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CES 2013: Day 3 Round-up and sore feet

So what is CES really like?

by Steve Withers Jan 12, 2013


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    CES 2013: Day 3 Round-up and sore feet
    In the days before I was ‘lucky’ enough to attend CES in person, reporting on the event for AVForums, I always wondered what it was like to be there.
    Obviously there’s the opportunity to see new technology long before it ever materialises in the market place (3D, OLED, 4K, 8K etc.) and some that didn’t (CLED springs to mind) but what’s it like to actually be here?

    Well if I had to choose one word to describe the show it would be ‘crowded’, very crowded. With over 150,000 people attending CES during the five days of the show there’s an awful lot of queuing - queuing for taxis, buses and the monorail, queuing for the stands, queuing to get into the press conferences, queuing for food and queuing for the loos. Just getting to the Las Vegas Convention Centre can take an hour and once there getting around can be a challenge in itself.

    When you do finally get to the LVCC, things don’t get any easier with thousands of stands and even more companies in attendance and the show itself covers three gigantic halls, along with other stands over at adjacent hotels like the Renaissance and Venetian. So apart from more queuing if you want to get transport to the other venues, there’s a serious amount of walking as you traverse the cavernous halls. Of course, that wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t also have to navigate your way through all those crowds as well.

    Once you manage to actually get to the stands, which for the larger companies are simply gigantic, you still have to deal with those crowds as you try to conduct and film interviews or pick up b-roll footage of individual products. You also have the pleasure of trying to remember an entire product lineup on the spot and then repeat it on camera or trying to conduct an interview when you can barely hear the interviewee over the sound of promotional material. Then you’ve got the countless retakes after those ubiquitous crowds constantly walk in front of the camera.

    Whilst there’s a strong American element to the show it is an international event, with delegates from all over the globe. There are manufacturers, retailers and journalists, all there to show the newest technology, report on the latest trends and negotiate deals. As you would expect the show is dominated these days by Asian companies with the Koreans in ascendance, eclipsing the Japanese but the Chinese are hot on their heels. It’s quite humorous when you move out to the peripheral stands and find Chinese manufacturers coming all the way to the US to do deals with other Chinese companies.

    Of course I always enjoy coming here, it's exciting covering the show and experiencing all the latest new AV technology, I just wanted to show how expectations can sometimes differ from reality. That's why this year we’ve tried to give you a feel of what it’s actually like to be at CES and whilst nothing can ever prepare you for the reality, we’ve hopefully given you a taste of the Consumer Electronics Show.
    THX 4K Certification and other interesting tidbits.
    In yesterday’s blog I briefly mentioned that Sharp’s flagship 4K TV was the first display in the world to receive THX 4K certification. I thought I might go into a little more detail on THX’s latest certification programme because it represents another stage in the acceptance of 4K as the new standard. In order for a 4K TV to get certified it must endure 400 laboratory tests, ensuring it delivers a picture with the stunning clarity and detail found in the studio. In fact in total there are 30 test categories, with 400 tests and over 1,000 data points covering device performance, video signal processing and various other tests.

    The device performance tests include measuring luminance, gamut and greyscale, along with uniformity, contrast ratio, resolution and viewing angle. The video signal processing tests include deinterlacing, motion compensation, cadence detection, jaggies, contouring, twittering, sharpness, noise reduction and overscan. The other tests include audible noise, rainbowing, image smearing, digital photograph viewing, dropped frames and moire. The result of all these tests is a 4K display that assures image quality and consistency, with sharper pictures and one-button accuracy. The THX 4K and standard Movie Modes deliver the best possible pre-calibrated video setting for viewing HD and Ultra HD images right out-of-the-box. The new THX 4K Movie mode sets luminance, colour temperature, blacks, gamma and video processing to deliver stunning Ultra HD picture performance.

    I also mentioned in yesterday’s blog that both Sony and RED will be releasing 4K players and some people have wondered what compression they will be using and what the file sizes will be. In the case of RED I know their player uses the new .RED file format that carries 4K at just 2.5 MB/sec (20 Mbps), which is interesting. For comparison, 1920×1080 Blu-ray video maxes out at about 40 Mbps but RED say they're confident of the format's quality, and note that they've used prototypes of the .RED format at even lower bit rates for trade-show displays of RED camera footage. If the codec really does hold up, it will set new standards for compression efficiency and certainly the footage playing at the Toshiba stand looked very impressive.

    The Redray player will support playback in 2D or 3D at up to full 4K resolution (4096×2160) and it improves on Blu-ray in ways that don't have anything to do with the overall pixel count, boosting bit-depth to a possible 12-bit YCbCr 4:2:2 or 8-bit RGB 4:4:4. The .RED format (with up to 7.1-channel 24-bit 48kHz LPCM audio) will be required for 4K playback, while 1080p and 720P MP4 files will also be supported. Redray can even output 4K 3D Video at up to 60 FPS per eye, although whether you can display that is another question entirely. The posted tech specs indicate a Rec.709 colour space, but RED have said that's not a limitation of the codec, but rather a reflection of the gamut of Ultra HD consumer displays and limitations of the HDMI outputs. Interestingly both Sony and Panasonic have announced that many of their new TVs this year will have a much wider colour space, suggesting that manufacturers are moving towards the DCI colour space.

    Sony haven't released many details about their 4K player, so no one knows what codec they'll be using yet. The same goes for the Blu-ray Disc Association who currently have a working group looking at a 4K format and codec. Speaking of Blu-ray, I forgot to mention yesterday that Sony are going to be releasing what they call ‘4K Mastered’ Blu-rays, which they say will look better when upscaled on a 4K TV. Now I should point out that these are still 1080p Blu-rays but what Sony are doing is using 4K masters to create the Blu-ray and encoding them at higher bit rates. To be honest if a film is shot at 4K it will be mastered at that resolution and if it’s a recent transfer of a 35mm film then it will probably have been transferred at 4K anyway as that has largely become the standard in restoration and disc mastering these days. What these discs remind me of are Sony’s old ‘Superbit’ DVDs, where they used higher bit rates to claim better picture quality. This really sounds like a (super)bit of marketing spiel to make people think they're getting more from certain upscaled Blu-rays but in reality the quality of the video processing in the TV is far more important. Hopefully this is just a stop gap effort on the part of Sony before a viable 4K delivery system is announced.

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