During Dish Network’s press conference at the International CES Monday, I saw a more likely future for TV on the go than the one promoted by Dyle and the Open Mobile Video Coalition. Those are the groups that think viewers will want to watch live TV when they are moving but not driving, not in an airplane, and not in a subway. As I’ve written before, that type of mobile video is a weak solution for a limited audience. On the other hand, Dish showed its answer for everybody on the go.

As part of its new Hopper with Sling receiver technology, Dish announced Hopper Transfers, a system where the receiver prepares and copies a DVR recording to a viewer’s iPad. Then that viewer can watch the show anywhere using that iPad, even on an airplane or in a subway.

Dish already provides TV Anywhere, so viewers with Sling-enabled receivers can watch live programming from smartphones and tablets through the internet, but there are some places the internet won’t reach. The answer there isn’t live TV in a few settings, it’s viewer-selected TV that’s available anywhere he has his iPad.

Todd Spangler wrote more about the press conference in his article at Multichannel News, so you should go read that for the most information about what happened. About the only thing he didn’t mention was that Dish said it will offer an over-the-air dongle for its Hopper with Sling receiver. Sorry I don’t have a picture of that dongle, but it looked like a USB stick, pretty close to the one I’m using to pick up a couple dozen OTA channels on my laptop here in Vegas. (2nd Update: The Dish booth confirmed the dongle is this one, released in late 2012.) My ViP 922 receiver back home uses an optional, modular piece that slides all the way in to a panel in the back of the unit. I wonder why Dish couldn’t make room for an internal OTA antenna in the receiver it hopes to use to differentiate its service from cable and DirecTV, and to keep viewers from cutting the cord. Even if it’s just the cord to the satellite dish.

Screensters from Toddy GearThe International CES (don’t you dare call it Consumer Electronics Show) is coming up next week, and I look forward to prowling its exhibit floor in search of serendipity and the Next Big Thing. That search will include the huge displays that you’ll see in the news, plus lots and lots of small booths that you probably won’t see. That Next Big Thing is often found in one of those little booths, but finding it requires glancing at hundreds of exhibitors promoting stuff that’s actually pretty mundane.

You see, down deep CES is a trade show. Only folks who are involved with the industry are allowed to attend (if you want to qualify, see my workaround). With all these industry people walking around, a lot of companies are just trying to get their products featured in stores. And a lot of those products are accessories to popular devices, accessories that are just a little better, or just a little different, than what’s already available. For example, I know from a press release that the fine folks at Toddy Gear will use their CES appearance to unveil Screensters, “their latest collection of cleaning solutions for touchscreens and sensitive surfaces. Inspired by the characters you encounter in everyday life and catered to children and adults alike.” We all need cleaners for our smartphones and tablets, and these look as good as any of them. But I really don’t think that I’ll be telling my grandkids about the time I was present for the debut of Screensters.

Take that scenario and multiply it by hundreds. Need an iPhone case? CES exhibitors will have hundreds, maybe thousands of models available. G-Form has a case that dropped 100,000 feet to “a rocky hillside” and successfully protected its iPhone 5. (I’ve embedded G-Form’s video below.) There’s OtterBox, a well-known company from Colorado that’s been making great protective cases for years. And there will be dozens of other companies with multi-colored, character-licensed, oddly textured, or just plain cheap iPhone cases on display.

How about some earbuds for that iPhone? For every earbud that monitors your vital signs (cool!), there are dozens of fine, regular earbuds on display. Want speakers? You’ll find lots of really wonderful speakers in every size for every purpose. And the same for electronic toys and connection cables and car stereos. And every booth is operated by earnest, friendly people who are eager to tell you about the fine quality and unmatched user experience provided by their earbuds (or iPhone cases, or speakers, or whatever) if you pause long enough to let them get started. I haven’t yet learned a diplomatic way to tell them, “I thought I saw something relevant to what I cover, but as you explain it, I see that I was wrong. Excuse me, but I need to move on to glance quickly at the next 20 rows of small booths.”

Make no mistake, there are truly innovative technologies that are first exhibited at CES. And you can get a feel for trends just by seeing what technologies are attracting a crowd. Two years ago, there were dozens of different electronic book readers with little to distinguish themselves from each other. Last year, there were dozens of Android tablets that looked a lot alike. I wonder what everyone will be showing this year.

CES has some great stuff to see, but sometimes it’s just a needle in a haystack. What I learned is that to find that needle, you’ve got to look at a whole lot of hay. I’ll tell you here what I find next week.

Cool logo for CES 2013Speaking of trade shows, August 31 is the first deadline to register for a free pass to the exhibit halls at the International CES. Judging from the room rates, they’re expecting an ever bigger crowd than last year’s, so they might actually stop giving out free passes next month. If you think there’s any chance at all that you might be able to attend, the smart move is to sign up now. If you can’t make it, no worries.

Of course, “CES is not open to the general public. To attend, you must be affiliated professionally with the consumer electronics (CE) industry.” Heh. To learn how to professionally affiliate yourself for the cost of a few business cards, read my earlier post.

To register, just go to the CES site and click through. The email I got suggested Priority Code LC14, but your mileage may vary. And if you’re going, you should book a hotel now too; if you can’t make it, you can typically cancel in December and get your money back. If you want to go really cheap, stay downtown at the Fremont (or any similar decent hotel there) and ride the city bus.  My choice for convenience, quality, and price is the Riviera on the other side of the convention center parking lot. I think it’s great to be able to walk back to my room to drop off heavy convention swag and take a midday break.

When last we left this blog, it was almost time for the NAB Show, the annual event produced by the National Association of Broadcasters.

NAB president Gordon Smith presented the keynote speech at the convention. As I’ve written before, I think Smith is perfect for the job, keeping various broadcaster constituents on the same page while using his Washington connections to lobby for the best possible deal for his members. Anyway, a few minutes in, a part of his speech gave my brain whiplash.

(W)e will continue to protect the rights of all viewers who depend on their local TV stations as a lifeline for news, emergency information and, of course, entertainment.

We’re also fighting to ensure that viewers continue to have dynamic content choices, by retaining a free market retransmission consent process.

Notice that there aren’t any ellipses in that quote. Smith really said in consecutive sentences that TV broadcasters are an indispensable lifeline for their viewers, but if the local cable system won’t pay broadcasters enough, they’ll feel free to cut off those viewers.

I don’t blame Smith for stating both of those positions; they highlight the conflict that broadcasters face when they alternately defend their free bandwidth and resist calls to fix the retransmission consent system. I just thought it was a little weird to juxtapose them. He wasn’t going for irony there.

Smith seemed a little distracted. He gamely read the speech from the teleprompters, and the next morning, he was caught looking by a change-up thrown by Betty White. (See next paragraph.) It’s as though he had been working on an important negotiation and had to fly in at the last minute.

Betty White at an NAB breakfastThe second day featured a morning breakfast with TV legend Betty White, who accepted praise graciously, then went to sit down and chat with Smith. They talked about how the industry had changed, about perseverance, that sort of thing. Then Smith, no doubt reaching for a note someone had given him said, “I hear that you’re quite a football fan.” White looked at him as if he had suggested that she kept a cage of squirrels in her house. “No,” was her simple answer. Smith recovered, but we all learned that Betty White does not suffer foolish questions.

There was a lot of other stuff, of course, mostly in the exhibit halls.

  • I met Crook and Chase at a booth for The Nashville Network (launching soon), and I told them about my First Rule of Programming, of which the original TNN was a prime example. (“We are going to have some cooking shows,” Lorianne Crook said in agreement.)
  • There was a big push for mobile DTV, mainly in the form of Dyle TV, but it remains a technology in search of an audience.
  • All the satellite delivery companies were there, and lots of streaming providers. I talked with TVU Networks, since I’m broadcasting a test channel through TVU, but they’re much more interested in selling IP-based newsgathering gear. Much more about that in a future post.
  • I ran into Alexander Wiese, the publisher of Tele-satellite magazine, at his booth. He dropped by FTAList world headquarters the next week and took some photos, but I haven’t seen them in virtual print yet.

Every year, I visit the NAB Show and the International CES. (Don’t you dare call it the Consumer Electronics Show, see the editors note here.) If you want to see the latest Dish or DirecTV receivers, or if you just want to see the latest amazing gadgetry, go to CES. If you want to learn the most about the cutting edge of TV and video delivery, nothing beats the NAB Show. I’m looking forward to it already.

Drawing robot at a deskI’ve been back from CES for a couple of weeks now, and I think I’m finally over it. Sure enough, there were record crowds, so I was right about that. Best highlights:

  • Justin Bieber appeared at the TOSY Robotics booth. I would have thought that the over-18 attendee requirement would have locked out his fans, but there was a modest crowd forming as I walked past. I was more impressed by their drawing robot (pictured here). I wonder if these folks saw Hugo?
  • Earth, Wind & Fire performed a stunning, underpromoted 30-minute set on the Sony campus. (Seriously, I’ve been to other shows that were smaller than just the Sony booth.) Now we’re talking my generation.
  • Dream Multimedia, the folks behind the Dreambox FTA receiver, had a booth. The folks there said they’re planning a push into North America. More on that in a future post here.

Unlike some previous years, I attended CES as just a plain old “industry affiliate”. There’s no magic to this; if you want to go next year, I already told you how you can qualify. If you want to know what it’s like to attend CES as press, Rob Beschizza explained it well in a post a couple of days ago at BoingBoing. I would only add that if you’re not press, you don’t need to come on Day 0 (as he puts it), which means that you need at least Day 2 to see everything on the floor. Day 3 is probably unnecessary, and Day 4 is garbage day, as I said last year.

More photos from the show:

Giant plush Hopper advertising Dish Network in front of CES

Dish Network pulled out all the stops in promoting its new Hopper whole-house technology. In addition to this 25-foot plush in front of CES, Dish had huge ads in the official programs and billboard trucks circling the show.

Little DirecTV dish on huge uplink trailer

Radiation Hazard? Not for this little DirecTV dish. Do you suppose that sign was meant for the huge satellite uplink trailer instead?

Woman on CES Show Floor dressed as The Stump. That's right, like a tree stump.

Easily the most frightening thing I encountered at CES this year. This woman wandered the show floor promoting The Stump, which is an iPad stand. You can watch video of her in action here but don't blame me if it gives you nightmares too.