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Consumer Electronics Devices

Excitement of CES – Ultra High-Def TVs

By Kurt Scherf, Contributor

TVs make for good eye-candy, and there were plenty of huge displays to be seen from all of the major manufacturers. This year’s hot topic was “Ultra High-Definition” televisions (also known as “Ultra HD” or “4K” sets. In layman’s terms, these are televisions that vastly increase the number of pixels, and therefore the resolution, on TVs. Having seen them up close at the 2012 CES, I can verify that the picture image is stupendous, and watching movies and sports on these behemoths will someday be fantastic. I say “someday,” since these displays are very expensive (as in the cost of a new car expensive), and there is pretty much zero content being produced today in the type of format supported by the sets.

Although 3D technology has certainly captured Hollywood’s attention, it has not taken off in American living rooms. In a November 2012 survey from Parks Associates (2012 CE Purchases), only 7% of U.S. broadband households owned a television capable of displaying 3D content (and this hadn’t grown much in the last year). One major inhibitor to the growth of 3D televisions are the cumbersome glasses. Companies such as Stream TV Networks continue to demonstrate improvements to glasses-free 3D, but it will probably be some time before we’ll see the quality improve to the point of significant market traction. TIME magazine had a good article about the future of glasses-free 3D TV.

What has gained traction, at least in terms of U.S. household penetration (25%, according to Parks Associates), are so-called “smart TVs,” that is high-definition displays with Internet connections and the ability to connect to Web content (Netflix, apps, etc.). At the 2013 CES, the smart TV announcements could be boiled down to the following:

“T-Commerce”: Panasonic and Samsung both demonstrated features that gives consumers a greater ability to directly purchase products straight from their television set;
“Context Awareness”: A technology trend at this year’s show were televisions that can determine who is watching the television and make recommendations for programming to view based on that knowledge. Google, Panasonic, and Samsung all made announcements regarding these capabilities. A company called Veveo made headlines as a top-five tech startup to watch with a predictive search technology.
Cable TV programming: In 2011, both Comcast and Time Warner Cable made announcements about how they would provide cable television programming that could be accessed on smart TV apps and without the use of a set-top box. Although that programming has not yet appeared from those two operators, Comcast indicates that 2013 will be the year that it enables programming to appear on Samsung smart TVs. Verizon is already offering 75 channels of its FiOS TV to be accessed from an app on LG smart TVs.

At the 2012 CES, a number of major television manufacturers showcased smart TVs that responded to voice and gesture controls in addition to standard inputs from a remote controller. These control features were again on display in 2013, and they have also trickled down into other areas of consumer electronics, including for computers. This article covers some of the major announcements that were made at the show. Tobii was a company developing eye-tracking technology for a PC interaction tool that also received headlines.

Now that televisions are more like computers, smartphones, and tablets in terms of their ability to connect to the Internet and access content and applications, there are concerns from consumers that these expensive displays are obsolete by the time they bring them home from the store. Some companies are working on solutions that cost less than buying a new television, but will still enable “smart” features on any display. For example, Roku introduced a device called the Streaming Stick at the 2012 CES, and they announced this year that 14 companies have signed up to offer Roku Ready televisions to accommodate its thumb-drive-size device. Samsung has also unveiled a device called an Evolution Kit that can upgrade older smart TV models by enhancing motion and voice control and speeding up features such as web browsing by improving the processor performance. 

Kurt Scherf, Contributor, has attended 13 out of the last 14 Consumer Electronics Shows in Las Vegas and tracked the news and developments remotely this year. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, the 2013 CES was the largest in terms of physical space (1.92 million square feet), with attendance of more than 150,000, with 35,000 people from 170 countries outside the U.S. While plenty of column space was dedicated to the companies that weren’t in attendance in an official capacity (Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Research In Motion, to name a few), there is always enough excitement in the new year about consumer electronics developments to cover.

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