2014 Consumer Electronics Show Highlights
Hottest Trends and Products
The 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show has wrapped up once again and while last year’s show saw the effects of the economic downturn, this year’s show saw a return to grander times both in products showcased and announcements made. So what were some of the hottest trends and products at the 2014 CES?
Last year saw the push by television manufacturers towards Ultra HD (4K) and with the finalization of HDMI 2.0 in late Q3 last year, 2014 will see a raft of new, more economically accessible 4K TVs. Specifically of note is Vizio’s abandonment of 3D technology altogether in its 2014 lineup, instead pushing for cheaper 4K televisions. Vizio’s entry-level P-Series starts with a 50” set with an MSRP of only $999 USD and is slated to ship in the second half of this year. Going up from there, Vizio will offer 5” increments up to its 70” 4K set that is still very accessible at $2,599 USD. They also showed off a ‘Reference’ 120” 4K TV but didn’t provide pricing or availability. Previously a second tier manufacturer, all of Vizio’s 2014 TVs now feature full-array LED backlights with 64-zone local dimming and advanced colour management which should give the likes of Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba a run for their money. Vizio’s smart TVs also support the new HEVC codec for 4K video streaming and come with the latest 802.11ac WiFi standard built-in to handle the increase in bandwidth required. For those that wish to create their own 4K content, Sony announced the FDR-AX100 compact 4K Handycam which carries an MSRP of $1,999 USD, bringing 4K,
which was once only available to Hollywood studios, into consumer hands. In addition to this, many new smart phones will soon be capable of 4K video recording; in fact Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 already offers this. Another noteworthy device that Sony showcased was a 21” deep ultrashort-throw laser-powered projector that sits on the floor and projects a 147” 4K image onto the wall from a mere 7” away.
To help address 4K’s chicken/egg content/hardware problem, services such as Netflix and Amazon have announced plans to start producing and streaming native 4K content, allowing consumers to access a wide variety of native 4K content for their new 4K TVs. Partnering to help push 4K, Amazon is teaming up with Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Discovery, Lionsgate Entertainment and Samsung. Cable providers in the US such as Comcast and DirecTV are also set to start broadcasting 4K content. Unfortunately, Canadian providers have yet to announce plans for 4K.
Sadly, while CES often showcases new technologies, the absence of products also signals their demise, in this case: plasma television. With Panasonic announcing that it is ceasing production of its muchloved Viera plasma sets, the final nail is in plasma’s coffin. LG did announce a new plasma HDTV but didn’t bother bringing it to their booth. With LED-backlit LCDs constantly improving, the costs of manufacturing plasma just isn’t justifiable anymore. However, until OLEDs finally come down in price – something that Samsung’s VP of Visual Displays says will take three to four years due to difficulties in manufacturing and low yields – LCDs will be the only display technology in mass production. The push for the next decade will be 4K and OLED. For Panasonic fans, all is not lost as Panasonic showed off a 4K LCD, side-by-side in a darkened room, with their flagship ZT60 (1080p) and last year’s WT600 (4K). Using the extremely dark hilltop scene from Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part II [Chapter 12], Panasonic’s new LED-backlit LCD showed similar stellar black-level performance as the ZT60 with the added bonus of image enhancements that boosted the non-black areas (such as faces) while preserving the dark areas. Panasonic claims they’ve transferred image processing technology from their plasmas which analyzes the black-level content to optimize shadow detail without diminishing the brightness of surrounding highlights.
Back to new technology, with 4K sufficiently pushed on consumers, television manufacturers have moved onto the next trick up their sleeves: curved televisions. While the jury is still out on the benefits and shortcomings of ever-so-slightly curved televisions, having seen Sony’s 65” KDL-65S990A at Bay Bloor Radio in Toronto, I can’t see curved televisions gaining wide scale adoption. While there are benefits to the curve such as the reduction in reflections and a greater sense of immersion thanks to the equidistant viewing angles, the limitations and shortcomings are just far too great: the sweet spot is too small and the distortion is even greater when seated off-centre. The premise behind curved TVs is to emulate massive screens such as IMAX, completely filling a viewer’s vision with imagery. However, to achieve this, IMAX screens are humungous – something that home televisions will never be. As such, unless TV viewers want to all huddle closely together to be in the visual sweet spot and sit at a distance close enough to fill their field of view, very few will be able to enjoy the intention of curved TVs. To show that it’s not all smoke and prototypes, both Samsung (105U9500) and LG (105UC9) have revealed massive 105” curved 4K TVs, with Samsung taking orders for their behemoth $60,000 set for shipment later this year.
Moving from the very large to the very small, 2014 is going to see the release of technology meant to augment everyday lives: wearable technology, home automation, and connected vehicles. Pebble, the eink watch that put wearables and crowd-funding on the map after it generated a record 10 million dollars on Kickstarter in May of 2012,