Traditionally, A/V product categories don’t tend to be very newsworthy outside of the latest updated versions of existing products and technologies. But 2018 unusually saw five major foundational changes in audio and video.
Imagine someone demonstrating a jet plane 15 years before Kitty Hawk. Imagine someone demonstrating a smartphone 15 years before the first cellular networks were even launched. Imagine someone demonstrating a controlled nuclear chain reaction 15 years before Einstein formulated e=mc².
On a crisp, overcast, and breezy Monday afternoon in San Francisco on December 9, 1968, before an SRO audience of more than 2,000 slack-jawed computer engineers, a soft-spoken engineer named Douglas Engelbart held the first public demonstration of word processing, point-and-clicking, dragging-and-dropping, hypermedia and hyperlinking, cross-file editing, idea/outline processing, collaborative groupware, text messaging, on-screen real-time video teleconferencing, and a weird little interface control device dubbed a “mouse” – the essentials of a GUI interface 15 years before the first personal computers went on sale.
Two trends dominated the smart home category in 2018. On the product side, there is the growing battle for voice assistant ecosystem supremacy between Amazon and Google. Not only has there been hockey-stick growth in the number, as well as unit sales, of smart speakers, but the variety of smart home devices endowed with voice-control capabilities continues to widen seemingly exponentially, including in a new category — Echo Show-like smart displays.
Most of us are, at one time or another, likely unhappy with our home Wi-Fi. Netflix buffers too often. Skype or FaceTime connections are blurry, and an online game stalls as a roommate streams video. Wi-Fi reception is great in one room, lousy in the next, and some smart home devices pair easily with your Wi-Fi network, others not at all.
So how do you get your Wi-Fi to work the way it’s supposed to work, with plenty of speed up and down, and also all around your abode?
Bluetooth speakers come in all manner of sizes, shapes, colors and sound quality. So how do you choose which Bluetooth speaker makes sense for you? Much depends on where you’ll be listening and how much you want to pay. My seven favorite Bluetooth speakers cover a wide range of listening environments and budgets. There’s something for everyone.
Wander around any urban center and you’ll spot a surfeit of the white stick Apple AirPods sticking out of people’s ears. They are the market leader in a new category of Bluetooth headphones dubbed “true wireless” because there is no cable connecting the earbuds behind your neck.
But AirPods ($159) are not the best true wireless earbuds choice for everyone.
In the world of $200 Alexa-enabled smart speakers, everyone is competing with the acknowledged audio quality and multi-room king of this category, the Sonos One. The latest – and perhaps most worthy – contender is the new Riva Audio Concert ($199, due to be released today, on November 13), an excellent-sounding, versatile smart speaker. What makes it more versatile than other smart speakers in its class is an optional battery pack($49) that lets you tote Concert’s audio excellence anywhere you want.
Merging two different devices into a single product is not usually a good idea. If something goes wrong with one — the entire item is useless. That’s something Netgear has avoided with the Orbi Voice, an Amazon Alexa-enabled smart speaker that doubles as a satellite in Netgear’s Orbi Wi-Fi mesh system.
With Orbi Voice, neither the smart speaker nor the Wi-Fi mesh satellite is primarily mechanical — so there is less of a chance one will fail and taking the other with it. At the same time, you’re replacing two boring white boxes with one item.
For heavy-duty artistic types, the two new iPad Pros that Apple announced today offer more bang for your buck. Thanks to shrunken bezels, you’ll get more screen in less space; Apple fit a new higher-resolution 2388 x 1668 pixel 11-inch Liquid Retina LCD display into the same space as the original 10.5-inch model, and the 2732 x 2048-pixel 12.9-inch version is 25 percent smaller than the original, around the area of an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper.
After an unusually lengthy lag between upgrades, Apple has finally unveiled an all-new redesigned Apple MacBook Air, with a sharper, higher resolution 13.3-inch Retina Display offering four times the resolution as the screen on its last Air edition, packed in an all-recycled aluminum enclosure that’s 17 percent smaller and 25 percent lighter.