New Kickstarter project brings the price of 3D printing down-to-earth for the first time ever.
I’ve been a little (OK a lot) fascinated with consumer-grade 3D printing ever since I saw my first MakerBot device in the flesh at the Consumer Electronics Show back in 2010.
The MakerBot booth was surrounded by onlookers on a nearly constant basis and not because the company had employed scantily –clad women to attract the milling masses. They didn’t need to. They had something way better than a booth babe: a new technology that let people create virtually any 3D object from scratch. Show attendees huddled around small wooden boxes that looked like they’d been made from spare TinkerToy parts, while a robotic mechanism jumped and jerked around, slowly producing a 3D object, layer by layer. It was mesmerizing.
Back then, three things were true of consumer 3D printing. 1) It was expensive. Even MakerBot’s original Thing-o-Matic (the device that kickstarted the 3D craze even before Kickstarter had its first hit project) had a starting price of well over $1,000 and it was the least expensive model on the planet. 2) The examples of what you could make were limited to what you could download from a 3D library or design yourself using 3D software. And 3) it wasn’t exactly consumer-friendly. Calibration was regularly required and the software was not the easiest to master.
Well it sure doesn’t look like much on the outside.
In fact, it looks a heck of lot like dozens of other micro-bookshelf stereos on the market.
But turn on the Nano HiFi, and it’s a whole different story.
The sound that this diminutive system creates is spectacular.
Now just so we’re clear: I’m not an audiophile, and I don’t spend much time auditioning lots of different sound systems and you will never, ever hear me claim that a $1,000 pair of specially shielded speaker cables will make your music come alive.
Heck, I don’t even listen to much music these days when I’m not in the car or at the gym.
But I have had a chance to listen to some of the small stereos on the market in the $250-$500 price range and I can tell you that as far as these untrained ears are concerned, none of them come close to the Nano HiFi, and its suggested retail price is $350.
The makers of the Nano HiFi claim the little unit’s audio prowess comes from the speaker design. They used terms like “multi yoke technology” and “higher sound-pressure-levels” but I have no idea what any of that means. What I do know, is that I’ve never heard such deep, rich and clear sound come from such a small package.
There is one thing I should share as a sort of caveat to my gushing praise: The unit I listened to was perched inside a curved acrylic wall. I asked the company rep if the curved shape of the wall was having any impact on the sound I was hearing. He claimed it made no difference at all. So while I’ll have to take his word for it, a small part of me remains a tad skeptical.
You’ve never heard of Nano HiFi, and even when I Google them, nothing comes up – not even their official website with the obvious name www.nanohifi.com. Talk about flying under the radar.
But if these guys land a distribution deal in Canada (any takers?) I think you’ll be hearing a lot more from them soon.
Nano HiFi features:
- iPod/iPhone dock
- Slot-loading DVD/CD player
- FM radio
- USB port for accessing audio files from a thumbdrive
- remote control
One of the big draws at this year’s show was Samsung’s demo of their new TV interface which combines voice commands and hand gestures to perform activities like changing the channel or muting the sound. Almost anything you used to only be able to do with the remote, can now be accomplished by speaking to your TV.
Or should I say ‘shouting’?
If Samsung’s demo proved anything to me, it’s that I have no desire to start talking to my gadgets. Or waving my hands at them. Or to do anything else that isn’t a clear improvement on the way I used to do something.
Given that I’m not a big fan of other voice systems such as Apple’s Siri, I suspected Samsung would have their work cut out for them in trying to make a convert out of me. Even though Siri and I don’t get along, we understand one another. Actually that’s not exactly true. She understands me some of the time, and I understand why some people think she’s the best thing since sliced bread. That’s because there are plenty of times when you can’t interact with your smartphone with your fingers – say, when you’re driving.
And even though the woman running Samsung’s demo suggested that there would in fact be times in my life when I wouldn’t be able to reach for the remote, I have yet to find my hands so preoccupied while watching TV that I could spare a digit or two for stabbing at those little buttons.
At least I know that if I hit the ‘channel up’ button, that’s exactly what will happen, barring me pointing the remote at my own belly button and even then it will probably still change the channel.
That doesn’t seem to be the case with Samsung’s voice system.
On more than one attempt, our exhausted demo leader had to repeat herself to get the TV’s attention: “HI TV!” (pause) “HI TV!”
To the TV’s credit, when it failed to understand the commands being shouted in its direction, it did not shout back. It politely notified us on-screen that it hadn’t understood and perhaps we would like to use a hand gesture instead.
Yes TV, I would like to use a hand gesture. But I don’t think you’re going to like the one I have in mind.
This new interaction scheme will be available on all new Series 8 and 9 LCD TVs from Samsung later this year. You’ll be pleased to know it can be turned on or off at your discretion and the sets still come with good old fashioned remote controls.
That’s good. You see I already have voice control for our TV. Every day I shout at the kids to turn the thing off and come have dinner.
But just as with Samsung’s system, I usually have to say it more than once.
So readers, are you excited that you’ll soon be able stop asking “where’s the remote?” Or are you are you beginning to have flashbacks to your first viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey?
The inconvenient truth of living in this wonderful digital age is that most of us split our time between multiple gadgets, be they computer-centric like a laptop or phone-centric like a BlackBerry. So why should we be without our precious files – spreadsheets, photos, songs etc. – just because we’re not in front of the device that we used to create them? And while there are a number of companies out there trying to help us with this problem – you’re probably familiar with dropbox, Mesh, Windows SkyDrive etc. – none of them solve it as elegantly as SugarSync. The company’s service is much more than a virtual file folder in the cloud – it’s a truly cross-platform file management, sharing, versioning and back-up system all rolled into one and accessible from a dizzying array of devices. SugarSync may not offer the most free storage (their free packages tops out at 5GB) but they definitely win first place for features and flexibility. Oh, and they took me indoor skydiving while we were at CES. Not that this influenced this post. At all. I promise.
The future is here and it has a name: the Thing-O-Matic. The truth is, of course, once you get over how cool it is to be able to print real-world objects in three dimensions using little more than a PC, some inexpensive raw plastic and what looks like a dialysis machine made from Tinkertoy, you quickly realize you have no real need to ever print real-world objects in three dimensions. But the fact that MakerBot Industries has taken a process that used to require a machine worth $10,000 or more and put it within reach of mere mortals for the paltry sum of $1,225 USD, is nonetheless remarkable and could have a profound effect on the next generation of engineers who – no longer limited by parts they buy from retailers – can pretty much build anything they can dream up inside a CAD program. So long as they can limit their dreams to 996mm x 108mm x 115 mm – that being the width, length and height maximums of the Thing-o-Matic’s build area. I say let the printing begin, and if anyone can fashion me a new rotor for my Air Hogs Sky Patrol, I would be grateful.
Android! iPad! PlayBook! These are the buzzwords being shouted this year and they were especially loud at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. There’s good reason for this. Tablets, in case you’ve been sitting under the proverbial rock, are hot, and everyone’s looking to get in on the action. But in all the excitement, more than a few people are asking a very good question: Can I really stop using my laptop or desktop and migrate all of my computing tasks to a tablet? The answer for now at least, is no – not completely. The tablet form factor itself lacks a built-in keyboard which many consider a deal-breaker in terms of doing “real work”, while the operating systems being used (Android, iOS, QNX) aren’t compatible with any of your existing Windows or Mac OS software or peripherals.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. The tablet category, while not technically new, is still very much in its infancy and it will be a few more years before people can give up their existing computers in favour of these lighter gadgets. But for those who are determined to take advantage of the increased portability and touch-screen UI of a tablet without sacrificing full PC functionality, Samsung may have the answer. Their 7-series Sliding PC is a Windows 7 netbook that has all of the typical netbook specs, but when you tuck the sliding keyboard behind the screen, the device becomes a somewhat heavy but nonetheless quite usable tablet.
Personally, I think people should probably skip this device, assuming it ever hits store shelves. In trying to be all things to all people, it ends up being neither. If you want a tablet, this machine is heavy and laden with an OS that is not designed from the ground-up as mobile computing platform. If you want a netbook, this machine offers a few nice perks such as micro-HDMI and 3G, but you can expect it to cost a lot more that the average $300 netbook. Although Samsung wouldn’t give us a date or a price at the show, Engadget was able to squeeze it out of them.
3D permeated every inch of the Consumer Electronics Show this year – even more so than the two previous years. And while most manufacturers concentrated on showing off the 3D tech that consumers could expect to see at retailers this year, a few were demo’ing future technologies that aren’t quite ready for the market. The most widely anticipated of these was glassless 3D – typically achieved with lenticular screens that produced a focused 3D effect within a very narrow field of view and distance from the screen. Sony had some very good examples of that technology. But more impressive from my point of view was a headset-gadget that Sony doesn’t even have a name for yet – although I’ve found at least one journalist referring to it as the “Headman” (terrible name). It’s white, looks like something out of the movie TRON: Legacy and provides the most convincing 3D I’ve ever seen.
The apparatus contains two OLED displays, which are mounted on adjustable sliders so they can be correctly positioned for the width between your pupils. There are also stereo headphones located in the ear-cup area. Sony was running some 3D loops from PS3 games such as GT5 and it was mesmerizing. Unlike any other 3D display I’ve seen so far, the effect was perfect – I felt as though I was standing at the edge of the racetrack with the cars whipping by just a few feet away.
However given the lacklustre consumer response to other head-mounted viewing systems like Vuzix, I’m not sure that even if Sony launched this product tomorrow it would find a wide audience. The device will appeal mostly to hardcore gamers – those who spend a lot of money building a PC rig that gives them every advantage during online gameplay. I suspect casual gamers and 3D movie fans will avoid it in favour of big-screen systems that let them share the experience with others in the room.
Readers, what do you think – does a highly personalized 3D system like this interest you?