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2013 CES Top Takeaways

The most promising products to stock this year

February 13, 2013 By John R. Quain
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Product demos that attract throngs on the trade show floor don't always end up pulling crowds into stores. If they did, we'd all be using MiniDiscs and Palm Pre smartphones.

Certainly, this past 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show had its share of products that got a lot of attention but won't translate into retail success. There was a lot of noise about (and best-of accolades for) the Razer Edge gaming system, for example. But starting at $999 it's unlikely to be a success, especially because casual gaming on smartphones and tablets is eviscerating the console market. And Windows 8 laptops were well represented at the show but will likely continue to get a lukewarm response from consumers.

On the other hand, sifting through the displays both monstrous and modest yielded some products and trends that should tempt consumers this year. From new TVs to tablet accessories, there was something in nearly every category to entice shoppers. Here are some of the standout products and trends for the coming months.
 
Samsung UN85S9
Every store needs a showpiece, and this year it's going to be Ultra HD. All the major brands will have models in the 4K category this year, but once again Samsung seems to be leading the pack with an 85-inch model that steals a page from Bang & Olufsen's design book.

The UN85S9 hangs and tilts in a large, floor-standing black frame, turning what is often a bland piece of electronics into a work of art for the living room. With strikingly sharp resolution and full-array LED back lighting, this set should represent the state-of-the-art this year. Voice and gesture control, built-in video calling, and upconversion—which is necessary until a significant amount of 4K programming becomes available—are all included.

While Ultra HD sets will remain an aspirational product this year, some more affluent buyers may be tempted by 55-inch Ultra HD sets. These look stunning and should be much less than the $20,000 some 85-inch models will cost.
 
Dish Hopper with Sling DVR
Set top boxes will continue to be a growing product category, but Dish's Hopper with Sling easily leapfrogs the competition. The satellite service's DVR takes two terabytes of storage, three tuners, and multiroom service (via Joeys) and then adds an almost irresistible feature: Sling place-shifting so that owners can watch Dish channels on anything from an iPad to an Android phone anywhere there's an Internet connection. The new Hopper also includes Wi-Fi so the whole setup is dongle-free.

Consumers will also like the ability to watch what they want, when they want. Dish continues the prime-time auto-recording option, so owners can time shift all the major network shows even if they didn't schedule a recording. iPad owners can also download shows from the DVR to watch later on the tablet when there's no Internet connection. Of course, the satellite company continues to boast about its auto hop feature, letting customers skip ads completely. Broadcasters hate it; consumers love it.

The Hopper with Sling—free for new sign-ups—is bound to boost Dish subscriptions. Upgrade pricing for existing customers was not confirmed at press time, but the official list price was $449.

Sony Xperia Z
Beauty and durability are usually polar opposites, but Sony's Xperia Z promises to deliver both in a new Android smartphone. Dust resistant and waterproof (you can drop this in a tank of water to demonstrate, but don't hold it under for more than 30 minutes), the phone has a large, bright, five-inch high-def screen that Sony has bolstered with an anti-shatter film.

The Z also contains state-of-the-art technology under the glass, including a 1.5-GHz quad core processor to handle multiple tasks simultaneously and a 13-megapixel camera that can record full HD video.

Obviously, there will be many competitors with similar tech specs in this space this year, including HTC's Droid DNA. But the smartphone market is far from saturated, and the Xperia Z will appeal to anyone who's ever broken (or drowned) a phone. Pricing and availability are yet to be announced.
 
Vizio S4251W
If you thought the sound bar market was already overcrowded, 2013 will be even more jammed. One model that promises to stand out in the bar scene is Vizio's S4251W, mainly because it's more than just a bar.

The Vizio bar is coupled with two wireless rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer. It means dad can finally set up a surround sound system without having to rip up the carpet or string unsightly wires. Other customers who have shunned the awkward set up of traditional surround systems may also finally be motivated to purchase a better sonic experience.

To complete the connection, the new system will have built-in Bluetooth for streaming music from portable players. There's also a full complement of jacks: optical, coaxial, analog and even a minijack input. Priced at $330 and with an included remote (which has a display so you know what you're tweaking), the Vizio S4351W should be a crowd pleaser.

Braven BRV-1
Water is always a great prop, and the folks at Braven kept pouring it over the $180 BRV-1, until the carpet in their booth was destroyed.

Compared to popular products like the Jambox and the Beats Pill, the Braven model offers better sound quality and an invisible membrane that keeps the water out (it has anIPX5 rating, meaning it can keep out low pressure jets of water and dust). It also looks rugged so that campers and extreme sports fans will feel comfortable toting it around.

As a portable audio accessory, it should stand up to continued and varied use. The company says it will play wirelessly streaming (Bluetooth) music for up to 12 hours, can be used to charge a USB-attached phone, and do double duty as a speaker phone with its built-in noise-canceling mic. We already liked the sound of Braven's other portable speakers, and we like this one even better knowing that it’ll survive a fair amount of road warrior abuse.

Panasonic RP-BTGS10 Bone Conduction Headphones
Virtually every single CE brand will be pushing headphones again this year. But one unusual design is Panasonic's bone conduction wireless headset. By transmitting sound vibrations via pads touching the wearer's cheekbones, the Panasonic headphones send sonic information directly to the ear's inner cochlea. The advantage is that runners and bikers can still hear traffic noises around them, while people who find earbuds uncomfortable may feel more at ease with this design.

Bone conduction devices have been around for years. Typically, the sound quality isn't as good as that realized by reputable over-the-ear cans, but it will be much better than most $20 earbuds. Panasonic hopes the Bluetooth headphones will also appeal to older TV watchers who can use these headphones instead of cranking up their sets at home. Expected this fall, Panasonic had not announced a price at press time.
 
Lego Mindstorms EV3
Lego is the Jello of the toy market. Who could not like Lego?

This year, the company is finally delivering a significant update of its Mindstorms robotics kit, the $350 EV3. The centerpiece "Intelligent Brick" no longer requires a computer to program it. Basic routines can be punched in right on the device, or it can be controlled using an Android handset or iPhone. The kit comes with three motors, a touch sensor, color sensor, and infrared sensor. Instructions for building your own toys now come in the form of animated apps on a tablet, meaning it will appeal to beginners and Linux hackers alike.
 
Seagate Wireless Plus
Stocking up on accessories for tablets and smartphones is a necessity these days. But rarely does a single accessory deliver useful features to a wide variety of portable devices. The $200 Seagate Wireless Plus is an exception. The portable hard drive has 1 terabyte capacity, enough room for hundreds of HD movies, and a 10-hour rechargeable battery. It works using Wi-Fi, and there are compatible apps for Apple iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire owners, so people can load all their movies and music on it and take it with them.

Arguments between the kids on a road trip over what to watch or listen to? The Seagate drive can stream music and video to up to eight devices. Now that's what we call progress.

 

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