2013 Consumer Electronics Show Highlights
Exploring the Latest Consumer Electronics Trends and Products in Las Vegas
The Consumer Electronics Show has wrapped up once again and while the products from this year’s show weren’t as ashy or out of this world as previous years, there were still many products that consumers everywhere will be opening up their wallets for. Without a doubt, this year’s show was all about “Ultra HD”, the new moniker that the industry has decided on for 4K HDTVs, and big screen OLED TVs. The automotive industry also made some exciting technology announcements and a plethora of new connected devices were scattered throughout the show oor.
As I wrote in the “4K Resolution: The Next Evolution of Video” article last year (now found in the Video Features section on www.canadahi .com), 4K resolution is the next step in high de nition, offering 4 times the resolution of current 1080p consumer HDTVs. It must be noted that 4K refers to vertical lines of resolution, not horizontal, as 1080p does. This change was made to adjust for the various (ultrawide) aspect ratios that studios release their lms in so that instead of counting empty black horizontal lines, vertical lines, all of which are used regardless of aspect ratio, are counted.
While Ultra HD TVs are still priced out of range for most consumers (all start above $12,000), as with all technology, the price will come down as the technology improves and manufacturing yields increase. Second tier manufacturers such as Vizio and Westinghouse are also poised to release more “affordable” Ultra HD sets in 2013, albeit at smaller sizes than the gigantic sets discussed later in this article.
With Ultra HDTVs, the increase in resolution is in turn accompanied by a jump in screen size. Most Ultra HDTVs demonstrated on the show oor ranged from 55” to 85” sets. Samsung has even promised 95” and 110” sets in the near future. With the increase in resolution, a smaller TV requires (or allows, depending on your perspective) the viewer to sit closer to the TV to be able to discern the higher resolution. If you have a large seating area that is further from the TV, you’ll need a larger set to be able to see all those pixels. Unfortunately this also means that larger Ultra HD sets will be proportionately more expensive. HDTVs above 55” are already proportionately more expensive than smaller sets due to the higher costs of manufacturing larger panels. Add in the 6 million additional pixels of Ultra HD and prices jump even further; if just a single pixel out of 8+ million is bad during the manufacturing process, the entire panel is unusable.
Back in November 2012, Sony released its 84-inch XBR-84X900 ($25,000) Ultra HDTV and now LG is also shipping its 84inch 84LM9600 ($17,000) in North America. LG released sales data saying that the company has already sold 300 units in Korea. Samsung showed off an 85” set that is mounted inside what looks like a chalkboard easel, dubbed as the “Timeless Gallery” stand, and pledged even larger 95” and 110” sets – however no pricing or shipping details were released except to say that they’d be available this year.
Vizio, a manufacturer known for produc- ing quality HDTVs at lower price points, also showed off its Ultra HD offerings in 55”, 65”, and 70” sizes. Again, pricing and availability have not been announced. Absent from the Ultra HD offerings was both Panasonic (except for the OLED prototype) and Sharp, who is known for its large Aquos sets as well as the Elite series of LCDs. Panasonic did however show off a 9mm thin Windows 8 tablet featuring a 20” IPS Ultra HD LCD. It weighs in at 5.2 lbs. which is comparable to a mediumsized laptop, and features an Intel Core i5 1.8 Ghz processor, Nvidia discrete graphics, and stylus support. It is aimed at graphics professionals and photographers.
With these Ultra HD sets hitting the market this year, the chicken/egg problem once again rears its head. While all these new TVs have built-in up-scaling from 1080p to 4K, native content is still hard to come by. Sony packages a hard drive-based media server with its $25,000 TV and has promised a download-based service this year. It also showed off 1080p Blu-rays that have been remastered for 4K (but are not true 4K content) on new 4K-compatible/upscaling Blu-ray players.
Given the gargantuan amount of data required for 4K content, it will most likely come through physical media given the current constraints of most Internet connectivity options. The Blu-ray standard, which supports up to 128 GB per disc, will likely be updated to support 4K streams with the association stating that they’re currently investigating it. Much of the content produced in the past few years is already mastered in 4K (most digital cinemas already natively project 4K content) so get ready, once again, to purchase new versions of your favourite movies once 4K becomes more mainstream.
One of the other features of Ultra HD is what it brings to 3D, which has seen lackluster adoption due to a variety of factors: cost, content, and most of all, the glasses (whether they’re active or passive). With the jump in resolution, 3D is able to shift from heavy, batterypowered active-shutter glasses to cheap, lightweight, passive glasses similar to those used by movie theatres. Passive 3D technology works by using half the vertical resolution for each eye and with 1080p, that meant the viewer was only getting 960 vertical lines of resolution. Now with Ultra HD, full 1080p HD is once again available but with the added advantage of using passive glasses. The other advantage of Ultra HD is the ability to “simul-cast” separate, full 1080p HD images to each viewer, when wearing passive 3D glasses. For gaming, this eliminates the split-screen, instead showing each player a full screen 1080p that only they can see. LG already features this in its passive 3D HDTVs. Samsung goes a step further and allows two separate inputs to be viewed simultaneously with one viewer watching one content stream, while a second watches a different content stream, both in full screen 1080p HD. The glasses have built in audio so each viewer hears audio associated with their own content. On the glasses-free 3D front, Vizio demonstrated a 55” prototype that provides full 1080p images to the viewer. Dolby Labs is also working on glasses-free 3D utilizing Ultra HD to provide full 1080p resolution images. Once implemented and cost-effective, it’ll make 3D at home much more palatable.
2013 will also nally see the introduction of large 55” OLED 1080p HDTVs by Samsung and LG, both of which will be available for purchase this spring. Sony previously sold an 11” OLED TV but its extreme price and size made it more a showcase product than an actual TV. Sony and Panasonic also showed off prototype 56” Ultra HD OLED TVs at CES 2013. All of these OLED TVs use organic LEDs which directly emit light, negating the need for a backlight as in standard LCD HDTVs (which use full-array or edge-lit LEDs or CCFL backlights). This in turn gives them a wider colour gamut, higher contrast levels (eliminating blooming, ghosting, and other issues caused by a backlight), near-perfect blacks (since each individual OLED pixel can be completely shut off), wider viewing angles, lower power con-
sumption, and practically instantaneous response time to name just a few of the bene ts. The LG 55EM9600 (approximately $11,999 US) is a mere 4mm thick and weighs only 7.5 kg. Pre-orders have already started and will begin shipping in the US at the end of the rst quarter. LG estimates that as early as 2016, the manufacturing cost of OLED will match conventional LCDs. Samsung has yet to announce pricing or shipping dates for its 55” OLED set. Both Samsung and LG also showed off unique curved 55” OLED sets at this year’s CES. The curved panel enhances viewing by making the distance from the viewer to the TV equal from edge-to-edge. On a standard TV, the distance is slightly further, the further left or right you look at the screen. Both manufacturers claim this produces a more immersive viewing experience and likens it to IMAX, which lls your entire eld of view. On a smaller scale, Samsung showed off a exible 5.5” OLED screen that could eventually make its way into its smartphones.
While Ultra HD and OLED may have stolen the show at this year’s CES, there were also a variety of notable non-TV products and services. 2013 will see a plethora of smart, watch-style devices – the most famous being the “Pebble” watch which was solely publicly crowd-funded on Kickstarter.com and raised over $10M. These devices typically connect over Bluetooth to a smartphone and allow the user to access their noti cations/email/ texts, track their exercise regimen (running, jogging, pedometer, etc.), and other functions. The Martian Watch turns its wearers into Dick Tracy: it allows the wearer to issue voice commands (to Google Now or iOS’s Siri) as well as take calls with its built-in speakerphone.
Health was also a prominent theme this year with multiple manufacturers releasing wristband devices that allow users to track their exercise regimens (with built-in GPS, pedometers, and other sensors). Smart scales are also getting smarter, measuring not only body weight and BMI but also heart rate and ambient carbon dioxide levels, all of which can be tracked online through the built-in WiFi connection. HapiLabs introduced the rst “digital, connected” utensils which help moderate food consumption by sensing movement. If the user is eating too quickly, the fork vibrates to let the user know. Eating too quickly leads to poor digestion and subsequently, weight gain. The fork wirelessly connects to a smartphone and uploads its data to an on- line dashboard to help track eating habits.
Connectivity also continues to be added to every device under the sun: everything from connected thermostats (really convenient since it allows for off-site remote temperature control), to the Parrot Flower Power sensor which sends an alert when the potted plant is in need of watering (surprisingly, from the same company that makes remote control ying drones).
On the automotive front, automakers, which have been adding Bluetooth, live traf c, and other features in their infotainment systems for the past few years, have now opened up those systems to allow for outside developers to create native apps for the systems (GM through its MyLink SDK and Ford with SYNC AppLink). As a result, we can expect to see a lot more current and more interesting apps on the dashboard of our vehicles in the near future. This year’s CES really showed that the lead time between demonstrations and store shelves is continuing to shrink, while the ever increasing pace of technological advancement and manufacturing ef ciencies is continually pushing prices down. Ultra HD is truly beautiful (visit a Sony store to see the 84” set if you have a chance) and in a few short years, OLED will replace conventional LCDs. While this year’s CES may not have been as fantastical as previous years, the products showcased continue to enable a more connected, immersive life.