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Oregon firms hit the Consumer Electronics Show next week to show off their wares: high-end, backend electronics, media offerings and pitches for wonky standards

COURTESY: DIGITAL TRENDS - Portland's Digital Trends has for 10 years been a big presence at the Consumer Electronics Show. In 2017, it had its first live stage, featuring celebrities, bloggers and tech luminaries. (L-R) Alex Ho, CMO at American Greetings, Nick Offerman an actor in Parks & Recreation, Rick Stella Outdoor Editor at Digital Trends, and Greg Nibler, host of the podcast Trends with Benefits.

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Jan. 7-12, 2018) is a big deal in the world of innovation.

It's not cheap. And it could end in tears — or at least, sad face emojis. As hundreds of thousands of workers and looky-loo consumers cram into the halls of the Convention Center, various hotel rooms and parties next week, we asked a few Oregon companies why they are going.

For Oregon firms, CES is not about gadget glamor. There are business-to-business firms you'll never hear of, and people working on standards you'll never know you use. There are companies that make things like high end stereo cables you'll never be able to afford, and audio testing instruments you didn't know existed.

CES is a Hail Mary pass for many companies hoping to make a splash with a gadget that might go global or might never be heard from again.

Jeremy Kaplan Editor in Chief of Digital Trends calls it "our Super bowl."

Founded in 2006 in Lake Oswego but now with offices in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, L.A. and Portland, Digital Trends is a review site that uses English, not tech jargon. It also runs a lot of video to get its points across.

Their primary reader is the "HENRY" millennial — high earners, not rich yet — who are "people whose influence extends to both older and younger readers as they contemplate their next technology purchase."

The big gun tech media company at CES is CNET. Digital Trends sends a smaller staff but out-traffics middleweights such as Mashable and Engadget, and specialists like Wirecutter and Walter Mossberg's ReCode. Digital Trends has been covering CES for 10 years but 2017 was their first year with live all-day web video coverage. The stage is in the lobby of the South Hall, the better to catch foot traffic. (The whole experience is like walking through a very crowded airport.) They will post hundreds of stories and a couple hundred videos, as well as hosting an awards show, with angular blue cyber stag trophies designed and fabricated by Recon NW in Beaverton.

"We break it down for you. You see a TV that is wallpaper thin? You're not going to spend $50,000 on it, but we can tell you what to expect when it trickles down to the mainstream," says Pete Jacobs, VP of Integrated marketing at

Digital trends.

COURTESY: DIGITAL TRENDS - Staff from Xelento, winners of the best headphones of Digital Trends Top Tech CES 2017 awards.

Of the 106 people who work for Digital Trends, between 25 and 30 will be going to Vegas.

Social media is coordinated so that staff aren't wandering around with their phones tweeting each other's beats.

"It's all-hands-on deck, but we have to have a couple of people doing air traffic control back in Portland. We want to drive everything back to the site. We'd rather have the headphone reviewer get their story up and have the social media team link to it and pull a nugget out. There's no way to monetize Twitter. Our goal is to deliver traffic to our site."

COURTESY: DIGITAL TRENDS - Digital Trends editor in chief working at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Kaplan's team goes there spott rends and drive traffic to its site. For the second year in a row DT will broadcast live video all day.

Handheld

Staff have been given a handheld gimbal this year that stabilizes video they shoot themselves, and a good lapel microphone because the show floor is so noisy. "And we make sure everyone has an external battery. You see all these people huddled around the power outlets, recharging."

The influencer space is growing, with amateurs who command large followings on YouTube, for example Marcus Brownlee (MKBHD). Digital Trends works with David Cogen, AKA TheUnlockr, and gaming expert Michele Morrow who is a CES anchor.

Kaplan usually produces a 10 Things to Look For listicle in advance of CES.

"I go through the 600 press releases and look for patterns," he told the Business Tribune just before Christmas.

When a big trend emerges on the first day of the show — 3D TV! VR! IOT! — he says "The question is always to what extent do you pile on? If it's eye-catching enough it's good to have that same article."

Kaplan says the young consumer is interested in different things in technology.

"Surveys show the 25-35-year-old is looking for very different things from the 35-45-year-old. In a car, they're not looking for MPG efficiency or even a very good driver. It's integration with their phone and electric vehicles, cool tech they can talk about."

Beauty and the beast

Companies like Monster Cable always have a big, loud presences at CES, with celebrities and parties, but Angela Cardas chuckles at the name. "They're like the Corolla and we're like the Lamborghini."

Cardas Audio sells cables from $100 a pair to $8,000 a pair.

She is the head of operations at Cardas Audio. Her father George started it in the 1970s, making premium audio cables and component parts in his garage in California before moving north. The 16-person company, based in Bandon, Oregon, is FedEx's biggest south coast customer. A typical buyer is an audiophile who buys a system and immediately replaces all the cables with better ones like theirs.

She's seen people spend $50,000 on an amplifier and then $250,000 on the speakers, like from Wilson Audio out of Utah.

"I've been going to CES since I was nine and I've never once set foot in the Zoo," she says, referring to the Convention Center. "All our business takes place in the hotels. This year Cardas Audio is on the 29th floor of the Venetian Hotel again, with the other high-end audio products and listening rooms." But Angela notes over the years it's been cut from four floors to one.

"We usually send four people. But we might not go again, it's become so expensive. It's cost us $50-60,000 to go in the past. We use to get $89 rooms. Now the Venetian is $650 a night.

Listening rooms in a quiet hotel are essential.

"This is a touchy-feely business. People need dealers they can trust."

CES used to be where all the distributors went, but now they can meet more people at the Munich High End show in Germany.

"It's spectacular, high-end only. It's a trade show with quiet rooms. Vegas is dark and gross and embarrassing."

The audio market is declining, she says. "Men don't come home and shut themselves off in their room as much as in the 1970s. They are more involved in their families and home life."

Testing, testing, 1,2,3

All those audio products need testing during manufacture. And before human ears, they run the gamut of machine testing. A typical silicon forest company, Audio Precision, Inc. of Arctic Drive, Beaverton, makes high-performance audio analyzers, software and tools for electro-acoustic and perceptual audio testing.

This is only their second year exhibiting at CES.

"Last year it was an experiment. It's a noisy marketing environment," says Eric Hodges, director of marketing and sales operations. The 60-person company was founded in 1984. "We decided to give it a shot, with a demo suite in the Venetian, and it worked out very well."

Business has grown as audio has become so prevalent, with speakers popping up in every room. Smart speakers are part of that.

"Our products are used in in the semiconductor, auto, aerospace, pro audio, broadcast, commercial audio industries, by governments...we're relevant to engineers in so many industries."

They could be testing a Bluetooth device, or a portable DAC or an amp.

AP's focus for CES 2018 is three-fold. One is the A2B market, working with car makers on how to route audio through automobiles. "With hands free and ANC and music, A2B requires less cabling, which means less cost and less weight."

Audio Precision makes a tool for testing audio devices in the factory. Their Bluetooth connects faster than usual, which saves time and money.

"Our module has a faster pairing time, which saves time for engineers, whether in the lab or on the production line."

Two, Bluetooth audio. Audio Precision recently introduced a new Bluetooth module, adding new audio codecs for compressing music, from Apple's AAC to AptX-HD, and improved performance.

And three, they have a headphone test fixture.

"Testing headphones can be complex, getting a good coupling. Our machines are used in test labs in tech firms, by engineers doing design and development work. We're designing them with these capabilities in mind. There's validation and there's characterization: does it work, and what does the full performance envelope look like, the frequency response, etc."

Gotta have standards

It's not sexy like a curved TV or a vibrating mouse, but standards are a big deal in electronics. The battle of VHS versus Betamax is a stand out. Every standard we use, from Wifi's newest iteration, to Bluetooth to TCP/IP, has been hard won. This year a battle being fought by The LoRa Alliance about a new low-powered way of networking, designed to fill the gap where Bluetooth and cellular fall down. The LoRa Alliance is an open, nonprofit association whose members closely collaborate and share experiences to promote the low power wide area network (LPWAN) protocol LoRaWAN as the leading open global standard for secure, carrier-grade IoT wide area connectivity.

The alliance is managed by the VTM Group in Beaverton.

The standard is aimed at companies who might want an IOT network over 10 floors of a building, or a few blocks of a city. It is of interest to smart cities, because it allows small battery or solar powered sensors to drip small amounts in information. Is a door open? Is a field dry? Is a light on? Using little bandwidth, over an always-on network.

Geoff Mulligan is the Chairman of the LoRa Alliance. He was a presidential innovation Fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) under the Obama administration.

"Bluetooth uses a lot of power, which is why our phones are always dying. You couldn't stream a video over this type of network, but you wouldn't want to."

LoRa uses an open standard, TCP/IP, like the Internet. Mulligan says if an Oregon vineyard wanted to set up soil sensors and a hub now, they might wait for whatever is on offer from closed standards systems such as Zigbee and Z-Wave, or the French system SigFox. Or maybe the cell company is pushing NBIOT — Narrowband Internet of Things, or LTE-M (the M is for machine or mobile).

"The problem with them is you have to use their network — so say you are a winery, the beauty of LoRa is you can buy a LoRa base station for a couple of hundred dollars, and cover your vineyard in sensors, plug it into your usual Internet Ethernet port and you've got your own data. You can get them now from Multitech, Kerlink, Cisco, Orbiwise, Everynet, and eventually they'll be in Best Buy."

Mulligan stresses he is not a lobbyist, he's an engineer. The purpose of going to Vegas is to have a booth with pods showcasing offerings by alliance members, such as Cisco the router people.

Consumers won't be asking for LoRa yet. But if marketing to engineers and executives is successful, they may look on the packaging one day for the logo, just as they do for Google Home, Apple and Wifi.


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
971-204-7874
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