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‘Ultra HD’ screens take center stage Robots invade consumer market for play, work

Television giants at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas are touting the wonders of ultra high-definition screens despite doubts by analysts that people will buy them. Screens offering picture resolution about four times more vivid than current high-definition sets starred at an array of press events staged on the eve of the CES showfloor opening on Tuesday. Japanese entertainment and consumer electronics titan Sony made Ultra HD, also referred to as 4K, sets and matching content the centerpiece of a presentation that ran a gamut of gadgets. “I can’t stop talking about 4K,” said Sony Electronics chief operating officer Mike Fasulo. “I tell everyone it is like looking out a window.”

Sony unveiled new cameras for capturing video in 4K as well as screens designed to display the rich footage in all its glory. “But we all know that content is king,” Fasulo said. “We have made significant advances there as well.” Sony’s Video Unlimited service boasts a library of more than 140 titles, including the full catalogue of the hit series “Breaking Bad.” Sony is also working with Google-owned YouTube and popular online video streaming service Netflix to feature 4K content on television sets. The Internet is the “natural medium to deliver 4K” shows or films to televisions, Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings said during an appearance at the Sony presentation. “It’s a chance for the Internet to really shine,” Hastings said. “Creators are very excited about 4K and what it allows them to show in storytelling.” Sony also makes professional cameras for shooting films or television shows in 4K resolution.

4K refers to horizontal resolution on the order of 4,000 pixels boasted by new-generation televisions. Current-generation high definition screens, comparatively, have pixel density of 1,080. “Creation of 4K content is on the rise,” Fasulo declared. South Korean consumer electronics giant Samsung earlier on Monday showed off a “jaw-dropping” ultra high-definition television with a 105-inch, curved screen. “It is a massive screen, and curved for a truly cinematic experience,” Samsung Electronics America executive vice president Joe Stinziano said while unveiling what he billed as the world’s largest curved U-HD television. “Ultra-HD is going to drive the next change in the television industry.”

Samsung also introduced a striking “Bendable TV” that can be converted from flat to curved screen with the touch of a button. Stinziano said Samsung has 4K content partnerships with Netflix and Amazon, as well as film studios Paramount and 20th Century Fox. Another South Korean consumer electronics powerhouse, LG, also weighed in with Ultra-HD televisions that featured curved screens. Also among new LG television models was one with a frame to display art or personal photographs while screens are not in use. LG announced an alliance with Netflix to stream 4K shows including “House of Cards” starring Kevin Spacey to new televisions. But analysts remain skeptical that 4K will be enough to convince people to spend thousands of dollars to replace their current high-definition flat-screen televisions. The robots are coming, and they’re here to help. Help clean your windows, teach children, or even provide entertainment or companionship.

This week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas highlights enormous growth in robotics in a range of fields. Meet Bo and Yana, for example — they’re cute robots that can fit in your hand and help teach youngsters about programming. “It’s all about programmable play,” said Vikas Gupta, founder of California-based i-Play, which designed the toys. The duo can play with each other, fight, display expressions with their single eye, or even hit notes on the xylophone. “Music becomes a way for kids to be engaged,” Gupta told AFP. “We want kids to learn programming and not be bothered with cognitive overload.” The robots are designed for children as young as five, and are being launched this year in a crowdfunding effort, the former Google and Amazon executive said.

But play is just one of the many areas of robotics on display at the show, from simple one-task robots to clean a roof gutter or barbecue grill and others that can be a kind of companion to the elderly. There are also so-called telepresence robots, including the Double Robotics device seen on TV shows such as NCIS Los Angeles. The Double Robotics gadget includes an iPad attached to a wheeled device that allows a telecommuter to show “face time” in the office even when working remotely. The results, at least on television, can often provide comic relief. The global market for consumer robots was $1.6 billion in 2012, dominated by the task and entertainment segments, according to ABI Research, but this is expected to grow to $6.5 billion in 2017 with security and telepresence becoming more significant.

ABI analyst Philip Solis said robotics is moving slower than segments like tablets and smartphones, and is dominated by single-task robots. But the big news in this field, he said, is Google’s acquisition of several robotics firms, which could help boost the artificial intelligence needed for multi-tasking robots. A number of new, innovative robots are also being shown in Las Vegas. From the Japanese firm AIST is an interactive robot called Paro — designed to look like a baby harp seal — to simulate animal therapy for people in hospitals and extended care facilities where live animals are banned. Kid-safe tablets and smartphones are hitting the market, giving parents more control over how the mobile devices are used.

Hollywood studio DreamWorks has joined the move, introducing its DreamTab at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in partnership with California-based manufacturer Fuhu. The new device will be up against competition — including from French-based Kurio, which has its own tablets on display at the huge Las Vegas show, and is also introducing a kid-safe smartphone. Fuhu already makes a tablet designed for kids called Nabi, but will expand its footprint with DreamWorks, teaming up with the animators behind films like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon. The tablet will include programs to teach kids how to draw their favorite characters. It will comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a US law that limits how much data can be collected from young children.

DreamTab will be sold later this year in eight- and 12-inch versions, running the Android operating system with Fuhu’s modifications. (AFP) Tablet owners will have a kid-friendly App Zone that allows parents and children to buy apps, games, music, movies, videos, e-books and other goods. “Fuhu grabbed our attention when they came on the market because they single-handedly made a quantum leap forward in revolutionizing the kids tech space,” said DreamWorks Animation’s Jim Mainard. “The DreamTab posed a compelling challenge not only to our filmmakers and artists to create content for this new medium, but also for our engineers and innovators who worked hand-in-hand with the Fuhu team to develop the consumer-facing side of this groundbreaking technology.” Like the DreamTab, Kurio’s seven- and 10-inch tablets allow for parental filtering, and parents can set preset limits for the device or various applications. (AFP)

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