January 7, 2021
Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week, we're looking at who's bothering to turn up to a virtual CES and exploring how Samsung is cautiously embracing cameras for TVs.
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When Samsung unveiled its latest TV sets at its annual CES First Look event Wednesday, it began the video presentation with what looked like a typical January trip for many tech insiders: a plane descent, an airport full of shiny lights, a taxi drive across the Las Vegas strip. An homage to normal times that actually made me feel a bit nostalgic.
But this is 2021, nothing is normal, and next week's CES is virtual. And the decision to hold the show online has prompted many companies to skip it altogether:
That leaves the usual suspects, a.k.a. the TV makers:
Here's the case for going to CES, even if it's virtual: The TV hardware business is highly seasonal, and manufacturers are using the event to hype up both consumers and retailers for 2021 models that will sell in time for major spring and summer TV events.
As for why others are bowing out: Amazon, Google and Facebook are making cheaper devices that are sold primarily during the holiday season, so they've never been as reliant on CES for their own announcements.
For many companies, virtual CES could be a test case of whether the big Vegas blowout is really worth it in years to come.
"There has never been a better time to get in the lab and build products that deliver meaningful social presence." —Facebook Reality Labs head Andrew Bosworth, looking ahead at 2021.
We even instinctively adopt the ready position as we go through daily life. The athletic-ready position gives us maximum mobility and stability. Now imagine transferring this concept to your business. Technology agility drives business agility and developing an IT ready position can be a game changer in preparing your business for anything.
Samsung is embracing our COVID-induced obsession with videoconferencing: The company will allow consumers to connect external USB cameras to some 2021 smart TVs so they can video chat with up to five others on the big screen. It's also embracing external cameras for interactive work-outs and to add accessibility, it announced at its annual home entertainment event Wednesday.
Cameras on TVs were once controversial. While manufacturers played with the idea for years, much of that work never made it beyond CES show floor demos, in part because of privacy concerns. "A couple of years ago, a camera attached to a TV would have been just outrageous," admitted Dolan.
But the pandemic changed that, with consumers not only spending hours a day on Zoom, but also embracing smart displays with cameras for video chats. Samsung execs weren't sure whether consumers were ready to have cameras built into the TV sets just yet, though, which is why the company decided to launch these new features with external webcams first. "Baby steps," Dolan said.
And connecting cameras to TVs could become a big deal, especially if TV makers decide to open up their APIs and let developers build their own camera-ready apps. Asked about this, Dolan was once again non-committal, but I'd be surprised if the company wasn't at least considering it.
Roku is looking to buy Quibi's shows. The "Reno 911!" reboot and other Quibi content could show up on the Roku Channel if the deal goes through.
On Protocol: LG acquired Alphonso. The ad tech startup could help the TV maker better compete with Roku, Samsung and Vizio.
Discovery launched its own streaming service. Discovery+ costs $6.99 per month, and includes Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri shows.
Google may be launching a new smart display. An FCC filing hinted at a Nest Hub successor with added radios for IoT connectivity.
What do we know about Apple's AR glasses? First written about in 2017, Apple has yet to confirm that it's even building the things. But here's a nice roundup of the very many leaks.
Niantic acquired Mayhem. AR is hard, so Niantic is getting some extra help to build a world-scale version of everything.
Microsoft will shut down Minecraft Earth in June. AR is really hard, so Microsoft's Mojang Studios is giving up on a world-scale version of Minecraft.
Facebook has more than 6,000 people working on AR, VR and Portal. And the company's first smart glasses will arrive "sooner rather than later," Reality Labs head Andy Bosworth told Bloomberg.
Everyone's been there: You've got a dozen streaming services and no idea what to watch. Well, JustWatch, a website that aggregates titles from numerous services, has come up with a new solution for discovery. The company's plot recommender lets you type the synopsis of any movie or TV show, be it one that you vaguely remember or one you wish existed, and then finds the best matches in its catalog.
It sounds silly, but actually works surprisingly well. "Robot becomes jealous, plots revenge" got JustWatch to suggest the Russian Netflix drama "Better Than Us," which is actually pretty spot-on. "Retail workers are bored out of their minds" got me NBC's "Superstore," and "zombie has feelings" resulted in a suggestion for the movie "Warm Bodies," if only in fourth place. But I think I need to watch Disney's holiday movie "Noelle" again, as I really don't remember the whole "Santa is a cannibal" part that JustWatch thinks is in there.
Thanks for reading — see you next week.