By Terry Paulin

C.E.S. We came. We ate. We saw. We ate. We asked Qs. We mostly got “…uhh, I’m not sure, you need to talk to Fred about that. He’s not here right now. Can you come back in an hour?” Never ceases to amaze me how much money is spent on elaborate booths and then staffed with people who can’t answer the kinds of questions one could anticipate from the kind of folks who attend.

As of this writing, the exact attendance figures have not been released. C.T.A (Consumer Technology Association), the new C.E.A, tried to cap attendance to somewhere around 150,000. Frankly, I think the old (last year) record of 170,000 was broken. Too many people in the booths, too many people in the halls, too many people looking for cabs, too many people in the restaurants. It was nearly impossible to have a meaningful conversation on the floor. Perhaps that’s why Apple and Microsoft don’t attend anymore. Whatever the efforts to restrict admission (tighter scrutiny of badge-worthy applicants) they were more than offset by bloggers who fancied themselves journalists and had some kind of paper to prove it. Be glad you didn’t go!

Had you gone, however, you might have been impressed by the following:

Entrances to the now big two in our business, LG and Samsung, were spectacular. Samsung had motorized panel mounts that transformed a horizontal line of displays that, on cue, morphed into a 50ft. high stunning array. Probably not for the home. LG had what we came to call Atmos Video (panels on the ceiling).

Samsung’s Array of LED LCD Panels

In the Press Conference before the show LG showed us a 77″ OLED display that was the thickness of 4 credit cards. Big points for “waaay coolness”, but big worries about installation. Given the mechanical nature of how these razor thin displays are connected to their bases, I know that I personally would not want to be responsible for the transporting/handling. That would be an all-too-easy $25,000 “oops”.

The BIG buzz for sure was the (almost) full rollout of HDR (High Dynamic Range). You will be reading about this everywhere (excellent articles in last month’s WSR) and Joel Silver and I co-authored an article elsewhere in this issue. Suffice it to say here, that it is the most worthwhile change to your viewing experience since color TV was introduced in the early 50s. This readership is by now familiar with local area dimming ………….. think of HDR as local area BLASTING!

CES is always a sideshow – in so many ways. I have taken to finding amusement in the signage. Some are funny. Some are just bad marketing. Some are just wrong. Here are a few that caught my eye.

Found in the Klipsch booth:

“70 years of pissing off the neighbors”

Samsungs booth proudly announced:

“World’s Largest 170 inch Display” Really? I thought there might be a LARGER 170 inch display somewhere on the floor.

Seen in the Hisense booth:

“We’re #3″ Likely supplied by #s 1 or 2. Also likely, marketing VP was fired!

A trinket vendor alleged ” We can show you all our new stuff faster than you can count to ten …….. in Swahili”

In the Just Wrong column, LG was showing a curved TV with adjacent signage that enumerated it’s advantages, one being “Improved Viewing Angle”. The exact opposite, of course, is true. Unless you are dead center every other seat has inferior viewing compared to a flat panel. Simple geometry.

We saw some pretty good looking images from the Chinese contingent, Hisense and TCL. Final judgment has to be withheld, of course, until we get some instrumentation on the products and scrub them aggressively. You may know that Sharp licensed it’s brand name to Hisense in the middle of last year and just this month finalized the deal. Sadly, Sharp, a pioneer of the LCD technology, had acquired a worse than average repair history and, coupled with other financial woes, has obviously opted to concede the U.S market to the likes of Samsung, LG and Vizio. We worry about JVC (now controlled by AmTRAN) and Panasonic (abandoning the premiere plasma position). Can they hang on to viability in the intensely competitive U.S. market?

Hitachi, Fujitsu, NEC, Mitsubishi, Pioneer and now Sharp have found it too tough. Television as we know it, is about to undergo a sea-change in quality (HDR) and we early adopters could hope for a little more competition.

My biggest disappointment was that there were not more UHD Blu-Ray players announced or shown at the show. Panasonic had a prototype on display but would only say “Sometime this year”.  ………. Christmas?

Samsung, on the other hand, announced that their player (UBD-K 8500) was immediately available for sale at Best Buy and Amazon, with delivery mid-February. Smart move as there is surely a pent-up demand from all those who have purchased a 4K TV. I’ve ordered mine and you probably should too if you are one of those looking at 8 million pixels. Samsung’s box is offered at $399. I’m guessing anything we will see from the competition (for awhile) will be 3 to 4 times that. I still believe that in a competitive world you generally get what you pay for … except maybe for initial offerings of a hot product. Loss leaders capture share!

This resurrects the debate about how long disc media can stave off a streaming alternative. As usual, I’m swimming upstream (no pun intended) against “conventional wisdom”. I say discs will be around for a few more years for several reasons.

One, the new “stuff” we are about to get (HDR package) including higher resolution, meta data, larger color bit-depth, and wider color gamut (DCI-P3) makes streaming LESS practical. Much, much more data means longer downloads and/or more aggressive compression algorithms which translates to more visible video artifacts.

Two, discs are still a “handy” medium. They contain extras not found on streamed copies. You can loan/trade them with friends if you like and even resell them. Finally, the baby-boomer generation will still be around for a few more years. I have several friends in this category who refuse to have an E-mail account, but are happy to pop-in a Blu-Ray movie into their players.

Long live C.E.S. for the technology and amusement it provides!