Having attended the CES for many years, it?s been quite interesting to watch it evolve, due to the emergence of the 24-hour news cycle & the incessant barrage of blogger & Twitter updates that cover every new rumor or product update from the manufacturers of consumer electronics. This means little opportunity for the CES to ?own? any really big, newsworthy products or technical innovations that might be unveiled at the show, especially coupled with the continuing reality that some huge industry players like Apple have traditionally not participated in the CES at all. Thus, the show has become more like an enormous big-box electronics store, displaying a mind-boggling number of products, some of which are innovative, but many of which are quite mundane.
So, rather than even attempting to provide an adequate summary of the event, I?m changing the format of my annual report to now simply pick 5 of the most impressive technologies at this year?s CES:
Sony displayed a High-Resolution audio system that delivers 14 times the data of an MP3 recording. Although it?s not at all clear that enough consumers will pay more for better quality audio (the new NW-ZX2 player will cost $1,099), it?s a worthwhile effort for Sony to compete with other high-quality audio offerings (like Neil Young?s Ponoplayer or FiiO?s X3), by offering a product that could actually resurrect the once-revered Walkman brand.
Even as the prices have been dropping surprisingly quickly for 4K (aka Ultra HD, with 4 times the resolution of current HD standard) LCD displays, several manufacturers showed more OLED panels with 4K (?Ultra HD?) resolution, which delivered superb images that surpass all other technologies, even the now-abandoned but still beloved plasma displays. LG?s proprietary system, which uses white OLEDs with filters, looked especially good & avoids the problem that other manufacturers have had with 3-color OLEDs aging at different rates & thus creating tint shifts over time.
BMW showcased its Remote Valet Parking Assistant, an autonomous driving technology like others being fitted to Volvo, Tesla & others. This self-parking system runs in its i3 all-electric car & will allow the driver to exit the vehicle at the entrance to a multi-story garage. Then, it drives off, finds an empty space & parks itself. Later, the driver can use a smart watch to summon the car, which will pick him or her up at the entrance of the garage with no human intervention.
In another impressive demonstration of the shift to digital for all media, Google unveiled their Google Cast for Audio, which does for streaming radio & music what its Chromecast dongle did for video. Listeners using one of nearly 100 compatible radio & music apps (including Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Vevo & TuneIn) can press a ?cast? button in the app & select a compatible device (wireless speakers, sound bar, etc.) to which the audio is then streamed from the cloud. Because it?s cloud based, this system delivers improved sound quality & allows multi-tasking on the device, while avoiding battery drain.
I was also quite impressed at the GoTenna, a new connected device that pairs with a smartphone & uses long-range radio waves in the 151-154 MHz band to allow users to privately send texts or chat without the need for any cellular, Wi-Fi or satellite service. Conservative estimates of approximate range vary from 1 mile in the city to 5 miles on water. The 6? x 1/2? device is aimed primarily at backpackers in remote areas, but would also be useful in any crowded situation with spotty cellular service, like concert festivals or sporting events. More importantly, it would function as a reliable backup in natural disasters, when cell towers & Wi-Fi routers go down. Sold now in pairs only at a pre-sale price of $149/pair (with a projected retail of $299/pair), GoTenna sounds like very worthwhile insurance to maintain secure communications at a reasonable cost.