UHD Alliance Announces Amazon Prime, Hisense Support for Filmmaker Mode

The UHD Alliance on Sept. 30 announced that Amazon Prime will begin supporting Filmmaker Mode next year and that Hisense has joined consumer electronics companies Panasonic, Vizio, Samsung, LG, Kaleidescape and Philips in supporting the feature.

The announcements came during an online presentation with DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

Filmmaker Mode, introduced by the UHD Alliance in August 2019, is designed to reproduce the content in the way the creator intended. It allows viewers to enjoy a more cinematic experience on their UHD TVs when watching movies by disabling all post-processing (e.g. motion smoothing, etc.) so the movie or television show is displayed as it was intended by the filmmaker, preserving the correct aspect ratios, colors and frame rates, according to the Alliance.

“Prime Video will be launching this feature on select players next year,” said UHD Alliance chairman Mike Zink. “It’s something that we’ve been working very hard on, and I think we are very, very excited for this to come to life.”

UHD Alliance president Mike fiddler noted that CE companies supporting Filmmaker Mode represent a big chunk of TV unit shipments both domestically and globally.

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Zink interviewed colorist Jill Bogdanowicz and Stephen Lighthill, president, the American Society of Cinematographers, about the importance of maintaining the intention of creators in content viewed in the home.

“Anyone that does not look at the way the image is going into the home is foolish,” noted Lighthill, adding “producers want to make sure it’s going to look the same in Jill’s suite as it does at home.”

CE company executives also joined the discussion to describe and express their support for Filmmaker Mode.

LG Electronics’ Tim Alessi said the company was putting Filmmaker Mode in every new UHD model produced in 2020.

“We kinda went all in on Filmmaker Mode,” he said, noting, “what really sets this whole effort apart is we got the entire industry to rally around one name and one set of features.”

LG is mounting an in-store display at Best Buy describing the advantages of the feature.

Samsung’s Bill Mandel said the manufacturer put the Mode in all its 2020 UHD TVs, and about a month ago launched new projectors with the feature. Samsung is running an in-store video loop about it on its TVs, he noted.

Amazon Bows Cloud-Based Gaming Platform, New Fire TV Stick, Spherical Echo Speakers

Amazon on Sept. 24 unveiled a series of new hardware devices that include updates on existing products such as the Fire TV Stick Lite and spherical Echo voice-activated speakers. The e-commerce behemoth also unveiled the Luna cloud-based gaming system, an in-home drone Ring security system, and Halo fitness wristband, among other products.

The $5.99 monthly Luna platform is compatible with Amazon’s Twitch streaming video/gaming service, and will be available on Fire TV, Mac, Windows PCs, iOS and soon Android operating systems. The platform is intended to compete with similar gaming systems operated by Google (Stadia) and Microsoft’s Xbox Live. Amazon is also going to offer a dedicated game controller for $49.99. Games can be played with a keyboard and mouse or Bluetooth-connected controller.

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The rebooted Echo Show 10 speaker ($249.99), will come with a built-in shutter cover for privacy, with VOD support for Netflix, Zoom and Amazon Chime video calls.

The $29.99 Fire TV Stick Lite can only be controlled by voice-activation, in addition to rewinding, exiting and playing video options on the controller.

Online CES Moves to Jan. 11-14

The 2021 CES event, which is going online and was scheduled to start Jan. 6, is moving back to Jan. 11-14, organizers announced.

The new schedule is:

  • Jan. 11: Exclusive media-only access
  • Jan. 12: Exhibitor showcase and conference programming
  • Jan. 13: Exhibitor showcase and conference programming
  • Jan. 14: Conference programming

 

Owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association, CES 2021 will be an all-digital experience connecting exhibitors, customers, thought leaders and media from around the world. CES 2021 will allow participants to hear from technology innovators, see cutting-edge technologies and the latest product launches, and engage with global brands and startups from around the world, according to organizers.

For more than 50 years, CES has spotlighted technology. Visit CES.tech for all CES 2021 updates.

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NPD Expects 18% Increase in Winter Holiday CE Sales

In a year where consumer electronics and home technology have played a key role for house-bound families due to the coronavirus pandemic, new data from The NPD Group suggests fourth-quarter CE sales will increase 18% compared with the same period in 2019.

The second quarter of 2020 saw healthy gains in categories associated with learning and working from home, as consumers across the U.S. outfitted their home offices with the equipment needed to maintain productivity. Gains in home entertainment categories were notable as well, as consumers looked for ways to fill time while at home for an extended period. High growth categories included: notebook computers (+45%), tablets (37%), monitors (+84%), printers (+59%), and keyboards and mice (62%).

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“Sales of items we need to get through the school or workday took priority in the first half of this year, but as we head into Q4 and the holidays we expect many of these ‘needs’ will have been satisfied and consumers will begin to purchase items they consider to be ‘wants’ or gifts for the holiday season, such as TVs and noise-canceling headphones,” Ben Arnold, executive director, industry analyst, for The NPD Group, said in a statement.

Arnold said that while the typical Q4 shopping list won’t differ much from previous years, how consumers buy will, due to ongoing concerns regarding social distancing. According to NPD Checkout data, in Q2 e-commerce represented 69% of consumer technology sales, up from 48% during the same time last year, and that number is expected to remain above 60% moving forward. Additionally, buying online and picking up in-store accounted for about 25% of online tech sales in Q2, as consumers shifted to new ways of purchasing accelerated by COVID-19.

“Black Friday lines won’t disappear, but we expect lines of consumers waiting for store openings will be replaced by long queues of cars eagerly waiting for [online] purchases to be placed in their vehicle,” said Stephen Baker, VP, industry advisor for The NPD Group. “As we head into Q4 and into 2021, we’re forecasting technology sales will remain strong as the pandemic has renewed recognition of the critical value of technology in the modern lifestyle, sped-up product upgrade cycles and created larger installed bases that will benefit the industry moving forward.”

Best Buy Stock Up Ahead of Quarterly Fiscal Results

Shares of Best Buy inched higher in early trading Aug. 24 as the nation’s largest consumer electronics retailer is set to release second-quarter financial results on Aug. 25.

Best Buy, which is one of the largest home entertainment packaged-media retailers, saw sales of DVDs, Blu-ray Disc, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movies, music CDs and related media increase 9.5% in the first quarter, ended May 21, compared with the previous-year period.

Best Buy continues to fill the need for stay-at-home consumers, in addition to remote-schooled children and college students.

Wall Street firm Raymond James upped Best Buy’s price target to a near market-high of $135 from $100. A price target is Wall Street’s estimation of the future price of a company’s security, which includes investment products, stocks and bonds.

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“We believe in [Best Buy’s] fulfillment capabilities, high mix of essential items, and well positioned peer services should propel [chain] to gain further market share during the COVID-19 induced retail shakeout,” analyst Matthew McClintock wrote in a note.

McClintock believes Best Buy has ample liquidity to aggressively make investments in the near-term to drive future market share opportunities over the long-term.

Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter Best Buy’s management team has found innovative ways to exploit the favorable trends within the current work-from-home/learn-from-home/play-from-home environment.

“We applaud Best Buy for its many accomplishments, not least of which is achieving the difficult financial targets it has set for itself year after year,” Pachter wrote in a note earlier this year. “We now have more faith in its ability to successfully navigate this uncertain period.”

Report: Baby Boomers Slow to Adopt New Technology

Baby boomers, by conventional wisdom, are not entirely nondigital ⁠— they were, after all, the pioneers of adopting home computers — but at this point in their lives, they’re a bit more reluctant about adopting newer technologies.

That’s the genesis of a new eMarketer report that found increased use of voice assistants and smart-home devices has largely skipped consumers born between 1946 and 1964.

The report’s author, Mark Dolliver, writes that along with concerns about privacy, lagging tech adoption among boomers relates to ongoing indifference regarding adoption of new things.

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eMarketer cited a surge in voice-activated technology, which Dolliver said ought to have appeal for older boomers, whose ability to read a small screen and manipulate a tiny virtual keyboard may be declining. Yet boomers who own smartphones have lagged in using the voice assistant functions on devices.

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“We estimate that 38.6% of smartphone boomers will use the voice assistant this year, vs. 49.0% of Gen Xers and 53.1% of millennials,” Dolliver wrote.

The report also claims boomers have scant adoption of smart-home technology, such as monitoring devices, Internet-connected home thermostats and smart appliances. According to a September 2019 AARP survey, penetration of such devices was lowest among the oldest boomers (who might benefit from them most) — falling from 11% among 50- to 59-year-olds, to 10% among 60- to 69-year-olds and to 7% among those ages 70 and older. Boomers also lag in adopting smart speakers, which bump up against their chronic worry about digital privacy.

“We expect just 17.6% of boomers to own smart speakers this year, barely half the device’s penetration among Gen Xers,” Dolliver wrote.

When boomers and seniors do try a new technology and find practical benefit in it, they’re like to stick with it, according to Dr. Alison Bryant, SVP of research at AARP.

“They may not literally be the first kid on the block to adopt it,” Bryant said. “But once they do, they will use it if it’s of value to them. And they have the discretionary income to actually purchase it.”

Vizio SmartCast Adds a Dozen Free Kids and Family Channels

Vizio announced the launch of a dozen free kids and family linear TV channels for SmartCast users.

SmartCast users can find 24/7 content options from:

  • Ameba, a children’s video streaming service with kids TV shows, family movies and kids music videos designed to spark children’s curiosity and empower them to explore;
  • Brat TV, which features teen stars such as Dixie D’Amelio and Annie LeBlanc in live-action original series;
  • Giggle Mug, with collections of videos that kids and the entire family can enjoy featuring TV shows such as “Tara Duncan,” “Robot Trains,”’ YooHoo & Friends,” “Besty’s Kindergarten Adventures,” “Miniforce” and more;
  • HappyKids Junior, a destination dedicated to educating and entertaining preschoolers with shows such as “Cat in the Hat,” “Thomas & Friends,” “Care Bears,” “Super Simple Songs,” “Blippi” and “Mofy”;
  • HappyKids.tv, with programming that educates and entertains kids 6-plus with popular and safe shows, music and movies including “Sonic,” “Hot Wheels,” “Barbie,” “Bakugan,” “Winx Club” and more;
  • Kid Gamer TV, in which popular gamers create experiences in the universes of Minecraft and Roblox;
  • Kidoodle.TV, a Safe Streaming platform with content hand-picked by parents, including shows such as “PAW Patrol,” “LEGO City,” “Abdallah Smash,” “Talking Tom,” “True and the Rainbow Kingdom,” “Little Baby Bum,” “Pocoyo,” “Oddbods” and more;
  • The Official LEGO Channel, a channel dedicated to inspiring and developing the builders of tomorrow where kids can watch their favorite Minifigure characters;
  • SQAD, with eSports, sports and gaming content targeting teens, tweens and video game lovers of all ages;
  • Tankee Gaming, a safe channel where kids and families can enjoy gaming content featuring Minecraft, Roblox, Nintendo hits and more by their favorite gamers;
  • Toon Goggles, with kids shows such as “Angry Birds,” “Talking Tom,” “Om Nom,” “Gummy Bears,” “Sonic,” “Yu-Gi-Oh!” and more; and
  • WowNow Kids, the home of original animated adventures, educational series, and sing-alongs with Dove-approved movies and TV for families and children of all ages.

Upcoming free updates to SmartCast will add personalized viewing recommendations based on frequently used streaming channels, and family-friendly content reviews from Common Sense Media, according to the company.

“Today Vizio is making thousands of hours of free children’s programming available to our SmartCast users, as people increasingly make streaming part of their daily routines,” said Katherine Pond, VP of business development for Vizio, in a statement. “With the uncertainty of the upcoming school year, parents will be looking for alternate ways to entertain and educate their children from inside the home. Vizio is pleased to make these programs available to ensure high quality content for children and peace of mind for parents.”

Vizio has seen a spike in engagement for kids and family content as families continue to stay home, according to the company. Apps with content for kids and family have historically seen around 35% more engagement than the average app on SmartCast.

The new channels can be found under the “Free Channels” section from the SmartCast Home screen and will complement Vizio’s WatchFree  service. In total, SmartCast viewers have access to more than 200 free linear TV channels of news, TV shows, movies and sports.

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“We’re excited to officially launch our Giggle Mug kids channel on Vizio SmartCast. The growing platform has a wonderful lineup of kids channels available, and we’re proud to be included,” said Jesse Janson, EVP of acquisitions and business development for Janson Media, in a statement.

“We are excited for the HappyKids launch as part of Vizio SmartCast’s kid programming, which is so timely. We will be bringing our expansive library of premium shows, movies and educational content to millions of Vizio SmartCast families all delivered in a kids-safe environment,” said Vikrant Mathur, co-founder of Future Today, in a statement.

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“Kidoodle.TV’s inclusion on Vizio SmartCast is a great way to support millions of families with our Safe Streaming service and we couldn’t be happier to work with a world-class platform,” said Neil Gruniniger, president and chief product officer, in a statement.

“We are honored to have the Tankee Gaming channel available to Vizio SmartCast, giving millions of kids a wealth of safe and entertaining gaming content while providing parents with peace of mind,” saidGerald Youngblood, Tankee CEO, in a statement.

“We are incredibly excited for the launch of the WowNow Kids channel on Vizio Smartcast. Children and their parents can now enjoy the hundreds of movies and television shows from our extensive library of animated content for free. Vizio is delivering an unbelievable value to Smartcast users.” Ryan Swenar, director of sales and business development for Wow Now Entertainment, in a statement.

2021 CES Trade Show Moving Online Only Due to COVID-19 Resurgence

The annual in-person CES in Las Vegas — an industry mainstay for 50 years once known by its longer moniker of the Consumer Electronics Show — has been canceled due to surges in COVID-19 infections and will be replaced by an all-digital format, Jan. 6-9, 2021, organizer Consumer Technology Association announced July 28.

“Amid the pandemic and growing global health concerns about the spread of COVID-19, it’s just not possible to safely convene tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas in early January 2021 to meet and do business in person,” Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CTA, said in a statement. “By shifting to an all-digital platform for 2021, we can deliver a unique experience that helps our exhibitors connect with existing and new audiences.”

CTA said it plans to return to Las Vegas for CES 2022, combining elements of a physical and digital show.

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As recently as June, the CTA had vowed to proceed with at least a partially physical show. At the time, the trade association said in a statement, “We will showcase our exhibitors’ products, technology breakthroughs and ideas to the world, both physically in Las Vegas and digitally. “You can expect to see a wider selection of live-streamed CES content, along with many other engaging digital and virtual opportunities, enabling you to connect with the world’s leading technology innovators, thought leaders and policymakers.”

In January 2020, more than 175,000 industry professionals, including more than 61,000 from outside the United States, convened in Las Vegas for CES 2020.

At the time reports were just filtering in from China about a mysterious new illness centered around the city of Wuhan. It wasn’t until Jan. 11, a day after the 2020 CES ended, that the first death was reported. From the Wall Street Journal: “A new virus implicated in a pneumonia outbreak in central China killed a 61-year-old man there, Chinese health authorities said. … It was the first death of the outbreak in the city of Wuhan, where 59 people have been quarantined. Chinese scientists discovered a new strain of coronavirus there this week.”

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In last month’s statement, the CTA said it would enable social distancing at the January 2021 CES, including widening aisles in many exhibit areas and providing more space between seats in conference programs and other areas where attendees congregate. Attendees and exhibitors would be encouraged to wear masks and avoid shaking hands.

CTA also said it planned to limit touch points throughout the facilities, including through cashless systems for purchases and transactions. It also was considering employing contactless thermal scans at key venue entry points, in addition to providing enhanced on-site access to health service and medical aid.

NPD: First Quarter PC Sales Up 16%, Reaching $2.4 Billion

As the spread of the coronavirus grew, forcing more people to work from home in the first quarter (ended March 31), demand for PC computers and related gear ballooned.

New data from The NPD Group found PC sales in the period increased 16% to $2.4 billion. Further reinforcing the need for additional hardware as more people telecommuted, landline headset sales grew 50.9% and stereo headphones sales skyrocketed 65.4% compared with the prior year.

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“As everyone’s jobs and schedules have been flipped upside-down, procuring additional hardware to set-up suitable work-from-home and distance learning environments became a priority, driving additional demand in the channel,” Mike Crosby, director and B2B technology industry analyst at The NPD Group, said in a statement.

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According to the report, storage and data protection software sales grew 12.5%, while security software sales grew 5.3%, representing nearly a quarter of the sales in the software market during this time.

“With more points of entry, an organization’s network becomes increasingly vulnerable to [cyber] attacks by shoring up additional security and data protection software, businesses are hoping to ensure the same levels of protection they experienced while working in-office,” Crosby said.

NPD: DVD and Blu-ray Player Sales Jump in Pandemic

Consumers are getting physical.

Sales of DVD and Blu-ray players were both up 27% in unit sales for the week ended April 18 compared with same week a year ago, according to data from the NPD Group.

“Sales are up as consumers stay at home and look for multiple forms of entertainment,” said NPD analyst Stephen Baker. “These include DVDs and Blu-ray discs to entertain children while their parents are working, backup access devices if Internet access is challenged by streaming, or simply the consumers’ realization that they may need a physical disc player as an alternative to streaming and either they didn’t already have one or the one they do have needs an upgrade.”

Meanwhile, streaming player sales jumped 42%.

Overall, NPD-tracked U.S. Consumer Tech sales increased 23% year-over-year (29% week-over-week) during the week ended April 18 to nearly $1.8 billion. This topped the 21% increase tracked during the week ended March 21 sales spike.

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“We saw broad-based increases across almost all categories, unlike in March, when the work-from-home categories dominated,” Baker said.

TVs unit sales also jumped, exceeding 1.1 million units, the highest volume ever outside holiday, an 86% increase in units. Every TV size 32 inches and above had double-digit growth while 65 inch-and-above TVs were up 139%. Consumers also bought smaller sizes as 32-inch TVs, which declined by 15% over the first 10 weeks of 2020, increased by 40% over the last 5 weeks.

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Other strong categories included networking (70%), headphones (29%), printers (61%), DIY components (111%), PC microphones (147%), range extenders (173%), TV mounts (41%) and soundbars (69% in units).