The 2013 Consumer Electronics Show was recently held in Las Vegas - I think this was the 27th show I've attended over the years of being in the Audio/Video industry. While the company I work for showed audio products in four suites in The Venetian, there were plenty of other new products shown at different venues during the four day run of the show.
For one to wrap their head around the enormity of CES in terms of both attendees and size, check out these numbers. Over 156,000 people attended CES this year - the most ever for the show. There were nearly 3300 companies displaying products in a space of 1.92 million square feet - or the size of approximately 37 football fields. Social media players such as Facebook, Google, Foursquare, Twitter and You Tube had displays this year. Attendees had the chance to see driverless cars, smartphones that featured flexible displays that are said to be unbreakable, cameras that would capture hand movement and interpret the motions on a computer screen, and a number of connectivity devices to allow a person to stay in touch with others.
Probably the biggest news coming out of CES was the fact that Microsoft didn't have a display. The company explained that the show didn't coincide with their schedule of product launches. Apple used to show at CES, then pulled out a number of years ago saying they would put their efforts into the annual MacWorld show in San Francisco, a show that they subsequently pulled out of three or four years ago just because, well, they're Apple. Some people speculated that Microsoft, which has been having some problems with Windows 8 and an overall rejection by some users of the operating system, didn't want to face industry press and end-users during the show. Nonetheless, there were enough other companies showing to make most people forget that Microsoft wasn't there.
Also, a scandal erupted with the respected on-line consumer electronics web site CNET.com. At each CES, CNET gives out awards for their "Best in Show" products. This year, editors for the on-line magazine awarded Dish Network's new version of their "Hopper" product a "Best in Show" nod, only to have the decision reversed after parent company CBS pushed CNET editors to re-vote for their best in show award. CBS is currently suing Dish Network over the new "Hopper", a digital video recorder that allows for viewers to skip through commercials during playback of programs. One longtime CNET editor quit in protest and many in the consumer electronics press denounced the move by both CBS and CNET. (CBS is one of many broadcast networks that has filed a suit against Dish Network over the new and improved "Hopper". If I wasn't a devout DirecTV guy, I'd love to have a "Hopper.")
With the 3D movement waning, television manufacturers are beginning to feel the heat in terms of dropping sales, decreased profits and increased viewing competition from mobile devices. Sony, LG and Panasonic introduced their versions of ultra high definition OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) televisions that have up to 8.3 million pixels and nearly 4000 lines of horizontal resolution. All showed models that were between 55" and 58", ultra flat in size and very lightweight. Samsung, which introduced their first OLED televisions at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, went a step further this year by showing a curved OLED screen. (Pictured at left - courtesy Gizmodo) The curved screen is designed to offer more depth in the picture and for better off-axis viewing.
But don't get your shorts in a knot thinking that the television you have at home is obsolete. Like 3D, there's not a lot of high-resolution content available to fully show off the performance of the OLED 4K televisions. And they're not cheap, all hovering between $9000 to $12,000 at retail cost. They don't expect to sell many right off the bat, but like most technology these days prices will go down precipitously in the coming years and make an OLED ultra-high resolution television affordable for most people.
Gaming continues to be large in the consumer electronics industry and the consensus in Las Vegas this year was that the Razer Edge gaming tablet that uses Window 8 as a platform was the hands down winner for Best of CES in the gaming category. It consists of a computer tablet and a removable control base with analog controls on the handsets. The tablet is not cheap - $999 for the base model. And the control base is also kind of pricey - $249 - but you can use the tablet with a keyboard, as well.
Earphones continue to be a big category in consumer electronics and dozens of companies showed a plethora of headphone models - on ear, in ear, closed ear, etc. I met a gentleman who owns a place in Des Moines that sells nothing but headphones - Peachbudz - and he told me his business was up 98% in 2012. He's going to buy some of our Focal headphones along with some other accessories we have to offer.
It isn't CES with a number of gadgets - many practical and some far-fetched. One of the crazy gadgets was the HAPIfork - a utensil that is designed to help people lose weight. How does it do it? An internal sensor measures the movement of the fork from the plate to the mouth. It will begin to warn the user if they are eating too quickly. HAPIfork's inventor, Jacques Lepine, says the fork will make people who use it to eat more slowly, filling up more quickly and helping keep the user from over indulging. I'm guessing it's not dishwasher safe.
Another weird gadget shown at CES was the DecaTxt (below left) - a 10-key keyboard that would allow you to to use your 10 fingers to type more efficiently. The makers of the DecaTxt say that the basic keyboard structure is based upon "chords" that have been "designed to relate to the natural human element of ten fingers for two handed typing, but also may be used one handed". One thing the manufacturer didn't explain was how long it would take for someone who is used to the normal "Qwerty" typing keyboard to master the DecaTxt.
Probably one of the biggest buzzes of weird gadgets at the show was the iPotty (above right). This is a toilet-training device that will come with a child-proof cover for an iPad for Junior or Sissy to play with while they learn how to use the facilities. The iPotty is designed to make toilet training a pleasurable experience for children who would otherwise be screaming and kicking when they are made to sit down on the toilet. Marketed by CTA Digital, the company targets a mid-2013 release date for the iPotty that - with a hard plastic seat that goes over the toilet hole - can also be used as a desk. It's going to be interesting to see how Apple stores will market this intriguing product. Actually, I'm in the initial stages of designing a toilet where an adult can sit backwards with an iPad holder. Or a flat-screen television holder. As I said, it's a pretty fluid concept.
Fashion smart watches were also a somewhat big story at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. The Martian Passport Watch (below left) is something straight out of the old Dick Tracy comic books. You can link the Martian Passport via an Android or iPhone app and it connects to smart phones via Bluetooth technology. The watch will allow users view e-mails, texts and other alerts on a small OLED screen. You can also answer your phone through the Martian Passport watch, talking directly into the small microphone on the front of the phone and listening to the watch through a speaker embedded in the Passport. The watch will be available either later this month or in early March at a price of $299. Hey, there's people out there who spend 10 times that on a watch.
If you're still looking for a lower priced smart watch, then the new Pebble watch is now available. For $150 bucks, you can get a watch that has a number of useful applications when used with an iPhone or Android platform phones. The watch face screen is totally customizable and the company stresses the beauty of minimal fashion with the watch. I'm not much of a watch guy - I used to buy fashion watches like Gucci or Movado until I kept smacking them on things and either scratching or breaking the crystal face - but I certainly did like the look of the Pebble watch. I'm not certain that I need a smart watch, however.
At the top of this entry, I mentioned a flexible smartphone that was shown at CES. Samsung has long been rumored to be working on a smartphone where you can bend the display and is virtually indestructible. They debuted a line of smartphones that will feature their revolutionay "Youm" display - an OLED high-resolution screen that is ultra-thin and literally unbreakable. Other manufacturers are working on similar flexible screens, but industry analysts say that Samsung could be coming out with their new line of phones with the flexible display in April.
The ultra-thin flat-panel concept isn't something that would be confined to just smartphones. Developers also envision tablets with the thin displays that can be folded, and tablets where the display can slide out of the top of the unit.
Most of the high-end audio exhibits were shown on the upper floors of the Venetian. One of the most talked about displays was in one of the suites that our company had. It consisted of the Devialet D-Premier integrated amplifier/phono pre-amp/digital-to-analog converter/wireless streamer, a pair of the Focal 1038 Be loudspeakers with Carrera white side panels, and hooked together with Crystal Cable speaker cables. We had an Apple iMac wirelessly streaming high-resolution (better than CD) music to the the D-Premier. Not only was the sound stunning, but we received a number of complements from people about how great the display was. The contrasting white and black theme of the display was striking. We had contemporary lights on either side of the speakers and a white carpet on which the equipment sat. Doug Schneider of SoundStage Network, an on-line audio/video magazine, called the system "heavenly". (Photo courtesy SoundStage Network.)
So, another Consumer Electronics Show has come and gone, showing consumers what is new, what is coming, and what is slightly absurd. I get a little jaded about CES because I've been there so many times over the years that it's sort of old hat to me. But taking a step back and looking at it from an outsiders point of view, I can see where CES would be a pretty neat deal. I just wish they'd hold it later in January and not directly after the New Years holiday. Still, it's fun to get together with my colleagues and others in the industry for a week of hard work and hard play.