All things must pass
So we come to the end of yet another CES and what a week it's been, the largest in the show's 45+ year history with 1.92 million net square feet of exhibit space.The previous record was 1.86 million net square feet of space at the 2012 CES. More than 3,250 exhibitors unveiled some 20,000 new products at the 2013 CES, drawing more than 150,000 attendees, including over 35,000 from more than 170 countries outside the United States. I mentioned the size of the 2013 International CES yesterday but to put it in perspective, it’s the equivalent of 37 football fields filled with technology. Major product launches occurred across all 15 product categories and in the smartphones category the highlights included the launch of Sony' Xperia Z, the Huawei Ascend Mate and ZTE Grand S. In terms of digital Health and fitness, launches included new products from Fitbit, Withings and BodyMedia.
In the automotive categories Audi and Lexus featured driverless vehicle technologies and for gamers, the 2013 CES saw the launch of Nvidia's Project Shield, the Oculus Rift, the Sifteo and Razer Edge. Other noteworthy products launched at the 2013 CES included: the Valve SteamBox, Tobii eye recognition technology, the Kickstarter-funded Pebble Smart Watch, Qualcomm's Vuforia augmented reality, multi-device connectivity from Ultraviolet, NFC (Near Field Communication) technology from LG and Sony, tabletop applications from Lenovo and MakerBot's Replicator 2x.Best in Show - 4K.Which brings us to our highlights of the show and, in particular, the video products that caught our eye. Well as I’ve mentioned in previous emails, the hottest topic at the show was 4K or, as it’s also known, Ultra High Definition. All the major TV manufacturers and quite a few of the minor Chinese ones, had 4K TVs on display. LG first launched their 84” 4K TV at last year’s CES, although it only actually went on sale towards the end of 2012. At this year’s show they announced their new 55 and 65 inch models that should hit the streets in the summer and they looked great on the show floor. Sony also released an 84” 4K TV at the end of last year and at this year’s show they had 55 and 65” models on display, which again looked fantastic. Not to be out done Toshiba have also announced three 4K models in exactly the same screen sizes and this fact, along with use of Passive 3D suggests the 4K panels used in all these TVs are made by LG. In fact the same screen sizes were found in all the 4K TVs being shown by the Chinese manufacturers, so it would appear that LG have currently cornered the market in terms of 4K LCD production.
Samsung have also entered the 4K market with their own 85” TV that uses their controversial ‘timeless gallery’ design, although concerns about the cosmetics aside, the picture looked very impressive. Although after all the advertising and hype before the show I felt the S9 was something of a disappointment when it was revealed to be 'just' another 4K TV. The only other manufacturer currently making 4K panels is Sharp, who had their new THX certified 4K TV on display, which also looked superb. It is interesting to see THX certifying 4K TVs, which suggests the format is really beginning to gain traction. So which was best? Well all of them looked incredible with native 4K content, especially Sharp's THX certified 4K TV but my favourite was actually Toshiba's lineup, if only because they were showing some superb looking demo material courtesy of RED and even upscaled Blu-ray content looked mightily impressive.
In fact with so many new 4K TVs being announced, including smaller and cheaper screen sizes, the only thing holding the format back is a lack of native 4K content. One of the big disappointments at this year’s show was the lack of any concrete solution, although there have been some minor announcements. Sony will be providing a player with 10 preloaded 4K movies on it to customers who buy their 84” 4K TV and they will also be releasing a player that can download 4K. However both these options are only being released in the US, with no intention to release in the UK currently. Thankfully RED, who make the Epic 4K camera, are releasing a 4K player worldwide, which at least means there might be some 4K content available in the UK, depending on how much support RED get for their player. RED will also be releasing a 4K Laser projector towards the end of this year and I think we can expect the other projector manufacturers to follow suit. So for this reason alone, RED deserve special mention for actually putting a 4K player out into the global market.
A number of satellite providers, including Sky, are also experimenting with 4K broadcasts this year, and Eutelsat began demonstration broadcasts on the 8th of January. The new channel will operate in progressive mode at 50 frames per second, encoded in MPEG-4 and transmitted at 40 Mbit/s in four Quad HD streams. Eutelsat is partnering with ATEME, a video compression solution provider to the broadcast industry, for the transmissions that will be uplinked to the Eutelsat 10A satellite from its teleport in Rambouillet, near Paris. 2013 could well be the year 4K breaks through and personally I feel that both 4K displays and 4K content will be arriving a lot quicker than many people think.Best in Show - OLEDThe other hot topic at this year’s CES has been OLED, with both LG and Samsung announcing new models including curved OLED screens. Of course LG announced their first 55” OLED 1080P TV at last year’s show but due to production problems, including yields of less than 10%, they didn’t start taking orders until this month.
At CES LG also announced their second generation OLED TV, although to be honest that isn’t strictly true as it uses the same 55” panel as the previous model, so the only differences are cosmetic, including the ‘flamingo’ foot. The first OLED TV will be shipping soon and the redesigned version will be shipping in the summer. LG have also announced a curved OLED TV for release towards the end of the year. That’s a pretty aggressive strategy from LG, so let’s hope they’ve solved all their OLED production issues.
Not to be out done by their Korean rivals, Samsung have also announced a 55” OLED 1080p TV which they plan to release in the summer, along with a curved OLED screen. However, since LG are putting their money where their mouth is, I’m going to pick their new ‘flamingo’ stand offering as the best OLED TV I saw at CES this year.
The Japanese manufacturers had been suspiciously quiet about OLED before the show, although it was widely known that Panasonic and Sony were jointly working on a solution. Sony caused a stir when they announced their 4K Ultra HD OLED TV on press day and Panasonic were quick to follow, saving the announcement for their CEO’s keynote address the following day. Both looked absolutely stunning, with the Sony using some particularly impressive demo footage shot on their F65 4K camera. However Sony were still talking about their 4K OLED as being prototype in much the same way that they did last year with their Crystal LED panel. Since that technology is currently MIA and Panasonic are actually talking about releasing a 4K OLED TV later this year, I would have to pick their 4K OLED as best because we might actually get to see it available to the public!Best in Show - Plasma.Moving on to more traditional TV technologies, it looks as though there's still plenty of life in plasma, with both Panasonic and Samsung squaring up to fight it out for domination of the high end plasma market. With OLED and 4K TVs remaining prohibitively expensive for most people in the near future, large screen plasma is still your best bet for high quality pictures until it is inevitably killed off by OLED. Panasonic had a great year in 2012 with the VT50 running off with most of the major awards but the Japanese manufacturer didn't just sit on their laurels.
This year they're launching a new flagship plasma - the ZT60 - which uses a new panel design that rejects more ambient light and delivers even better blacks. This certainly appeared to be the case in the demos we saw and Panasonic are concentrating on pure picture quality with this TV, hoping to retain the reference status they earned last year with the VT50. This year's VT60 looks to be a refined version of the award winning VT50 with a few added features, including a built-in camera. The ST60 also appears to be a refined version of last year's model and whilst there's no GT60 in the US, Panasonic didn't rule out its appearance in Europe.
Samsung meanwhile had almost as good a year in 2012 as Panasonic and their new lineup appears to be building on that success. Their flagship model - the F8500 - in particular appears to mean business with a brand new panel that promises deeper blacks and a brighter image. The all-metal construction and new stand looked gorgeous and being their flagship TV, it has the full suite of Samsung features. Both the ZT60 and F8500 looked amazing and were frankly too close to separate so for best plasma it's a dead heat between Panasonic and Samsung. We'll have to wait until the models arrive for review before we can decide which is actually the best but early reports suggesting the F8500 has near OLED blacks might be over optimistic!Best of Show - LED LCD.When it comes to LED LCD TVs Sony appeared to be very strong again this year, with a new look that's more reminiscent of Samsung's styling. Their Triluminos technology seems to suggest that the manufacturers are expanding the colour space in anticipation of a wider gamut on some future 4K standard. Samsung were also looking strong with an attractive lineup that includes the best feature set of any manufacturer at the show. LG seemed to be chasing their big rivals with equally attractive and feature filled TVs, so let's hope they've ironed out the issues from last year's lineup. Toshiba had a solid lineup of LED LCD TVs on show and the rumours about Panasonic proved true, with their entire LED LCD lineup using passive 3D. This would suggest that they are now using LG panels but to hear Panasonic sing the praises of passive 3D after so heavily promoting active shutter 3D was a massive about face. However for the second year in a row, I thought the best LED LCD TVs at the show were from Sharp. Not only are they pursuing larger screen sizes but they also used black images in the demo reels, which revealed a confidence on their part about the uniformity of their backlights. This proved to be true with the Sharp LED LCD TVs delivering impressively bright images and surprisingly deep blacks. So the best LCD LED TV of the show goes to Sharp's 8 Series.
Best in Show - Innovation.One final TV technology that caught our eye - literally - was Philips new autostereoscopic glasses-free 3D TV. For the first time I saw a glasses-free 3D image that I could actually watch a whole film on and whilst we aren't quite there yet, I think good glasses-free 3D is close to a reality. Philips are using a 4K panel to deliver a full 1080 resolution 3D image and they had over 100 viewing angles which meant the TV was far more tolerant to moving your head. CG animation in particular looked very impressive and whilst there were occasional artefacts the results had a real sense of depth.
When we switched to live action native 3D, the results were quite as impressive but there's no question this is an impressive technological achievement. The real question is whether there's a market for glasses-free TV or whether general consumer apathy and the after effects of Toshiba launching their glasses-free TV too early has killed the market. However those concerns aside, there's no doubt that Philips win the best innovation of the show award for managing to deliver watchable glasses-free 3D.
As we prepare to return to the UK, all that’s left to say is I hoped you enjoyed our coverage of 2013 CES and thank you for watching the videos and reading the articles, news stories and this blog. So until next year’s CES, which I fear will come around all too quickly, take care and keep reading AVForums.
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