Consumer Electronics Show 2013 Overview

In the coming weeks we will take a more detailed look at some of the very cool products previewed at the Consumer Electronics Show.  In this overview we will look at some of the broad trends.

The sensory overload of attending CES starts in the cab with three sets of auditory inputs: Steve Wynne’s aftermarket slide show from the ceiling of the cab touting his gaudy venues, the credit card reader with a miniscreen with ads for diamonds and the car radio bringing you the local news and weather. Those three are supplemented by another three delights: the taxi dispatcher calling for more cabs at the crowded Convention Center, a new safety warning system for alerting the taxi driver he is getting too close to the next car and the now ubiquitous seat belt alert.  It’s as if the taxis are doing you a service, getting you prepared for the audio and video stimulation around the corner.

Nonetheless, the attendees keep coming. It was one of the colder CES gatherings in recent memory, but the Consumer Electronics Association announced that the 2013 International CES was the largest in the show’s 45+ year history, with 1.92 million net square feet of exhibit space. The previous record was 1.86 million net square feet of space at the 2012 International CES. More than 3,250 exhibitors unveiled some 20,000 new products at the 2013 CES. Official attendance has yet to be announced, but suffice to say with the 37 football fields’ worth of exhibits, there was plenty to see.

 

The most famous candy store in Manhattan has extended its brand to include tablet covers.

Samsung featured its bendable OLED TV screen. Many TV manufacturers were pushing Ultra High Definition as the next generation of formats, no doubt because 3D has failed to gain traction. As with any new format, compelling content will determine a format’s success. More nimble set top boxes will offer more versatility, by allowing for greater recording capacity and improved cloud delivery. Audi and Lexus featured driverless vehicle technologies.The introduction if the iPhone 5 and its incompatible connectors sent manufacturers scrambling, but covers for tablets continue to spawn all sorts of styles.

Everyone seemed to have a line of headphones, and we will be testing a few in the weeks to come. It seems the possibility of improved sound may actually gain traction in the marketplace, a welcome improvement from the tinny sound delivered by stock iBuds and laptops. We can credit Jimmy Iovine and his efforts at promoting Beats headphones for this trend.

TV reporters who film Ultra HD for their viewers are akin to folks who call their buddies to listen to their new stereo system.

Lemmy would score major kudos if he designed headphones with an upper end decibel limit; kids do not need headphones that go to 11.

Another trend is the proliferation of wireless powered speakers, again a welcome bit of evidence that folks are looking for better sound than what is delivered by their current equipment.  Many of these units link to smartphones and tablets via BlueTooth, such that no ongoing hassles to connect are encountered.  Credit Sonos for paving the way, although their connection is a different path.

If we are indeed seeing the early days of a renaissance for improved sound, we will need to look for better formats for the music.  Neil Young has been telling anyone who will listen (pun intended) that he has the answer, but details on how, when and where are still missing in action.  Most folks seem content to listen to the compressed sounds of MP3, iTunes and streaming, but perhaps a change is in the air.

Come to think of it, the only devices I saw designed to play CDs are retro gramophone style nostalgia units. I saw no examples of the classy micro stereos that held sway over the last decade, but there was a welcome return of the turntable.  Indeed, vinyl is the tiny but fastest growing segment of the recorded music business.

Another fascinating trend is the proliferation of digital health devices, which each aim to provide consumers with real time feedback. I will be roadtesting a couple of these devices.

Watch this space for more detailed reviews of products in the coming weeks.

Undoubtedly this is Homer Simpson's preferred power unit.

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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