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.

Warner Bros. Joins HDR10+ Push

Two studios are now backing the proprietary High Dynamic Range platform called HDR10+ that Samsung began pushing last year.

Twentieth Century Fox, Panasonic and Samsung Jan. 5 announced updates for the HDR10+ platform. At the same time, Warner Bros. announced it had joined the coalition, as well.

In the move toward advanced 4K ultra high-definition televisions, including higher resolution, frame rates and enhanced contrast, and color, adoption of High Dynamic Range has been limited to paying Dolby Vision or using HDR10 – an open-source format any CE manufacturer can use without paying a licensing fee.

The companies envision the updated metadata platform being made available to content companies, UHD TVs, Blu-ray Disc players/recorders and set-top box manufacturers, among others, in the new year.

Fox and Samsung begun discussing HDR10+ dynamic metadata in late 2016. It was in February and March that Fox, Samsung and Panasonic came together to build the licensing program for HDR10+. Samsung and Amazon Prime officially joined the group in April 2017. Warner is the second studio to join. Media reports suggest Netflix is considering implementing the format as well.

“Our aim is to deliver an immersive experience no matter what you’re watching,” David Das, SVP, Consumer Electronics Marketing, Samsung Electronics America, said at a Jan. 7 Samsung press event in Las Vegas, on the eve of CES 2018. “That’s why we’re also expanding our HDR10+ platform with industry-leading partners to deliver HDR content into the home.”

“In addition to Amazon, we are partnering with some of the biggest names in entertainment, including 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., to expand the HDR10+ ecosystem and empower others to leverage an open, royalty-free platform.”

Danny Kaye, EVP of 20th Fox and managing director of the Fox Innovation Lab, said in a statement, “It was important for us to create an open system that is flexible and offers a viewing experience much closer to the filmmaker’s creative intent for the film. Together with Samsung and Panasonic, we aim to standardize the licensing process making it easy for partners, including content creators, television and device manufacturers, to incorporate this technology and improve the viewing experience for all audiences.”

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment says it will support HDR10+ to enable a dynamic metadata solution for Warner Bros. content to Samsung, Panasonic and other HDR10+ capable 4K HDR TVs.

“Warner Bros. has always strived to provide the best next gen home entertainment experience to consumers,” said Jim Wuthrich, president of the Americas and Global Strategy, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “With HDR10+ dynamic metadata, WB can continue to more accurately bring the filmmakers’ vision of our 2018 releases and our vast catalog of over 75 4K HDR titles to the home across a broad range of HDR10+ capable TVs.”

In an interview with Media Play News at the Samsung press event on Jan. 7, Bill Mandel, VP, Industry Relations at Samsung Research America, said the advantages of HDR10+ are that it is royalty free, a little newer technology, and offers “more precise dynamic meta data control.”

Companies attending CES 2018 in Las Vegas Jan. 9-12 can view the new logo, learn about the license program, including final specifications, adopter agreements and/or sign up to receive a notification when technical specifications for HDR10+ become available at http://www.hdr10plus.org.

Continue reading “Warner Bros. Joins HDR10+ Push”

CES 2018 Mission: Improving the Home Entertainment Experience

More than 4,000 companies have arrived in Las Vegas for CES 2018, the world’s largest tech show, with many hoping to improve the home entertainment experience.

In addition to omnipresent television makers touting larger skinnier 4K UHD displays, CES promises myriad smart home enhancements – many featuring voice-activation.

With research firm Gartner predicting that, by 2019, at least 25% of households in developed economies would rely on digital assistants, competition to help people more easily consume anything from pizza to a movie from the comfort of the sofa has become fierce.

“Innovations such as voice control have increased consumer interest in solutions that enhance the entertainment experience,” said Elizabeth Parks, SVP at Parks Associates.

Google, for example, is coming to CES hoping to up its 25% market share of the smart speaker market, according to Strategy Analytics. Amazon Echo currently commands a 67% market share.

Both companies (and Apple) sell digital movies and TV shows, including 2014 sci-fi hit Ex Machina. Seems natural to order the Oscar-winner by voice-command.

“You should have the same assistant helping you across all the contexts of your life,” Scott Huffman, VP for Google Assistant, told The Washington Post, whose founder/CEO Jeff Bezos owns Amazon.

But what good is virtual assistance if you can’t live forever, looking like George Clooney?

Netflix has a solution, showcasing the pending original series “Altered Carbon,” which launches globally Feb. 2. The streaming giant “partnered” with PsychaSec, the fictional company whose tech underscores the cyberpunk sci-fi series about technological advances that allow one to extend life indefinitely – without arguably selling your soul to the Devil, a.k.a., “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

Twentieth Century Fox, Panasonic and Samsung will present updates for HDR10+, the open-source High Dynamic Range platform Samsung began pushing last year to avoid paying HDR royalties to Dolby Vision.

Amazon Prime Video has already incorporated the enhanced 4K UHD format for original content “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” comedy “Jean-Claude Van Johnson,” and “The Tick,” among others.

Chinese TV manufacturer TCL Jan. 8 will announce 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.

Seeking to make sense of it all, Hulu CEO Randy Freer joins Turner CEO John Martin Jan. 10 on a keynote panel titled “Reimagining Television.” Freer and Martin are slated to discuss how technology companies are moving into content creation, while content companies are expanding digital distribution. The panel takes place at Monte Carlo’s Park Theater.

Finally, leave it to French furniture maker Miliboo to feature a smart sofa allowing users to wirelessly charge cell phones and related portable devices while watching TV.

Even smarter: The sofa tracks how long you’ve been a couch potato, while monitoring the effects on your body’s posture.