CES Innovations Battle

Frustrated by the "planned obsolescence" of high tech gadgets - constantly forcing you to upgrade to the newest and greatest?  You'll like what Roku, Harman Industries  and Samsung are showing at this CES electronics show - products you can easily upgrade at an affordable (or even free) price.

Roku ocks: Pitched to "second tier" makers of TVs, Blu-ray players and a/v receivers that can't afford to run their own "Smart TV" streaming video and audio services, the Roku Streaming Stick ($99)  does the driving for them. It looks like a thumb drive, plugs into a new breed of powered HDMI connector called MHL that the TV or  player maker does have to build into their product (along with an Ethernet port for  internet connectivity.) The Roku then delivers the web-streamed services you'd get in the average Smart TV or stand alone Roku box.  We're talking  movie services like Netflix, Vudu and Crackle, webcasts like TWIT TV and music streamers like Tune-In Radio and Pandora. And if you're in Time Warner Cable country (and a subscriber), the Roku Streaming Stick will also nab and deliver the bulk of TW channels (at least 75, maybe as many as 300) directly to the TV, without the need for a separate cable box.  (Intel said Monday that it's  working on a similar solution with Comcast.)

 Roku's gathered a big group of hardware companies to adopt  the Streaming Stiick delivery system  - Insignia (the Best Buy house brand), Harman Kardon,, Westinghouse, Coby,  Haier, Hisense, Oppo, Onkyo, 3M, Element and more.  And for those who want to cut the cable - Voxx will serve up indoor digital broadcast TV antennas with a port for a Roku Stream Stick, under the RCA and Terk brand names.

Samsung Delivers: Buyers of high end 2012 Samsung TVs can breathe a sigh of relief. Their Smart TVs will be able to deliver all the enhancements of the forthcoming 2013 models, merely by attaching a small box to the back of the set. Called the Evolution Kit, the box upgrades the microprocessor from dual core to quad core, for enhanced picture performance,  much speedier delivery of Internet content and a more user friendly, multi-screen menuing system. Also. like the 2013 Samsung models,Evolution makes the older sets  more receptive to your voice commands. So you can speak to it in a conversational style (unless you're Honey BooBoo) instead of following a script. An Evolution kit will be priced "between $200 and $300," we've been told, Lots cheaper than buying a new TV.

Car-Tronics: Auto makers used to be slugs when it comes to product innovation, often falling  behind the times,  because of the long lead time in  designing new models. But Harman has convinced a bunch of them to integrate its instantly upgradeable, cloud-based Aha hardware/software solutin into the  car makers' "info-tainment" systems. Working with a plugged in smart phone (iOS or Android), the Aha system delivers a great menu of content choices to the car dash screen - music services like Rhapsody and MOG, talking books (hundreds of them free) text to voice converted tweets,  Internet radio channels from around the world, and more. "We're constantly updating the offerings," said Harman's Chialin Simmons.

 Pioneer started putting Aha in its car stereo gear last year. It's also part of the Ford MyTouch system, in the 2013 Honda Accord and some Chrysler vehicles. And the Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based Subaru of America is at CES for the very first time to herald its' Starlink Infotainment system with Aha, debuing in the all new 2014 Subaru Forester.  The entertainment (and driver-assist) system  will also be introduced as a running change to navigation equipped 2013 Subaru Legacy and Outback models, and will arrive this summer in 2014 Subaru Impreza, BRZ and XV  Crossover models.