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FCC, Market Trends Push Move to Unlock Set-Top Box Market

Federal Communications Commission chair Tom Wheeler continues to promote his plan to “unlock” the set-top box marketplace, ending the dominance of cable and satellite TV companies. Opposing the plan are, no surprise, those same cable and satellite companies, including Comcast and AT&T’s DirecTV, which reap profits of $20 billion a year in set-top-box rentals. CBS also opposes the plan, as do other studios that believe regulation will get in the way of quickly making their content available on multiple platforms. Read more

Plex, Amazon Launch Beta Test of Cloud-Based Media Center

Digital media center manufacturer Plex is debuting Plex Cloud, which runs its server on Amazon Drive without a local computer or network-attached storage drive. A select group of beta testers will get their hands on Plex Cloud, enabling them to set up a Plex server in one minute and use Amazon’s consumer cloud storage service, including the ability to stream media to any device. This change removes one of the biggest obstacles to adoption of Plex’s solution for personal media: the need for a dedicated server. Read more

Roku Refreshes Media Box Line-Up, Offers Ultra HD and HDR

Roku updated its line-up of streaming media boxes, discontinuing the Roku 1, 2, 3 and 4 devices but hanging on to its $50 Roku Streaming Stick. New products for the “low-end” HD market now include the compact $30 Roku Express that has an HDMI port to connect to HDTVs and an infrared remote, and the $40 Roku Express Plus, sold exclusively at Walmart, offering a composite cable port to connect to TV sets without an HDMI port. Roku also emphasizes 4K/Ultra HD with three new players, two of which are HDR-capable. Read more

Snapchat Rebrands Itself, New Spectacles Record POV Video

Snapchat, rebranded Snap Inc. to acknowledge the company is now more than an app, debuted its first hardware product. Spectacles one-size-fits-all sunglasses in black, teal or coral can record up to 10 seconds of video from the wearer’s first-person point of view. The user is able to record video hands-free, and the camera, which relies on a 115-degree-angle lens, also gives a wider image that more closely mimics our natural field of view, even to the point of being circular. Spectacles is priced at $129.99. Read more

Microsoft Speeds Up AI with New Programmable FPGA Chips

In 2012, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer and computer chip researcher Doug Burger believed they had found the future of computing: chips that could be programmed for specific tasks, dubbed field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). Project Catapult, as it was called, was intended to shift the underlying technology of all Microsoft servers in that direction. FPGAs now form the basis of Bing. Soon, the specialized chips will be capable of artificial intelligence at a tremendous speed — 23 milliseconds versus four seconds. Read more

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