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Camera maker Canon leans into software at CES

Depending on whether you spend most of your time in hospitals, offices or in the great outdoors, when you hear “Canon,” your mind will likely go to medical scanning equipment, high-end printers or cameras. At CES this year, the 85-year-old company is leaning in a new direction, with an interesting focus on software applications.
At the show, the imaging giant showed off a direction it has been hinting at before, but this time relying far less on its own hardware, and more on the software the company has developed, in part as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic casting a shadow over people’s ability to connect. To the chorus of “meaningful communication” and “powerful collaboration,” the Japanese imaging giant appears to be plotting out a new course for what’s next.

I guess you can (officially) use your fancy Canon camera as a webcam studio now

“Canon is creating ground-breaking solutions that help people connect in more ways than we ever could have imagined, redefining how they work and live at a time when many of them are embracing a hybrid lifestyle,» said Kazuto Ogawa, president and CEO, Canon U.S.A., Inc, in a press briefing at CES 2023. “Canon’s ultimate role is to bring people closer together by revealing endless opportunities for creators. Under our theme of ‘Limitless Is More,’ we will show CES 2023 attendees what we are creating as a company focused on innovation and a world without limits.”
Among other things, Canon showed off a somewhat gimmicky immersive experience tied in with M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming thriller movie, “Knock at the Cabin.” The very Shyamalanesque movie trailer will give you a taster of the vibe. At the heart of things, however, Canon is tapping into a base desire in humanity; to feel connected to one another. The company is desperate to show off how its solutions can “remove the limits humanity faces to create more meaningful communication,” through four technologies it is showing off at the trade show this year.
Canon U.S.A. CEO Kevin Ogawa on stage at CES 2023 along with M. Night Shyamalan. Image Credits: Haje Kamps/TechCrunch
3D calling: Kokomo
The flagship solution Canon is showing off is Kokomo, which the company describes as a first-of-its-kind immersive VR software package. It is designed to combine VR with an immersive calling experience. The solution is pretty elegant: Using a VR headset and a smartphone, the Kokomo software enables users to see and hear one another in real time with their live appearance and expression in a photo-real environment.
The Kokomo solution brings 3D video calling to a home near you. Image Credits: Canon
In effect, the software package scans your face to learn what you look like, then turns you into a photo-realistic avatar. The person you are in a call with can see you — sans VR headset — showing your physical appearance and facial expressions. The effect is to experience a 3D video call. At the show, Canon is demoing the tech by letting visitors step into a 1×1 conversation with the “Knock at the Cabin” characters.
We spoke with the team behind Kokomo to figure out how the project came about, why Canon is dipping its toe in standalone software, what the future of this technology is, and how it is going to make money.

With Kokomo VR meeting software, Canon takes a step away from its hardware roots

Realtime 3D video: Free Viewpoint
Aimed at the sports market, Free Viewpoint is a solution that combines more than 100 high-end cameras with a cloud-based solution that makes it possible to move a virtual camera to any location. The software takes all the video feeds, creating a point-cloud-based 3D model that enables a virtual camera operator to create a number of angles that would otherwise have been impossible: Drone-like replay footage, swooping into the action, for example, or detailed in-the-thick-of-things-type footage, enabling viewers to see plays from the virtual perspective of one of the players.
In the U.S., the system has already been installed at two NBA arenas (including at the home of the Cavaliers and the Nets). The video can be broadcast live or compiled into replay clips. Canon also points out that the system enables “virtual advertising and other opportunities for monetization,” so I suppose we have that to look forward to as well.

Canon takes tentative step towards eliminating photographers with robotic PICK camera

Returning to the “Knock at the Cabin” theme, at CES, Canon showed off a virtual action scene captured with the Free Viewpoint video system, captured at Canon’s Volumetric Video Studio in Kawasaki, Japan. The effect of watching an action scene “through the eyes” of various characters was a wonderfully immersive experience.
Augmented reality tech: MREAL
Canon also showed off some earlier-stage tech that isn’t quite ready for prime-time viewing yet, including MREAL. This is tech that helps integrated simulation-like immersive worlds, merging the real and the virtual worlds. Use cases might include pre-visualization for movies, training scenarios and interactive mixed-reality entertainment. The company tells TechCrunch that the technology is in the market research phase.
The company is trying to figure out what to develop further and how to market the product. In other words: Who would use this, what would they use it for and what would they be willing to pay for it.

Augmented reality’s half-decade of stagnation

Remote presence: AMLOS
Activate My Line of Sight (AMLOS) is what Canon is calling its solution for hybrid meeting environments, where some participants are in person, while others are off-site. If you’ve ever been in a meeting in that configuration, you’ll often find that attending remotely is a deeply frustrating experience, as the in-person meeting participants are engaging with each other while the remote attendees are off on a screen somewhere.
Canon hopes that AMLOS can help solve that; it’s a software-and-camera set of products aiming to improve the level of engagement. It adds panning, tilting and zooming capabilities to remote camera systems, giving remote users the ability to customize their viewing and participation experience. So far, the solution is not quite intuitive enough to overcome the barrier of not being in the room, but it’s certainly better than being a disembodied wall of heads on a screen.

Camera maker Canon leans into software at CES by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch
Camera maker Canon leans into software at CES

Roku drops ~19% as it braces for a bumpy fourth quarter

As advertisers pull back on spending and supply chain disruptions persist, investors have braced themselves for an unpleasant quarter for Roku. And investors are probably right to be worried.
Roku released its fiscal third-quarter earnings results on Wednesday, revealing that it is still experiencing slow growth in revenue in a continuously challenging environment. The company also warned investors of a weak fourth quarter, telling shareholders it expects total net revenue of about $800 million, or a 7.5% decline year over year. Roku shares dropped nearly 19% in after-hours trading once investors saw the fourth-quarter guidance.
“As we enter the holiday season, we expect the macro environment to further pressure consumer discretionary spend and degrade advertising budgets, especially in the TV scatter market. We expect these conditions to be temporary, but it is difficult to predict when they will stabilize or rebound. We, therefore, anticipate Q4 Player revenue and Platform revenue to be lower year over year,” the company wrote in its letter to shareholders.
And while Roku reported a total net revenue that beat expectations, the results are still much lower than in the past. Roku noted that its total revenue grew 12% year over year to $761 million, above its own expectation of $700 million. Analysts predicted Roku’s total revenue to reach $696 million this quarter.
“Platform revenue grew 15% year over year, which was lower than our historical growth rates but positive given the difficult macro environment. Advertising spend on our platform continues to grow more slowly than our beginning-of-year forecast due to current weakness in the overall TV ad market, and the ad scatter market in particular,” the company said.

Roku points finger at advertising slowdown for missing the mark on quarterly results

Roku missed revenue expectations last quarter and reported a total net revenue of $764 million, which was $41 million less than Wall Street’s expectations. The company blamed the slowdown in TV ad spending for missing the mark.
Meanwhile, the company also reported a net addition of 2.3 million incremental active accounts in Q3, bringing the total to 65.4 million, up from 61.3 million active accounts in the second quarter. Roku also had total streaming hours of 21.9 billion, up 1.1 billion from last quarter.
Its free streaming service, The Roku Channel, saw a jump in streaming hours of 90% year-over-year.
Roku continues to invest in The Roku Channel. Just this past month, the company launched the streaming service in Mexico, which marked a significant move for the service. Previously, The Roku Channel was only available in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada.
The Roku Channel also launched 14 new linear channels through its Live TV Guide and added Paramount+ as a new premium subscription option.
Roku tries to be smart(er)
Roku made a bold move last month by stepping into the connected home space with the launch of various smart home devices. The Roku Smart Home lineup includes security cameras, video doorbells, smart lights and voice-enabled smart plugs.
With Google and Amazon already in the smart home market, it’s likely Roku doesn’t anticipate becoming the first choice for consumers. Still, it makes sense for the company to monetize the smart home experience to the many consumers that already have Roku smart TVs in their homes.
During a conference call with reporters, Roku chief financial officer Steve Louden said: “Expanding into the smart home ecosystem is a natural extension for Roku. Obviously, we’re a leading TV streaming platform, and smart TV is usually at the center of someone’s smart household. It’s a good extension to leverage our existing 65 million active accounts.”
The company added in its letter that it’s still “early days,” but Roku has the “necessary technology and expertise in hardware, software, and connectivity to deliver a smart home ecosystem that is simple, powerful, and delightful.”
Roku also recently launched the 2022 version of the Roku Express streaming player, a Roku Wireless Bass, as well as its software update, Roku OS 11.5, which includes new features like a universal watch list, a “continue watching” feature and a discovery hub that features short-form content.

Roku dives into smart home market with security cameras, video doorbells, smart lights and more

Roku drops ~19% as it braces for a bumpy fourth quarter by Lauren Forristal originally published on TechCrunch
Roku drops ~19% as it braces for a bumpy fourth quarter

The week an Apple event and YC Demo Day collided

Happy Saturday, friends. Welcome back to Week in Review, the newsletter where we very quickly sum up the most read TechCrunch stories from the past week. Want it in your inbox every Saturday AM? Get it here.
This week saw two big events running in parallel: an Apple hardware announcement and Y Combinator’s Demo Day. Either one of those on their own would generally lead our traffic for the week — having them smash into each other on the same day was … interesting. And maybe a little exhausting.
most read
The Apple stuff: Apple’s event, as their events tend to do, mostly dominated the tech news cycle this week. Rather than turn this entire newsletter into one big list of Apple things, I’ll just say: new iPhones, new AirPods, and a beefy new Apple Watch. Want more words than that? Here’s our roundup of the news.
Y Combinator moonshots: Startups are hard. But every YC batch has at least a handful of companies that seem a little extra hard — the moonshots, if you will. From faux fish to teams that want to reinvent flying, the Demo Day team rounded up some of the wildest pitches.
Musk/Twitter drama continues: Elon Musk is still aiming to undo his multibillion-dollar offer for Twitter, and Twitter still wants to hold him to it. This week a Delaware judge made two decisions in the ordeal: The trial will not be delayed by a month as Musk’s legal team had requested, but Musk will be allowed to “amend his counterclaim with details” disclosed by Twitter security whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko earlier this month.
LG wants you to buy NFTs on your TV: NFT sales have reportedly tanked over the last few months. Will the ability to buy/sell/trade NFTs on LG smart TVs be the thing that turns that around? No, no, it will not.
Kim Kardashian’s new gig: “America’s favorite reality star is leveling up her repertoire,” writes Anita, with another job title: private equity investor. Kardashian is teaming up with Jay Sammons, formerly the head of Consumer/Media/Retail at the Carlyle Group, to launch a new private equity firm called SKKY Partners.
Jeep’s EVs: Another legendary auto brand is diving deep into electric vehicles — this time it’s Jeep, which this week revealed plans to roll out three different EVs (the Recon, Wagoneer S, and Avenger) by 2025. The company, notes Jaclyn, expects “EVs to compose half of its sales in North America — and all of its sales in Europe — by 2030.”
Patreon layoffs: Patreon, a company that helps creators build out paid membership offerings, laid off employees this week. The layoffs purportedly leave Patreon without much of a security team, which seems … not ideal?
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin
audio roundup
What’s up in TC podcast land this week? “Selling Sunset” star Christine Quinn stopped by Found to tell ’em about her new startup, the Chain Reaction crypto crew talked about the latest drama at Binance, and Burnsy took a virtual trip to Minnesota to put the spotlight on the Minneapolis startup scene for TechCrunch Live.
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Want 15% off an annual TechCrunch+ subscription? Use promo code “WIR” when signing up. Just want to know what TC+ readers were reading most this week? Here’s the breakdown:
YC Demo Day favs: Nearly 230 pitches later, which Y Combinator S22 companies stood out to the Demo Day team? Here are their favorite pitches from Day 1 and Day 2.
The most important slides in your pitch deck: Reporter/former VC/resident pitch deck expert Haje shares his insights on which of the perhaps-too-many slides in your deck are most crucial.
The freemium bar is shifting: Across products from Slack to Google Meet to Heroku, many companies are shifting up their free tiers to offer less. Why now? Anita explores the trend.
The week an Apple event and YC Demo Day collided by Greg Kumparak originally published on TechCrunch
The week an Apple event and YC Demo Day collided

Pliops lands $100M for chips that accelerate analytics in data centers

Analyzing data generated within the enterprise — for example, sales and purchasing data — can lead to insights that improve operations. But some organizations are struggling to process, store and use their vast amounts of data efficiently. According to an IDC survey commissioned by Seagate, organizations collect only 56% of the data available throughout their lines of business, and out of that 56%, they only use 57%.

Part of the problem is that data-intensive workloads require substantial resources, and that adding the necessary compute and storage infrastructure is often expensive. For companies moving to the cloud specifically, IDG reports that they plan to devote $78 million toward infrastructure this year. Thirty-six percent cited controlling costs as their top challenge.
That’s why Uri Beitler launched Pliops, a startup developing what he calls “data processors” for enterprise and cloud data centers. Pliop’s processors are engineered to boost the performance of databases and other apps that run on flash memory, saving money in the long run, he claims.
“It became clear that today’s data needs are incompatible with yesterday’s data center architecture. Massive data growth has collided with legacy compute and storage shortcomings, creating slowdowns in computing, storage bottlenecks and diminishing networking efficiency,” Beitler told TechCrunch in an email interview. “While CPU performance is increasing, it’s not keeping up, especially where accelerated performance is critical. Adding more infrastructure often proves to be cost prohibitive and hard to manage. As a result, organizations are looking for solutions that free CPUs from computationally intensive storage tasks.”
Pliops isn’t the first to market with a processor for data analytics. Nvidia sells the BlueField-3 data processing unit (DPU). Marvell has its Octeon technology. Oracle’s SPARC M7 chip has a data analytics accelerator coprocessor with a specialized set of instructions for data transformation. And in the realm of startups, Blueshift Memory and Speedata are creating hardware that they say can perform analytics tasks significantly faster than standard processors.
Image Credits: Pliops
But Pliops claims to be further along than most, with deployments and pilots with customers (albeit unnamed) including fintechs, “medium-sized” communication service providers, data center operators and government labs. The startup’s early traction won over investors, it would seem, which poured $100 million into its Series D round that closed today.
Koch Disruptive Technologies led the tranche, with participation from SK Hynix and Walden International’s Lip-Bu Tan, bringing Pliops’ total capital raised to date to more than $200 million. Beitler says that it’ll be put toward building out the company’s hardware and software roadmap, bolstering Pliops’ footprint with partners and expanding its international headcount.
“Many of our customers saw tremendous growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks in part to their ability to react quickly to the new work environment and conditions of uncertainty. Pliops certainly did. While some customers were affected by supply chain issues, we were not,” Beitler said. “We do not see any slowdown in data growth — or the need to leverage it. Pliops was strong before this latest funding round and even stronger now.”
Accelerating data processing
Beitler, the former director of advanced memory solutions at Samsung’s Israel Research Center, co-founded Pliops in 2017 alongside Moshe Twitto and Aryeh Mergi. Twitto was a research scientist at Samsung developing signal processing technologies for flash memory, while Mergi co-launched a number of startups — including two that were acquired by EMC and SanDisk — prior to joining Pliops.
Pliop’s processor delivers drive fail protection for solid-state drives (SSD) as well as in-line compression, a technology that shrinks the size of data by finding identical data sequences and then saving only the first sequence. Beitler claims the company’s technology can reduce drive space while expanding capacity, mapping “variable-sized” compressed objects within storage to reduce wasted space.
A core component of Pliops’ processor is its hardware-accelerated key-value storage engine. In key-value databases — databases where data is stored in a “key-value” format and optimized for reading and writing — key-value engines manage all the persistent data directly. Beitler makes the case that CPUs are typically over-utilized when running these engines, resulting in apps not taking full advantage of SSD’s capabilities.
“Organizations are looking for solutions that free CPUs from computationally-intensive storage tasks. Our hardware helps create a modern data center architecture by leveraging a new generation of hardware-accelerated data processing and storage management technology — one that delivers orders of magnitude improvement in performance, reliability and scalability,” Beitler said. “In short, Pliops enables getting more out of existing infrastructure investments.”
Pliops’ processor became commercially available last July. The development team’s current focus is accelerating the ingest of data for machine learning use cases, Beitler says — use cases that have grown among Pliops’ current and potential customers.
Image Credits: Pliops
The road ahead
Certainly, Pliops has its work cut out for it. Nvidia is a formidable competitor in the data processing accelerator space, having spent years developing its BlueField lineup. And AMD acquired DPU vendor Pensando for $1.9 billion, signaling its wider ambitions.
A move that could pay dividends for Pliops is joining the Open Programmable Infrastructure Project (OPI), a relatively new venture under the Linux Foundation that aims to create standards around data accelerator hardware. While Pliops isn’t a member yet — current members include Intel, Nvidia, Marvell, F5, Red Hat, Dell and Keysight Technologies — it stands to reason that becoming one could expose its technology to a larger customer base.
Beitler demurred when asked about OPI, but pointed out that the market for data acceleration is still nascent and growing.
“We continue to see both infrastructure and application teams being overwhelmed with underperforming storage and overwhelmed applications that aren’t meeting company’s data demands,” Beitler said. “The overall feedback is that our processor is a game-changing product and without it companies are required to make years of investments in software and hardware engineering to solve the same problem.”
Pliops lands $100M for chips that accelerate analytics in data centers

Samsung will unveil its latest foldables on August 10

The days of the Galaxy Note Unpacked events are sadly gone, but Samsung’s foldables are more than happy to fill a phablet-sized hole in the company’s annual release schedule. Over the last couple of years, the company has made good on its promise to fully commit to the form factor, and we expect to see the latest additions to the Fold and Flip lines arrive in a matter of weeks.
Samsung this morning dropped an official invite for its late-summer Unpacked event, confirming an August 10 date for the virtual event. This is a Samsung event, so that means the big announcements have been leaked in part — or in full — over the last several weeks. As anticipated, the big news centers around the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4, along with Galaxy Watch 5.
Image Credits: Samsung
Both foldables are said to include the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chip, along with some new color options. The new Galaxy Watch, meanwhile, represents Samsung’s latest Wear OS partnership. That one’s certainly worth keeping an eye on, as Google begins a newfound push for the wearable operating system, ahead of the fall Pixel Watch launch.
Meanwhile, Samsung’s super early pre-show product reserve is going even earlier this year, featuring the following discounts if you want to buy the mystery products (jkjkjkjk), site unseen:

$200 credit toward Galaxy phone, watch and buds bundle

$150 credit toward Galaxy phone and watch bundle

$130 credit toward Galaxy phone and buds bundle

$80 credit toward Galaxy watch and buds bundle

$100 credit to use on Samsung.com toward eligible products when you reserve a Galaxy phone

$50 credit to use on Samsung.com toward eligible products when you reserve a Galaxy watch

$30 credit to use on Samsung.com toward eligible products when you reserve Galaxy buds

All said, it should make for an interesting event, and a nice jolt of news amidst the late-summer hardware doldrums. The event kicks off at 9AM ET/6AM PT August 10. We’ll be there (virtually).
Samsung will unveil its latest foldables on August 10