CES 2016 Part 1: VR & The Need To Track Our Sleep, Lives, Workouts

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(photo album of CES 2016 here)

What a time in Vegas, and CES this week. Actually, the organization behind CES, Consumer Electronics Show, is changing it’s name to CTA, Consumer Technology Association from CEA, consumer electronics association. A much broader name as it encompasses a much bigger business base.
And Consumer is the key word, as this show is a trade show at it’s essence.
Business doing business. Major brands previewing what they are selling and what is to come. The goal is to write huge orders with the likes of Best Buy, WalMart, etc..

One thing was made clear throughout the show: With all of this tech available, what does it really mean to your life? Is it just a gimmick, or does it really help make you life better?

The press is there to give an insight into overall trends and give you a preview of what is around the corner, or in some case, online ready to buy. In a few posts, I’ll try to give an overall impression of what’s coming, both in the general tech space, and of course, the photo world.
It’s a massive event spreading all over Las Vegas, and everyone from the big players in the tech world, plus the major photo brands like Sony and Nikon and Canon, to the start-ups who take tech innovation to heart and hope to either carve out a niche for themselves, or get gobbled up by one of the big players who will use their product designs under their brand name.
I always find it interesting that the event always happens right after New Years, as everyone has just opened their new tech gifts an are learning how to use them. You THOUGHT you had the latest and greatest, but now find out what you’ll want next!

For the photo market, the biggest news of course came from Nikon, and the announcement
of 3 new cameras: D5 flagship FX, D500 DX, and the EyeMission 360º, a first foray into the action cam world. More to come on all of that, and you can read the initial news here.

And what about the rest of the news/trends?

One thing that was an expected huge category was 360º video, and the coming VR trend.
I have to say that for the consumer, the 360º cameras I saw looked cool, but overall, the true quality of the resulting videos was sub-par.
Yes, the cameras are somewhat easy to use for capture, and yes, some have VR type goggles to view it.
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But it gets a hard stop there.
Once you create a 360º video, to truly look good, as good as images you currently view flat on TV or your computer, the file size would be enormous, and the processing power needs to be the same.
It may say, HD or even 4K, but that is a misnomer as the files, one viewed in the intended format, is actually pretty small.
Raggedy,tearing, low res images seemed to be where the category is now. In addition, the question I asked all of the companies was “how is audio incorporated?”
Dodgy at best. Some had built mics, which didn’t make great sense, as you could be far away from your subject.
Or some like Movi, offered up a live streaming solution using your smartphone, and wires and adaptors to record audio. Messy.
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The main question here is how do you share with your friends to show them how cool the footage is?
We mainly communicate visually on Facebook, Instagram, and twitter (sorry Vine) These cameras use proprietary url’s to showcase your work. That’s the main deal. Sharing easily is not currently and option.

So……Unless you are an early adopter, are willing to share only on 3rd party sites, and your audio needs are more GoPro-esque (mic on camera close to action or music track without “live track”) you may want to wait for another gen.
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Honestly, the one I thought would be a good consumer unit last CES from Giroptic, is STILL not to market Over a year later.
Between products that are not in production, and the quality of the images in question, hold tight on this category.

VR (virtual reality) is the buzzword, and the question is who will create the right experience.
Between the goggle wars, with early entrants to the field, Oculus Rift, finally announcing a price and ship date, another category still too early in the game.
That said, I would still recommend getting a set of goggles to start downloading and viewing content via your smartphone, so you are at the very least, understanding the experience. The content will probably driven by immersive games, pairing VR goggles with control devices, to bring you into the work of the game instead of simply looking at a flat screen and interacting.
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Even if you use a headset to draw you further in, the dog barking or other elements in your home still will distract from your gaming experience.
Once again, very early stages.
Talented directors like, Robert Stromberg of RSA and VRC, who directed Maleficent, are looking at VR as a storytelling medium and that will surly move the needle.. Check out his latest work VR work based on the movie, The Martian.

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Here are the ION VR goggle prototype interiors, that were used for this project:
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and as one of the owners is interviewed:
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Heck, even stalwart companies like ViewMaster see the potential, and have jumped in, with an entry price point of about $25.

Or will porn, that has driven so much tech adoption in the past, do the same with VR?

As I mentioned, the recco here is to get some goggles and see for yourself. It is a pretty mind boggling experience, but there is a rub: how long you can keep the goggles on: nauseum has been a factor as your physical eye is so close to lenses that are showing a screen that has images much further away. Some minds have issue reconciling this effect and make the viewing experience a very short one at about 2.5 in max. before you may get queasy. Not everyone, but some.

Audio cues can help put you in a place, giving you a spatial reference. To that end, new audio products are being developed as well as audio editing software to help in this.

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One company, Icarus, wants you to experience the feeling of flight, ala Superman, with their apparatus that couples with VR programming. Takes a bit of real estate, but everyone seemed to have a good time.

The previous sense of a singular experience with VR, was explored by Samsung as they created a theater where everyone shared in common program.

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As you need a smartphone for the most portable VR experience, that brings up one of my main questions for so much of the app based controls for so much new tech.
Whether it’s that new drone, your fitness tracking, sleep tracking, home security, you will be using your smartphone.
Now the battery life on those phones has been an issue forever. Now that you are using it as a remote control for your life, the power needs are massive. So find the battery that is portable, has the power capacity that will get you through a day, and add that weight to your daily kit.
The apps are easy to deal with as it’s primarily a power usage question.
On controlling cameras or any other video imaging device, like let’s say drones, you have now put your main life line, the smartphone into a different service. What happens when a call comes in, or you need to respond to txts?
Will the drone go down? Your sweet 4K camera is in flight, and an emergency call comes in: do you take the call and maybe trash the drone? Or do you keep flying til it’s safe to land and then deal with life.
All I’m saying is that you should be using another (yes, another) screen to control those devices. Leave your iPhone as your iPhone. A note for your hobby time investment.

My day job producing commercials has brought some of the high end drones, using RED cameras into the gear order.
Honestly, I would always have a drone set-up in any exterior location shoot I produce (check this link to see some of my work for IBM and Caterpillar here) We use iPads for control and monitors.
One last note on that fro all of the drone video folks: Use it appropriately and sparingly in your content. Like any special effect, you only want to wear out it’s welcome.
A great tool when used right.

At CES, Gary Shapiro, the CEO, spoke about the drone category and spoke more to delivery systems that would use drones as in getting needed medical supplies and such, to areas that are difficult and expensive to get to.
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We’ll see. Amazon has been very vocal in this arena, and maybe they have the answer.

One category that has been burgeoning is sleep tracking. Yep, activity tracking devices are common and the winners may have been sorted. But sleep, that thing you probably need more of, apparently now needs to be tracked so you can possibly adjust your life to get you more, and a deeper, restful sleep.
I think it speaks to anxiety in our society, and the fact that everyone wants to know how they are sleeping is proven by he quantity of products. It’s a new massive market, but what can it tell you? how often you move? Unless it’s a thorough electrode sleep observation, trust me I’ve done that, motion doesn’t tell you a whole ton.
Or you can go with one of the products that help you sleep with music and scents, like this,
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and just get to bed at a reasonable hour.

And as FitBit, which has now been owning the somewhat new fitness tracking software space, their new product, Blaze, failed to impress Wall Street and their stoke has taken a hit.
One of the newer companies, Misfit, showed of a new line of sleep and fitness trackers with an improved look:
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Whenever there is success, the imitators will follow. The fitness tracking category has spawned so many new products that it’s tough to discern the best, but the most popular is easy.
Although will smart watches just gobble up the space, as we all have just so much room on our wrists?
This will be a shakeout year, for sure.

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