CES 2014

Another of my annual visits to Las Vegas for the 2014 International CES revealed more evolution that revolution among the estimated 20,000 products on display.  Of course, LG, Panasonic, Samsung & Sony all continued to display their newest TVs, but almost all of them (including amazingly detailed 4K pictures, beautifully clear OLED images, glasses-free 3D & even curved screens for the home) were simply the latest versions of innovations that had already debuted at CES in past years.  One 84” 4K concept demo from Samsung actually bent from flat-screen to curved-screen at the touch of a button on its remote control, apparently created by engineers with a bit too much time free time on their hands! 

However, there was good big-screen news for those of you desperate to find a reason to declare your beautiful but fairly new TV flat panels obsolete, so you can justify buying something even better.  Every manufacturer displayed 4K Ultra HD screens again with roughly four times (3840×2360) the pixel density of HDTV, but with 2 important improvements.  Both deal with the major problem of these great looking sets, which is the almost complete lack of 4K source material.  One improvement was that the up-scaling processors needed to show an HDTV picture on an Ultra HD set have now achieved even better success (they were already pretty good!) at creating additional detail from “normal” HD broadcasts & Blu-ray discs, with the HD images on Sony, LG & Samsung 4K sets looking particularly impressive.  The second was the announcement from most major manufacturers of arrangements to install various software codecs that will allow 4K images to be displayed from new sources that will become available very soon.  For example, the new Sony sets will be able to display 4K from Netflix using the HEVC 60p codec (with the 4K demo of the new season of House Of Cards looking exceptionally impressive), from YouTube (using Google’s new VP9 codec), from ESPN (using the 4K 60p system they are currently using to shoot much of their programming) & from online photography community site 500px.com.  Samsung sets will also be able to show 4K content streamed from Amazon Prime & future VOD content from DirecTV, with LG even including a codec (HEVC) that will be used by the South Korean Cable & More network for live 4K cable TV broadcasts in that country later this year.  So, all of these sources, combined with the other 4K content from commercially available streams, ensures that there actually will be something to watch on these amazing 4K TVs, with prices now starting around $4,000.
Despite the fact that Apple has no corporate presence at CES, there was a large amount of space devoted to mobile this year, with most of it devoted to Android.  However, there was a huge area this year called the iLounge Pavilion that was devoted to third-party accessories & software for iPhones, iPads & iPods.  It was amazing to walk through this part of CES, past so many booths featuring everything from waterproof cases & smart watches to digital health accessories & apps that could monitor the wearer’s blood oxygen content.  On the computer front, many companies displayed new & lighter laptop designs, but there was an even greater emphasis on tablets of all shapes & sizes.  The Windows 8 operating system, offering an identical user experience among PCs, tablets & smartphones, looked particularly appealing, although their market share for mobile devices is obviously still very low compared to either Android or iPhone.
Other interesting areas included the 3D printing exhibit, with amazing devices on display from Makerbot, 3D Systems & Stratasys, as well as Bosch’s display of technologies supporting automated driving, with demonstrations of parking assist, collision avoidance & emergency breaking systems.  In fact, 9 major auto manufacturers (Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes and Toyota) displayed their versions of the continuing evolution of digital dashboards this year, including an announcement by Google that Audi would be embedding Android mobile software into their cars.  Both Audi’s 2015 A3 sedan & 2015 Chevrolet models from GM were on display offering their own LTE 4G high-speed data connectivity, thus eliminating completely any need to connect a smartphone to provide Internet access in the car.  In fact, the GM cars will even provide a wifi hotspot for up to 7 mobile devices within the vehicle itself!
Naturally, there were a lot of other interesting/intriguing/fun products to see, ranging from the actually useful to the ridiculous.  For example, I’m not sure how characterize the $99 Bluetooth toothbrush from Kolibree, which includes an accelerometer, gyroscope & magnetometer to record exactly how long & how well you brush your teeth, which can then be displayed on your smartphone; maybe OK for your kids, but really seems like more information than any normal person could use.  On the other hand, I couldn’t help but be impressed by NVIDIA’s amazing demonstration of a $12,000 Ge Force GTX 4K Gaming PC that generated an incredibly detailed display generating 1.5 billion pixels per second on 3 65” flat panels.

In short, there’s certainly something for everyone at CES, although finding it among those huge crowds is not always easy! 
Tommy Hadges