CES 2013: Where’s the Excitement?

by Steve Wildstrom   |   January 2nd, 2013

Photo of Panasonic CES booth (Wildstrom)Next week, as I have in early January for I can’t remember how many years, I’ll head for Las Vegas and the International Consumer Electronics Show. I’ll admit I don’t much like either Vegas or CES, but this year, I’m anticipating the endless cab lines and paying $350 for a $150 hotel room with even less enthusiasm than usual. That’s because the prospects for anything resembling news from CES are pretty grim.

This is less a rap on CES than a comment on the current state of the industry. True, CES is to some extent a victim of its own success, a cacophony of announcements, most of them of little interest to anyone beyond the people making them. And with the shift to mobile, some of the attention has moved to Mobile World Congress, the annual February phone fest in Barcelona.

The fact is, however, that the tech industry has a problem: There undoubtedly will be a Next Big Thing, but it isn’t in sight at the moment. There aren’t even rumors about it. Television sets have long been the preeminent product at CES, dominating the massive “booths” of Samsung, LG, Panasonic, and Sony. But it’s really hard to generate any excitement about TVs at the moment. The industry featured 3D sets with much fanfare in 2011, but consumers have been lukewarm at best and the hoped-for flood of 3D content has failed to materialize. 3D is now just another feature of high-end sets, not a new and exciting product category.,The 4K “super HD” format is interesting for the future of very large displays but the high cost and lack of content make it mostly a curiosity for now.

“Smart TV,” another big industry hope, also hasn’t gone much of anywhere. Many TVs come with apps and internet connectivity to access over-the-top services, but poor user interfaces and limited programming choices have left users less than excited. The industry my be ripe for disruption, but the content owners and distributors remain in firm control. Maybe some day the long-awaited Apple TV will materialize to reinvent television. Or maybe the rumors about a big Intel TV effort will amount to something. I’m hoping, but I’m not holding my breath.

Since the death of Comdex a decade ago, CES has become, more or less by default, the country’s premier PC show. But the PC business is in the doldrums and without the presence of either Apple, which has never been a CES exhibitor, or Microsoft, which ended its heavy presence after last year, there is little prospect for major news. Besides, the major PC manufacturers unveiled all their new products for early 2013 in conjunction with the Windows 8 launch last fall.

For the past two years, CES has been overrun by dozens of tablets, most of which are never seen again, at least outside of China. I’m sure the same will be true this year. But the big players won’t be making any news.

Automobiles have become rolling computers and I don’t follow the area as closely as I should. I’m looking forward to catching up with the latest in automotive electronics and informatics. Of course, I could probably learn more and save a lot of time and money by skipping CES and going to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit the following week.

I still expect to learn a fair amount at CES. I always like to prowl the smaller, less expensive booths on the fringes of the big exhibit halls. Mostly, they are populated by component manufacturers showing products that could only draw someone with a deep interest in connectors or power supplies but every once in a while, something offbeat and novel turns up. And I’ll cruise the show-within-a-show exhibitions put on by Pepcom and ShowStoppers that allow a sort of a speed dating view of dozens of products, many of which won’t turn up on the CES floor. If I find anything interesting, I’ll be sure to let you know

 

 

 

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Kurt Scherf

    I am so grateful that I am not going this year after having to experience hated Las Vegas, forced to watch the BCS championship game in bits and pieces at some tech reception, and having aching feet after the first few hours. I’ll be interested in what the major trends are. Yes, 4K will make a lot of noise, but CES is in many ways a victim of its own success. We’ve got DLNA, lots of standardized home networking, Ultra Violet, etc. I too wonder what the next big thing will be.

  • rj

    Perhaps I just don’t understand the benefits, but 4K seems a long way from adoption – perhaps as much as a decade.

    Part of this year’s excitement may come later in the year, as Microsoft and Sony seem likely to announce their next consoles. I think wearable computing is coming (glasses, watches, maybe something else), but that may be more of a 2014 thing.

    If Miracast is well-executed and broadly-implemented, that could be interesting. IMO, Airplay is one of the best (and most under-promoted) aspects of the Apple ecosystem.

    • steve_wildstrom

      4K is for very high quality display on very lage screens. It’s hard to see its relevance as a consumer technology.

      • Rich

        Very large screens? It seems that would be the not so distant future. Already 50″ screens are not that uncommon in homes and there appears to be a relentless push to ever larger displays. I’m saying one day the TV screen may occupy an entire wall of the living room and I’m partly kidding, but only partly. And as far as resolution goes, more is always better. It’s claimed that extreme res is invisible and therefore unnecessary at the “typical viewing distance” from a giant screen, but someone will sit close to one and love it if the detail remains sharp instead of becoming fuzzy where they sit.

        • jfutral

          Possible. I think only with older adults, mainly, though. The trend I see with 20 and 30 somethings is no TV at all. Most of those are watching TV on their laptops and tablets. But it may just be in the circles I travel.

          Joe

        • steve_wildstrom

          You do run into some physical limitations on screen size. You generally don’t want a viewing angle of more than 40 degrees–why you don’t want to sit in the first few rows of a movie theater–which means that for a 70″ display, you need a pretty big room. As it is, what American’s regard as a normal-sized TV is considered gargantuan in most of the world, where home sizes are much smaller.

          That said, I think content is the biggest limitation. How are you going to distribute 4k content in the foreseeable future? For equal quality, the bit rate is 16X 1080p. Theatrical distribution is handled by courier delivery of hard drives, but that’s not very practical for consumers.

          • Rich

            Okay, the screens may never actually grow to wall size, but I’m going by what I see advertised. Right now LG and Sony both have 84″ TVs that are 4K. A review of the LG says “The display was exceptionally vivid, minor details were enhanced, and the scale was simply immersing. From the demo material, colors popped.” I just keep seeing larger and larger screens become available, with no limit yet. For distributing the material, anyone who buys an 84″ TV might not have a problem with a download time of several hours on a high-speed connection, or the movie could be sold on a large capacity memory stick. Those have never stopped growing in size, either.

          • steve_wildstrom

            My question is how big a market there is for those monster screens. Even if they get much cheaper, there really is a question of where you can put them.

            The issue I didn’t get into with 4K content is security. Considering how paranoid the studios are about copy protection today, imagine how they will feel about distributing theatrical quality prints outside of the tightly controlled theatrical channels.

  • Applesince1979

    I don’t know about how you deliver 4K content but I think you could upscale Blu Ray as a stop gap. I think Toshiba had something called the CellTV that would use the same cell processor that is used in the PS3 to upscale standard definition TV to HDTV quality. I imagine the cell processor must be pretty cheap by now.

    If I were going to CES I would check out the Leap Motion by ASUS. I saw a video of it today. Very cool. Looks like Minority Report technology. Basically hand gestures to control the computer screen. I wonder how good it is with drop down menus.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Blu-ray probably does not have enough capacity to hold a feature-length 4K movie, plus there is no Blu-ray 4K encoding standard. But again, the biggest problem is that studios are not going to entrust theatrical-quality content to broken Blu-ray security.

  • http://twitter.com/OgreDennis Dennis Baker

    Apple has changed the way the industry operates. Companies used to plan releases or product announcements around the big trade shows. Now everyone is copying Apple’s model of having their private dog-and-pony shows to announce products. Ironically, now instead of there being a glut of product announcements at a show, there is a glut in the weeks up to and after an Apple announcement so the product announcements are still drown out.

  • def4

    I’m crossing my fingers for completely silent, fanless PCs with no moving parts.
    Performance has been good enough for years.