Rich Warren: Interesting developments at CES

Rich Warren: Interesting developments at CES

When I began covering the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas back in the late 1970s, no newspapers expressed an interest in it. Now called International CES, every media outlet lavishes ink and bytes on it.

In the 1960s, Chicago hosted the main show in early June with a secondary January show that moved to Las Vegas in the late '70s. Now there's only one big show in Las Vegas with more than 150,000 attendees.

Yet many pundits claim the show is slipping into irrelevancy as many major companies reduce their presence, while some like Apple never participate at all. After all, how much business can you transact literally rubbing (and jabbing) 300,000 elbows?

Most companies now release new products throughout the year rather than at once in January. Microsoft and Google joined Apple this year in forgoing CES.

Perversely, the media reports on the most ridiculous and irrelevant products presented at CES. NPR wasted an entire feature on table utensils that measure your eating habits and report them to a website.

This column recently opined that theaters were building IMAX screens because they couldn't be duplicated at home. Perhaps not in size, but Samsung and LG introduced the first curved-screen OLED TVs, meant to simulate IMAX at home.

These 55-inch screens probably will retail for about $10,000. Samsung also displayed a 110-inch ultra-high definition TV, also called 4K TV. If you have space for this set, you don't have to ask the price. If you don't have the space, Panasonic demonstrated a 56-inch OLED TV only half an inch thick and weighing 27 pounds.

According to one of the most intelligent and respected writers in the industry, Ken Pohlman of Sound and Vision magazine, OLED might be as much for show as future product. The technology still has immense manufacturing difficulties and questionable life expectancy.

If staying home bores you, Audi revealed an upgrade to its B&O sound system. The Audi Q7 now offers the option of a new 3D Sound audio/video system developed by 3D Sound, B&O and Fraunhofer IIS. The latter developed MP3. This new system deploys 23 speakers powered by 1,500 watts. Do you wonder where they hide the engine?

RCA introduced a relatively inexpensive tablet with a feature missing from virtually all other tablets: a TV tuner. The $300 8-inch RCA Mobile TV Tablet not only receives standard over-the-air broadcasts, but also specially encrypted Dyle-TV broadcasts optimized for tablets and smartphones. So far, only about 93 stations transmit this specially optimized signal. Velocity Micro showed the Edge Mini, a full function, hand-sized, 4x4-inch PC running Windows 7 or 8. The price starts at $600.

Dramatically improved smartphones proliferated at CES like mushrooms after a good rain. Every manufacturer promised larger, brighter screens with deeper colors and faster processors.

Sony even claims its new Xperia Z smartphone will survive an extended dunk in 3 feet of water. The Xperia Z also wirelessly streams video straight to compatible Sony TVs.

Phones based on Microsoft's newest Windows 8 operating system gained traction with announcements of Windows 8 phones from Sprint and Verizon. You might have to wait until summer to actually buy one.

A few manufacturers, most notably LG, debuted complete lines of appliances operable from voice commands from your smartphone or via Wi-Fi Internet. While it might be mildly worthwhile to remotely know the temperature inside your refrigerator, can you conceive of giving it voice commands? ("Hello, refrigerator: decrease temperature 2 degrees and make ice now.") In return, the refrigerator will tell you when it's time to replenish your milk supply.

I can refer you to a very good psychiatrist at Carle.

There's also a robotic vacuum cleaner controllable from your smartphone. I don't even want to go there.

We'll report more developments from CES in future weeks. Generally new product introductions start appearing in local stores in March.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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