CES 2022 Gets Underway With Revamped Floor Plan and Masked Attendees

LAS VEGAS — CES 2022 got underway the morning of Jan. 5 with a smaller floor plan, social distancing measures implemented by several large exhibitors, and a surprisingly large crowd of attendees, all of them masked.

And while the show has been shifting away from its legacy consumer electronics and toward innovation in such fields as mobility, digital health and space tech, CE manufacturers at CES 2022 continue to have the biggest booths and most elaborate displays.

LG Electronics commanded the marquee position in the Central Hall, but is using its space this year for a vast corkboard platform with little stations where visitors can get presentations on their iPhones, including a history of the CE giant’s signature OLED Experience exhibits, which in the past have seen screens arranged in waterfall, tunnel and canyon settings. Several visitors, however, reported that the virtual experiences either didn’t work or were too complicated, since they involved downloading and installing an app.

The LG Electronics booth at CES 2022

The Panasonic booth devoted half its space to a socially distant seating area, as did the Sony booth, where the focus this year is on two electric-vehicle prototypes the company hopes to build as it ventures into the automotive sector. Sony says it plans on establishing a car unit to enter the EV market. One of the vehicles the company is displaying at CES is a seven-set sport-utility vehicle with all-wheel drive.

Somewhat inexplicably, Sony also has a big display for the PlayStation 5, even though the device is still in short supply at retail.

Sony’s PS5 display in its booth at CES 2022

Several other big CE exhibitors, including TCL and Hisense, set up booths virtually identical to the ones they fielded in the pre-COVID days. 

The one commonality among CE exhibitors: Touting the advantages of their favored backlight technologies, OLED, QLED, and Mini-LED, the latter being the newest and hottest trend in TV displays.

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All are variations of LED, an acronym for light-emitting diode. LEDs are the tiny elements of a TV screen that light up in order to produce an image on an LED TV. LED technology became commonplace more than a decade ago after improvements in the technology spearheaded by Samsung.

OLED stands for organic LED, with each pixel made of a material that glows when it receives electricity. The electroluminescent materials used in OLED screens are organic compounds of carbon and other ingredients. OLED is emissive, with the pixels emitting their own light.

QLED is a Samsung technology introduced in 2015. The Q stands for “Quantum Dot.” It’s essentially a variation of LED and is transmissive, relying on an LED backlight.

The newest backlight technology is Mini-LED, similar to QLED, just with even smaller backlights. Mini-LED is a bridge between the older QLED technology and the newer OLED tech, with the same deep blacks that OLED promises.

Samsung has updated the Neo QLED technology that it bowed at last year’s virtual CES to improve the picture quality, but the Korean CE giant also is showing off its new line of Micro LED displays, which boast 25-million LED arrays and come in 89-inch, 101-inch, and 110-inch models.

Sony has QD-OLED, which combines OLED and quantum dot technologies for what it purports is the best of both worlds.

Meanwhile, Hisense and TCL both boast some Mini-LED models.

CES 2022 touched down in Las Vegas as the show’s producer, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), projects the consumer technology industry will generate more than $505 billion in retail sales revenue, a record high that’s up nearly 3% from 2021. The CTA attributes much of the gain to growing demand for smartphones, automotive tech, health devices and streaming services will help propel much of the projected revenue.

Despite a rash of last-minute cancellations due to the surge of the Omicron COVID variant, CES 2022 has more than 2,300 exhibitors, including more than 800 startups. Once again, the focus is not on legacy consumer electronics but, rather, on “the latest transformative technologies, including vehicle technology, artificial intelligence, digital health and smart home tech, as well as new categories: NFTs, food tech and space tech,” CTA said in a Jan. 5 press release.
 
The CES exhibit floor will be open through Jan. 7, a shorter run due to COVID concerns.

CES Diary, Day 3: Opening Day, at Last!

Ever since I arrived in Las Vegas on Monday, I’ve been curious as to how CES 2022 would turn out. The COVID curse led to calls for cancellations, but the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which produces the annual show, vowed to press ahead, albeit with strict health protocols. 

I walked to the show from my $32 room at the Sahara, an easy mile-long stroll along Paradise Road. Nearing the venue, everything seemed business as usual. A fast walker, I passed by at least a dozen other show-goers, easily identified by their badges (around their necks) and dark sport coats. I also saw a caravan of taxis heading toward the show. And just before I got to Convention Center Drive, I saw that the Spring Hill Suites by Marriott was charging $30 for “event parking” just as they always do.

Approaching the entrance, the crowd seemed a little light, but not by much. I went through security and entered the concourse. On one side were bins of show dailies; on the other, a rack with free masks and stickers: green, yellow and red. Over the three bins — one for each color — was a sign that read, “Please use a sticker to show others how you prefer to engage.” Green stickers implied “I’m okay with handshakes”; yellow stickers, “I’m okay with elbow and fist bumps”; and red stickers, “No touching. I’m happy just to wave hello.”

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I chose red — not so much because of COVID but because I’ve long felt that handshakes were an antiquated form of greeting (show me your hand so I know you’re not carrying a weapon!), while fist and elbow bumps are just silly. I also grabbed a couple of extra masks, since the one I was wearing smelled a bit like the chorizo chilaquiles I had just had for breakfast at the Sahara.

Entering the Central Hall, I at first thought LG Electronics, whose exhibit was front and center, hadn’t yet set anything up. There before me was a vast corkboard floor, sprinkled with little stations with QVC codes. I soon realized that LG was attempting to bridge the physical and virtual worlds by offering visitors a series of virtual presentations right there on the physical show floor, from a press conference to CES Innovation Award wins to a history of the company’s signature, and immersive, OLED Experiences at past CES shows, including the 2017 tunnel, the 2018 canyon, the 2019 waterfall and the 2020 wave.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me, neither figuratively (come on, corkboards?) nor literally (who’s got time to download an app and then follow a bunch of instructions to get video footage from earlier shows — isn’t that what YouTube is for?).

The rest of the show floor demonstrated CTA’s commitment to health protocols, such as wider aisles, some of them with one-way arrows, and social distancing. The arrows were disregarded by most attendees; social distancing was hit or miss. Some of the biggest exhibitors, including Sony, Panasonic and Samsung, set aside a good-sized chunk of their exhibit space for open areas with wide-apart seating. Others, including Hisense and TCL, had no discernible changes to their booths from prior years.

The big buzz on the home entertainment front was Mini-LED TVs, which everyone seemed to have. I also noticed quite a few CE companies were targeting specific groups with their TVs, including Hisense and TCL, both of which showed off TVs specifically geared toward gamers.

Early in the morning, our editor in chief, Stephanie Prange, challenged me to find a single 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

Fail.

 

Hisense Showcases $5,999 8K Laser Smart TV at CES

In the rush to introduce the next biggest TV screen, 8K format screens have become a prerequisite. Chinese consumer electronics giant Hisense is set to bow a 120-inch 8K TriChroma Cinema Laser Smart TV later this year, which includes an eye-popping $5,999 price tag.

The CES showstopper features Dolby Vision IQ, QLED Quantum Dot Color, HDMI 2.1 inputs (ideal for gaming), well as Hisense’s proprietary VIDAA operating system, which affords users access to third-party streaming apps such as Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Tubi, among other streaming services. The VIDAA Smartphone app doubles as a TV remote.

Last month, Hisense announced the availability of its first branded 8K U800GR Roku TV. Certified by the 8K Association, the U800GR Series TV model claims to deliver 33 million pixels and four times more depth and clarity than a 4KTV. The 75-inch U800GR is available for $2,699.99 at Amazon and BestBuy.com.

Hisense is also showcasing “less expensive” UHD, ULED and Mini-LED TVs at CES through Jan. 7 in Las Vegas.

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China’s Hisense Bows First 8K Roku TV

Chinese consumer electronics giant Hisense Dec. 9 announced the availability of the first 8K U800GR Hisense Roku TV. Certified by the 8K Association, the U800GR Series TV model claims to deliver 33 million pixels and four times more depth and clarity than a 4KTV.

The 75-inch U800GR is available for $2,699.99 MSRP at Amazon and BestBuy.com.

“Alongside growing screen sizes, the prospect of enjoying the best possible picture continues to intrigue many consumers,” David Gold, president of Hisense USA, said in a statement.

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Long a trade show lure, 8K is slowly emerging from the promotional front to retail. While 8K remains an early adoption for most consumers, due to price and lack of 8K-specific content, the move signals a continuing push by CE manufacturers to improve the television in the home.

“We’re proud to combine our high-performing and high-quality products with Roku’s massive selection of free, live, and premium TV, and be at the forefront of premium TV offerings,” Gold said.

Hisense’s latest ULED Series TV model combines 8K streaming and display, three-dimensional Dolby Atmos sound and the Roku operating system. The U800GR Series also features Quantum Dot technology, Dolby Vision, and 180 local dimming zones to bring a new depth of realism to the TV-watching experience.

Video game players can experience smoother gaming sequences and scenes with the TV’s 480 motion rate, native 120Hz panel and auto low latency game mode and “variable refresh rate.” With the 8K upscaler, the TV analyzes content frame-by-frame and automatically adjusts the displayed image to deliver greater clarity and depth, regardless of the content resolution.

The U800GR Series ships with the new Roku Voice Remote Pro, Roku’s best remote to date, featuring a rechargeable battery, lost remote finder, customizable personal shortcut buttons, and hands-free voice commands to play entertainment, control your streaming and power up your TV.

Comcast Bows ‘XClass TV’ Operating System

Comcast Oct. 19 announced the launch of XClass TV, the cable giant’s proprietary operating system affording third-party television manufacturers direct access to NBCUniversal and third-party content.

For the first time, Comcast is making its entertainment and voice platform available direct to consumers across the U.S., without an Xfinity subscription, both inside and outside of Comcast’s service areas.

Comcast is partnering with China’s Hisense to offer consumers an innovative smart-TV with an integrated interface and voice remote to access live and on-demand streaming content from myriad apps and services. The first run of Hisense XClass TVs are available this week in select Walmart stores and in the coming weeks through Walmart.com.

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The operating system is the same technology Comcast employs for its proprietary Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex, Sky Glass and Sky Q platforms catering to 75 million Comcast entertainment and connectivity devices. The OS integrates streaming, on-demand, broadcast and cable options in one place under unified voice search, discovery, apps and interactive features. It offers customers intuitive navigation across thousands of apps, movies, shows and sports with a simple voice command or remote click.

“Hisense XClass TVs are the next products in a growing portfolio built on our flexible and scalable technology platform, bringing the best innovative products — whether that’s a streaming box or a smart-TV — to each territory and customer segment,” Sam Schwartz, chief business development officer at Comcast, said in a statement.

Hisense XClass TVs are available in 43-inch and 50-inch 4K Ultra HD models. The televisions include a voice remote powered by Comcast’s Emmy-award winning voice technology. Alongside the simple and intuitive user experience, Hisense XClass TVs support leading technologies including Dolby Vision HDR, which delivers a more vivid, lifelike image. Hisense XClass TVs also support HDR10 and can enable the pass-through of Dolby Atmos from compatible content sources when the TV is connected to a compatible audio device.

Disney+ Inks Distribution Via China’s VIDAA Operating System

Disney’s branded subscription streaming video platform, Disney+, is getting distribution on select Hisense and Toshiba smart-televisions using VIDAA, the Chinese-owned operating system software utilizing the open-sourced Linux platform.

Based in Atlanta, VIDAA was launched by the Hisense Group, a Chinese multinational electronics manufacturer with TV sales revenue of about 30 billion yuan ($4.7 billion) in 2019.

 

In 2020, VIDAA introduced a revamped user interface named 4.0, which puts users and their way of consuming content at the core of the design. As of May 2021, the VIDAA U5 OS saw further improvements by implementing Google Assistant, its own voice activation software, the new VIDAA remote control smartphone application, as well as advertising and billing services in select markets.

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“Our cooperation with The Walt Disney Company is a major milestone for our organization,” Guy Edri, EVP of VIDAA USA, said in a statement. “Bringing Disney+ to the VIDAA platform globally is just the first step. We’re looking forward to working with Disney on ways to expand our collaboration and opportunities to bring their full suite of streaming services to our customers in the future. Today marks not only the launch of an amazing service on a state-of-the-art platform, but a start of a long-term relationship between two companies, each a leader in its industry.”

Comcast to Launch Branded ‘XClass TV’ Models Made by China’s Hisense

Comcast is getting into the television business. The media giant has quietly began laying the groundwork for the rollout of a line of broadband branded high-definition televisions manufactured by China’s Hisense.

Dubbed “XClass TV,” the initial units come in 43-inch and 50-inch screen sizes powered by the cable giant’s X1 operating system with ultra high-definition (UHD) picture resolution — relatively small in today’s mega-screen market — according to the device’s landing page.

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“XClass TV smart TV that brings all your favorite apps, live channels, and On Demand movies and shows together in one place. XClass TV works gives you thousands of free movies, shows, music and more,” reads the the page.

While there has been no official announcement, Comcast is following in the footsteps of Roku, which was the first U.S. streaming media company to partner with Chinese manufacturers launching branded televisions. Amazon just announced the launch of its own line of branded self-manufactured TVs.

Previous media reports say Comcast would market the XClass TVs through Walmart. Regardless, the move is noteworthy considering the TVs would be marketed to consumers outside Comcast’s pay-TV.

“We’re looking at smart TVs on a global basis, and we’re wondering: Can we bring our tech stack, or certain capabilities in aggregation, to consumers who are relying more and more on smart TVs?,” Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts told an investor group in 2020.

Indeed, in addition to a free year subscription to Peacock, the televisions come equipped with myriad third-party apps (Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, Showtime and Paramount+) preloaded, plus free movies through NBCUniversal-owned Vudu, and ad-free FAST platforms Xumo, Pluto TV and Tubi.

The TVs will also have access to music, playlists, and podcasts from Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, in addition to live broadcasts from iHeart Radio.

The XClass TV will include access to Premier League soccer from the U.K. on Peacock and Spain’s La Liga, and the PGA Tour on Xumo. Plus, access to highlight reels and must-watch moments on YouTube.

Comcast Seeking to Jumpstart Peacock Sub Growth via Connected TVs

Comcast reportedly is working with Chinese TV manufacturer Hisense and Walmart to market a line of connected televisions featuring the Peacock app, among others.

The media giant reported 42 million Peacock sign-ups through the first quarter (ended March 31). While the tally may seem large considering the AVOD/SVOD platform’s launch just nine months prior, the number of actual paying subs (10 million, according to The Walt Street Journal) suggests the service needs some help.

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Peacock will figure prominently next month during the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics, streaming some marquee events live — to paid subscribers.

Increasing that paid base — at a time when rivals Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ have a combined 450+ million subs — has become a major goal for Comcast senior management.

Speaking May 26 on the virtual JPMorgan 49th Annual Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference, CFO Michael Cavanagh shed further light on the metrics, saying about one-third (or 13.8 million) of sign-ups use Peacock on a monthly basis. How many of them are paying a subscription remains unclear.

“We certainly would like to see more signups, more hours used,” Cavanagh said, adding the platform remains a work-in-progress convincing users to stream live sports (Premier League soccer), original sitcoms such as “Rutherford Falls,” “The Office” re-runs and live news going forward.

Earlier this month, NBCUniversal and Samsung announced that Peacock would available on Samsung Smart TVs. The partnership is noticeable since Samsung markets its own branded ad-supported streaming video platform.

“Samsung is a powerful platform and we are excited to bring Peacock to millions of their dedicated streamers across the country,” said Maggie McLean Suniewick, president of business development and partnerships for Peacock.

Indeed, Comcast wants to use Peacock as lure to entice CE manufacturers to incorporate the platform as a conduit for third-party apps linked to the internet, similar to what Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Google Chromecast market.

The Journal reports that under the project name “PlatCo,” the cable TV giant is working to develop a line of connected TVs manufactured by China’s Hisense and sold in Walmart stores under the chain’s onn brand. Walmart also works with Roku for onn-branded soundbars.

“We’re learning as we go [on Peacock],” Cavanagh said. “And that is shaping our plans as we go forward. We’ve brought content production back. Working on getting Peacock on other platforms.”

Crackle Plus Launching AVOD App on Smart TVs

Crackle Plus, an advertising-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) service, Feb. 10 announced an agreement to launch its app on Smart TVs with the VIDAA smart operation system, including Hisense Smart TVs.

At launch, Crackle content on VIDAA will be available to their customers in the U.S. using their proprietary operating system. VIDAA customers will gain access to Crackle’s library of studio film titles and classic TV series as well as a growing list of original and exclusive programming, including “Breaking Beauty,” “Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story,” “Robert the Bruce,” “Spides,” “Corporate Animals,” “Blue Iguana,” “Anything is Possible: The Serge Ibaka Story,” “Road to Race Day,” “On Point,” “Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters,” “The Clearing,” “Insomnia,” “Yelawolf: A Slumerican Life,” and “Going From Broke,” recently picked up for a second season.

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VIDAA’s system gives users access to dozens of third-party streaming apps delivering entertainment as either video-on-demand or linear feeds. The VIDAA Smart TV platform was launched by Hisense in 2014,  amassing more than 20 million global installs since that time.

“Crackle is excited to partner with VIDAA and to offer free access to our growing library of originals and exclusives, as well as our expanding library of studio films, docu-series, sports content, and classic TV shows,” Philippe Guelton, president of Crackle Plus, said in a statement.

Crackle linear and VOD networks are available in the U.S. and can be accessed on 29 devices and services including Amazon FireTV, RokuTV, Apple TV, Smart TVs (Samsung, LG, Vizio), gaming consoles (PS4 and XBoxOne), Plex, iOS and Android mobile devices and on desktops at Crackle.com. Crackle is also available in approximately 500,000 hotel rooms in the Marriott Bonvoy chain. 

UHD Alliance Announces Amazon Prime, Hisense Support for Filmmaker Mode

The UHD Alliance on Sept. 30 announced that Amazon Prime will begin supporting Filmmaker Mode next year and that Hisense has joined consumer electronics companies Panasonic, Vizio, Samsung, LG, Kaleidescape and Philips in supporting the feature.

The announcements came during an online presentation with DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

Filmmaker Mode, introduced by the UHD Alliance in August 2019, is designed to reproduce the content in the way the creator intended. It allows viewers to enjoy a more cinematic experience on their UHD TVs when watching movies by disabling all post-processing (e.g. motion smoothing, etc.) so the movie or television show is displayed as it was intended by the filmmaker, preserving the correct aspect ratios, colors and frame rates, according to the Alliance.

“Prime Video will be launching this feature on select players next year,” said UHD Alliance chairman Mike Zink. “It’s something that we’ve been working very hard on, and I think we are very, very excited for this to come to life.”

UHD Alliance president Mike fiddler noted that CE companies supporting Filmmaker Mode represent a big chunk of TV unit shipments both domestically and globally.

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Zink interviewed colorist Jill Bogdanowicz and Stephen Lighthill, president, the American Society of Cinematographers, about the importance of maintaining the intention of creators in content viewed in the home.

“Anyone that does not look at the way the image is going into the home is foolish,” noted Lighthill, adding “producers want to make sure it’s going to look the same in Jill’s suite as it does at home.”

CE company executives also joined the discussion to describe and express their support for Filmmaker Mode.

LG Electronics’ Tim Alessi said the company was putting Filmmaker Mode in every new UHD model produced in 2020.

“We kinda went all in on Filmmaker Mode,” he said, noting, “what really sets this whole effort apart is we got the entire industry to rally around one name and one set of features.”

LG is mounting an in-store display at Best Buy describing the advantages of the feature.

Samsung’s Bill Mandel said the manufacturer put the Mode in all its 2020 UHD TVs, and about a month ago launched new projectors with the feature. Samsung is running an in-store video loop about it on its TVs, he noted.