CES 2019: What to Expect
Bendy phones, 8K displays or drones. What will be the big trend for 2019?
What is CES? When is it? And what can we expect to find at the 2019 show? Read on to find out. The latest updates are at the bottom of the article.
Kicking every year off and showcasing technological developments and innovation from over 4,500 exhibitors is the Daddy of all tech shows. We are, of course, talking about the Consumer Electronics Show, more handily referred to by its acronym, CES, which takes place in Las Vegas during the first two weeks of January. CES 2019 will run from 8th - 11th Jan, with two 'media days' running up to this. It sets the tone for the following twelve months with companies keen to show off their latest innovations or to test the waters with 'blue-sky' proofs of concept. It gives the media a glimpse of what the public can look forward to and allows some technological muscle flexing to let competitors and partners know how the latest developments are progressing.
2018 saw Samsung's 146-inch modular MicroLED Wall, a rollable OLED TV from LG and a hint at all the voice activated products coming our way. Not everything makes it to the shop floor immediately (and sometimes, not at all) but what do the tech tea leaves say might be coming to CES 2019. Let's take a look.
TVs - 8K, 4K, OLED, QLED: There's a Lot Going On.
Advanced word can be somewhat cagey but TVs always make up a large part of what's on display and it's safe to assume that all the major players will be showing off examples of their upcoming ranges. Will Samsung bring any more MicroLED developments to the table since it's a cornerstone of their plans to take on OLED? Perhaps not, as they have just announced QLED performance improvements to their Frame and Serif TV ranges of up-market, decor based TVs.
This seems to indicate that Samsung feel they have plenty of mileage left in QLED, Indeed, Jongsuk Choo, Executive Vice President of Visual Display Business at Samsung Electronics says, 'This year’s models of The Frame and SERIF TV are enhanced lifestyle TVs that deliver a TV experience like nothing before” - both will be on display this year.
It also fits in with the recently released 8K Q900R range, also based around a QLED panel, which you'd expect Samsung would like some reasonable return from.
Maybe their MicroLED powder is being kept dry for another couple of years.
Samsung has been particularly innovative recently, with their One Connect box proving popular at AVForums and we'd be surprised not to see other manufacturers showing off something similar for cable management and connectivity. There's also chatter, based on a recent patent filing, about a transparent TV from Samsung too.
Of course, Samsung's big coup of 2018 was getting the first retail 8K TVs into the shops. Putting the 'whys' and 'wherefores' to one side, this is something of a mic drop to the other TV companies and it will be interesting to see how they respond? Panasonic, Sony and some of the Chinese manufacturers could all decide to square up to Samsung and get onboard the 8K train - it would also help drive prices down more quickly. Remember too, that LG announced their 8K OLED panel at IFA, so there's a good chance there may be something from them ready to go for consumers at CES 2019.
Backing all this is the formation of the '8K Association' who will be delivering a keynote speech on Jan 9th, so the industry is clearly keen to push onward in this direction.
Regardless, it feels far too early in tech cycle terms to see 4K being sidelined at these sorts of exhibitions and mainstream 8K is a long way off, so manufacturers will be putting plenty of effort into strengthening the affordable 4K market rather than concentrating on high end, wish fulfilment models.
LG have made OLED their speciality and with its popularity increasing, they have announced that their OLED ranges for 2019 will feature LG's latest processor, dubbed the Alpha 9 Gen 2. The company states these will deliver images that are "more true-to-life than ever" offering a "four-step noise reduction process" that aims to eliminate artefacts and other problems to deliver a cleaner picture. According to LG, four steps is double what you'd get in other technologies.
Murmurs of a 49inch OLED from LG persist and this would be a smart move on their part in order to pick up the market for smaller abodes or those in rented accommodation who don't have space for screens of 55 inches and above but who want the associated top-end picture quality of OLED. If not LG, perhaps another manufacturer can make OLED work in smaller screen sizes - it's a market waiting to be tapped.
LG may have a concept screen ready to demo that features moveable speakers at the sides that can switch between 21:9, 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios, depending on the content.
The patent application hints at the intended use but offers no other technical information such as panel type - but it's exactly this sort of speculative design that companies use CES for in order to gauge the 'prevailing technological winds'.
The underlying chips that drive a lot of the flashier tech usually have their latest spec leap announced at CES. So, what should we expect in terms of increases in processing power?
AMD will be showing off its 3rd-gen Ryzen processors and there is a raft of models for both desktop and mobile purposes that should suit every application and budget. They will also have new graphics product announcements that will presumably go directly up against similar proclamations from Nvidia (GeForce RTX Mobility graphics card) and Intel (a discrete graphics card), so there's clearly plenty of movement here. January 9th sees AMD's president and CEO, Dr. Lisa Su, discuss next-gen computing in a keynote delivery.
Tablets and laptops will be plentiful with models expected from Asus (a high-end Chrome tablet), OLED laptops from Samsung, and a second gen Pixel Slate (codenamed Atlas) from Google.
LG will be showcasing two new 'Ultra Monitors' - a 49" Ultrawide monitor for workflow use and a 144Hz UltraGear gaming monitor.
CES is not usually replete with Hi-Fi properties, but Cambridge Audio could be announcing their first turntable built fully in-house, the Alva TT. Monitor Audio, the UK based speaker manufacturers have dropped social media hints at a premium speaker with a touch-screen interface.
Though no doubt holding some announcements back for the Mobile World Congress in a few month's time, CES 2019 is still an opportunity for companies to let out a few sneak peeks of their upcoming phone ranges and developments to get the PR machine rolling. With that in mind, there could well be a surge in foldable phones on show.
Samsung announced the Galaxy X recently so they could come back with a few tweaks and improvements to keep folk interested and LG has also been busy trademarking names like Flex, Foldi and Duplus, which sound like things you’d call a folding phone, even if they seem to have come from Marketing Names 101. They may also bring back their rollable OLED display from last year - perhaps in a 'ready for retail' guise.
In any event, Royole might beat the big boys to the punch with the FlexPai - a 7.8 inch AMOLED screen that folds in half.
Availability of the 5G mobile network is just around the corner and while, still not yet accessible to most people, it will allow Sony to parade their latest Xperia flagship, which is 5G ready. 2019 looks to be the year that major phone makers start to put 5G capability into all their devices, not just top end models.
Wearable tech has been a large part of CES ever since the Apple Watch was first announced. About five years ago every tech company was pushing wearables as the future of consumer tech. Whilst enthusiasm for wearable tech has cooled in recent years we still expect to see a good amount of tech that you put on your body, most likely in the form of headphones and watches. The disappearance of the 3.5mm headphone jack has pushed wireless innovation in the headphone/earbud sector. For example, Qualcomm recently announced its new hardware/software package that it hopes will encourage more brands to make Amazon-Alexa powered headphones. We've seen the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM3 have support for Alexa for a while but with the Qualcomm kit, new developments could start filtering through at CES.
There's also the Mars true wireless earbuds that support person-to-person real-time translation which is an indication of how earbud technology can innovate.
There are thousands of drones available but it took just two to close Gatwick Airport recently and hugely inconvenience thousands of travellers - it will be interesting to see if the misuse of technology will be a topic of conversation in Las Vegas. Nonetheless, Chinese company DJI has become the drone market leader and other companies may well be challenging with new developments of their own.
And we haven't even looked at voice assistants (could it really signal the end of the remotes?) or AR and VR which are still trying to get into the public's everyday awareness, there's smart homes, health and wellbeing, transportation, electronic cars (Ford, Nissan and Hyundai are all on the invite list) and robotics/AI, particularly in the field of smart health and assisted living. Development is healthy in many tech sectors.
There's also the perennial improvements that aren't so sexy but are utterly essential as we become more dependent on mobile technology, namely battery life and robust wireless connection with plenty of bandwidth. These incremental improvements are crucial in enabling some of the more power hungry developments to reach the market.
You can start with a list of exhibitors on CES's website but whatever happens at CES 2019, there is one thing to be sure of: with so many stories, announcements and products to keep track of, make sure you keep checking AVForums, our YouTube channel and social media feeds to keep up to date with the best coverage from the 7th of January.
UPDATED: 2nd January - additional reporting from Andy Bassett - As CES 2019 draws closer, more details are emerging about what manufacturers are planning to unveil.
Ever present Samsung may well introduce the transparent 'Window' TV, which would continue a run of attention-grabbing innovation that has included the modular, microLED Wall TV and the art-portal Frame TV. Though likely to initially be quite a niche product (if it even makes it that far) the 'Window TV' would show off Samsung's continued impressive TV concepts.
LG will also have quite a footprint and amongst their more conceptual designs could be a screen with movable speakers, which look to be motorised, and that automatically adjust to the content's aspect ratio to avoid 'unsightly' black bars at the edge of the screen. Additionally, LG will be demoing their 'UltraWide Monitors, the first - the 49WL95 - is a productivity monitor which has a 32:9 aspect ratio and 5120 x 1440 resolution at 108 ppi (sitting it between 2K and 4K resolution). It has the same screen real estate as two side by side 24.5inch,16:9 monitors. Secondly, the UltraGear Gaming Monitor is a curved 4K display boasting 144Hz refresh rate and rear ambient lighting to combat eye fatigue - LG's Sphere Lighting technology.
More conventional fare from LG includes a range of high-end soundbars, the SL10YG, SL9YG and the SL8YG, featuring Dolby Atmos and Google Assistant functionality, which are due for the show.
There’s also LG's rollable OLED which could have a multitude of practical applications and rumours persist that it will be on sale in 2019. However, in another example of how important manufacturers view these early reveals of concept tech, Samsung is rumoured to also have a rollable TV of some description for this year's show. The design eschews LG’s vertical approach and gives us a horizontal screen between two rollers, possibly allowing for aspect ratio adjustments according to the rumours on a few small blog sites.
LG is far more advanced in their plans for this kind of flexible screen tech but the hint that Samsung has something up their sleeve is possibly enough to steal a bit of thunder away from LG and that will be a good start as far as Samsung execs are concerned. One final thought though, given that Samsung is steering clear of OLED tech in their TVs, what kind of panel are Samsung planning on using? As long as folks are asking questions like this about Samsung rather than LG, it’s job done for them!
Regarding TV image quality, Samsung's use of an AI algorithm, which looks up a database of existing content to check how best to upscale the image made an appearance in the 8K Q900R and means the quality can be constantly updated. Initially, it was to counter the lack of native 8K content but it could be used for upscaling all content to the next resolution bracket up and is bound to be something that will appeal to the public more than the endless tweaking of different modes and settings. This could be another Samsung innovation that encourages other manufacturers to follow and, generally, upscaling technology is a key way of keeping that all-important backwards compatibility which the public are so keen to keep. It enables a gradual shift towards improved technologies with palatable, incremental benefits as opposed to ripping out a 5-year-old system and completely replacing it with a new TV, audio system and streaming service contract, none of which are ready at the same time and all of which are expensive, to begin with. Bite-sized chunks go down much more easily.
Screens and speakers look set to collide with voice assistants (VA) and companies such as JBL, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi and LG will launch plenty of smart speakers for the home at CES 2019. Google Assistant, Alexa and Bixby look set to make greater inroads into how we interact with technology around the house as they become further embedded in TV and soundbars. Your virtual butler awaits.
HDMI 2.1 is unlikely to make much of an appearance but its slow introduction will continue regardless.
Although the headline benefit of the new standard is centred around increased bandwidth (up to 48Gbps) to deal with the pressures of 8K transmissions, the more immediate benefits will delight gamers and 4K home cinema enthusiasts alike. For example, frames rates of 120fps are supported at 4K which will allow PC gamers to start accessing them during their bouts of wanton destruction. Dynamic HDR (High Dynamic Range) can be transmitted over HDMI 2.1, which means that even the most granular changes in image depth, detail, brightness, contrast and wide colour gamuts can be presented scene by scene (or possibly even frame by frame). Currently, HDR10 static metadata is averaged out and applied as a one size fit to the movie as a whole. Dynamic HDR applies HDR metadata far more precisely and HDMI 2.1 will play its part in transmitting all that information. These two benefits alone will be of interest to many enthusiasts but there’s also the addition of eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel) which allows for much higher bandwidth audio including Dolby True HD, DTS HD, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and other object-based audio to be sent to and from soundbars, AV receivers etc. However, we don't need HDMI 2.1 for some of these benefits to be applied now to existing displays, as the Sony Master Series screens now offer eARC.
Finally, there’s support for Game Mode Variable Refresh Rate which reduces or eliminates lag, stutter and frame tearing in much the same way that Nvidia's G-Sync and AMD's FreeSync do, however, the reliance on the Display Port connector will be removed.
All these benefits are coming (slowly) and will require the purchase of new Ultra High-Speed Cables and HDMI 2.1 compatibility in your hardware, so if any of these upcoming improvements have got you interested, make sure your future purchases include HDMI 2.1 support now or via a firmware update.
Figures show a 69% increase in shipments of OLED TVs demonstrating that, after a few years of ‘bedding in’, there is an improvement in public awareness of the technology and the associated uptick in demand. There’s likely to be some vigorous advertising campaigns as OLED and QLED start battling it out for the valuable premium end marketplace.
Away from the two major players of LG and Samsung, companies such as Hisense will be pushing to get its OLED range seen as great value for money, plus, other manufacturers such as Sharp, Vizio, LeEco, and Haier may well have something to show so they can get a finger in the 8K pie.
So, the feeling is that there will be nothing revolutionary on show but the all-important steps towards improvements in TV tech should not be underestimated and are still of huge interest.
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