The Consumer Electronics Show is one of the largest and most daunting conferences to cover, and the menagerie of high-tech gadgets and gizmos is staggering. After a day at CES the scope and scale of the electronics industry is unmistakable.
The variety, however, is sometimes a little more in question.
The electronics industry is a pack of hungry companies and developers fighting over finite market share. Much of the time a company presenting a product has their competitors right next door presenting a similar-but-not-quite-the-same product, and the two rivals each assure the consumer or reporter that theirs is the Unique Solution with Innovative Design and High-Quality Material and any number of other perks rating capitalized titles which the discerning customer will surely appreciate. The alternative is monopoly, of course, but I’d rarely realized, for example, just how many companies boast about their mobile device cases or headphones or television designs.
The Consumer Electronics Show is the yearly coronation of a multi-billion-dollar industry ranging everywhere from health to entertainment. You’d expect brighter crown jewels than bigger televisions and an arsenal of products with the letter i tacked onto the name.
In this climate, what separates one company’s product from another are increasingly very specialized peripheral features. Companies leverage things like motion control, Google TV support, 3D with or without glasses, strategic partnerships and proprietary interactions, and alternative interaction methods. Beyond the products themselves, some companies rely on bizarre spectacles to set themselves apart – the traditional dancing girl “booth babes,” celebrity endorsement or visits, give-aways, and the usual bread-and-circus spectacle. One booth appeared to be relying on interpretative dance – I swear I saw what looked like ballet.
This probably all sounds like sour grapes, and it’d be very unfair to say CES isn’t an important event to attend. As a nexus for the networking and business sides of the industry and as a site to enable reporting, CES is invaluable – but this year the greatest surprises and most compelling products were usually those being demo’d in private interviews or in humble little booths, while the big names were often far less informative.
Among those topics that were impressive foreshadowing were the following:
Considering that one spends hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars on a tablet computer or smartphone or netbook, it’s more than a little disheartening that a splash from one of the most common substances on the planet Earth can render them expensive novelty paperweights. Fortunately, several manufacturers seem to be trying to fix this.
Fujitsu’s water-resistant phone and tablet have gotten a lot of attention and rightfully so. However, it seemed a running theme, with several other companies and booths displaying water-resistant televisions or HzO’s specialized coating to the internal electronics of mobile devices to render them proof against water – even with the water pouring into the headphone jack. I guess we’ve decided that if we’re going to flood our planet and melt the polar icecaps, we’re going to have functional electronics when it happens.
All right, everyone, I’m going to make an executive decision in my exalted capacity as Technology Reporter.
Sony has the best three-dimensional television.The picture was crisp, the screen was large, it didn’t take glasses, and was pretty generous in terms of spots where the image was clear rather than blurred together.
Can we please move on now? It’s not like 3D TVs have revolutionized the market yet.
Also, while we’re on the subject, some companies want to reinvent the entire input mechanism. Manufacturer Haier seems to have taken inspiration from the Wii and Kinect by incorporating motion-sensor controls into a selection of built-in games. The motion controls were fairly responsive, but I wonder how it’ll do compared to the Wii. Not quite so promising was the “Brainwave” feature in another Haier television, which supposedly operates via concentration. Either I’m thoroughly amongst the unelightened, or it’s still a bit finicky – and while telepathic control of the television sounds cool in theory, in practice I think those whose wills have been disciplined enough to transcend Samsara aren’t among the most avid consumers for expensive television.
LAVA Imports MightyDwarf
This little fellow’s a big surprise. The MightyDwarf is a diminutive speaker that makes the object it’s mounted upon – any solid surface, even a granite counter or your unconscious buddy -serve as a speaker by transferring the vibrations of whatever music you’re playing into the object it’s stuck onto. Quite aside from the sheer novelty of turning your table into a source of music, the MightyDwarf can be adhered to its station by what’s basically a suction cup, so you don’t even need to screw it into your desk or roommate before you can see how good their acoustics are.
And making it even more convenient is the option for either a rubberized pad or a screwed-on pad for the speaker to stick to if you have some favorite spots. The MightyDwarf is creative, only a little bit bigger than a baseball, and potentially hilarious. Plus it’s charged via USB and has a 16-gig video card, and when combined with the iFrogz Boost (mentioned elsewhere) you’ve got the possibility of your own instant sound system. What’s not to like?
The CES show floor has always been built to impress; two story spectacles of light and sound rise up just inside the doors. Microsoft and Intel still held two prime two spots in the front of the Central Hall, yet many voices chattered about the big Microsoft pull-out for next year and who might replace them. Due to the immense walled off areas, truly more like small castles containing the big-league players of CES, it was hard to get a feel for the hall’s scale. Instead, pilgrims to this electronic Mecca wandered between labyrinthine paths in the vast maze of plastic walls and clamorous billboards.
As Trauben had mentioned, this felt like the year of “One Too Many TVs,”and that says something not just about televisions but about attitudes in the industry.
The last time I attended CES was in 2010. Yet after two years in exile, I found myself seeing many of the same products and ideas on display with a few higher numbers tacked on. It was slow evolution, rather than daring revolution. The majority of products lacked the “wow!” factor I’d hoped for from an event of CES’ caliber. In the hundreds, maybe even thousands of companies out on the show floor, maybe twenty of them were cool. Of course, those twenty were the brave few striving to push technology forward by leaps and bounds, while their more sedate counterparts felt like they were playing it relatively safe.
We ran into MicroVision roving the halls showing off their ShowWX+ HDMI laser pico projector. Equivalent in size to the cell phone they were broadcasting from, the ShowWX+ projects a WVGA (848 x 480) image up to 100 inches in size onto any surface. Due to its laser based image, there is no need to focus to picture and even in the well lit hall we could see the image with some degree of clarity. In a darker room it would be perfect.
While mostly a novelty for someone like me, its one I would not mind trying out.
I revisited Able Planet to see how the two years since we last met has treated them. We got a chance to look at their new wireless headsets, Bluetooth portable headset (currently a prototype), and their continuing improvements to the flagship Clear Harmony line. We will be working more with Able Planet this year to bring you in depth reviews of their products.
There were a number of PC case designs that I really enjoyed at CES this year. The first was the liquid cooled case that Zotac had on display. This case was totally sealed and featured a 3M liquid coolant suspension that boils at a low temperature. This essentially gave the case a constant rolling boil off of the processor and GPU; a rather eye catching effect.
Fractal Design, a group out of Sweden, brought their aesthetic sense in a line of cases that feature clean, minimalist lines, easy-to-change internal chassis, and a good number of custom mods by Bill Owen of MNPTech.com.
You can check out their line at fractal-design.com.
One of the after-events we attended was hosted by Streamworks, who provide companies like the Associated Press and Major League Gaming their streaming video infrastructure. From the point of capture, video is transported to the Streamworks facility in London, usually via satellite, and is compressed for distribution to a CDN. Streamworks also work with the company to set up the right player technology to meet its needs. Multiple backups and redundant redundancies cross their networks from end to end, leaving nothing to chance.
The only figure we heard quoted was roughly 6 cents per gig of traffic as an average cost of doing business, but taking into account the satellites and other unknown costs, their services are not likely to be cheap.