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2014 Consumer Electronics Show Report

January 24, 2014 | Comments

Attending CES is an annual ritual for anyone connected to the expansive consumer electronics industry, which includes everything from TVs and home entertainment gear to gadgets and smartphones to apps and automotive electronics to smart-home technology - pretty much any kind of technology you can imagine.

With more than 3,200 exhibits spread over 2 million square feet, CES is a top meeting place for manufacturers, distributors, retailers, business analysts, technologists, and journalists. It's also a launch pad for new products and the event that gave us our first look at such landmark products as the VCR and the first HDTV you could hang on your wall.

This year's show, held January 7-10 in Las Vegas, attracted upwards of 150,000 attendees, including contributors to CEDIA's Home Technology Blog who scoured the show floor in search of the latest and greatest products with an eye toward home entertainment, which has always been the mainstay of CES. Here's a glimpse of what we found.

Beyond HDTV

TV continues to evolve as Ultra HD, or "4K," TVs capable of displaying images with four times the resolution of standard HDTV made a big showing. Virtually every brand rolled out Ultra HD smart TVs with screens from 50 to 110 inches (measured diagonally).

Like the super-thin (and super expensive) OLED TVs that grabbed headlines at last year's show, many of the new Ultra HD sets have a gently curved screen that's supposed to create a more "immersive" viewing experience, although many videophiles see the curve as a gimmick. Either way, the sets look cool in a futuristic sort of way.

At one end of the Ultra HD spectrum was Samsung's $150,000 (!) 110-inch model, featuring an easel-like floor stand that lets you tilt the massive screen up or down; at the other, a 50-inch model from Vizio that lists for $1,000. Now that the industry has embraced Ultra HD (sometimes referred to as simply "UHD") expect to see lower prices when new models start hitting the market this spring.

Of course, the lack of super high-resolution 4K content has been an issue ever since Ultra HD made its debut at 2013 CES. Apart from Sony making a limited number of 4K movies available for download to those who own its $700 media server, content has been scarce, which is why Netflix made quite a splash when it announced it would begin streaming 4K movies in the coming months. Samsung also announced 4K content partnerships with Comcast, Amazon, M-Go and DirecTV and plans to offer a download service similar to Sony's.

Still, don't expect a windfall of "native" 4K movies any time soon - it will take a while for 4K streaming to ramp up. And even then there's the question of whether most Americans have an Internet connection that's robust enough to handle 4K streams.

Which brings us to the 4K "upscalers" built into Ultra HD TVs, which convert standard HD images to 4K resolution. At its best, 4K upconversion can be nearly indistinguishable from native 4K, but picture quality varies significantly from brand to brand and even set to set, so buyer beware. Like it or not, owners of Ultra HD sets will be watching mostly upconverted HD programming for some time to come.

Of course, the other option is to make home movies in Ultra HD. Sony unveiled its first 4K consumer camcorder, a hand-held model that will sell for $2,000 when it hits stores in the spring.

Although OLED played second fiddle to Ultra HD at the show, LG took the wraps off of a stunning 77-inch set that combines both technologies. It will be the largest OLED TV on the market when it arrives mid-year, joined by new 55- and 65-inch Ultra HD OLED models - all featuring curved screens. Pricing was not announced.

77 inch Ultra HD OLED TV
Image courtesy soundandvision.com

Smarter TVs

So-called smart TVs - sets with built-in Wi-Fi that connect to the Internet - came into their own at CES. Virtually every TV company introduced Ultra HD and standard HD models ready to stream movies and music from services such as Netflix and Pandora via one-touch apps. And while features such as voice and Wii-like gesture control are not new in TVs, they are becoming more common (and refined), as are apps that facilitate streaming from smartphones and tablets and apps that turn those devices into advanced remote controls.

Another trend is personalization, in which the TV (via its built-in camera) recognizes individual family members and creates customized home screens. Going a step beyond, Panasonic introduced an app that enables messages to be sent from a phone or tablet to the TV, even targeted to a specific person; imagine a kid watching TV when a "please take out the garbage" message from Dad pops up on the screen.

Many of the new smart TV interfaces also aim to make it as seamless as possible to switch from regular TV to Internet TV (YouTube, etc.) to movie/TV and music streaming services. Samsung's newest smart TV interface even has a Multi-Link feature that splits the screen and displays "second screen" information about the TV show you're watching so you don't have to search for it on your smartphone.

Samsung Multi-Link Smart TV feature
Image courtesy soundandvision.com

3D Without Glasses

The ability to watch a 3D movie without having to don clunky glasses has long been the Holy Grail of 3D TV, but the technology demonstrated at past shows has not been ready for prime time. Dolby hopes to change that with its "glasses-free" Dolby 3D system, which caught the eye of video experts. In addition to delivering a convincing 3D experience, Dolby has figured out a way to make the 3D effect adjustable. Several TV makers are looking into bringing Dolby 3D to their TVs in the future.

Bluetooth and Blu-ray Evolution

Discs may seem passé as we enter the age of streaming, but there was still innovation in the maturing Blu-ray category. Sharp unveiled a WiSA-compatible player capable of wirelessly streaming up to 7.1 channels of high-resolution (96-kHz/24-bit) audio to WiSA-capable speakers.

Sharp WiSA Compatible Blu-ray Player

Panasonic took Blu-ray up a notch with the introduction of a "smart" player offering Wi-Fi connectivity and Miracast technology, which enables photos and video on smartphones to be streamed wirelessly to a Miracast-enabled TV; the player is also equipped to convert "2D" images into 3D and "upscale" standard HD images to 4K resolution - both on the fly.

Freeing audio and video content stored on smartphones and tablets was a recurring theme at CES. Bluetooth-enabled speakers designed for wireless streaming from Android devices were a popular audio attraction, with introductions ranging from speakers small enough to cradle in your hand to bookshelf-size models to table-top systems like Crescendo, the $900 system introduced by MartinLogan.

MartinLogan Crescendo Bluetooth Speaker System

To learn more about the latest in home automation and entertainment technology, consult a CEDIA professional. Find a CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.