CES Report: Top Trends on Exhibit

The Consumer Electronics Show always offers an enticing mix of new products that will play pivotal roles in consumer-electronics showrooms, new products that will never see the light of day beyond the exhibition, and new concepts that hint at the future of content consumption.

After two days wandering the show floor and exhibits, we still are well short of seeing everything. So, tomorrow, we will finish up our tour of this year’s floor and, next week, offer some thoughts on how this year’s developments may lay out future opportunities (and challenges).

RCA was among the exhibitors debuting portable TV sets that can receive over-the-air DTV signals.

For now, here are a few highlights from the show floor:

Mobile DTV
Yes, it has arrived. For the past three years, deployment of Mobile DTV services and devices seemed destined to be the technological equivalent of waiting for the Chicago Cubs to win a World Series: next year. But, after more than a decade of wrangling (remember the battle between COFDM and 8VSB in the early days of HD over which was best suited for Mobile DTV?), actual products that will be shipping in 2012 are on display at CES.

So what can consumers expect? In the next few months, a number of adapters and dongles will become available for products like the Apple iPhone and iPad, a phone from Samsung will have built-in Mobile DTV-reception capabilities, and RCA and others will roll out portable TV sets that can receive over-the-air DTV signals that can keep up with devices on the go.

Most important, those devices will be able to receive content in more than 46 TV markets via more than 120 TV stations.

And then, there are some great potential applications of the service. Digital-signage servers, for example, can be placed in trains and buses to deliver content and advertising. Local newscasts, weather forecasts, and other content can be available on-demand. Cable channels and other pay content can be available on conditional-access channels. And, of course, live simulcasts of the regular DTV signal can be available.

There are, unfortunately, potential headaches. Rights issues loom as a threat to the popularity of Mobile DTV because it is unclear whether mobile devices fall under existing rights deals for over-the-air delivery to an HDTV set in a living room or whether new deals need to be negotiated. Here’s to hoping sanity reigns supreme and greed can take a backseat for once.

Dish Network’s Tailgater is a small, portable antenna that can be placed almost anywhere.

While Mobile DTV services are getting off the ground, another mobile service, Tailgater from Dish Network, was introduced in September (just in time for football). The Tailgater is a small, portable antenna that weighs 10 lbs. and can be placed almost anywhere. Encased in a protective case, the antenna rotates to find satellite locations. It costs about $300 and doesn’t require a monthly contract, so users can fire it up during tailgate season without paying for a year of service.

Next-Generation LED Technologies
For the past few years, there has been buzz around “organic LED,” or OLED, beyond use in displays in handheld devices. At CES in 2007, for example, Sony demonstrated 11- and 27-in. OLED TVs that offered amazing color accuracy and refresh rates.

Sony’s “Crystal LED” set promises wider color gamut, higher contrast, and quicker response.

This year’s show saw three next-generation developments. First, Sony demonstrated a 55-in. “Crystal LED” set that mounts a separate red, green, and blue LED within each pixel. The result? Besides eliminating the need for a color filter, the display offers a wider color gamut, higher contrast, and much improved response time. Plans include for the technology to be complemented by OLED technology at screen sizes of 40 in. or less.

While Sony embraced Crystal LED for the 55-in. screen size, both LG Electronics and Samsung introduced 55-in. OLED sets. Leaving aside the impressive physical form factor (weight of less than 18 lbs. and a screen depth of only 4 mm), both LG and Samsung demonstrated that the screens are about more than just better color accuracy and refresh rates. LG put the screens into passive-3D mode, demonstrating that the technology can solve the less-than-HD-resolution problem that has plagued previous passive displays.

With Samsung’s “Dual Full HD” and active 3D glasses, two viewers can watch different programs on the same set at the same time.

And Samsung demonstrated “Dual Full HD,” inviting attendees to sit down in front of a TV that was simultaneously displaying two separate programs. When two viewers put on active 3D glasses equipped with small audio speakers, they could each watch, and listen to, either of the programs, with the other viewer’s being none the wiser. Flicking a switch on the glasses allows the viewer to switch between the two programs. So fighting over whether to watch the big game or the latest episode of Real Housewives may become a thing of the past.

Next-Generation Resolutions
Remember when 1080p could wow a crowd? Not anymore. The Central Hall at CES was swimming in next-generation displays offering everything from 4K to Sharp’s 8K display (although the material displayed was not acquired in 8K because there are no 8K imagers currently available).

In terms of the most impressive 4K demos, the LG Electronics 84-in. “Ultra HD” display packed a solid passive-3D punch, and Sony offered two demos that wowed: a glasses-free 46-in. 3D display that could turn a skeptic about whether glasses-free 3D will ever offer quality viewing into a believer, and a 4K projector that would leave the local Cineplex in the dust in terms of image quality.

Next-Generation TV Controls
After Microsoft’s introduction last year of the Kinect, it only makes sense that TV-set manufacturers would look to leave the remote control behind and embrace gesture and voice control as well as facial recognition. Will gesture and voice controls ever replace the standard remote control? Doubtful, but it is definitely a trend that, with some refinement, could become seamless.

Next-Generation Smart TV

Smart TV gets more apps and more integration with other devices.

The past couple of years have seen plenty of consumer-set manufacturers introduce “smart TVs” offering apps, content streaming, social networking, and more. This year’s CES saw some refinements, more apps, and more integration with other devices.

For example, Samsung’s 2012 smart TVs will offer the ability to track fitness progress while taking streamed fitness classes. Panasonic’s sets will feature integration with MySpace, and, regardless of whether the also-ran social-networking site can regain its standing in the hearts and minds of users, the demo of the application within a TV environment was first-rate.

And Samsung’s dual-core philosophy will allow users to access apps and content without having to quit current apps and content. For smart TVs to really become a part of the living-room experience, dual-core processors will need to become a reality across the board.

Stay tuned for more reports and analysis from CES 2012.

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