Following on from my recent visit to the 2014 International CES Show I wanted to post a few observations. There are many good reviews of the show like ces.cnet.com and techradar.com/ces so I wont list every single item I saw but I did want to comment on some trends and specific technologies of interest to me and relevant to my work world.
1. 4K / Ultra HD Screens - They're here, they're clear, get used to them
They were everywhere. LCD and OLED and by and large they looked fantastic, particularly the OLED. Unsurprisingly it seems that the manufacturers are still experiencing yield issues with OLED and when they hit the streets they will be a premium product. Several people were showing sub $1,000 displays and the upscaling from HD seemed to work well so it may well be that in a relatively short time, Ultra HD effectively becomes the standard. There was also lots of talk about increased frame rates which will be essential for some content. Note for us with Victorian-semis in the UK: the majority of 4K displays I saw were 55" and over. The only way that they will fit in my house is if they replace a load-bearing wall.
2. 4K content - The new world order will be VOD and file (to begin with anyway)
Very interestingly all the major screen manufactures were talking about content deals and partnerships so the early-adopters will have something to watch. Samsung, for example announced Netflix, Amazon, DirectTV among others. There was definitely talk of 'some broadcaster support' but without offerings of set-top boxers and decoders that may be too far away for some users. This is good news and essential to adoption - as we know, many of our traditional broadcasters are only just completing the transition to HD now and 4K is not on their radar for sometime if at all. Compression wise Netflix is launching with HEVC (h.265) at 15.6 Mbps debuting with 'House of Cards' Season 2 in February - I'm sitting pretty with my basic service being 30Mbps fibre in our road but some folks on the end of rural ADSL are defiantly going to be buffering / downloading or sticking with HD for a while.
3. Curved TVs are the new flat - although not always
All of the major TV manufactures were showing curved displays. Apparently it gives 'a much more immersive experience'. Honestly, I'm not sure it does. I can see it creates a better viewing angle for some viewers and less reflections in some situations but I certainty didn't feel any more 'immersed' and ascetically I much prefer a flat panel. The LG pre-production curved OLEDs we only available with a stand, no wall mount option - this may hinder some purchases if taken into production but as if to appease a 'traditionalist' like myself, one of their displays was so thin and flexible you could choose on the remote control if you wanted it flat or curved - sold.
4. LG and Samsung fever - the not so new kids on the block
The LG and Samsung stands were massive and they were certainly among the busiest at the show. Still considered 'upstarts' by some, these were the guys showing the most innovation in the living room and they were doing it with style. Samsung were highlighting some interesting detail on their TV ranges that I think has been missed by many commentators - they were talking about how to upgrade their TV software and hardware platforms moving forward. Right now, they seem to be leading the way with a flexible software architecture but they were also showing user upgradable, plug in hardware modules to allow for changes in IO, DRM and 4K decode etc. This has to be applauded and is a must when evaluating a TV purchase.
5. iPhone v Android - Fight
The general rules of thumb I came up with is that the hardware and bolt on folks are still overwhelmingly favouring the iPhone - to this end Lightning cables were everywhere, cases, a thermal imaging camera even a taser. The reduced number of hardware options clearly makes this a no brainer but on the application side there was much more parity between iOS and Android.
6. Connected - everything
The ‘Internet of things’ took one more step forward at the show with masses of connected devices, watches, pendants, plant pots, rings, door locks, lightbulbs, shoes, toothbrushes - the list was seemingly endless. Low power BlueTooth and more efficient wifi chipsets seem to be the main enablers. Cisco were on hand to provide the backbone for this movement. There seemed to be good movement in alliances between vendors in some sectors, like home automation (Z-Wave), which is essential if the masses are to adopt these technologies without creating silos of discreet products.
7. Spot the PC - move on, nothing to see here
You could hardly see a PC laptop, desktop or Mac on display save for a few people who make them and the odd accessory maker. Mobile and tablet seemed to be the main source of any innovation. That said the gaming / workstation PC from Razer was outstanding razerzone.com/christine - please, please put it into production.
8. Automotive - Yes, cars need GPUs too
The car manufacturers were out in force with Audi, Toyota and BMW at the forefront showcasing both drivetrain technology and in-car systems. Interestingly Nvidia were showing a graphics system specifically designed to drive the plethora of screens and displays inside the latest generation of vehicles. BMW were offering short test drives in their new i3 electric car which was the perfect place to sit whilst moving at walking pace on Paradise Road and on the few stretches of open road it proved to more than hold it’s own. Apparently the i3 is as fast as M3 to 30mph and certainly was no slouch after that. The limited range is still the main headache but for a town car this actually felt like a real alternative. Oh yes - honourable mention for Audi for having a car with laser headlights - you need laser headlights.
9. Standards - you know you love them
HDMI 1.4 (moving to 2.0) and HD-BaseT seem to be the prevalent choices. HDMI 1.4 giving us 4K support and HD-BaseT offering video, network and power (unto about 90W) over 1 cat 5/6 cable. Not right for every screen but for some applications this will massively simplify the installation process and ensure smart TVs remain connected.
10. 3D printers - it wasn’t for you TVs
The darling technology of the show had to be 3D printing. The area of the show devoted to the genre was consistently busy with folks printing 3D sweets and chocolate, a drum kit, bits of Iron Man and a million comic character figures. The price is dropping and the quality is going up with several smaller stands showing real industrial potential as the technology scales. It is not the cure for all but undoubtedly this will affect all of us is some way and soon. Loved one concept of a 3D printed arm cast designed to support the specific break created with input from an MRI scan of the broken arm. The cast would be significantly lighter than plaster and could be full of ventilation gaps to make it a far more pleasant thing to wear. It could also be made to look like Iron Man’s arm. Just saying.
So there you have it - my CES in a nutshell!