What’s In Store at CES 2010

With the 2009 holiday season rapidly coming to a close, techies around the world can again rejoice with the coming of the annual electronic gadget wunderfest in Las Vegas. Officially known as the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it will feature an estimated 2,500 exhibitors showing their products to some 110,000 registered attendees.

While most manufacturers are tight-lipped regarding product announcements before the big show, there are a number of items that have been gathering steam over the last few months and are sure to feature prominently at CES.

Without further ado:

This is an idea that has been around since the mid-nineties but has just caught fire in the past couple of years. It all began with the ASUS Eee PC 700, the first mass-produced netbook which hit stores in 2007. By taking a laptop, dropping the optical drive, using only FLASH based memory with an OS just powerful enough to run an internet browser, email and office type software, the netbook was born. Coupling state-of-the-art Lithium Ion batteries and today’s hi-speed WiFi connections allowing for cloud-computing, the pendulum has started to swing back to the client-server paradigm of computing from decades of free-standing PCs. These micro-computers are making rapid gains on other laptops with their low cost and increasingly complex feature sets.

Pico Projectors
These miniature, free-standing digital image projectors first started showing up a few years ago as a means for quick, on-the-go presentations from PDAs and digital cameras. Though a great idea, pico projectors have suffered from dim and poor image quality until recently. In addition to small, free-standing devices, expect to see pico projectors being built-in to your smart phones and other mobile devices in coming years.

Slated to be the next big thing in home entertainment, 3DTV was a big hit at the 2009 CES show with an array of televisions by manufactures such as Panasonic and Sony to accessories and even games such as Guitar Hero 3D. However, it is now 2010 and all these 3D products have thus far been vaporware. Still, as in the case of Bluetooth, manufactures often jump the gun in promoting products at CES that may be a few years off from actually being ready for market. With this in mind, coupled with Blu-Ray’s recent ratification of their own 3D specs, I think we’ll start to see a trickle of 3D TV products in the coming months. Stay tuned on this front, this could really change the way we see TV.

Ever since Amazon released their Kindle E-reader in 2007, these devices have been more driven by curiosity and die-hard techies than everyday consumers. This all looks to change though in 2010. An onslaught of competitors led by Sony’s Reader and Barnes & Noble’s Nook among a host of others has driven prices of these devices down to affordable levels. With increased competition, file formats should become less and less proprietary as well which is good for the consumer. Additionally, Google is currently offering thousands of public domain books for free in digital form.

Although this year’s show may be a little smaller than years past due to the economic downturn, it should undoubtedly live up to the hype by bringing its usual mix of innovation, vaporware and just plain ridiculous consumer electronics that make you wonder “who buys this stuff?”.  For all you techies out there, we hope you enjoy the coming days of CES 2010; I know I will.

3D HDTV Coming Soon to Your Living Room

This year it seems that there are more and more movie titles being offered in 3D. No, this is not the red and blue, plastic glasses 3D of yesteryear but rather a newer generation that uses polarization to separate the right and left eye images. From a slew of CGI animated children’s movies to action and even a horror movie, in 2009 there seemed to be no slowing down our appetite for 3D cinema.

The entertainment industry and consumer electronics are hoping consumers will want to bring 3D movie technology into their homes too and soon (they need the money!).  Last week, the Blu-ray Disc Association announced a finalization and release of “Blu-ray 3D” specification.  Look for the first HD 3D systems from Sony and Panasonic to be released in 2010.

So by now you must be asking: “what will I need to run 3D on my home system?” The first item you’ll need is a 3D capable HDTV (due out next year) Your current Blu-ray player will also need to be upgraded to a 3D capable version. But what about the cables? The good news is that we already offer the right A/V cable for the job. Our new HDMI v1.4 cables are fully 3D capable, in addition to offering 4k x 2k resolution and deep color capability. Since they are backward compatible, they will work with your current and future equipment equally well.

We will have to wait and see if 3D lives up to its hype as the next big thing for TV.  But at least you know you’re good to go from the cable point of view.

Big-box Stores are for Big-Ticket Items, But Not Cables

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, consumers are hard at work searching for the perfect consumer electronic gift for their loved ones. Many shoppers will be looking to purchase a new HDTV or home theater from their local big-box electronic store. I admit, who can truly resist the allure of row after row of high definition video displays, blazing down in unison? While these stores may be the perfect spot to try and buy a larger ticket item such as an LED TV or Blu-ray player, think twice before you plunk down your hard earned cash for the supporting cables.

Take HDMI cable for example. A typical 6-foot HDMI cable at major electronics store will retail for nearly $50 with “premium” versions going far north of $100. Why? These stores bank on consumers only doing their homework for the big-ticket items but not the cables. It vexes me to hear about customers being sold lines such as: “the extra $50 buys higher bandwidth and better performance,” or “what’s $100 for a cable when you are already spending $2,000 for the TV?” Baloney, I claim! Consumers have the right to know that they need not spend a small fortune for dependable and quality audio/video cables. In fact, I’ll pit our 6-foot HDMI cable, which sells for under $5 against any “premium” priced name-brand HDMI cable.

At CableWholesale we are committed to bringing you cable products of the highest quality at prices that will help spread your holiday shopping budget farther. We hope you enjoy a wonderful and informed holiday shopping season.

Counterfeit Cable Burns Me Up

On the morning of November 21, 1980, a fire started in the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (now Bally’s) in Las Vegas. 87 people were killed, mostly due to smoke and toxic fume inhalation. It remains the 2nd worst hotel disaster in US history, and helped usher in many building code changes and safety measures.

Among the many things that contributed to the rapid spread of the toxic smoke were the combustible plastics (PVC) used in the building wiring. The cables burned easily, allowing the fire to spread, and gave off toxic smoke that spread though the air conditioning systems. Although the fire itself was contained within the casino and restaurant, most people died from smoke inhalation on the upper floors of the hotel. It is for exactly this reason that modern electric codes require the use of a slow-burning, less toxic cable jacket, generally known as a “plenum rated” jacket, in many commercial installations. (A plenum, in this context, is an air space in a building, typically used for HVAC air flow.) Generally speaking, true plenum-rated cable jackets are usually made from Teflon®, a DuPont product. It’s relatively expensive compared to standard PVC-based cable jackets, but there’s just no substitute for public safety.

Unfortunately, there’s been an alarming trend in our industry. I complained in my last post about unscrupulous manufacturers cutting corners when making cables. But recently, continuing customer demand for less expensive plenum wire has resulted in manufacturers producing toxic burning wire that they claim is plenum-rated, and selling it for a price that’s too good to be true.  If this counterfeit cable gets installed, and the building does catch fire, it’ll be a liability nightmare for all parties.

Now, producing a poor quality cable is one thing. But flat-out lying about the rating of your product, and allowing it to be installed in a public building (such as your child’s school), is… well, even “reprehensible” isn’t a strong enough word.

So, for all the installers and resellers out there, be careful what you’re buying.  Don’t automatically assume that something is what a supplier claims it to be, especially if it’s “a real bargain.”  Demand quality at a fair price.  Remember, your children may attend the school that that wire gets installed in.  Keep them safe.

Sign of the Times…

There is a trend that has become pervasive in our society… as people everywhere demand products at cheaper and cheaper prices, manufacturers have begun giving them what they ask for.  What suffers?  Quality, of course.  We’ve seen this trend in cars and appliances for years, and in electronic equipment as well, of course.  But now we’re starting to see it more and more in the cable industry.  Unscrupulous manufacturers start cutting corners, figuring a cable that performs 90% of the time is good enough.  “Let’s use a little less shield, a bit of interference never hurt anyone!”  “Let’s use a bit less copper in that network cable.  So what if the file transfers slower!”

Manufacturers who cut corners, who shave a bit off the materials used, can often produce a cable that “works”, but doesn’t perform as well as it should; they rely on the probability that customers won’t notice.  The defense I usually hear is, “we’re just giving the customer what they’re asking for!”… which, while technically true, is probably not what the customer wants.

It’s disheartening to witness, and CableWholesale will have no part of it.  Personally, I sleep better at night knowing that we can produce a good product at a great price, and give it a lifetime warranty.  Yes, I would fly in a plane that had been wired with my products.  Would that all companies took such pride in their products.

HDMI 1.4

In my last post, I commented about USB 3.0.  I made the comment that “I like simple technological advances that I can explain to my Uncle Dominic.”

Well, the new HDMI 1.4 isn’t one of those.

Sometimes I think that the consumer electronics industry comes up with stuff that offers nothing, just so that they can have something new to get us minions to part with our hard-earned cash.

Now, for those who don’t live and breathe this stuff, here’s what you need to know. HDMI is currently the best digital technology around for connecting up your HD equipment (ie, your HDTV to your HD cable box or Blu-Ray DVD player, for example). The folks at the HDMI Consortium are tasked with the job of maintaining the standards on this stuff (and charging hefty licensing fees for same; hey, we all have to eat, right?) So in 2006, they released “version 1.3” of their specification.  In practice, it didn’t really catch on until a year later, and the truth is, even now, most equipment out there can’t take advantage of all the apparent features that it promotes.

So rather than let the industry catch up with them, they go ahead and release a new version 1.4, packed with still more features that no one can take advantage of.  In their defense, theoretically, someday, someone somewhere will start to produce this equipment and all the problems of the world will come to and end.  In the meantime, it’s comforting to know that soon there will be even more confusion about HDMI cables than there currently is.

Here’s what’s in store with the new specification:

  • A standard for automotive HDMI cables, since it’s critical that the kids in the back seat have full HD on their in-car televisions.
  • An Ethernet channel over HDMI, meaning, the HDMI cable can now transmit info back and forth to the internet.  I’m actually reserving judgment on this one; we’ll see how it plays out.
  • A distinction between “standard HDMI” and “High Speed HDMI” cables, the latter of which would deliver more bells and whistles (ie, support for higher resolutions and more colors).  Unfortunately, these cables will come “with Ethernet” or “without Ethernet”, which, I fear, is likely to cause more confusion if customers buy the “wrong” cable.
  • A new, “Micro” HDMI connector, intended for use with smaller equipment such as cell phones or MP3 players.  This wouldn’t bother me, except for the fact that they introduced a “mini” HDMI connector previously.  The more different connector types there are out there, the more likely it is that consumers will buy the wrong thing.  My only hope is that manufacturers will start to phase out the mini connectors in favor of the micro connectors.
  • Support for 3-D video.  Again, you’ll have to run out and buy a new television, and upgrade your cable TV or satellite service — once they start offering this feature — but then you’ll be the envy of all your friends.  And when that tiger literally jumps out of the screen, there won’t be a dry seat in the house.

Don’t get me wrong, I like technological developments, but make no mistake, there’s going to be a fair amount of customer confusion over this stuff.

Look for HDMI 1.4 cables to become commonplace in time for the Christmas shopping season.  Somehow, I doubt there will be much equipment to take advantage of them, and, times being what they are, not as many folks ready to run out and lay down cash for a new TV when the industry just finished convincing them to do that last year.

USB 3.0 musings

So… USB 3.0 is coming out.  What is it, and why do we care?  Well, basically, under ideal conditions, computers will talk to USB devices up to 10 times faster than our current generation of USB devices.  Many of these devices will also take less power to run.  (We here at CableWholesale also care because the cables are going to need to be designed a bit differently, with extra wires inside to handle all that data.)  I’m not going to get into all the technical particulars, since I don’t want your eyes to glaze over.  Basically, starting next year, we’ll have stuff that runs faster than today’s stuff, and uses less juice.

I have to admit, I like simple technological advances that I can explain to my Uncle Dominic.

Trade Show Excess

I returned from a trade show a few weeks ago, and I’m reminded again how foolish some marketing endeavors can be.  They had a meeting area set up with tables and chairs.  When I stopped there to take a break, I noticed that each table had been sprinkled with half-a-dozen of what turned out to be poker chips, encouraging me to visit a particular company at a particular booth number.

For some reason, this irritated me.  While I’m all for the idea of getting foot traffic to a trade show booth, this seemed like an excessive waste.  Unlike, for example, a pen with a company name on it, this trinket was totally useless in the real world.  In fact, since it referenced the booth number and year, it would be totally useless after the show ended!  It’s not even like the company could reuse these things.  So, once they’ve (hopefully) done their job, into the trash they will go.

Will a few thousand poker chips cause the planet to self-destruct.  Of course not.  Were there better ways to spend their money and get traffic?  You bet.

This was just one small example of the madness that is the trade show marketing industry.  I have to wonder how effective it really is at the end of the day.

Overengineered cables?

… and while we’re on the subject of overpriced cables, I might as well rant about their close cousins, overengineered cables.  I’ve seen all kinds of nonsense here.  One of the most egregious things I’ve seen recently is a six-foot HDMI cable with silver-coated wires inside.

Now, don’t get me wrong… silver is an excellent electrical conductor, make no mistake.  On a really long run (say, 100 feet), it could even be useful.  But, and this is important, on a short cable like that, it adds no value whatsoever. And, last I checked, silver was a kind of expensive metal, you know?  There have been plenty of independent tests out there that show that pretty much any standard copper-based cable will get the job done.

Bottom line: as with anything, there’s a law of diminishing returns.  Once a cable works perfectly, anything else you attempt to do to it to make it better than perfect is just hype, designed to get you, the consumer, to part with more money.

“You had a good run…”

A couple of years ago, I was at the Consumer Electronics Show.  We were featuring our 50 foot component video cable, which at that time we were offering at a retail price of $49.95.  Needless to say, that was generating a fair amount of interest.  So along comes this brute who, upon hearing our price, proceeds to berate me, accusing us of “ruining the market!”  He stated that he was able to sell long component video cables for $300.00.

For once in my life, I didn’t know what to say.  I had no words for him, at least on the outside. What I wanted to say was, “Look, fella, you had a good run.  But it’s time to wake up.  Those days are gone!”

Well, those days aren’t completely gone, as there’s still plenty of businesses out there who will happily try to sell you an average product at ridiculous, even — dare i say it — monstrous prices.  Just walk into any major electronics retail store and see for yourself.  I’ve heard all kinds of reasons why logic and common sense have flown out the window and otherwise intelligent people have found themselves $300 poorer; the most common line of reasoning goes something like, “Well, I just spent $2000.00 on this TV, so of course the cables to go with it need to be ridiculously overpriced!”

Of course, the cables do work, and some people will even cling to the belief that their TV’s picture is even improved by this $300 ripoff.  What can you do?  People will see what they expect to see.

Folks, cables aren’t magical.  If you plant a $300 cable in the ground, it will not, I repeat, not grow into a beanstalk that reaches to the sky.  While there’s no substitute for a good quality cable, common sense should also tell you that a few pounds of copper in a plastic jacket doesn’t cost $300 to make.  Hold on to your senses, and hold on to your money.