RCA accidentally made a cool TV because it doesn’t connect to the internet

It’s no surprise that internet connected household items are all over the show floor at CES 2017. My eyes glaze over when I see the word “smart” or “Wi-Fi” or “app” on a standing banner.

That’s why this little friend, a 4.3” LED portable television from RCA that doesn’t connect to the world wide web and has no apps, gets me excited for gadgets at CES. RCA pretty much just never stopped making these, so I guess that’s why they have one out now, but hey, a broken clock is right twice a day.

Last summer, I wrote about my struggle to find a TV I could watch on the beach without using the internet. RCA is one of the few companies brave (or naive) enough to make a portable, non-smart television with a built-in ATSC digital / NTSC analog tuner.

This simple battery-powered set is $79.99, has a 3.5mm out, one speaker, a USB port and mini SD to play media, and a kickstand, which is all you really need in a day trip to your favorite beach town. The TV is sort of thick for a something that has a screen the size of a smartphone, but I have campaigned for CRTs to make a comeback anyway.

RCA doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about this TV — they barely mentioned it in their press release — but you can probably see why. Not many companies make TVs that aren’t “smart”; not many people want that.

This thing isn’t perfect. It feels pretty cheap, the antenna is flimsy, and the kickstand might not work on a towel on a sandy beach (my true test), but having a nifty little TV to bring literally anywhere you go is still super neat. A majority of gadgets at CES are essentially worthless when you take away the internet, and I’m glad to see gadgets that will still entertain me without it.

These drones must die

The section of the show floor at CES dedicated to drones continues to expand with each passing year. But this year definitely highlighted that many drones are now being used to signify “high tech” capabilities, when in fact they are just cheap toys at best, cynical marketing gimmicks at worst.

You can velcro three rings of black cardboard to the top of a Parrot Bebop and call it a “Magic Air Cleaner,” but you’re not fooling anyone. Well, actually you are. The same goes for the $250,000 military grade drone being displayed without a battery, camera, sensors, or processor onboard. At that point, you’re showing off a plastic prop.

I’m not hating on toys. Lots of people will buy and enjoy Star Wars-themed drones, or tiny quadcopters that can shoot plastic pellets. A $50 drone that can be blasted out of the air with a tennis ball and keep on flying is definitely something I would like to find under the Christmas tree. But any claims to cutting edge innovation from these cheaper brands should be viewed very skeptically.

I’m betting that this is the year the bubble bursts on the consumer drone market. DJI’s dominance makes it tough to compete on anything but niche products like racing drones and pocket sized units optimized for selfies. The actual consumer demand for those quirky items definitely doesn’t justify the dozens of brands and multiple showcases devoted to drones at this year’s show. But if these aerial robots continue to prove a useful marketing gimmick, drawing crowds of onlookers and press eager for a visual spectacle, the buzz of drones around CES may continue to grow.

The FTC has sued D-Link over unsecure routers and webcams

The Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit against the Taiwan-based D-Link Corporation and its US subsidiary, D-Link Systems, Inc., for not taking steps to secure their devices, which left them vulnerable to hackers.

In the complaint, filed on Thursday, the FTC alleged that the company “failed to take reasonable steps to protect their routers and [Internet Protocol] cameras from widely known and reasonably foreseeable risks of unauthorized access.” D-Link also failed to test for security flaws, keep its own security keys confidential, or take steps to secure login credentials on mobile devices.

The FTC noted in the complaint that the inaction from the company has left thousands of customers at risk of having their personal information compromised or vulnerable to attack.

This isn’t the first time that the FTC has filed a complaint against a manufacturer over concerns about their security. In September 2013, the commission settled a complaint against TRENDnet after alleging that its home cameras were not secure, and in February 2016 settled with ASUS over unsecured internet routers. “The consequences for consumers can include device compromise and exposure of their sensitive personal information,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

With these complaints, the commission has recognized the inherent danger in the growing number of connected devices, which can both leave consumers at risk, and be used maliciously. In October, a massive denial of service (DDoS) attack took down numerous websites, utilizing a number of connected home devices that weren’t secured.

The complaint will next be seen by a federal district court judge.

Watch the chilling first trailer for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Hulu has released the first trailer for its upcoming show The Handmaid’s Tale.

The tense teaser shows off Elizabeth Moss’s character Offred, a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. We also get glimpses of the times before the collapse of the United States into an oppressive theocratic regime in which women are stripped of their rights.

The Handmaid’s Tale is adapted from the 1985 dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. Atwood wrote the novel in response to rise of extreme-right religious groups in the 1980s. Atwood is serving as a Consulting Producer for the series.

Hulu has ordered 10 episodes for the first season, which will premiere on Hulu on April 26th, 2017.

I rode in Faraday Future’s FF91, the electric car powered by hubris

Sitting in the passenger seat of Faraday Future’s mythical FF91, I found myself clinging to the red strap that doubled as the door handle to keep from flying out the window. The car kicked up dust as it rail-gunned down the length of the giant tent where FF set up shop during CES in Las Vegas. As the electrically powered propulsion pushed me back into the bucket seat, I couldn’t help but let out an involuntary squeal as my brain tried and failed to process the speed. Holy shit, was that fast.

Earlier in the week, FF finally pulled the rabbit out of the hat. The FF91 took the stage Tuesday night to rapturous applause from hundreds of people gathered to witness the ambitious-but-troubled startup’s big CES reveal. The FF91 has plenty of sleek design cues like a retractable LIDAR sensor in the hood and whiz-bang technology like self-parking via smartphone. But FF still needs to prove that it is a real company that could produce a real car for people to own. The CES presentation bought Faraday Future a bit more time to do that.

The weeks leading up to CES were fraught with bad news for the California-based electric car startup. Construction on its $1 billion factory in North Las Vegas had stalled. Suppliers were suing for unpaid bills. And several investigations, including one by The Verge, exposed new details about the company’s financial difficulties. Several top executives resigned. The bad press threatened to overshadow FF’s much-hyped event.

But then the FF91 emerged on the CES stage, and it looked like Faraday Future’s critics had gotten it wrong. Executives attempted to show the vehicle’s self-parking feature (one attempt was successful, one not) and then the company showed the FF91 in a mock-drag race among a trio of ultra-fast rivals. The car had a real engine! And it was fast! At the end of the event, chief engineer Nick Sampson sounded a defiant note: “I can say now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, despite all the naysayers and skeptics, we will carry on and make the impossible possible.”

But in a Q&A with reporters following the theatrical press conference, Sampson was less convincing, though he attempted to strike a positive note. “Everything we’ve achieved,” he said, “we’ve achieved at a faster pace and in a different way than the conventional industry.”

The stalled construction on the $1 billion factory in North Las Vegas? “We’ll start very early in the new year,” Sampson said. (During the event, FF played a video that showed close-ups of dirt moving along a conveyor belt, but no foundation or additional construction.)

The loss of some of the company’s most high-profile executives? “A company like FF… is a difficult company to work with, in terms of the environment, the culture,” he said. “It doesn’t suit every individual.” Lead designer Richard Kim, who also was present, chimed in: “It’s not a nine-to-fiver.”

The lawsuits from suppliers for unpaid bills? “We will be [paying our suppliers],” Sampson said. Will be paying or are paying? “A combination. Both.” Sampson also said the FF91 will be sold in the US market, dismissing claims that the company will soon be purchased by its main Chinese investor, LeEco founder Jia Yueting. “We’re a US-based company,” he said.

Faraday Future FF 91 press imagesFaraday Future FF 91 press images

This claim contradicts reports that Jia has practically taken the reins of FF in an attempt to steer it through its launch and financial difficulties. Analysts and former employees who were watching FF’s event in the hopes of seeing signs that the company could turn its fortunes expressed disappointment. “The public will love the futuristic design and likely accept their vision for the future… but I believe there will be some head scratching,” one former executive told me. “Primarily around the sheer size of the vehicle, all of the screens and the wine cellar. And if price gets mentioned, the public will freak.” (The company says the car comes with an optional refrigerator in the back.)

Price wasn’t mentioned, but rumors place it somewhere between $100,000-$120,000, the same price range as a loaded Model S. This strategy is clearly to capture luxury customers, and use that as a springboard to build a more mass-market vehicle. FF claims to have collected 64,124 reservations in the 36 hours since the FF91 was unveiled. Some of those reservations include a $5,000 refundable deposit, but FF won’t say how much it raked in.

“I don’t think they addressed any of the concerns about viability,” said Sam Abuelsamid, senior research analyst at Navigant. “They refused to discuss finances or even pricing of the car and frankly the video of moving dirt may have been counter productive because it showed they really haven’t done anything on the factory. Unless they can raise some serious cash soon, they are in trouble.”

Let’s be clear: outside of in-the-know car enthusiasts most people haven’t heard of Faraday Future. And those who have heard of Faraday Future have probably also heard about the multitude of problems. There is long history of beautiful cars made by failed car startups. In fact, more car companies fail than succeed.

FF still has hundreds of engineers, including a half-dozen top executives with long histories in the automotive and racing worlds. But the odds against it are huge, and it will take more than a pretty car on a stage to convince people its a company worth investing in.

After my test ride, I spoke to Sampson about his company’s ongoing challenges. “In some ways, there’s nothing you can do to make the skeptics believe,” he said. “The skeptics moaned last year that we brought out the Batmobile as so many called it. They said you’re not serious, it’s vaporware, it’s bullshit. We said trust us, believe us, we know what we’re doing. And we were back this year with a car.”

This year, FF demonstrated three “virtues,” Sampson said: beauty, brains, and brawn. The car is certainly not hard on the eyes. Sure, it parks itself, so it has smarts. And it slays on the track. But Sampson forgot the fourth virtue: humility. FF needs to stop making larger-than-life promises, and start delivering.

This post was originally published on January 6th and has been updated to include video.

The Populele taught me how to play ukelele in 15 minutes

Full confession: I’ve held a ukelele before, tuned one, and learned a few chords, all of which I’ve since forgotten. Compared to a guitar, it’s a really easy instrument. There are only four strings, and they’re so easy to press! But, like any stringed instrument, learning chords is a bit of a pain. If you have someone teaching you there’s that awkward moment where they grab it from you and show you something and then you take it back and try to replicate their hand shape. Or they try to tell you what to do verbally:

“Okay, put your first finger on the first string, second fret. No, first string from the bottom… Now put your second finger on the second string, third fret…”

If you try to learn chords from looking at the chord shapes on your phone, you have to do the mental gymnastics of mirroring that image and translating it to finger positions. It’s not impossible, and I learned guitar like this, but it’s a bit of a grind.

We can solve this with technology. The Populele U1 is a smart ukelele with a light-up fret board and a companion app that pairs over Bluetooth. If you want to learn a chord, you tap that chord in the app and the finger positions light up. This doesn’t just help you play the chord that one time, but gives you a mental picture of the chord that made it easier for me to remember. After learning G, C, and F, I hopped into a play-along song mode. And I was playing! The song had an Am in it I hadn’t learned yet, but the chord lit up on the fret board and it was a super easy one, so now I knew Am and hardly missed a strum.

The Populele isn’t an amazing ukelele. I tried out the guitar version, Poputar, and found it kind of annoyingly bad as an instrument. I typically tell anyone looking to learn an instrument not to get an ultra cheap one, because it could sound so bad and be so hard to play that it’ll put you off learning. But a ukelele doesn’t have to be as high quality to be playable, and I think the Populele strikes a nice balance of price and quality — it’ll launch for around $150 in February.

Conan O’Brien won’t host the Clueless Gamer spinoff series

TBS is making a spinoff series based on the popular Conan sketch “Clueless Gamer,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. “Clueless Gamer” has been a part of Conan O’Brien’s late-night show on TBS since 2012. O’Brien will be an executive producer on the show but he won’t host it, and a host has yet to be announced.

That decision might seem odd to fans of the long-running sketch, in which O’Brien (who doesn’t know anything about video games) plays video games with celebrities and cracks jokes about his ineptitude. The segment is pretty funny, but it’s weird to imagine someone else hosting it, and even weirder to imagine it running longer than a YouTube video.

In a comment to The Hollywood Reporter, TBS president Kevin Relly explained the decision to adapt “Clueless Gamer,” saying “we’ve gotten to the point where video game companies are sending us their new product for us to play and make fun of because it’s been such a huge success.”

“Clueless Gamer” isn’t the first late-night sketch to be adapted into its own TV show, though. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon’s “Lip Sync Battle” was turned into a ratings bonanza for Spike last year, ABC’s Big Fan (premiering Monday) is based on the recurring Jimmy Kimmel bit “Who Knows?,” and a show based on James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” skit has been picked up by Apple and set to air exclusively on Apple Music.

Displays are the secret superstars of CES

Before the tech industry started putting AI and Alexa into everything, the clearest route to making a frumpy old device “smart” was to put a screen on it. How can fridges ever hope to be smart without a crisp copy of Windows 10 running on a 29-inch touchscreen? And what’s a smartwatch without a full-color readout of all your fitness triumphs and disasters? Even virtual reality, which untethers you from the desktop screen, relies heavily on advanced optics and display technologies to deliver the most immersive escapism possible.

Displays are, in my judgment, the central pillar underlying this entire whirlwind of new technology that we know as CES. They’re so obvious, so numerous, that we don’t stop to notice them — even while we’re constantly staring at them. So this is me stopping, for just a moment, and giving displays their due appreciation.

LG’s new flagship 4K OLED TV

This new LG TV is as thin as a credit card.

Posted by The Verge on Wednesday, January 4, 2017

One of the novelties of CES 2017 for me is how amazing the “average” TV has become. Half a decade ago, a 50-inch 1080p TV would have been an aspirational item, whereas today we are walking through a thicket of even larger 4K TVs strewn across the Las Vegas Convention Center. We used to photograph the sides of TVs next to smartphones and be in awe of their thinness, now we pretty much take 4mm-thick TVs as a given. Oh, and bezels? They’ve been almost deleted from the face of the Earth, courtesy of Sony, Samsung, LG, and now even Xiaomi. We’re all at least a little bit guilty of taking these innovations, and the steady rate of constant progress driving them, for granted.

But my heart resides in the gaming realm of technology, and there we’ve seen a fresh wave of better, faster — want a 200Hz refresh rate? Acer has you covered — and larger monitors designed to make the most of your beefy graphics card. LG recently increased the size of the largest curved monitor to 38 inches, and after I got a chance to play on its 34-inch version, I’m already sold on the glories and benefits of curved screens for gaming. Curved monitors are terrible for working on spreadsheets, and curved TVs have been pretty much rejected by the world at this point, but purely for the purposes of gaming, they are my new pinnacle for the best experience to be had.

As ridiculous as Acer’s Predator 21 X “laptop” may be, it too deserves kudos for being the first curved-screen portable gaming machine in the world. It doesn’t embody the best design choices in the world, but it most certainly represents advanced engineering and deserves our respect as a technical feat, if not as a product for the rational consumer.

Professional content creators have much to look forward to in 2017 as well, with LG bringing a new 4K HDR monitor to CES — along with others raising the bar for color performance — though Dell certainly steals the show with its $4,999 8K monitor. The 32-inch UP3218K is simply stunning; I saw it in person this week and its sharpness is extraordinary. Not only that, but it also has a very consistent backlight (no light bleed to be found on dark images), teeny tiny bezels, and outstanding color fidelity. Photographers, 4K video producers, architects, and basically anyone else that makes a living from highly detailed work that requires great precision and resolution will at first lust after and eventually, once prices inevitably come down, buy one of these new 8K beauties.

And this is all without mentioning things like LG’s rollable OLED display or Panasonic’s transparent display from last year’s CES. Or the non-rectangle displays being developed for the automotive space, a glimpse of which we might have recently seen with Sharp’s smartphone display that actually has curved corners as well as curved sides.

Because they are so good nowadays, we take displays for granted. But let’s not forget that the most revolutionary thing about the original iPhone was how it broke away from the traditional keypad and tiny window of a screen toward a larger touchscreen. If you want to understand the innovations that will truly define our future, pay close attention to where display technology is headed. It’s the foundation upon which everything else is built, and it will remain that way at least until voice-based interfaces grow up.

The Basslet wearable lets you feel the music like you’re at the club

When you walk into a loud party or a club, you don’t just hear the music, you feel it in your body. The Basslet is a new wearable device that aims to bring a similar effect to your day-to-day music listening. It’s coming off a successful Kickstarter campaign from last summer, and I got to try out a final version at CES 2017.

The Basslet is a small, flat black box that you wear on your wrist like a watch, although it doesn’t actually tell time. Instead, it contains a miniature actuator that pulses in time with your music, giving you a localized version of the bone-rumbling beats that real subwoofers push out.

The Basslet works by plugging your headphones into a small, passthrough box on the way to your music source, which samples the music as it goes through and wirelessly communicates to the Basslet wearable how to vibrate in time with the bass of your music. Buttons on the side of the Basslet (that also double as magnetic charging contacts) are used to control the intensity.

When it comes to the actual vibrated subwoofer effect, it works — the Basslet buzzed and pulsed in time with the thudding base of the EDM track I was listening to as promised. The localized effect is a bit disconcerting, but if you’re interested in really feeling your music, it seems like the way to go.

The Basslet claims to get around 10–12 hours of battery life on a charge, although that number goes down to around 6–7 hours depending on how high the vibrations are ratcheted up. And while the device needs to pass through a pair of headphones, it does still work with headphones dongles (like those for the iPhone 7).

I asked the Basslet team why they had decided to skip including a way to tell time on what is obviously such a watch-shaped device; they answered that they didn’t want to have the Basslet pigeonholed as another smartwatch, but I think that I’d be far more likely to wear it on my wrist if it told time.

The Basslet costs $199, which seems a high price for adding a faux-subwoofer to your wrist, but if it sounds like something up your alley, you can get it February 7th.

Duncan Jones’ Mute looks like an icy ’80s music video

Netflix just released the first images from Duncan Jones’ upcoming movie, Mute, and they look straight out of a Human League music video. The sci-fi thriller will star Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, and Seyneb Saleh. This will be Jones’ (Warcraft, Source Code) first project for Netflix.

Mute is set in a near-future Berlin. Skarsgård plays Leo, a mute bartender searching for his girlfriend (Saleh) who has gone missing. He links up with two scheming American surgeons (Rudd and Theroux) who might be the only people who can help. Or maybe not — nothing says “untrustworthy” like Paul Rudd’s mustache!

If the sound of a synthy sci-fi mystery movie starring a mustachioed Paul Rudd appeals to you, there’s probably more where that came from. Jones has said that Mute is the second installment in a trilogy.