Posted Jan. 5, 2017 at 6:46 a.m.

Latest from CES: A rival for Tesla?; VR adventures; faster Wi-Fi, and much more

Published: 2017-01-05 06:46:34
Updated: 2017-01-05 06:46:34


From a possible rival for Tesla to faster in-home Wi-Fi, trying on clothes via an avatar and adding touch-and-feel to VR: Those are just some of the highlights from the CES Show in Las Vegas.

Here's a roundup.

(For other CES news, check out the links with thos post from earlier WRAL TechWire coverage.)

  • A rival for Tesla?

A startup carmaker, Faraday Future, is promising again to have electric cars roll off a new $1 billion assembly line in southern Nevada in 2018.

Faraday showed off a prototype at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas. Tuesday's demonstration had the company's four-door, 1,050-horsepower FF 91 model clocking 0-to-60 mph in just under 2.4 seconds.

[VIDEO: Watch a preview of the vehicle at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h3Xd6PXwc0 ]

Faraday Future officials say the car's battery allows a travel range of up to 378 miles, and a modular design will allow for a faster rollout of future models.

Company executive Nick Sampson didn't say when construction would resume at the factory site, where work was suspended in November. Nevada pledged up to $335 million worth of incentives to attract Gardena, California-based Faraday Future to North Las Vegas.

  • Touch-and-feel for VR

HTC is launching trackers for its Vive virtual-reality system that users can attach to physical objects such as bats or toy guns in order to make them part of a virtual reality adventure.

During a media briefing at the CES gadget show Wednesday, the company showcased a number of tracker-enabled accessories, including what it says is the first VR camera, multiple rifles built for VR shooters and haptic gloves. The tracker weighs less than three ounces; the company hasn't set a price. To foster more development, the company will give away up to 1,000 trackers to developers.

The company is also launching its first ever app subscription service, which will allow unlimited access to VR apps for a flat monthly fee. That service will launch in early 2017. HTC didn't say how much it will cost.

  • Samsung talks non-Galaxy Note 7 future

Samsung America chief operating officer Tim Baxter opened a flashy press conference Wednesday at CES by acknowledging the "challenging year" Samsung had in 2016 due to its problems with the Galaxy Note 7. The company's flagship smartphone had to be recalled because of its tendency to burst into flame.

Baxter said the company and third parties have been investigating the problem and the company will be sharing its root cause "very soon."

The rest of the conference showcased Samsung's new offerings, including a new form of its quantum dot TV technology called "QLED," which purports to be sharper and more colorful than other TVs. It is adding Samsung proprietary voice control to some smart refrigerators, echoing a voice-control theme seen throughout CES so far.

Samsung is also introducing a washer-dryer combo that can wash two separate loads at once while drying a regular load and delicate items separately.

  • Scarf-pollution mask combo

A French startup called Wair is bringing a new scarf to CES, one that it says can double as both fashion accessory ... and anti-pollution gas mask.

Wair calls its product, also dubbed Wair, the first "anti-pollution scarf." Worn one way, it's a seemingly normal wrap that's a bit baggy in the middle.

But if air pollution starts to get to you — or if you get an alert from Wair's companion app, called "Supairman" — you can pull it up over your face and seal a respirator mask over your nose and mouth. (At which point the scarf ceases to look particularly chic.)

The scarf is supposed to contain an embedded filter that can remove dust, gases and bacteria. It's unclear just how effective it will be, although the startup notes that the filter will need changing every two to four weeks, at roughly $5 to $10 each time.

The product is expected to ship in a few months, starting at about $55 for men and $90 for women.

  • Lovebox for texts

Ah l'amour. One of the most whimsical gadgets at CES is the Lovebox, a device that doesn't have much further use than wrapping up a text message like a present.

The wooden box plugs into an outlet and connects to Wi-Fi. A heart on the outside spins if you get a message. It will keep spinning until you open the lid. A digital screen then displays the message, ideally a message of love.

You decide who can send you love notes through the Lovebox mobile app. Messages are limited to 160 characters. You can reply with a digital heart by rotating the heart on the box.

The box comes from the French startup. It launched in France over Christmas and is due to hit the United States in June.

True love, of course, comes at a price: $120 for one box or $220 for two.

  • Spying on your food

Nest and other home security systems let you spy on your home if something seems awry. Now you can spy on your groceries.

British company Smarter is launching the Fridge Cam, a small round camera for your fridge. It takes a picture every time you close your fridge door, so you can see if you need bread or sundries if you're at the store. It also uses visual recognition tools to alert you if you need to replace something. You can sign up for automatic reorders via the app, and it can alert you when products are due to expire.

Similar technology is already built into smart refrigerators, but those are pricey — Samsung's Family Hub starts at $5,600. Smarter's Barnaby Sellars says you can instead "spend $149 and turn your refrigerator smart."

The product is among those being demonstrated at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week.

  • Avatars for trying on clothes

Gap is testing a smartphone app that will let customers try on clothes without stepping foot in a dressing room.

Gap's DressingRoom app uses avatars to help people understand how products will fit. People can then buy what fits online.

Gap calls this augmented reality, a technology that involves overlaying virtual images — such as clothing — on top of a real-life image. But in this case, the choices are limited to five pre-determined body types, rather than the actual photo of the potential buyer. The AR part is just the ability to physically walk around the avatar to see how clothing looks from various directions.

The app will come out this month, but will work only with phones sporting Google's Tango augmented-reality technology — namely Lenovo's Phab2 Pro and Asus' just-announced ZenFone AR. The clothing chain, which also operates Banana Republic and Old Navy stores, unveiled the app Wednesday at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas.

Wayfair, Home Depot and other retailers have been embracing virtual reality and augmented reality to help shoppers figure out ways to decorate homes. But clothing retailers have been slow to embrace the technology. The question is whether it will be something more than just a gimmick.

The move by Gap comes as shoppers spend less on clothing and more on experiences like beauty treatments. When customers do buy clothes, they're increasingly going online. Gap has also been struggling with a lack of compelling clothing, resulting in a long-standing sales slump.

  • Device sales flat in 2017

Research firm Gartner says it expects worldwide shipments of PCs, tablets, phones and other gadgets to remain unchanged in 2017.

Gartner says it expects 2.3 billion such devices to ship this year, the same as in 2016. This finding comes as gadget makers unveil all sorts of new products at the CES tech show in Las Vegas this week.

Looking ahead, Gartner says the embattled PC market should return to growth in 2018, thanks to a natural cycle of upgrades. That's mostly driven by an increase in premium "ultramobiles" — including ultra-slim Windows 10 devices and Apple's MacBook Air.

Smartphones are expected to grow just slightly; much of the growth is in emerging Asia and Pacific markets.

In a report Wednesday, Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal says consumers have fewer reasons to upgrade or to buy traditional devices. Rather, he says, "they are seeking fresher experiences and applications in emerging categories such as head mounted displays, virtual personal assistant speakers and wearables."

  • Think but big TVs

New television sets from LG will include an ultra-slim model that's less than 4 millimeters (0.15 inch) thick.

The company is achieving this by moving many of the bulky components — such as graphic cards — into a separate box connected to the screen with just a cord. The speakers are also separated; the TV has two round, retractable speakers on top.

The new TV will also have better audio, using Dolby Atmos technology, along with high-end OLED screen technology. OLED — which stands for organic light-emitting diode — can produce better pictures because each pixel produces light individually. Traditional TVs are backlit and use filters to block out light — but not well enough to produce pure black. OLED is rare in TVs and is currently found mostly in smartphones.

LG will have non-OLED models, too, and promises new technology to make colors more vibrant. LG also says an LG Technicolor mode will be added to TVs in 2017 to add to color accuracy.

Samsung, LG, Sony and others are unveiling new offerings at CES that highlight higher-resolution pictures, thinner displays and brighter colors. The moves come as high-definition and 4K TVs are becoming cheaper and more mainstream, so top TV makers are competing for the higher end of the market.

LG says it will release prices in February and start selling them in March.

  • Faster in-home Wi-Fi

Comcast is hoping to make Wi-Fi in the home faster through an updated router — the machine that serves as data traffic cops for Wi-Fi networks.

Although home internet speeds have gotten faster, laptops and phones on Wi-Fi might still feel sluggish because older routers can't transmit data as fast.

Comcast's updated router costs $10 a month and comes with a modem. It's the same price as before. Customers can still buy their own equipment and save money over time. Comcast is also offering extenders to help Wi-Fi work all over a house, though the company wouldn't say what it might charge.

Eero, Starry, Google and Luma are among the companies that have fancy new router systems, but they start at more than $100 and run as much as $500.

Fewer than 5 million Comcast customers, mostly those on the most expensive internet packages, will get the new high-powered router this year. The company says it could take years to reach the bulk of its more than 24 million customers.

Another 10 million customers with the company's existing routers will get a software update by March to make it easier to set up parental controls and install "smart" thermostats and other internet-connected appliances. These features also come with the new routers.

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