35 Miles…a CES Personal Best

I couldn't believe it when I looked at my pedometer upon returning to my hotel room after CES closed last Friday—I had walked just a smidge under 35 miles in five days! That's way more than I've ever done before, and my feet knew it.

Lying on the bed, exhausted, I couldn't help thinking about all I'd seen in those 35 miles. Some attendees I spoke with summed up their feelings about the show with a yawn, but not me. I found this year's CES to be very exciting, full of important introductions and announcements that will fill the coming year with plenty of things to write about and lust after.

As I've said in other posts, the most important news in my view was the introduction of 55-inch OLED TVs from LG and Samsung, which both companies swear will be available at retail in the latter half of this year. We've seen "concept" demos of OLED TVs at CES for years, but this was the first time the technology was shown in an actual product, and at a much larger screen size than ever before. The panels are razor thin, the blacks are to die for, and the colors literally pop off the screen. If LG and Samsung have solved the longevity problem, especially of blue OLED material, if the oversaturated colors can be brought into line with video standards, and if the price is closer to $5000 than $10,000, this is a real game changer.

The other big TV news was the appearance of 4K flat panels from LG, Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, and others. Because commercial 4K content won't be available to consumers any time soon, this technology is less important that it might seem. It's biggest benefit is the ability to display 3D using passive glasses with 1080 lines of undisputed vertical resolution for each eye. Otherwise, these displays will mostly upconvert 1080p content, which isn't all that exciting—except perhaps for Sharp's ICC-4K upscaling, which takes human perception into account and produced an amazingly sharp and detailed image in the demo.

3D was so ubiquitous, it almost seemed to disappear into the background—except at the LG booth, which featured a huge 3D video wall consisting of dozens of tiled flat panels. Many attendees I spoke with thought 3D is on its way out, but that's not how it looked to me. The vast majority of new TVs and projectors have 3D capabilities, and there were several content announcements, including 3D-streaming services from LG and Sensio. Also, some 200 hours of 2012 Olympics coverage will be broadcast in 3D.

Speaking of content, online streaming was the big story there—much more important than 4K and 3D in my view. All the major manufacturers announced significant upgrades to their "smart TV" platforms, with more content providers and other apps, such as social media, as well as full Web browsers. Google TV made a big comeback in products from LG, Sony, and Vizio, and Technicolor announced its M-Go service, which aggregates content from multiple sources and should do very well thanks to the company's strong ties to the Hollywood community.

Sharing content among various devices—TVs, tablets, and smartphones—was also big news, as was the appearance of remote-control apps for tablets and smartphones. Equally important—if not more so—was the introduction of advanced user interfaces from LG, Samsung, and others, including voice command a la Apple's Siri and gesture recognition akin to Microsoft's Kinect that lets you wave your hand or a small remote to move a cursor around the screen and activate various controls.

Most of the audio announcements at CES were made at the Venetian hotel, and most of those were 2-channel audiophile systems. I paid more attention to several audio-enhancement demos, such as Intersil/D2Audio's Mighty Cat, which applies mastering algorithms to specific audio products to improve their sound, and SRS Labs' PureSound that does something similar; in my opinion, both did indeed improve the sound quality of inexpensive speakers and onboard TV sound, respectively.

Generating a 3D soundfield from two speakers or a soundbar was the goal of several systems, including GenAudio's AstoundSound, Sonic Emotion's Absolute 3D, and SRS Labs' NviroSound, and all worked surprisingly well. Finally, DTS was emphasizing that audio quality is important and should not be given short shrift, a perspective I wholeheartedly share.

So there you have it—another CES come and gone. I am grateful to Mark Fleischmann, Barb Gonzalez, Tom Norton, Rob Sabin, Jamie Sorcher, and Darryl Wilkinson for providing such extensive coverage of the show, and I hope you've enjoyed our many blogs and videos. Now, the real work begins—reviewing products and writing about the new technologies that will soon become part of our lives. It should be an interesting year!

Mister Leadfoot's picture

Thanks, I really appreciate your 35 mile trek (and Home Theater in general) into whats to come! As a reader who doesn't have the means to attend CES, its so exciting to hear what stands out from a professionals eye. OLED is most exciting to me, and I feel a few years after its release and price drop it'll be in many videophile's HT's.

Can't wait for the hands on reviews to MANY products!!!!!!

Jarod's picture

Wow you really put away the miles this year Scott! Can't thank you and the rest of the HT gang enough for the best CES coverage in the world. I mean it too. It was just top notch and the second best thing to actually being there. Thanks for all the hard work!!


Rockinrog's picture

Greetings from snow land Canada hehe. Thanks for the amazing coverage Scotty, would of gave my eye teeth to have been your shadow at that show. 35 miles, remarkable! Would of loved to have been shouldered up watching with ya on that 55 inch panel...Sounds tasty!

Darryl Wilkinson's picture
I must have walked at least two or three miles at CES. I had to put in at least that walking to and from my hotel room to the casino gaming tables... Oh, wait, was I supposed to cover the Show? Darn...
lotusguy's picture

Am I the only one who felt the demo of Sharps ICC 4K upscaler was rigged. The "normal" HD set (1920x1080) was so soft that it looked like Vaseline had been spread over the screen. The ICC 4K set looked good, but no better than a normal HD TV from Samsung or Vizio. I will wait for production models before I deem this technology pure BS, but that's where it sits for me at this time.

jnemesh's picture

I agree with you, Scott, that "Smart TVs" are really being pushed hard by the manufacturers, and that including an "App Store" in the TVs is the big trend for 2012 (and indeed, it was for 2011 as well). However, I am wondering if you really feel that this is the best approach? Samsung introduced TVs that have upgradeable processors...so you dont feel left out when the 2013 models arrive with quad core CPUs...but is the TV the best place for all of this computing power? We already have a few dozen (or more) devices like the Boxee Box, Popcorn Hour, Western Digital WDTV, etc. We also have multi-function boxes like Tivo, which has your DVR, plus Netflix, Hulu and others. On top of all THAT, we also have the Xbox 360 and PS3 serving up content via "apps" now!

My big concern is that everyone, from your cable company or ISP, to your TV manufacturer, to your video game console company wants to be THE gatekeeper of all content! Everyone has an "app platform", and of course, an app written for a Samsung TV is incompatible with any other platform. Buy a movie on Samsung's service, and you can only watch it on Samsung devices. Buy a movie on your Playstation? Guess what? You can only view it on Sony devices!

Everyone wants to make money, I understand this...but when you have to manage MULTIPLE accounts and keep straight which content is available on which platform...it is a HUGE hassle to most customers!

Personally, I HATE the app model that everyone has adopted. It has taken an open and universally compatible internet and artificially segmented it depending on what hardware you happen to be running on. I much prefer just hooking a plain old PC to the TV and then I can run WHATEVER service I want to...right off of a web page! You never have to worry that Panasonic didn't pay for the "app" on their platform...you just grab whatever content you want! PC obsolete? Replace the PC...it's only $300 for a decent HTPC nowadays! Somehow I doubt that Samsung's upgrade chip is going to be less than that!

Well, what's your take Scott? I would be interested to know if you share any of the same concerns that I have brought up.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I totally agree that the segmentation of online content by manufacturers is a real drag, especially since the app for a given provider on one platform offers a different experience, and even different content, than the app for that provider on another platform. For example, the Netflix app I've seen on Panasonic products provides access to only 25 titles in each category, while the Netflix app on Samsung products provides access to many more.

I would also much prefer to have universal access to all online content, rather than some from one device and some from another device; you're right that it's very confusing! On the other hand, accessing everything from an HTPC as you suggest isn't for everyone; one advantage of apps on TVs and other devices is that they are easier to use than a PC.

What I'd really like to see is an online "receiver" like Roku or Boxee with access to ALL content providers and that offers the ability to load whatever apps you want a la carte. This would be more like any other source device and much easier to use than a PC. I had hoped that Google TV would be a step in this direction, but it didn't turn out that way, since some important providers blocked their content from being accessed by that service.

jnemesh's picture

The really horrible stuff started happening with Hulu. Hulu execs didn't like people watching Hulu on their TVs, so they started identifying the hardware used to access the web site...if they determined you were on a PC, fine, it would work...if you were on a Google TV, a PS3 or other device...you got blocked!

This trend continued, and just about every content provider has had gripes with the internet in general, and Google in specific. This led to them intentionally blocking GoogleTV from accessing any of their services. I would LOVE to see some sort of criminal investigation into this...because several internet video providers almost simultaneously decided to block GoogleTV right after it was released!

We won't see a GoogleTV type device that can access everything until the content providers and cable companies of the world adapt to reality a bit better than they have so far! I have hope for the future, but I see, time and again, that they are getting it wrong! The simple fact that they are limiting their online offerings to certain platforms, and even then, offering far less than their full catalog. Hopefully this will change sooner rather than later, since instead of protecting their dying business model, they are just driving more people over to piracy to get the content they want.