CES 2018: From Consumer to Concept

The 2018 CES in Las Vegas marked a continuation of the trade show’s rather rapid shift from consumer to concept.

Once again, there was significantly less emphasis on traditional consumer electronics and more of a focus on technological innovation, from driverless cars to drones, from connected homes to voice-activated anything.

The “wow” factor dominated the show floor, even as Mother Nature flexed her muscle, with the city flooded by a rainstorm on opening day and the show virtually shut down for nearly two hours on day 2 by a blackout show organizers attributed to the rain.

In the old days, visitors to CES – which this year saw more than 3,900 exhibitors  showcase their technologies on a record 2.75 million net square feet of exhibit space across Las Vegas – could expect to see many of the products on display available for purchase later in the year.

But in recent years, CES has become something of a proving ground for tech firms engaged in a game of one-upmanship – resulting in a parade of technological marvels that, like concept cars, may never come to market.

Indeed, the show floor at CES 2018 was something of a theme park, with people lined up outside several of the bigger booths for scheduled shows.  At the LG booth, visitors were led through a winding canyon of curved TV screens showing majestic waterfalls and other natural wonders. At the Panasonic booth, visitors were treated to an elaborate stage show highlighted by a woman dressed as a robot. And at Samsung, the star attraction was a 146-inch TV, dubbed The Wall, that through modular MicroLED technology can be adjusted to better fit your room by removing or adding pieces.

This focus on futuristic technologies rather than new and improved CE gadgets prompted show producer the Consumer Electronics Association to officially change its name to the Consumer Technology Association in November 2015.

At the time, CTA president Gary Shapiro said in a press release, “Several years ago, our executive board directed us to focus on promoting innovation….The name Consumer Technology Association addresses that.”

For show attendees from the home entertainment sector, prospects of an HDR (high dynamic range) format competition came out into the open. On the eve of the show, Twentieth Century Fox, Samsung and Panasonic announced a push for HDR10+, a non-royalty HDR technology also supported by Warner Bros. Panasonic and Sony displayed 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc players with Dolby Vision’s HDR technology, which is not royalty tree.  And Philips/Technicolor (aligned with LG) touted Advanced HDR by Technicolor, which representatives said promises a cheaper HDR solution that is especially convenient for broadcasters because they  don’t have to employ multiple teams to shoot the same live event. (Shooting in HD as well as 4K with HDR requires two sets of cameras/teams with HDR10+ or Dolby Vision, the Technicolor reps said.)

“CES was just a preview of the tremendous technological innovations to come in augmented and mixed reality as evidenced by the proliferation of devices and experiences being touted at the show,” said Danny Kaye, EVP of 20th Century Fox, and managing director of the Fox Innovation Lab. “Couple that with the onset of 5G and the broad range of support shown for HDR10+, and we’re on the brink of a fundamental shift in the way in which consumers view our content across all of their devices.”

At an event highlighting the Fox Innovation Lab’s VR project Isle of Dogs and HDR10+ support, Karen Gilford, GM of digital locker Movies Anywhere offered an update on its progress since the October launch. At 81 days after launch, consumers had placed nearly 80 million movies in lockers and had streamed more than 3 million hours of content, she said. The locker launched with more than 7,500 movies from five studios — Walt Disney (including Pixar, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm), Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Entertainment — and with retail support from Google Play, Amazon Video, iTunes and Walmart’s Vudu.

“Movies Anywhere gives fans more control over their libraries with innovative product features that deliver a great experience,” Gilford said. “As the app continues to gain traction, consumers can expect to see the integration of new partners and a continued evolution of product features that serve them in unprecedented ways.”

New release and seasonal titles have been the top performers across redemptions and purchases, she said.

Added Keith Feldman, president, worldwide home entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, “Movies Anywhere advances the experience of our most avid consumers and serves these highly engaged movie fans with relevant and unique content when their interest is at its peak, strengthening the entire entertainment ecosystem.”

In other show news:

  • Chinese TV manufacturer TCL announced plans to join Roku’s “Whole Home Entertainment Licensing Program,” a new platform enabling OEM brands to incorporate voice-activated Roku Connect software as a home entertainment network. TCL manufactures Roku-branded TVs. “Consumers will love the benefits of … having more affordable options –using their voice, having a simplified set up and Wi-Fi connectivity, and holding just one remote control,” said Roku founder/CEO Anthony Wood.
  • LG Electronics  showcased what it said is the world’s first 88-inch 8K OLED display featuring 33 million pixels — four times the clarity of 4K Ultra HD. “OLED is clearly a next- generation technology leader and for this reason, LG Display is accelerating its research and development into OLED so that we can provide  differentiated products to customers and markets,” CTO In-Byung Kang said in a statement.
  • Digital platform security firm Irdeto announced the launch of its next-generation piracy control solution. The new online piracy detection and enforcement solution provides data-driven web video discovery tools with expert analyst oversight, multi-language site searches, integrated social media and search engine discovery, as well as peer-to-peer stream discovery such as SopCast and Ace Stream, according to Irdeto. These new features enable content owners and distributors to quickly and accurately identify and then shut down pirated content across streaming video on demand, direct download and hybrid pirate websites.
  • Media services company Pixelogic announced its London facility is the first in Europe to offer Dolby Vision UHD Blu-ray authoring with its proprietary Dolby Vision authoring tools. Since launching the service last year, Pixelogic has delivered more than 20 UHD Blu-ray Disc titles in Dolby Vision authored in its Los Angeles office, including BBC Worldwide’s first Dolby Vision UHD Blu-ray title, Earth: One Amazing Day. Other titles include Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Lionsgate’s Saban’s Power Rangers, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s Resident Evil: Vendetta.
  • Samsung announced what it billed as “the world’s first QLED TV featuring 8K AI upscaling technology.” This technology upscales standard definition content to 8K by employing a proprietary algorithm to adjust screen resolution based on the image quality characteristics of each scene. The technology “uses a proprietary algorithm to improve the TV’s picture performance regardless of native image,” said David Das, SVP, consumer electronics marketing, Samsung Electronics America. This includes detail enhancement — upgrading standard definition content, noise reduction, edge restoration function — which more clearly outlines on-screen objects, according to Samsung. “The TV intelligently upscales the resolution to an 8K viewing experience,” Das said.

Stephanie Prange and Erik Gruenwedel contributed to this report.

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