invitations to journalists about the Los Angeles media event. Many industry experts predicted that Microsoft would unveil either a tablet computer or a system that uses an upcoming version of Windows to help people access TV shows and movies across a range of devices.  The event seemed to imitate the Apple style introduction of new products trying to tap into their success.

The suspense was building when the company, which had withheld the location of the event until Monday morning, announced it would be held at Milk Studios, the photography studio of a media company with locations in New York.

Steve Balmer’s introduction talked about how the new device fits into their strategy of the new Windows 8 operating system and the full MS ecosystem that competes with Apple’s. Steve Sinofsky from the Windows team revealed more details. “A tablet that’s a great PC, a PC that’s a great tablet. A new kind of computing.”

Surface comes with advanced industrial design completely designed by Microsoft employees. Surface represents a unique vision for the seamless expression of entertainment and creativity. Extensive investment in industrial design and real user experience includes the following highlights:

  • Software takes center stage: Surface sports a full-sized USB port and a 16:9 aspect ratio – the industry standard for HD. It has edges angled at 22 degrees, a natural position for the PC at rest or in active use, letting the hardware fade into the background and the software stand out.
  • VaporMg: The casing of Surface is created using a unique approach called VaporMg (pronounced Vapor-Mag), a combination of material selection and process to mold metal and deposit particles that creates a finish akin to a luxury watch. Starting with magnesium, parts can be molded as thin as .65 mm, thinner than the typical credit card, to create a product that is thin, light and rigid/strong.
  • Integrated Kickstand: The unique VaporMg approach also enables a built-in kickstand that lets you transition Surface from active use to passive consumption – watching a movie or even using the HD front- or rear-facing video cameras. The kickstand is there when needed, and disappears when not in use, with no extra weight or thickness.
  • Touch Cover: The 3 mm Touch Cover represents a step forward in human-computer interface. Using a unique pressure-sensitive technology, Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures, enabling you to touch type significantly faster than with an on-screen keyboard. It will be available in a selection of vibrant colors. Touch Cover clicks into Surface via a built-in magnetic connector, forming a natural spine like you find on a book, and works as a protective cover. You can also click in a 5 mm-thin Type Cover that adds moving keys for a more traditional typing feel.

Two models of Surface will be available: one running an ARM processor featuring Windows RT, and one with a third-generation Intel Core processor featuring Windows 8 Pro. From the fast and fluid interface, to the ease of connecting you to the people, information and apps that users care about most, Surface will be a premium way to experience all that Windows has to offer. Surface for Windows RT will release with the general availability of Windows 8, and the Windows 8 Pro model will be available about 90 days later. Both will be sold in the Microsoft Store locations in the U.S. and available through select online Microsoft Stores.

Contributing to an Expanded Ecosystem

One of the strengths of Windows is its extensive ecosystem of software and hardware partners, delivering selection and choice that makes a customer’s Windows experience uniquely their own. This continues with Surface. Microsoft is delivering a unique contribution to an already strong and growing ecosystem of functional and stylish devices delivered by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to bring the experience of Windows to consumers and businesses around the globe.

Surface for Windows RT

  • OS: Windows RT
  • Light(1): 676 g
  • Thin(2): 9.3 mm
  • Clear: 10.6” ClearType HD Display
  • Energized: 31.5 W-h
  • Connected: microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Office ‘15’ Apps, Touch Cover, Type Cover
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 32 GB, 64 GB

Surface for Windows 8 Pro

  • OS: Windows 8 Pro
  • Light(1): 903 g
  • Thin(2): 13.5 mm
  • Clear: 10.6” ClearType Full HD Display
  • Energized: 42 W-h
  • Connected: microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 64 GB, 128 GB

Suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC. OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Steve Sinofsky was emphasizing the ergonomic aspects as well. “Feels great in your hands, like a book. It just fits there.”

Surface also has built in HDMI, HD video camera. “If you use your PC to design and create things, this is for you. It’s less than 2 lbs, less than 14mm. It’s a full PC.” The surface also has a great resolution display. Anguilo was basically calling it a retina display without using those words. Dual high performance antennas and receivers, so you get the best WiFi performance no matter how you hold it. The two by two MIMO should also increase the range for WiFi.

The smart cover is called a “touch cover”. “This PC has specs that rival those of the finest ultrabooks that have ever been announced.”

Surface uses “digital ink,” so you can write on it with a stylus. The ink is 650 dpi. The distance between it and the pen is the closest of any stylus ever. “Windows sees the proximity of the pen, and stops taking touch input.” The pen is magnetic, so it just connects to the top of the device.

Microsoft is calling Surface a PC, and are very careful not to call it a tablet. Surface also has a full modern trackpad with clicking buttons.

Later in the presentation Panos Panay took the stage, the leader of the Surface team. In a video showing the people who worked on it, a lot of shots showing the folks making it in the factory in China. MS is probably trying to contrast with Foxconn and Apple.

For more information about Surface, visit http://www.surface.com and http://twitter.com/surface

 

by Arpad

What is the next Apple Move?

June 1, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Apple iTV

Apple iTV

Apple, like many American companies, does not typically compete in market segments where pricing is the number one criteria of success. It is not easy to do with the type of wages and extremely high taxes those companies in the US face. It usually leads to low profit margins any way. Instead, Apple has been very good at coming up with ideas that change the landscape and introduce products that consumers did not know they wanted. Many people have been trying to figure out what the next idea is that Apple will pull out of the magic hat.

Jony Ive, the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple was knighted recently for his work on products such as the iPod and the iPhone. In an interview to the Daily Telegraph he said that he believes he is doing his most important work right now. “A lot does seem to come back to the fact that what we’re working on now feels like the most important and the best work we’ve done, and so it would be what we’re working on right now, which of course I can’t tell you about.” Ive could, of course, exaggerate. None of the less, he thinks that Apple might be coming out with another game changer soon.

Many think the next Apple gadget is a TV. This was reinforced by Steve Jobs before he passed away by saying that he finally cracked the TV conundrum. There is also news coming from suppliers that they are gearing up for production of TVs for Apple.

Here is what Tim Cook, the new Apple CEO actually said at the All Things Digital’s tenth annual conference.

He wouldn’t comment specifically on the upcoming “iTV” Apple is widely rumored to be readying for launch, but he did say Apple will focus more on the television market moving forward. ”This is an area of intense interest for us,” Cook said while speaking about Apple TV, noting that Apple has sold more than 2.7 million Apple TVs so far in 2012. “We’re going to keep pulling this string and see where it takes us.” Some reports suggest Apple’s HDTV will launch in the fourth quarter this year.

As far as Apple’s voice-controlled virtual assistant Siri is concerned, Cook made it clear that big things are coming in the next few months. “There’s more that it can do,” Cook said. “We have a lot of people working on this. You’ll be really pleased with the things you’ll see over the coming months. The breadth that you’re talking about… we’ve got some cool ideas about what Siri can do. We have a lot going on this.”

The Apple World Wide Developers Conference in mid-June will introduce a dramatically new version of the Apple TV operating system. This new OS is said to be much more feature-complete than the current OS that runs on the Apple TV, and is apparently the one that Apple’s upcoming HDTV will run.

Apple is actively trying to court manufacturers to use a new “control out” API in order for third-party manufacturers to make accessories that are compatible with the new Apple TV OS and the upcoming “iTV.” It’s said that by using the API, it will be possible to control any connected components all from the Apple remote (and the Apple remote iOS app as well).

This would be a enormous change in the home theater landscape, which has until this point relied on a mess of thousands of infrared codes and physical cables in order for devices to be interoperable or Wi-Fi-controlled apps for each component and piece of hardware.

The control out API is said to work with all aspects of various popular components, even allowing control over things like program guides on a cable operators’ set top boxes and other hardware components.

So what would an Apple TV actually look like? Recent claims suggest Apple has an aluminum HDTV in the works powered by iOS and Siri voice controls.

Lately some analysts have been changing their tune and saying that Apple may not be coming out with a TV after all. So why is there so much smoke if there is no fire? The answer, some speculate, maybe that the new Apple iTV may not be a TV after all. It may be some sort of command and control center for the home and the family that brings all the other Apple devices all together. It could be a sort of iHub.

It could be a device that allows the integration of all the calendars, music libraries, photos and videos. Control the flow of data between iPads, iPhones, computers and laptops, TVs, cameras, and any other device you can think of. It could be some sort of wall mount touch pad device that is installed somewhere in the family room.

Would Apple be able to convince consumers to buy another device? They have been successful with their other products so far. Regardless if it is a TV or a hub a lot of Apple fans will be waiting with high expectations. Although, recent speculations indicate that they may have to wait until 2014.

by Arpad

How can a Light Bulb Cost $50?

March 14, 2012 in Lighting by Arpad

Philips $50 LED Light Bulb

Philips $50 LED Light Bulb

The new green light bulb carries a hefty price tag even though it won a $10 million prize, called the “L Prize” from the Department of Energy. Let’s see how a light bulb can cost $50.

Last year the US Department of Energy tried to spur a faster adaptation in replacing the traditional light bulbs with a more energy efficient but affordable equivalent by announcing a $10 million award, also called the “L Prize”. Manufacturers were supposed to create a green and at the same time affordable light bulb. The competition was also supposed to encourage the product to be made in America.

The existing, much less costly light bulbs are being forced out of the market not by market forces but mostly by government directive. Energy legislation in 2007 banned the use of certain light bulbs. The sanction would phase out 100 Watt incandescent bulbs in 2012 and ban 75 Watt and 60 Watt bulbs each year after that. However, there is some political push back against the ban. Part of the reason is a lack of viable alternatives. The award was probably one of the attempts to bring these alternatives out to the market as the deadline was approaching.

The award winning light bulb is on the market now (at least it is announced) and the price tag is $50. How can a $50 light bulb replace something that costs less than a dollar? The answer is that it probably cannot. What about the other alternative, the CFL light bulb. Compact Fluorescents already have some market penetration. The comparison is not so simple either. In order to make a fair assessment all the costs associated with a bulb need to be taken into account. Let’s first look at the different technologies and then return to the full cost of operating a light bulb.

The new bulb uses a completely different technology compared to the traditional incandescent light bulb introduced by Edison. The incandescent bulb uses a filament that has electrical current flowing through. The electrical current heats up the filament and the hot metal emits photons in a wide spectrum. Part of that spectrum is visible and it is processed by the human eye as light. Some of it is invisible and felt as heat. That is the reason why the efficiency is not very good. A good portion of the energy is converted into heat and not light.

CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs use a different approach. The bulb holds argon and mercury vapor in a spiral-shaped tube (curly bulb). An electric current passes through the gas, exciting the molecules that emit photons in the ultraviolet spectrum as they return to their lower energy state. The ultraviolet light then excites the molecules in the fluorescent coating on the inside of the tube. As these return to their lower energy state they emit visible light.

The human eye sees different parts of the spectrum differently. The sensitivity changes with the wavelength; that is why the output of light sources is measured in lumens. It is a measure of the power of light as it is seen by the human eye. Therefore a valid way to compare two light sources is to compare the light output in lumens. A 60 Watt light bulb (the most common household bulb) emits around 800 lm (lumens). The same light intensity is produced by a CFL light bulb that uses between 13 and 15 Watts. A lot less electrical power produces the same amount of light, as it is perceived by the human eye.

LED light sources may do even better. LED lights use between 10 and 15 Watts to produce the same amount of lumens. That is not a lot of improvement over a CFL bulb. However, CFL bulbs contain mercury (hazardous material), they are not dimmable using traditional dimmers, and their life expectancy is (eight to fifteen times of the incandescent bulbs) a third to half of the LED’s.

LED (Light Emitting Diode) light sources work by exciting electrons in a semiconductor material. As the electrons return to their normal energy state they emit a photon. These photons are at a very specific frequency. There is no energy loss in this regard. However, one wavelength means a specific color. In order to generate white light a certain mix of colors need to be generated. LED light is also very directional. In order to make it more useful it has to be dispersed better.

The $50 light bulb is an LED lamp. It also has to include other circuitry to transform the common 110V AC input to a low voltage DC that is needed for the LED. So after understanding how the different lighting technologies compare, let’s see what the total cost of operating a light bulb is.

An easy way to look at the issue is to start out with a LED bulb and see how much it costs to operate the other two types of bulbs for the same time period. The average life span of a LED bulb according to the manufacturer (Philips gave the same numbers for the $50 light bulb) is 30,000 hours (using 3 hours of operation a day that translates to a little over 27 years). The incandescent bulb has an average of 1,000 hour life expectancy. The CFL bulb has about 10,000 hours before it needs to be replaced. Therefore it would take 30 incandescent bulbs or 3 CFL bulbs to do the same job. The price of electricity varies around the country. It is about 8 cent per kilowatt hour on the low end and 25 cents on the high end. In order to calculate the total operating cost the cost of the bulb and the total price of electricity used throughout the 30,000 hour time period needs to be added together.

The incandescent bulb uses 60 Watts of electricity. That means 60 times 30,000 over the lifetime of the 30 bulbs (1,800 kWh). It comes out to be $162 on the low end $450 on the high end. The cost of the 30 bulbs is about $30. Therefore the total operating cost is between $192 and 480. This method does not account for any fluctuation and the change in electricity price over such a long period of time. The same numbers for the CFL are 3 bulbs consuming 450 kWh. The electricity cost is $36 to $112.50. The total operating cost is between (each bulb costs about $5 and three replaces the one LED) $51 and $127.50. The LED bulb at $50 uses 300 kWh of electricity. The cost of electricity is between $24 and $75. The total operating cost is between $74 and $125.

The calculations show that the total operating cost of an incandescent bulb is much higher than the same value of a CFL or LED bulbs. The difference between the two more recent technologies is not much even with the numbers selected generously for the LED. The example also shows why the green movement is encouraging higher electricity prices. All the green technology makes more sense when it is high not to mention that the alternative power generation methods are more competitive as well.

The analysis accepts all of the manufacturer’s claims. The life expectancy of 30,000 hours is difficult to confirm. However, when the claims for the CFL bulbs are looked at, they should certainly be taken with a grain of salt. Many customers have much more experience with these types of bulbs. Several of these break after using them for less than 10 hours. The high early mortality rate should certainly lower the average life expectancy. The real life environment probably yields much lower values than the numbers measured in the lab. It is partly due to the stress induced by the frequent turning on and off of the power. LED light sources have another characteristic that makes the comparison more complex. LED lights decrease in output throughout their life. There are two different effects that happen simultaneously due to self-heating, switching on and off and environmental causes. One is the performance depreciation when the actual lumen output decreases. The other one is the change in color. They both cause the human eye to detect a decrease in brightness. The rate changes between manufacturers based on the actual processes used.

Another factor is the time value of money. Usually higher initial investment ($50 light bulb) performs much worse if the time value is looked at as well. The famous example of the compound interest of some beads that were paid for Manhattan Island actually exceeding the current value of the real estate in New York City shows that money paid today can cost a lot in the future. So taking into account that the $50 paid today for a light bulb may be a lot of money in 27 years, the comparison may not be as beneficial for the expensive solution. However, such an analysis would be difficult with so much uncertainty surrounding the cost of electricity and the effective interest rate.

So is the $50 light bulb the solution? Did the government subsidy work and provided a better solution than what was available? It does not seem so. The analysis showed that the CFL bulb may be a better solution if the overall cost of operation is looked at. However, CFL bulbs contain mercury (disposal cost not added to the equation) so a broken bulb becomes a health hazard. CFL bulbs also require special dimmers that do not work. Does taking these facts into account tip the scale to the side of the $50 light bulb? Maybe if the other already existing LED light bulbs are not taken into account.

Home Depot and other retailers already sell a Philips product, the Ambient LED 12-Watt (60W) A19 Light Bulb (E) (Model # 409904) for $25 (half the price). The light output is the same 800 lumens. However, the life expectancy is 25,000 hours and the energy use is more by 20% compared to the new, $50 model. The full operating cost for 30,000 hours (took the price at 1.2 times) is $58.80 at the low end and $120 on the high end (depending on the price of electricity). So the operating cost is lower than for the $50 version. What did the $10 million prize buy after all? It looks like it gave the consumers a lesser product (unless the price of electricity goes way up). The buy American protectionist approach never benefits consumers. It does not even benefit the country as a whole. However, even if it is looked at as a benefit that some of the $50 light bulb is manufactured in the US it does not mean that this technology will not go overseas eventually.

The new $50 light bulb is not in stores yet. However, the design looks very similar to its $25 counterpart. The less expensive model already has a track record. Based on the experiences, consumers are happy with the intensity and the color of the light. The energy saving is minimal compared to CFL but the mercury free quality may make a difference for consumers. The light dims well and starts quickly as long as there are no other kind of bulbs on the same circuit (do not mix CFL, incandescent and LED lights on the same circuit). The negatives are loud humming (probably from power converter, not the best fit for a night stand) and the dispersion of the light (self-shadowing effect of the cooling strips and some light bleeding through the yellow area, not a good look for a decorative fixture like a chandelier).

by Arpad

Apple Reveals the New iPad 3

March 7, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

iPad 3

iPad 3

The wait is finally over. Apple has announced its new iPad and yes it is called iPad 3 indeed. Most of the rumors and expectations turned out to be true only a few expected features got left off. The new iPad 3 has a higher resolution screen, it has a faster processor, higher data rate connectivity, more powerful battery, better cameras and Siri is included as well. On the other hand the features that turned out to be rumors only are quad core A6 processor, smaller screen size and tactile technology for the touch screen.

The heart of the new iPad 3 is the A5X processor. It is a dual core processor architecture with a quad core graphics processor (the X denotes that) added to it. So the new tablet has the same processor speed as the previous model but the graphics capabilities doubled.

The iPad 3 has a better resolution screen than the high definition (HD) TV sets at 1080P. The higher resolution makes text look smoother pictures sharper. However, the source has to have high resolution as well. Therefore looking at a picture from a website will not look much better because the picture itself is presented in low resolution.

The connectivity may be another area where the difference is very obvious right away. Some of the new iPad 3 models include LTE capability as well. LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the new wireless standard that is capable much faster speeds for uploading and downloading data. Both Verizon and AT&T has been rolling out their LTE networks as fast as possible as a result the coverage is fairly good in metropolitan areas. (At least it is good until there are too many users.) The new iPad model is also equipped with enhanced 3G or could be called 4G capabilities. If an LTE network is not available HSPA+ at 21 MBPS (million bits per second), or DC-HSDPA at 42 MBPS still offers a good download data rate. The download speed will be limited by other factors most of the time any way (the source website or even the phone company’s own data connection). The use of these services, of course, requires a subscription from the phone company. The higher data rate also means using more battery power. Especially LTE uses a lot more juice. The user could always save money and power with the Wi-Fi only version that is cheaper, does not require the monthly fee and uses less power. For customers, using the tablet mostly at home or in the office, that could be a better option.

The look and feel of the new iPad is very similar to the older iPad 2 models. It is 9.4 mm thick and weighs 1.5 lb.

The price is structured similar to what consumers are used to. The iPad 2 models will get a $50 to $100 discount.

The iPad 3 is available in stores on March 16, 2012, Friday. The countries initially are US, Canada, UK, Germany, Germany, Switzerland, and Japan. In order to avoid camping out in front of the store a preorder from Apple at the Apple Store might be the best option.

Specifications:

  • Processor: A5X dual-core processor with quad-core graphics processor
  • Display: Retina display: 9.7″ with 2,048 x 1,536 pixel matrix resolution (3.1 million pixels total), with 40% better color saturation than previously.
  • Wireless Connectivity: Wi-Fi; with certain models LTE with AT&T and Verizon in the US; Rogers, Bell, and Telus in Canada; HSPA+ (21 MBPS), DC-HSDPA (42 MBPS)
  • Operating System: iOS 5.1 (Siri)
  • Cameras: 5 megapixel 1080p iSight backside illuminated camera, 5 element lens, IR filter, ISP, and video stabilization; HD front facing camera
  • Battery: More battery capacity for an extended battery life (10 hours of normal use on WiFi, 9 hours on LTE)
  • Storage: 16/32/64 GB models
  • Color: White and Black casing
  • Dimensions: 9.4 mm thin, weighing in at 1.4 lbs
  • Applications: Over 200,000 custom iPad applications

Price:

  • 16 GB with Wi-Fi: $499
  • 32 GB with Wi-Fi: $599
  • 64 GB with Wi-Fi: $699
  • 16 GB with Wi-Fi and LTE: $629
  • 32 GB with Wi-Fi and LTE: $729
  • 64 GB with Wi-Fi and LTE: $829
by Arpad

Smart TV

March 5, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Smart TV

Smart TV

A smart TV is a TV set with some sort of built in computer that can handle direct connectivity with the internet as well as run applications. These apps mostly enable the user to get content from an internet based provider and interact with the provider directly from the TV via the remote.

Roughly fifteen years ago, the technology world was filled with buzz regarding the technological integration of TVs and computers. It has taken much longer than anyone thought back then but we seem to be close. However, technology changed a lot and solutions are not exactly what engineers had in mind back then either.

There are many different approaches still. You can stream content on your computer, tablet or smart phone. You can connect your TV to your computer, game console (PlayStation, Xbox, Wii) media streaming device (Apple TV, Roku), or with the smart TV you can connect directly to the internet via your modem.

Usually you receive a modem from your internet provider (do not try this with a dial up connection). The modem connects the World Wide Web to this modem via the phone line (DSL), cable (cable modem by cable TV provider), fiber optics cable (Gigahertz connection by specialty provider), T1 line or some other solution. The output of the modem goes into some sort of router (wired, wireless) that provides the home network. A lot of times the modem and the router reside in the same box. The network connections could be done by CAT5 or CAT6 cable for faster and more secure connection or via Wi-Fi for a less expensive and more convenient connection. Most smart TV has a built in Wi-Fi connection. So if the wireless router is close enough to the television set the connection is stable and fast enough to stream the video signal for even HD quality picture.

Most apps on a smart TV can be placed into one of the following categories:

  • Online video streaming (Netflix, Hulu, …)
  • Video-on demand (Vudu, Cinema Now, …)
  • Games (Angry Birds, …)
  • Social networking (Facebook, Twitter, …)
  • Others (Photo Sharing, Weather, …)

Many of the most popular applications come preloaded on the TV but the user can add others as well as update the old ones as they become available. The manufacturers offer app stores where the software can be downloaded from. In this regard it is very similar to any smart phone or tablet. Some of these applications are free (e.g. Facebook) but others only work if the user pays a monthly subscription fee (e.g. Netflix).

The “computer” part of a smart TV is similar to any other so called smart device. The main parts are processor that executes all the processes and some sort of data storage that stores any data you need like your setup information, etc. Smart TVs are a little more expensive than their not so smart counterparts but the difference is minimal so they are built in to most modern high end TV sets.  These are televisions that typically have a big flat screen with high definition (HD, 1080p), surround sound, may be set up for 3D (with the proper goggles the viewer sees a three dimensional picture if the original signal carries the necessary information), wireless connection.

Most smart TVs have similar collection of apps downloaded, usually Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Facebook, Twitter, news, sports, photo sharing, sports and weather apps.

Netflix is the 800 lb. gorilla. Although recently they had some gaffs and lost a lot of their customers but they are still the biggest streaming video service out there. Netflix started out as a DVD rental business via mail. Later they added the streaming component to their service for their existing customers for free. That is how they were able to become so big so quickly for streaming. After a few iterations they are back to offering the streaming for free to their customers who use the DVD rental service and they offer a streaming only account for $8 a month. Netflix has a large selection of TV shows and movies that are not so recent. Some movies never make it to the streaming library some make it very quickly. It probably goes on an individual bases. For example you can stream Toy Story 3 but not the previous two. The foreign film library is excellent though. Netflix also offers apps for mobile devices. The viewer can start a movie on the TV and continue where it stopped on a mobile phone or tablet.

Hulu is another option that provides on-demand streaming video of TV shows, movies, webisodes and other new media, trailers, clips, and behind-the-scenes footage from NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, Nickelodeon, and many other networks and studios.  Hulu also provides web syndication services for other websites including AOL, MSN, MySpace, Facebook, Yahoo!, and Comcast’s xfinityTV. Hulu is a joint effort between several big players of the traditional media Fox Entertainment Group (News Corp), NBCUniversal (Comcast/GE),  and Disney-ABC Television Group (The Walt Disney Company), with funding by Providence Equity Partners.

Hulu Plus is a subscription version of Hulu for $8 a month. It does offer a bigger variety of content than the free version; however, there is content that can be found in the free version but not Hulu Plus. Hulu Plus removes most of the episode and content limits and lets the user watch a full season or series worth of episodes for some shows up to 720P resolution. Hulu Plus doesn’t offer sport and news and has virtually no premium cable content like HBO and Showtime. Hulu Plus gives customers the same amount of ads, and doesn’t make episodes available earlier than the free service. Netflix offers much of the same deep catalogue of content as Hulu Plus, but from more providers, including premium cable providers such as HBO and Showtime. Hulu Plus is easier to navigate and has better video quality, but with Netflix consumers can see a wider variety popular shows and movies without dealing with ads. However, Hulu has is the ability to watch full seasons of currently running shows that is not available on Netflix.

Video-on-demand apps are usually Vudu, Blockbuster and Cinema Now. In this case a one-time rental fee is paid to watch the selected movies. The fee allows the user to view the content typically for 24-hours.

 There may be a difference between the apps that are available on one or another manufacturer’s models. However, many times these differences can change as the app is written for a bigger variety of platforms. There are also possible alliances between TV manufacturers and content providers. So some of the apps and the content may only be available for a certain manufacturer. One of such partnerships is between Sony and Google called Google TV. But some other providers blocked the access to their content from Google TV.

Consumers complain that some of the user interfaces are not very intuitive. There may be a better chance for differentiation in this area. Apple is of course, the master of user friendly interfaces. They have done the same for MP3 players, smart phones, tablets and now possibly for television. The last thing that Steve Jobs worked on before he passed away was TV. He supposedly said that they finally got it. Rumors exist that Apple is already starting production in the near future for the new product possibly called iTV. The expectation is that Apple would make deals with the companies generating the content similarly how it was done with the record labels. Some TV shows and movies are already available from iTunes, but the selection is not as good as what cable companies offer. If Apple is successful changing the landscape ones more, that could spell trouble for the cable companies.

by Arpad

Should I wait for the iPad 3?

March 3, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

iPad 3

Apple iPad 3

If you are thinking about buying a tablet, you may want to consider what Apple may have coming. The rumors are alive and well regarding the release of a new iPad this Spring. Some people even set an March 7 date for the announcement. Let’s see what to expect based on the past actions of Apple. Just like when it comes to the stocks past performance is not a guarantee for future results, we can make predictions what the new iPad will be like. Although, like the iPhone 5, that did not show up on time and was actually called iPhone 4S, the prophecies may be false.

You can read articles that make predictions based on back covers or other little clues that supposedly belong to the new iPad 3 (or iPad 2S or iPad HD) but there is nothing real concrete of what the design may look like. Apple has a track record of releasing new products in the Spring (iPad: April 2010, iPad 2: March 2011). If the tradition continues March or April of 2012 would be right on schedule.

Connectivity:

The iPad 3 may have LTE. The Verizon version would almost have to have LTE, considering how fast Verizon is trying to replace their current network that gives them technical disadvantages compared to the competition. The AT&T model would do well with an enhanced 3G (also called 4G with the higher data rate HSUPA), LTE combo version. This would work relatively fast regardless where you are on the network.

Although LTE has a price that you pay, higher power consumption that translates to shorter battery life. The price is even paid when the data rate is not necessarily so high. This could be because the upload speed of the source has a limit, there are too many users on the same cell and they are splitting up the bandwidth, or you just do not need any faster speed (streaming).

Is it worth to buy the LTE option? I would say that it depends on the user. If you are an outside salesman showing presentation videos from you server, you should get it. If you are reading the latest best-selling novel on your couch, probably stick with the WiFi version.

Voice Recognition – Virtual Assistant:

With the introduction of Siri Apple seemed to have made a commitment into this direction. This commitment will most likely continue for the new iPad 3. Although a phone has more reason to have this feature since when you are driving you might be much safer talking than looking and typing. It may not be so important for a tablet. However, Siri is more than just voice recognition. It is a step towards artificial intelligence. Most users with iPhone 4S do not actually use the feature though. It is possibly because they are just not used to it. It also increases the need for increased data flow in both directions by about three fold.

Camera:

The current iPad 2 camera is behind industry standard. Although Apple usually tend to be behind other companies with implementation of new technology, we can expect better cameras for the iPad 3.

Screen resolution – Retina Display:

This is one of the features that generated the most buzz when it comes to the iPad 3. People seem to be very excited. Will it make a big difference? Photos will look probably a little sharper. Since we are already close to the resolution of the human eye, the difference may not be so obvious to everyone. It also depends on how good your vision is.

Touch Screen:

Apple may be coming out with a new feature for touch screen that has an emerging tactile technology. If it is true that would be the icing on the cake, the one feature that would not just be an incremental change but a bold new move that makes people talk about the product. Rumors only started circulating recently so Apple has been successful keeping the lid on this information if indeed it is true.

Touchscreen interface solutions developer Senseg hinted that Apple may use the company’s groundbreaking technology in the new iPad. Companies have been trying to make it possible for users to feel with their fingers on touch screens. One of the reasons it is more difficult to type on a flat surface compared to a keyboard is that the finger cannot tell where the keys exactly are. It looks like Senseg went beyond this goal and opened up a whole new dimension. The company website states:

“Senseg turns touch screens into Feel Screens, …  With Senseg touch screens come alive with textures, contours and edges that users can feel. Using Senseg technology, makers of tablet computers, smart phones, and any touch interface device can deliver revolutionary user experiences with high fidelity tactile sensations. Your customers will Feel the Difference with Senseg.”

Processor Speed – Multi Core:

As we got used to the never ending race with PCs, faster processors bring needier software. You can never have enough speed. The rumored A6 chip a quad core fast processor maybe coming with more than a GHz clock speed. A new 3D architecture is talked about for the processor where the connection are not only on a surface.

Other Features:

Bigger storage would be a no brainer considering the decrease in the price of flash memory.

There is talk about thinner as well as thicker body compared to the iPad 2. The thickness is already at a level where consumers may not want to pay extra for going even further down. Increased battery life (or at least maintained with LTE) would be a more valuable feature.

There are rumors about a smaller screen size. However, iPad Mini could be in addition to the iPad 3 later this year, not instead. This would allow Apple to compete with the Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barns & Noble’s Nook that are cutting into their sales numbers.

Many users are wishing for SD card slot or standard micro-USB port or near filed communication. However, Apple traditionally did not give in to requests like that and valued control over satisfying geeks.

Conclusion:

The iPad 3 will probably have enough improvements so that customers have a reason to buy it over the iPad 2 that will probably be offered at a lower price. Some of the retailers are already offering some discount because sales dropped thanks to the rumors.

Check out the news article on Apple revealing the new iPad 3.

by Arpad

Is there a mini iPad on the way?

March 2, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

iPad Mini

Is iPad Mini here for Christmas?

There are rumors floating around that Apple is planning to launch a mini iPad tablet. The product is expected to be in stores for Christmas.  This reduced size iPad is already on the assembly lines at Apple’s manufacturing partners.

The new version will include a 7.85-inch display as the main feature. Why would Apple move into this direction? Amazon Kindle Fire was reported to have surpassed expectations last quarter and sold 5.5 million units as well as Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet is doing well. They are significantly cutting into Apple’s sales figures.

The smaller tablets are much easier to hold. If you are mostly reading books, newspaper or browsing the internet, you will be in the same position for an extended period of time. Your hands will not get tired as quickly if you are holding a smaller lighter tablet. Most users will use their tablet for reading primarily. That also makes it less important to own a more versatile and powerful tablet. So why spend the $500 or more if you are better off with a $200 product?

That is why Apple needs to diversify and come out with a smaller product at around $250. This is also the beginning of the battle of the ecosystems. If you own Apple products you will use iTunes. So the hope is that you will purchase content (books, music, movies) from Apple. However, if you own a Kindle Fire you will more likely buy from Amazon. So let the battle begin. The winner is usually the consumer.

by Arpad

Why Half of Internet Capable TVs are not Connected

February 20, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Internet Connected TV

Internet Connected TV


More and more TV sets on the market offer built in internet capability as a feature. This means that the consumer can connect them directly to the internet without any other device like a game console (Play Station, XBox or Nintendo) or streaming media device (Roku, Apple TV). The connection makes it possible to play digital content directly from Netflix, Hulu, Pandora or one of the many other sources already available.

However, many of the users do not take advantage of the feature. According to research only 47% of internet capable TVs are actually connected. So what do people do instead? They continue using the usually more expensive but tried and true methods like set-top box for cable or satellite.

What are the reasons why more Smart TVs are not utilized?

1. Manufacturers and retailers do not explain very well what these features are and how to use them. Professional installation cost too much extra for people to take it.

2. Consumers are used to that watching TV is a passive activity. They just want to relax when they sit in front of the box. Some of the possibilities like playing games and posting on social networking sites are not fitting in that picture.

3. This feature was not an important part of the purchasing decision so they do not even know or care about what it means. The price difference is not significant.

4. Poor user interface. When the feature is activated a bunch of icons appear where the applications can be selected. Most of them are not widely known what they are. A lot of them require signing up and even subscription. So unless the user is already excited about using them, they may not seem that important to have.

TV manufacturers compete with each other. So they feel like they have to offer this feature but they do not care if it gets used. The situation is similar to early smart phones where most users did not use most of the features. They did not have a reason and it was too complicated. That is why Apple changed the landscape. They already had content to sell so they were motivated to change the status quo. This may be a good opportunity once again for Apple to turn the landscape upside down. If they figure out how to make Smart TVs truly smart, how to build a system that is easy and intuitive to use, they will sell a lot of units and content to a lot of people around the world. Rumors are already out there that the TVs are being built. Steve Jobs said before he passed away that they finally figured out how to do it right. Apple is playing 3D chess while others are playing checkers. Lets see what happens. Consumers and Apple are probably the ones to benefit at the end.