I’ve signed up to attend the NAB Show, probably the biggest convention for free TV, this April 9-12. Paul McLane at Radio World wrote yesterday that there will be some significant changes this year. For the first time since I started attending them nine years ago, the main keynote speech won’t be in the ballroom of the adjacent Hilton / LVH / Westgate Hotel but in “a 1,000-seat new Mainstage area of the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center”. There are also changes designed to make conference sessions easier to attend, so you should go read it! Also, Radio World is giving out free exhibits passes if you sign up before March 2.

Speaking of the NAB, Broadcasting & Cable’s John Eggerton, the hardest working man in Washington, reported that it had sold its headquarters. Under terms of the deal, NAB will be leasing the current building until its new headquarters, just a couple of blocks from the Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium, is ready in late 2019.

And over at FierceCable, Ben Munson interviewed Philo CEO Andrew McCollum, who said that his mostly sports-less streaming service hopes to add more channels but has trouble pulling them away when their owners also offer news and sports networks. I never root for failure, but I can’t see the benefit of live entertainment channels to millennials who are used to watching content on demand. In my opinion, any supplement to broadcast TV and Netflix requires what they don’t offer so much – live news and sports.

Even a hurried, single day at CES will produce plenty of bits and pieces that don’t fit into a real story. So I conclude my 2018 coverage with the following hodgepodge in lieu of a regular set of Wednesday notes.

  • CES attendees tend to wear business attire, mostly business casual. (You can judge for yourself if you watch some of the B-roll videos available online.) But I did see one guy wearing the Rick and Morty T-shirt that I’ve embedded here, so I guess there’s no true dress code.
  • I passed someone else walking with a selfie stick, apparently dictating a video blog post. Exact quote: “This is, like, giant convention center.” I almost wish I could have stuck around to hear more.
  • Man holding a cnet sign on a stick, guiding a group at CESAnother, different use of people carrying sticks was the trend toward guided tours. I saw more of them, each leading groups of about a dozen rapt followers, than in the past four CESs put together. Personally, I can’t imagine allowing someone else to curate my serendipity of finding new products and trends that I find interesting, much less hiring them to do it. Those tours must not be designed for people like me.
  • I got a chance to catch the glasses-free 3D TVs at the Stream TV booth. BOE is partnering with Stream to make 8K TVs with Stream technology that lets viewers have the 3D experience with their naked eyes. A few years ago, 3D was a big deal at CES, then it was written off as a fad. Maybe this will be the big comeback.
  • Booth with small video-projecting robots on wheelsFor some reason, I was impressed by the Keecker, which is a voice-enabled robot with cameras, an audio system and a video projector; it can roll around to project movies on any wall in your home. Then I got home and the wife asked, “Why would you need that?” Well, you could use it for videoconferencing, or tell it remotely to show you what’s going on at home, or use its smartphone app to see exactly how humid it is. I guess it just struck me as cool.
  • My predictions of record-breaking hugeness seem to have been accurate. CES wrapped up with the largest exhibit area ever, and I’ll bet that when the audited attendee numbers come in, they’ll also be the highest ever. How long can it grow like this?
  • VIP ROOM sign stuck to doorFinally, in my opinion nothing says “Prepare to enter our special place to be treated as royalty” like a VIP Room sign printed on a wrinkled piece of copier paper and stuck to a door by two pieces of tape. Of course, now I’ve completely torpedoed any chance that they would invite me in. See you next year, CES!

HDHomeRun DVR screenshot

The HDHomeRun DVR’s Discover screen offers good suggestions in lieu of an alphabetical list of what’s available.

Completing my whirlwind day at CES last week was a visit to the SiliconDust hospitality suite where I met with its ever-gracious CEO Theodore Head. He was showing off a great new product, the HDHomeRun Connect Duo+, which combines their best-in-class over-the-air TV tuner technology with DVR software and 250 GB of storage, all built in to one small box. To explain the significance of the Connect Duo+, I’ll need to go back a few years.

SiliconDust has been making HDHomeRun tuners for quite a while, and they’ve always been the perfect ingredient for a homebrew entertainment system, whether that was Windows Media Center, Plex, Kodi (formerly XBMC), or something else. A few years ago, they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign (to which I contributed) to fund the creation of their own DVR system. After months of work, it was ready for beta users to play with, but I ran into self-inflicted problems.

The HDHomeRun DVR could store its recordings on a semi-dedicated PC’s hard drive, but the recommended way was using a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) device. Actually, it required one of a limited set of NAS boxes, but I didn’t pay attention to that part. I rushed off to the computer parts store, bought a cheap NAS and a couple of hard drives, and put it together. Because what I bought wasn’t compatible, it didn’t work. Embarrassed, I put it all aside and got busy with other projects.

In late 2017, I heard a gathering buzz about the DVR, so I got the right NAS this time and was able to get it set up somewhat easily. It’s amazing how well the right parts work! The DVR functions well, though I still use my Tablo for OTA recording and playback on a regular basis. I’d go into a full description, but TechHive already did that just a couple of weeks ago. Its review of the DVR is harsh but not inaccurate; TechHive loved the hardware but wrote, “Unfortunately, HDHomeRun DVR is still too rough to recommend”.

That’s why the Connect Duo+, when it ships later this year, will be a huge step forward. Instead of needing to download software and set up a NAS, the user should be able to just plug in this box and watch. The amount of storage is just a bit limiting, but it should appeal to customers who doesn’t want to buy an external USB drive or identify, purchase, and assemble the right NAS. You know, regular people. I look forward to giving it a try once it’s released.

Two men on a stage in front of a crowded room

Ben Sherwood, right, interviewed by Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein at CES

Wednesday morning at CES, Ben Sherwood, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, sounded upbeat about his division’s prospects for the coming few years. “I’ve been at this long enough to know that every decade obituaries are written about broadcast,” he said. “In my view, the sky is not falling; I think the sky is rising.”

Interviewed by Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein, Sherwood declined comment on Disney’s proposed purchase of some Fox Studio assets, though he added, “Personally, I’m extremely excited about it.”

The Disney direct-to-home streaming service won’t begin until 2019, though Sherwood said that his group was “heavily involved” in its preparation. An ESPN+ streaming service should start in Spring 2018. He said that Disney’s timeless characters and content would provide “an irresistible family service” for households and kids.

The expansion of distribution methods has fractured the audience, but viewers are watching more video than ever. “It’s a critical period, but I would say that it’s always been a critical period,” Sherwood said.

 

Small cylinder with cords

A Stream+ unit, with a quick-connect coax cable, in the Channel Master suite

Although I had been unsure whether a visit to CES this year was going to be worth it, I came back pretty happy. Not only did I get an in-person visit with Channel Master‘s new Stream+ over-the-air DVR and streaming TV receiver, I also got to check out the company’s new quick-connect coax cable and indoor SMARTenna+. All that was near the end of my day, so let me first tell you more about everything else.

Because of other commitments, I commuted from home to CES yesterday, taking the first flight in the morning and the last one to return that night. As I wrote a couple of years ago, this is not recommended for casual CES fans. There’s no way to see all of the show in less than two days, and it wouldn’t be hard to find interesting educational conference tracks for a longer stay. On the other hand, for someone like me focused on one topic and within a two-hour flight of Las Vegas, it is possible to put on blinders and cover just the relevant exhibitors in one long day.

After picking up my press badge at the Las Vegas Convention Center, I went over to the “C Space” area in the Aria. That’s where I saw an interview with Ben Sherwood, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, of which I will write more tomorrow.

Next, I took another shuttle over to the exhibit halls at the Sands, which includes Eureka Park. With its low ceilings and science-fair atmosphere, Eureka Park is a little claustrophobic, but it’s got the most new ideas per square foot anywhere. It’s the place to meet such companies as Solaborate, which makes a device to use a TV as a collaborative whiteboard, and CloviTek, which makes a wifi audio transmitter for TVs, but this year I just couldn’t find much there to excite me.

While I was at Eureka Park, my phone got a notification that there was a power outage at the LVCC. A half hour later, I was on the bus heading back there anyway. I started in the Central Plaza (what other shows might call the front parking lot) where I caught up with Google. All those attendees that had been evacuated from the blacked-out Central Hall had to go somewhere, which might have been a reason why the Google booth’s tours were already booked solid for the rest of the day. At least I got a few photos. Directly across the aisle was the Amazon Treasure Truck promoting an Alexa-empowered smoke detector (that could do much more, of course). By the time I finished my rounds and walked back over to the convention center, the lights were back on.

In the back of the South Hall there were a few companies, such as MyGica, pitching Android TV boxes, but the visit I was anticipating was in Channel Master’s suite at the Westgate Hotel next to the convention center. The Stream+ was exactly as described, using Google’s Live Channels app to display the OTA guide data. They haven’t started shipping units yet, and I hope to give one a more thorough test after I get it.

Channel Master was also proud of its SMARTenna, even though I think it has too many upper-case letters. It’s an indoor antenna that can scan different reception patterns to get the most channels from a given spot. What surprised me were the new push-on coax connectors. When I tried one, it was as simple and fast as any old cheap push-on connector, but this new one had a real grip on the threads that resisted accidental unplugging. The SMARTenna is expected to begin shipping within a few months, and again I look forward to trying one in my basement torture chamber. (I mean, it’s torture for the OTA TV antennas that I plug into my “ancient” 720p HDTV set, sitting across from a pile of old satellite TV receivers.)

My last visit of the day was with SiliconDust, makers of the superb HDHomeRun series of OTA tuners. Over the past few weeks, I’d started really trying out its DVR software, and that tale belongs with this visit. It’ll be another of the stories that I’ll be unspooling for the next few days.

While you wait for more, here’s one more photo of some Google workers getting ready for the start of another day at CES in front of their giant gumball machine.

About a dozen white-clad Google employees circled in conversation next to a 30-foot high gumball machine