The Consumer Electronics Show happens every January in Las Vegas: hundreds of thousands of people, acre upon acre of brand new gadgets, and the hopes of tech fans everywhere that something cool will be announced. So what do we expect – and what are some of the crazy rumors flying around?
Samsung released a teaser video that didn’t really tell us anything but felt like the intro to Star Wars, it was so dramatic: “The World Awaits Something New. Get Ready.” And then they posted an image that implies a portrait, vertically-oriented TV. (Uh, why portrait? So I can watch the cell phone videos that I shot up and down?)
But more intriguing: the TV in the image is see-through. Samsung has shown off transparent OLED (organic light emitting diode) screens before. But if they make one into a big screen, I’ll be impressed. You mount a TV on your wall and when it’s off it just looks like a pane of glass. Okay, maybe it would have a frame and wires, and maybe it wouldn’t be so awesome in practice, but it would be innovative – and that’s what we hope from this show. Sadly, I am pessimistic that the transparent TV will debut, but I like the idea.
UHDTV – Ultra High Definition TV
The sure bet on TVs this year is Ultra High Definition TVs. These are flat-screens with 4X to 8X the resolution of our current HDTV sets. We saw many of these last year at CES, but this year the screens will be bigger (110-inch sets reportedly debuting), and we hope the price tags will be lower. Currently, these sets retail for upwards of $20,000, and there’s no real content available yet to watch on them. Some don’t think broadcast content will hit 4K or 8K resolution until 2016 at the earliest. But as with many technologies, the big players like Sony, LG, Panasonic, and Samsung will make the bets on the future; gradually standards emerge, content deals get made, prices come down, and we’ll have to decide in the coming years if we will upgrade.
OLED TV Organic Light Emitting Diode TV
These TVs are ultra thin and light like LEDs, and they also have high contrast ratio and deep blacks like plasma TVs. OLEDs don’t mandate higher resolution video, so they may have a faster path to our living rooms, and I wouldn’t doubt that we may see a combination of the form factors with an OLED 4K UHDTV, maybe at CES 2014.
The Remote Control Gets Some New Controls
We saw some TVs with gesture recognition last year at CES. For example, moving your hand up increased volume, side to side changed the channels. But this year we have indications that gesture will go more mainstream: facial recognition to automatically switch to a viewer’s favorite channels, preset volume preferences, or for smart TVs, their online user profiles for Facebook or Google.
Eye tracking has been hinted at from the 2nd tier TV manufacturer Haier; they want to show how you could use your eyes to change channels and lower the volume.
And we expect the wide-spread awareness of voice command programs like Siri to make it into TV controls. How it will distinguish between my voice and the voice of the characters on TV??? This is why we go to CES: we want to see to believe.
Hybrid Laptops with Creative Design
In the laptop department, I’m excited for hybrids. These are notebooks that fold, detach, or pivot to become touch screen tablets. The creativity here could be fun. The Lenovo Yoga last year set this wave in motion, and the touch capacities of Window 8 have allowed PC makers to really differentiate from the monolithic standard laptop form. I’ve seen press releases for 18-inch laptops that turn into presentation devices, table-screens that become desktops, and rip and flips that want to give you the best of both the Laptop and the standard tablet worlds.
Android Tablet Assault
We should see lots of competitively priced android tablets from companies looking to exploit a gap in the iPad release schedule. With the iPad Mini rolling out last fall, and the iPad 3 quietly being phased out for one with a retina screen, there’s some uncertainty about how much Apple will innovate in the tablet space in 2013. In the interim, many device makers are opting to produce lower cost alternative form factor Android tablets. I’m not sure we will see a ton of the big players like Motorola, Samsung, or ASUS getting crazy with the Android tablets, but expect off-brand manufacturers to produce budget tablets, kids tablets, kitchen tablets, granny tablets, huge tablets that could double as TVs…. This could be weird, and by that I mean entertaining, but I’m not sure any of these will make my gift guide next year.
When it comes to phones, I'm not expecting any major announcements. Many of the big names will wait until the Mobile World Congress in Spain later in February. But we may see some interesting options from alternative manufacturers. A Chinese company called ZTE has confirmed that it will be announcing a 5-inch super high resolution Android phone at CES called the Grand S. And we may see more tangential phones like this come out next week.
The truth is, though, we know of at least three major companies that won't be announcing anything at CES (sorry, thanks to confidentiality agreements, we can't name names right now). That could be a result of Microsoft having a reduced presence at the show, but it also might be that mixed reviews of Windows 8 systems have led some companies to go back to the drawing board and retool whatever it was they had in the pipeline. Meanwhile, as we said, companies that do plan to unveil products are going to play it pretty safe this time around, with budget laptops and older systems getting upgraded with touchscreens, or new color options. Word on the street, though, is that some PC makers will instead choose to launch their wares at the Mobile World Congress trade show taking place in Barcelona in late February. So... see you in Spain, then?
Both Toyota and Audi have made announcements about self-driving car demos at CES. This I want to see. The Toyota press site has a 5 second clip of a Lexus with a lot of the gear I saw when I got a test ride in the Google self-driving car. Mercedes will have a presence at the show and Ford has hinted at more talk about the car as a platform for lifestyle apps and more about the electrification of their vehicles.
Wild Cards - Smart Innovations
I’ve been covering CES for about 9 years now, and every year there are a ton of products that surprise me. Either real technology breakthroughs you didn’t see coming or things so simple that you face palm and say – why didn’t I think of that?”
This year there are rumors of a bendable phone screen, tracking devices for lost luggage, and a smell machine to make video games more realistic. Of course, we’ll see headphones aplenty from musicians, but I’m weirdly intrigued by news of Tim Tebow endorsing his own trendy sets of cans (yes, that is a term for earphones).
The stuff I really like? Smart innovation like new low power Bluetooth technology allows designers to make products that aren’t as reliant on recharging. One example I want to see in Vegas is the Stick and Find - put a sticker on your keys (or purse, or garage door opener or kids) and use your Bluetooth phone to find them anywhere within 100 feet. Another simple thing I want to see: a cordless blender from Haier that gets its power from a base you mount under your countertop. Also, a smart pet door from Lowe’s that tells you via smart phone which of your pets has gone out to pee.
I could go on and on, but the fun will really start on Tuesday. Check back for updates as we show you what’s really debuting at CES. Or better yet, like us on Facebook to see our work in your newsfeed.