CES 2014 is nearly here. What are the biggest trends that you’ll be looking for? At Electronic House, we’ll be focusing on the best new TVs (HD and UHD), smart or connected home systems, and high-end audio. Here’s my take on the biggest things to expect next week:
1. Lots of 4K Ultra HD TVs and Content
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Well, lots might be relative to the current state, which is very little, but the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show will be bursting with 4K everything. Every major TV maker, and even the 2nd and 3rd tier TV companies, have promised new 4K models. Even Polaroid will show bargain-priced 4K Ultra HD TVs. I expect two big things out of the 4K TVs this year. The first is lower prices. Pressure by entry-level brands like Seiki is already squeezing the major TV companies who want to charge premium prices but don’t want to price themselves out of the market. Look for entry-level priced 4K TVs from companies like Samsung, LG and Sharp, as well premium models from the same companies. The bargain TVs will skimp on important details like HDMI 2.0 and 60Hz capabilities, and they’ll likely have poor upscaling engines (no quad-core processors for the cheap 4K TVs) and generally lesser-quality panels.
On the content side, again, expect more. Will it be a lot more? I’m a lot less sure about that. Netflix has already said it will launch 4K streaming in 2014 (are 4K Roku and AppleTV systems coming?), and all its original content is being created in 4K. Sony will probably update its hard-drive 4K movie server, and hopefully make it compatible with non-Sony TVs, but that’s just a wish on my part. Nanotech has already announced a streaming media box with 4K capability and its own 4K service (plus Netflix 4K). I haven’t heard any other reasonably-reliable product leaks, but we’ll know soon.
Is OLED finally going to be a big thing at CES? We all thought so last year, and indeed Samsung, LG and Sony/Panasonic all showed OLED TVs a year ago in Vegas.
LG and Samsung lived up to their promises and delivered very expensive, but gorgeous, 55-inch OLED curved TVs. Panasonic and Sony didn’t deliver (though they never actually said the product was coming out in 2014). In fact, just recently Panasonic and Sony announced they ended their joint venture to produce 4K OLED TVs. That means they did a lot of work to make a couple of nice prototypes, but nothing anyone can actually buy. This news comes a few months after Panasonic announced the end of its plasma TV business.
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There will, of course, be OLED TVS at CES. Both LG and Samsung have told press the look out of for more models, and likely more aggressive pricing, but we’ll have to wait for CES for the details. Sony has been keeping its hat on tightly on its own OLED TV plans.
3. Wireless Speakers and Audio Systems
I’ve written before that wireless audio was a big trend from 2013. Expect it to be bigger this year, especially at CES. There will be a host of wireless speakers from companies you expect (Bose, Samsung, Sonos, Pure) and from companies you don’t.
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What’s this about? The ease of access to vast quantities of music via smart phone and tablet has made the natural transition to the ease of access all over the house. What surprises me the most is that it took this long. Will Sonos now have some serious competition? Yes and no. There will be more competition, but whether it will be a serious challenge to such an entrenched and successful product line is another thing. We’ll wait and see.
4. New Smart TV Interfaces
Is a smart TV something you care about? How important is the interface (the onscreen navigation system)? Smart TV has eclipsed 3D TV as the most important category for TV buyers. What started out a few years ago as just a handful of apps (usually an assortment of Youtube, Netflix, Pandora, etc) has moved into systems that are closer to home control than simple media streaming. New TVs can now control the rest of your connected components and communicate with other devices in the house. Gesture and voice control is also gaining prominence on TVs (thought I haven’t seen any evidence that consumers are clamoring for that capability).
Most of the major TV makers will will add increased customization, including user profiles and face recognition, beyond what they currently offer. TVs are becoming more like smart phones, in that they will be able to connect to anything else and retrieve content from everywhere without separate set-top-boxes (something that obviously has cable companies worried).
Whether the new interfaces will be better or just new, is the big question. I’m one of those people who hates upgrading to the latest iOS because I’m happy with how my phone works. The challenge of the new smart TV systems is to add features without adding complication.
5. Smart Home Systems
Consider yourself a Luddite if you make it to 2015 without a smart light bulb, smart thermostat or IP camera someplace in your house. My email inbox has been overwhelmed with pitches to see the latest DIY smart home products at CES. The Internet of Things should be changed to the Internet of Everything, because it seems that anything that can (even if it shouldn’t) be connect to a router or Z-Wave controller, will be. I haven’t heard about any smart toilet seats yet, but I probably will.
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I expect there will be a saturation point soon. Do we all really need a text notification every time the dog walks from the living room to the dining room? Another thing this trend will do is raise awareness of the importance of a reliable home network. If you can’t turn your lights on because your router is acting wonky, then you’ve got a serious problem. Improved smart home systems will inevitably lead to improved home networking products.
6. High Resolution Audio
CES is making a big push to promote high resolution audio this year. It’s about time. There will be several seminars and lots of product announcements, including better support for streaming and wireless audio systems that can do high res tunes.
High-end audio makers, who mostly hang out at the Venetian exhibit suites, will be showing off DACs and other devices for people who appreciate better sounding music. Hopefully that’s an audience that sees a lot of growth this year.