18 Jan STEVE’S CES 2019 HIGHLIGHTS
This year’s International CES ran from Tuesday, 8 January to Friday, 11 January. Having taken place since 1967 it is staged by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), a trade organization that represents over 2,000 consumer tech companies in the U.S.
Overall there were very few standout innovations at CES this year, but lots of iterative progress in various technologies. The spectre of Apple, who never exhibit at CES, was less evident than usual. Google, however, invested hugely in promoting Google Assistant, which featured heavily on the stands of many manufacturers – Google even built a theme-park style ride, with VR elements, promoting this with ‘a day in the life’ theme. All on YouTube, of course, if you’re short of things to do.
Alexa | Image: Amazon
Voice assistant integration was everywhere, led by Alexa. Amazon announced, just before CES, that over 100M devices with Alexa on board had been sold worldwide, and more than 50,000 Alexa skills were in use.
In terms of TV technologies, the MicroLED implementations (as demo’ed by Samsung last year in ‘The Wall’) looked even more impressive this year, with very large modular displays possible – up to 5.5metres diagonal, at over 5k resolution.
LG showed their rollable (yes – rollable) LED TV units – a terrific foot-of-the-bed solution.
Sony showed a 98” 8K panel with terrific audio and full Smart TV support. They’ll release pricing and delivery dates in a month or so.
Samsung MicroLED | Image: What Hi-Fi?
LG Rollable TV | Image: LG
Sony Master Series Z9G 98-inch 8K LC | Images: Digital Trends
Perhaps the most interesting TV news was Apple incorporating Airplay 2 into new screens from Samsung, LG, Sony and Vizio. They even showed a native iTunes application in the Samsung Smart TV menu bar.
TV manufacturers for many years have received commissions from content providers – essentially monetising their purchaser base to augment the razor-thin margins they make on the product themselves. As a side note to this, it was reported that Amazon spent around $5B last year on original TV/movie content (Netflix spent a similar amount) – more than any of the broadcast networks. Netflix, in fact, now account for more than 10% of all TV viewing in the US. Over 40M households watched their movie Bird Box in the last month alone. In addition to this, around 40M ‘cord-cutting’ American households now watch TV without a cable or broadcast subscription. No more coax connectors?
What you might not realise is that Amazon do this to retain Prime customers in their retail business. Prime costs between £50 and £100 a year, depending on where you live, and the TV service comes for free. Amazon have shown that you are less likely to turn that off (and therefore more likely to buy more from them, as it is so fast and easy) if you watch Prime TV. They’ve proved that if they keep you addicted to ‘The Americans’ or ‘The Grand Tour’, you’ll keep buying more stuff, and that is their whole business case for TV and film production.
On the subject of business cases, some of the alarm vendors (notably Honeywell, alarm.com) are making it difficult for new dealers to take over old installations – either by ensuring ALL devices (not just the panel) need to be changed or that no one else can take over monitoring for the customer at that address. The reasoning is that most new alarms are sold to existing alarm users – other households have/want nothing or rely on a smart camera or something simple. I’m pretty sure the regulator will have something to say about this.
Elsewhere in the home security space Amazon-owned Ring showed a spyhole replacement camera, their new external lighting range and discussed a number of partnerships with police forces around the world. Ring are also launching an MDU product soon (as part of the Amazon Key offering) and a wired door camera with latch release functionality.
Ring Door View Camera | Image: Ring
In the ‘consumer IoT smarthome’ world there was very little talk of ‘traditional’ smarthome protocols like Zigbee or Z-Wave. In fact most vendors were moving to completely hub-less solutions using WiFi only, or Bluetooth (a similar technology to WiFi, of course). Bluetooth low-energy technology now allows auto-discovery and mesh implementations making it a good candidate for whole-home solutions, in the US at least, with timber-framed, drywall homes. Lots of the lighting and security manufacturers are launching Bluetooth products as a result.
Also, at the ‘affordable’ end of the spectrum Ikea announced some battery-powered motorised blinds in the sub-£200 range. These use the same hub as their Hue-like smart lighting range.
And saving the best till last…
Finally, if like me you still listen to vinyl you’ll be relieved to hear that Technics launched a new version of their venerable, DJ’s favourite, SL1210 – the Mark 7. Significantly cheaper than trying to pick up an original!
Technics SL-1200/SL-1210 MK7 | Image: What Hi-Fi?