It?s time to play show & tell again following my annual visit to the CES in Las Vegas. When I picked up my badge, I was surprised to see a “20+ Years banner” attached. Other than the crowds getting bigger (up to more than 175,000 visitors) & the exhibits (now from more than 3,800 companies) becoming more unmanageable every year, it’s been interesting to note how much the “world’s biggest tech show” has changed in terms of its focus.
For example, Panasonic’s exhibit used to be primarily devoted to their TVs. Rather than focusing on flat panel displays, the biggest space this year was devoted to lifestyle systems like the PCI (Panasonic Cognitive Infotainment) platform that is being developed with Chrysler. Using facial recognition, it can load a driver’s preferences for music & make suggestions based on past history & time of day. Each passenger can stream audio to the headrest speakers in their seat. If the driver goes to a drive-thru restaurant, the car can even place the food order in advance & authorize payment for it before pick-up.
LG displayed their Signature OLED TV W in both 65″ ($8,000) & 77″ (price unannounced) sizes, which mount magnetically in frames that fit flat on the wall & look more like a hanging picture, due to their overall depth of only 0.15″. Due to be released in the 2nd half of the year, their images are superb & they come with a sound bar (concealing all the inputs to the TV, an amp & 2 upward-firing speakers for Dolby Atmos soundtracks) that is also wall-mounted, which is connected to the set by a flat ribbon cable.
LG?s exhibit also highlighted their latest refrigerator design, called Instaview Door-in-Door, which converts from an opaque door panel (by knocking on it twice) to become transparent & permit a view of what’s inside the refrigerator without opening the door & wasting energy.
Like other manufacturers, Sony featured a wide range of products at their exhibit, including its tiny ultra-short-throw video projector, which was shown as a concept last year but is now on sale for $1000. It uses Wi-Fi to connect wirelessly for content, has a 2-hour battery capacity & can project an image from 22″ to 80″ on any surface without focusing.
Sony was also displaying its X-800 Dolby Atmos sound bar, which is due out in March, with price to be announced. It can handle 4K & HDR video, high-resolution audio & is capable of generating a true 7.1.2 sound field, using an RF wireless subwoofer & 2 upward-firing drivers on its top surface. During a demo, its design, using a separate power amplifier for each of the 7 drivers, resulted in an impressive sound that created convincing spatial & surround characteristics.
Sony did have an interesting TV offering on display in the form of its first OLED displays. Due in March in 65″ & 77″ sizes at prices still to be announced, these 4K HDR models looked really great, primarily because they benefit from Sony’s excellent X1 Extreme HDR processor, which can create impressive 4K pictures from the HD sources that are typical of the video most commonly available today. The only potential flaw with OLEDs (aside from their relatively high price) is the possibility of burn-in (similar to the problem with now-discontinued plasma screens) when non-moving images (like text or graphics) are displayed for long periods of time. However, each OLED manufacturer is now including some method that attempts to limit this problem by continuously shifting images over a few pixels.
Samsung was promoting its QLED quantum dot system, contained in an added film layer in their new 4K panels, using a new alloy in nanocrystals that are small enough to exhibit quantum mechanical properties capable of changing light into 1 billion colors for more natural looking images. Due in the Spring, these sets will be offered in sizes up to 88″ & there was even an impressive 98″ prototype with an 8K capability for eventual release in the future.
However, Samsung was also displaying a number of other household products, including new Powerbot robotic vacuum cleaners. Going on sale in March as 2 models, for $499 with 20x suction & $699 with 40x suction of existing robot vacuums, both can be operated either with a dedicated wireless remote, through the company?s Connected Home smartphone app or even through voice control, using Amazon’s Alexa.
Chinese company LeEco had one of the most ambitious range of products & services on display, from a huge 120-inch 4K UHD panel (the largest single video panel I saw this year) to a prototype LeSEE self-driving, connected, electric automobile.
Their other products included LCD/LED video displays of all sizes (including a very impressive 85″ 4K panel with 448 active local dimming zones for enhanced black levels, Dolby Video & HDR10 capability, selling for only $4995), Android smartphones, VR headsets, drones, headphones, smart bicycles & an e-scooter, all being sold online at leeco.com. LeEco, which bought Visio last year for $2 billion, is considered “the Netflix of China” since it holds the streaming rights in that country to most major Western content & operates its own global cloud in more than 60 countries.
There were many manufacturers showing spherical cameras, with 360fly displaying both HD (using a single lens to record 360? x 220? images, at $299) & 4K (using 2 lenses to capture a full 360? image at 120 fps, with 128 GB of storage & a 2-hour battery, at $499) models. They create images that can be manipulated into various viewing formats using the edit suite in the company’s free app.
This year’s show also represented an impressive number of automotive exhibits. In addition to the many after-market purveyors of big amps, speakers & subwoofers for cars & trucks that have been present for many years, there was a wide range of global auto manufacturers, including Mercedes, BMW, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Chrysler, Hyundai & VW, displaying their concept, electric, hybrid, autonomous & connected cars.
Due to the undeniable fact that there are fewer & fewer really big reveals happening now during CES, it?s becoming more fun to simply look for the products & announcements that seem most individually interesting and/or significant. Here?s my list for 2017:
1. Tiffin was displaying its Steadicam Volt, offering the same kind of gyroscopic control used in TV & movie shoots to provide a stable image while the camera is in motion, for any smartphone. Coming in June, it will sell for $200.
2. Showtime Networks (owned by CBS) announced that Smithsonian Channel will become the first U.S. network to offer a dedicated 4K On Demand service. By April, 10 hours of 4K programming will be available, with programs released every quarter. These Ultra HD stories & documentaries will be offered to subscribers of the Smithsonian Channel through their existing provider at no extra charge, with a formal launch planned for the 2nd quarter of 2017.
3. PowerFilm is selling solar panels that differ from most others because they combine a portable flexible panel with a storage battery in one piece. These rollable panels are being sold now in a 7?? x 1?? size for $98 (capable of charging a smartphone in 6 hours) & in a 13? x 2.5? size for $299 (capable of charging laptops or drones in 6 hours), with a pocket unit only 4?? x 1?? (capable of charging a smartphone in 10 hours) to be released later this year at a price still to be determined. They?re perfect for keeping devices charged when spending time outdoors.
4. The Listnr baby monitor from Cerevo uses a microphone & Wifi to collect a baby?s sounds & upload them to the cloud for analysis. Parents can then use this $139 device to receive updates on their smartphone that translate the sounds (crying, growling, laughing & babbling) into a description of the child?s mood, from any location.
5. Azpen displayed its A848 8″ Android tablet with a built-in video projector. Priced at $199, it looks like any other tablet but it can create a 3′-5′ image with 50 lumens of brightness at a projection distance that is variable from 1.5′ to 8′.
6. At the HD Radio exhibit, sponsored by parent company dts, there was an interesting portable radio on display from Sparc that is capable of receiving HD broadcasts from both FM & AM stations. Priced at $79.95, the SHD-TX2 has overcome the typical problem with HD decoding requiring a lot of power to process the digital signals by requiring only 3 AA batteries in a compact, lightweight form.
7. For those of you who may have become concerned about the recent studies describing the physical perils of sitting at a desk all day, Loctek was demonstrating a variety of ergonomic sit-stand desktop workstations. Their new model PC35, due in April at around $400, offers a wide range of height & depth adjustments, accommodating various keyboards, monitors & tablets on any flat surface, while allowing the user to comfortably stand or sit as they wish.
8. In the category of maybe-it’s-actually-not-such-a-bad-idea, Solar Sound debuted their quirky beach & patio outdoor umbrellas featuring solar panels that power built-in speakers to play music. Both the larger patio model ($185, with its stable base) & the smaller beach model ($99, for use in sand) offer wireless or wired connectivity to a smartphone or other source of music & both benefit from the inverted parabolic shape of the umbrellas, which focuses the sound of the stereo speakers to listeners underneath quite nicely.
9. The 100″ 4K Lasercast projector from Hisense, due in August of this year, will sell for $13,000. That price may sound steep, but it includes a custom reflecting screen, a sound bar, wireless surround speakers & a wireless subwoofer. The big advantage of laser displays is their ability to project a clear image even in very bright ambient light & this system is actually priced much less than previous laser systems. Hisense was also one of several manufacturers at the show to be displaying prototype 98″ 8K displays, being prepared for when & if this extreme-high-definition format ever becomes commercially viable.
10. Alcatel OneTouch exhibited their CareTime 2G connected watch for kids ages 5-9, which allows parents to call or send voice messages to their child. Selling by the end of this year in the U.S. for $119, children can use the simple user interface to reply to calls from up to 10 pre-set contacts & make calls to 5 registered numbers with one click. The watch also contains a GPS locator, which allows parents to see their kid?s location on a smartphone app, as well as receiving notification if the child leaves a pre-determined safe zone.
11. By far, the most technologically impressive exhibit I saw was from start-up Divergent 3D. This firm is offering a platform that can design & manufacture ?dematerialized? automobiles & motorcycles using 3D printing of carbon fiber & alloys including aluminum, stainless steel & titanium in a manner that is extremely environmentally friendly. The time from initial design to the printing of body & frame parts is only 6 months, allowing small volume cars to be created at costs very similar to what has been achieved through the traditional manufacturing techniques of existing automotive mass marketers. By allowing full creative flexibility of external design, combined with sourcing of available off-the-shelf parts for specific components like engines & tires, this concept could disrupt the automotive industry as we know it.
Now, my only question is whether to return to the CES in person next year. With so many instant alerts, live streams & daily reports now available online from the show, it may actually be preferable to avoid the crowds by simply staying home & following all the action on the web!
– Tommy Hadges
Pollack Music & Media Group