CES 2014: The Big Preview

4K, OLED, Wearable tech, soundbars, 3D Printing, the list goes on...

by hodg100 Jan 3, 2014 at 1:55 PM

  • Christmas is over, thank the lord, so it’s time to start looking at what lies ahead for us all in 2014.
    Specifically, we’re talking about the worlds of technology and home cinema and we have eyes dead ahead on the imminent madness that will ensue at the International CES 2014. The show kicks off next Monday (6th Jan) out in Las Vegas and – like every year - it promises to be the biggest and best yet.

    The next couple of years are going to be transitional in the television manufacturing industry. Ultra HD, or 4K as around half of the manufacturers will call it, it set to gain a fairly significant foothold in the market as prices drop and content begins to appear. Sure, it will be quite niche, to begin with, but the momentum from within all sectors of the TV industry is extremely strong and it’s now only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream.
    4K Blu-ray Players? Surely it has to be now!
    The aforementioned factors of price and available content will be some of the most interesting things to look out for this year and we (nearly) fully expect that, finally, 2014 will be the year that 4K Blu-ray players will land.

    Yes, we’ve been saying that for at least the last couple of years but, at last, all the technological factors seem to have been overcome, including a 100GB commercial Blu-ray disc replication process and the introduction of the first HEVC compression standard. The High Efficiency Video Coding format – or H.265 - is about 50% more efficient than the current, widely used, H.264 standard so 100GB should be sufficient space for almost all movies.
    Our bet for a 4K BD Player would be Sony.
    If we do see a spinner, our tip would be for Sony to break it and the only thing that we can see holding 4K Blu-ray players back is a rumoured global dearth of HEVC decoders. That won’t be helped any by the fact that the manufacturers will be trying to get their hands on as many as possible to put inside their 4K TVs!

    Failing that, Netflix has already let the cat out of the bag that they are working with a number of TV makers to equip their devices with 4K Netflix apps but whilst that’s all very nice, we want a physical format too – and now!

    And Ultra HD TVs are going to be everywhere. The back end of 2013 saw the first serious influx of available 4K TVs with prices tumbling far more precipitately than anyone could have expected. We’ll not go through the list of manufacturers who will have 4K TVs on show – because it will be all of them – but keep your eyes out for lesser known brands from China and Taiwan, as we’re expecting them to deliver some shock and awe pricing to shake up the market.

    For the first time ever, Hisense will be holding a press event on the opening day and we expect them to steal a few headlines and ruffle a few of the big boys’ feathers. Similarly, the likes of TCL and Seiki will be exhibiting and – wild guess time – we’ll take a punt that one of the less heralded far eastern manufacturers might just have a cut-price OLED up their sleeve. Now wouldn’t that be something?
    We expect some crackerjack 4K pricing from the Chinese
    Hopefully someone might have the good sense to show off a ‘conventional’ flat OLED TV but the industry’s current preoccupation with curved screens is set to continue at International CES 2014 and that includes plain old LED LCD TVs, too.

    We already know that both LG and Samsung will both have monstrous 105-inch curved LED TVs at the show sporting a cinematic 21:9 format but don’t expect it to end there and there will be smaller 16:9 curved LED TVs there too. Why? Because they can and they think it looks cool but whilst we can see an element of sense to the curved monster sizes, there really is no practical advantage in a ‘regular’ sized TV bearing curves. File these under ‘Fashion Victims’.

    If the pictures currently doing the rounds, pre-CES, are to be believed – and it looks like they are - LG will be unveiling their next generation of Smart TVs powered by the resurrected Web OS and whilst their current Smart offering is top-notch, the promised interface here looks fantastic. In fact, we already know from an LG press release that the 77EC9800 4K curved OLED will incorporate what the company is referring to as its ‘newest smart TV platform’ so we can be fairly certain the leaked images are legitimate.

    The other certainty for an OLED reveal is Panasonic and will be very interesting to see how they approach the pricing. With LG cutting 40% from the UK price of its 55EA980W just ahead of Christmas, the Japanese are at least going to need to match the Korean’s aggressive strategy to gain vital, early traction in the sector.

    There’s potentially the future of the entire TV division reliant on Panasonic’s much touted, cheaper and more efficient ink-jet OLED panel printing process and we’ll find out in Vegas just how effective it is. One thing is for certain, LG’s strategy will have thrown a spanner in to the works at Panasonic HQ but we expect them to come out fighting.

    And to close out our thoughts on the TV sector, we might well find out the ultimate fate of plasma technology at this year’s CES. As we’re sure all readers will be aware, Panasonic announced their departure from the market toward the end of 2013. It just remains to be seen whether Samsung or LG think it’s worth the bother now the dominant force, in what is an already relatively tiny and ever dwindling market, has departed. We’ll shed no tears if we see ‘affordable’ OLED pricing though.
    Goodbye Plasma? Helloooooooo OLED!
    Audio products generally take a bit of backseat ride at CES, in terms of coverage, mostly because it’s next to impossible to get any quality listening time in the crowded and noisy halls but we expect more of the same this time around. And by that we mean, hoards of wireless/bluetooth speakers and soundbars, in every shape and size.

    We’d imagine there will also be a few more hardware partners announced for Spotify Connect – the music streaming service’s rival to Apple’s AirPlay and with almost the entire AVForums editorial staff being big fans, we’ll have a keen eye on any developments there.
    Soundbases, Bluetooth Speakers and Spotify Connect likely to be amongst the big audio movers

    One of the big trends coming out of IFA 2013 was for a new brand of soundbar. Some call it a plinth, some a base and some a sound-plate but, whichever, the goal is the same – a device that can sit under your TV and give its speakers a much needed boost. Amongst others LG, Bose and Panasonic have these products already on the market but expect to see just about all the majors bringing their own take to the sector next week.

    Technology wise, we’d expect to see more developments in the amazing world of 3D printing and imaging. It is now such an area of interest that it warrants its own zone, at the show, as it begins to become a consumer reality. Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association told the press that the zone had sold out by the end of September 2013, so we’re guaranteed some mind-boggling devices!
    Give us more 3D printing!
    There will be a huge array of mobile devices on show, too, of course. The steady growth of Windows mobile is likely to be given a shot in the arm with some big CE companies set to announce phones and tablets running the operating system. Both LG and Sony are rumoured to be bringing Windows compatible mobiles and with Microsoft making a return to the Show, there will be some heavy Surface device promotion in evidence.

    The two really big smartphone manufacturers – Samsung and Apple – hold their own special events for their big launches but there is some wild speculation the Korean’s are bringing the Galaxy S5 to the Show, although we don’t hold much truck with that.

    What is far more certain is that we’ll see a big upsurge in the numbers of 64-bit smarthphones. Whether they have any worthwhile practical advantages at this time is up for debate but numbers sell and, usually, the bigger the better.

    The other big growth area in the technology sector is wearable tech and whilst we'll not see Google Glass making an appearance, there will be numerous other devices to get our hands on. LG are looking like they will have some sort of 'smartband' coming to the show but whether its a wholly biometric or more expansive device remains to be seen.

    The attending Samsung staff are all likely to be issued with a Galaxy Gear to waggle in attendants' faces and maybe, just maybe, someone will be able to convince us that Smartwatches serve any real purpose - you never know!

    So there we have some of our predictions and expectations but we’d love to know what you’d like to see and anticipate will unfold. So please use the comments section below and look out for our wall-to-wall coverage, beginning Monday 6th January 2014.

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