Categories
Devices News Opinion

What to expect at the Consumer Electronics Show

Consumer Electronics Show - Main Pic

This week, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) takes place in Las Vegas between 6-9 January. The show is always a hotbed of activity where everyone from the huge electronics manufacturers to small indie companies reveal their latest products for the coming year. As usual, there will be a wealth of high-tech delights such as 4K televisions, new mobile devices, wearables and even a few self-driving cars.

The show officially opens on Tuesday, but most companies hold their press announcements today on January 5th. In this post we take a brief look at what we can expect from this year’s CES…

What to expect at the Consumer Electronics Show

Consumer Electronics Show - Show Floor
Scenes like this are common at CES – it’s always packed with industry movers and shakers.

 

Before we turn our attention to mobiles, there will also be lots of other product announcements, especially connected televisions, the new 4K / Ultra HD format, Internet-enabled cars and virtual reality headsets. We’re not all lucky enough to be able to attend the show in person, so here’s a brief snippet of our view of the hottest new tech being unveiled this week in sin city…

Televisions: higher-res, bigger, curved, smart…

It’s traditional for companies like Samsung, LG and Sony to release new big ticket items at the show, like huge televisions. It was in 1998 that HDTV (1,920 x 1,080 resolution displays) was first demonstrated at CES. However, it took almost a decade for the format to become the de facto standard and replace standard definition almost everywhere.

Since then, the TV makers have been desperately scrambling to come up with the “next big thing” – the first major innovation was arguably 3DTV which necessitated wearing a pair of glasses to get the full 3D effect. But at least outside the cinema, 3D has been a failure and has never really caught on with consumers. It seems that nobody really wants to wear glasses while watching TV.

So what’s hot now in TV?

Ultra HD

Consumer Electronics Show - 4K Ultra HD
4K has four times as many pixels as 1080p HD TV, and so looks much sharper.

 

With 3D a fading memory, Ultra HD (UHD) televisions are now all the rage — sometimes called 4K, though the two formats have slightly different sizes. They have been demoed at CES the last two years and promoted as a major improvement over normal HD (which comes in 1080p and 720p varieties).

With a picture definition four times that of HD the clarity is certainly better, which has helped the companies and movie studios generate interest in the format. Anyone who has been following UHD developments will know that most of the TV sets are relatively expensive (typically running into the thousands of dollars), and then there’s the problem that there’s not much content available yet.

There is no UHD optical disk standard (such as BluRay or DVD) – so the only way to watch is via online streaming services such as Netflix and a few others who offer a small but growing selection of content. At this year’s CES, UHD/4K is expected to dominate the show, and so there should also be new sets announced at the sub-$1000 mark, making it much more affordable and helping push it into the mainstream. We might even see an 8K television or two, although that format is even further from reality than 4K.

Curves, OLED and quantum dots

Besides Ultra-HD, regular 1080p HDTVs will fall in price this year and we’ll also see quite a few super-sized curved models from Samsung and LG. The jury is still out on whether they offer a superior viewing experience, but the manufacturers are pushing quite hard in an effort to stand out from the crowd. There might even be several new OLED TVs on display, as well as new quantum dot screens which claim to offer far better colour representation and overall picture quality.

Consumer Electronics Show - LG 105-inch TV
This 105″ curved UHD OLED TV by LG doesn’t come cheap.

Smart televisions

More TVs this year will include “smart” features like web browsers and their own vendor-specific app stores. These Internet-enabled televisions may also be controlled by a smartphone or tablet and even allow a kind of “follow me” TV model where you can watch on one device (say, an iPad) and then continue on the main TV from where you left off. However, companies such as Pace, one of the world’s foremost set-top-box (STB) makers, would argue that the STB is the more natural place for this kind of intelligent, connected TV viewing experience.

Whatever new televisions are unveiled in the next few days, you can bet they’ll be bigger, brighter, better and cheaper than before…all we need now is some more UHD content to watch!

Self-driving cars & smartphone-enabled entertainment systems

Consumer Electronics Show - Mercedes
Mercedes has already teased with some images of its concept car to be unveiled this week.

 

Connected cars, and self-driving cars, are considered to be the next big thing in automative tech innovation. But do you really fancy trusting a computer to get you to your destination safely? Cars and technology are beginning to converge, with at least ten car manufacturers confirmed to be displaying their latest products at the show.

Mercedes-Benz chief Dieter Zetsche and Ford’s CEO Mark Fields will deliver two of the five keynotes, and many other brands like Audi, BMW, Mazda and Toyota will also be present trying to convince consumers that cars are the extension of their digital life. This means that cars should be able to hook into smartphones, tablets and a raft of other personal technology to enhance the overall driving experience.

Consumer Electronics Show - 2015 Ford Mustang
Last year, Ford showed off its 2015 Mustang at the Consumer Electronics Show.

 

Sales of in-car tech is expected to reach $11 billion in 2015: features such as 4G LTE connectivity that turns your car into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, as well as safety and convenience improvements like automatic collision avoidance and self-parking; even self-driving cars, of which Google recently showed off its latest design below) could be a not-too-distant reality.

Autonomous vehicles

Consumer Electronics Show - Google Self-Driving Car
Google’s self-driving car…but will it ever catch on?

 

Mercedes will unveil its self-driving concept car that was already teased on the company’s Facebook page this week. Autonomous technology has been on Mercedes’ radar for years – the Intelligent Drive system already launched on its 2014 model S-class and includes radar, a 3D camera and other sensors which allow the car to brake automatically, stay in lane and drive itself while stuck in traffic jams: pretty advanced stuff. We can expect further improvements to that system which will debut on the self-driving car this week.

Smartphone entertainment systems

Consumer Electronics Show - Apple CarPlay
More CarPlay demos and announcements are expected at the CES show.

 

Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto will make their way into dozens of production cars in 2015. They allow a smartphone to be connected to the car’s dash and shown on the dashboard’s touchscreen – to control the music and entertainment, and navigation systems like Google Maps. Much of this can be controlled in a hands-free manner using Siri or Google Now…

While it looks like smartphone owners would love to use these systems, the car manufacturers have been rather slow coming onboard partly due to concerns about sharing huge amounts of personal information such as the car’s location, with Google and Apple. Apple has already signed up several few manufacturers to adopt CarPlay exclusively (including Mercedes, Volvo and BMW), but other manufacturers have developed more flexible in-car systems which are compatible with both Apple and Android systems.

Wearables: smart bands, fitness trackers and smart watches

Consumer Electronics Show - Wearables

With shipments expected to reach 112 million units by 2018 (according to IDC), wearables are one of the hottest product categories at the moment. Smart watches, smart glasses, VR headsets, fitness bands and trackers of all kinds are now available to ordinary consumers.

So what’s next? The big names such as Samsung, LG, Motorola and Intel will all be putting out new products and announcements ahead of the Apple Watch – due to be released in the next few months. The smaller companies are expected to forge new partnerships, and more traditional companies in sports and fitness are all jumping on the bandwagon to try and stay relevant…

Last year the biggest splash in wearables came in the form of wrist-worn technology such as fitness bands, smart watches and smart jewellery. Then there was the Apple Watch announcement in September. But at least for now, the field of wearables is wide open with big players like Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung, plus lots of startups like Pebble and Misfit.

CES is the first place in 2015 that new products will be announced, but Mobile World Congress is also just around the corner (have you booked yet?), so some of the more important new products may be revealed there instead. Nevertheless, there will be lots of wearables announced at CES in attempt to steal the thunder from rivals before the much-hyped Apple Watch lands…

“Connected devices” and app partnerships

One of the trends of the show will be wearables that work in tandem with a smartphone. With Android Wear and the Apple Watch imminent, lots of the new wearables will focus on interaction with those devices. Many companies will be promoting “Apple Watch compatible” or “Android Wear compatible” for their new devices, and since there has already been a glut of trackers, bands and more at the end of 2014, some of the best news might be smart watch compatibility for existing products – i.e. software updates rather than actual new hardware.

Wearables for other parts of your body

Consumer Electronics Show - Wearable Clothes

What comes after the wrist? There are already a few examples of rather strange devices that integrate with clothing, so we might see lots more Bluetooth-enabled wearables such as shoes, socks, jackets and more.

CES usually plays host to some of the more strange and even weird concepts, but expect a raft of clip-on devices that you can attach to various parts of your body to track movement, steps, calories burned and so on.

More details about wearables at CES can be found on the CES wearables marketplace.

Mobile: smartphones and tablets

CES isn’t traditionally where the key new smartphones and tablets are announced, but there are usually a few big-name gadgets that fall firmly into the mobile category, besides a few welcome surprises.

Here’s a brief roundup of some of the more exciting devices that might be revealed.

Huawei

The Chinese company already revealed the brilliant Ascend Mate 7 at the IFA in 2014, but it may make its U.S. debut at CES, as well as another mystery device that has been rumoured to make an appearance. So far, there are scant details but it could be a tablet or even a smart watch…

LG

The G Flex phone made an appearance at last year’s CES, complete with a bendy chassis and a rather useful self-healing plastic coating. LG have already said that the G Flex 2 is imminent (possibly with a smaller screen, which seems a strange decision) so all might be revealed this week. The phone is also expected to be a huge upgrade over the old model but will keep the self-healing coating.

Consumer Electronics Show - LG G Flex

Samsung

At last year’s CES Samsung unveiled the Note Pro and Tab Pro series of tablets – in quite a hilarious moment by film director Michael Bay who basically ran off stage after he lost his bottle. That’s probably the highlight of last year if we’re being totally honest!

It would be quite a surprise if the Galaxy S6 was revealed this week as it’s likely to be held back for Mobile World Congress, but you never know – there have already been reports in Korea that the S6 will debut between 6th and 9th January. We will know for sure later today after Samsung’s press event.

Glasses and virtual reality: experimentation

Consumer Electronics Show - Oculus Rift
The Oculus Rift VR headset.

 

Virtual reality headsets are enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment, with the big three VR hardware companies showing off their products: the Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and Samsung’s Gear VR (which is powered by Oculus and turns a Note 4 into a pair of VR glasses).

Unfortunately, Google won’t be at the show so there will be no update on Google Glass, which looks like it may have even been quietly canned – at least in its current form.

Besides these products we can expect a wider variety of smart glasses – such as specialised goggles for the medical or aeronautical industries and augmented reality displays which overlay a digital world onto the real one. Sony has already previewed its new headset at the IFA in Berlin last year – it’s called the “SmartEyeGlass Attach!” and features a small OLED display on a pair of glasses, similar to Google Glass.

Of course anyone who wants to make themselves a cheap pair of VR goggles could always buy (or just make) the Google Cardboard VR goggles for use with a smartphone – the effect is pretty amazing.

In short, expect lots of experimentation in the field of virtual reality. It’s still not quite entered the mainstream but it’s certainly getting there.

Consumer Electronics Show - Google Cardboard
Google Cardboard – a kind of DIY VR headset kit that works with a smartphone.

 

Summary

The Consumer Electronics Show will be an exciting event in the mobile and consumer electronics industry. It sets the scene for the first half of the year and, despite some of the major smartphone companies not showing up, there will be some innovative new products on show.

It’s also the precursor to Mobile World Congress (MWC) which is perhaps a more relevant and insightful show as far as the mobile industry is concerned; nevertheless, we can’t wait to see what’s going to be revealed this week especially new wearables and one or two flagship smartphones.

Are you going to the show this year? What are you looking forward to the most? As always, let us know in the comments below.

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.