I just returned from three days at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas. While the annual gadget confab is the largest tech trade show in the world, gifting us with everything from 100-inch TVs to enormous speakers to the weird and wonderful world of 3D printing, one thing that kept popping up over and over again was entertainment, and more specifically the intersection of gadgets and Hollywood.
Here were some of the highlights of the big event:
– Ultra HD Streaming! The next generation of high-definition TV, known interchangeably as “Ultra HD” (the official term) and “4K” (the one Sony and a few other companies retain) first surfaced at last year’s CES, but broke through in a big way at this year’s event. Every major TV manufacturer, and even some minor ones, unveiled Ultra HD sets, with Samsung drawing headlines for its 100-inch, curved model (and, uh, for other reasons.)
But for as long as 4K has been around, one question surrounding it has been, “where will the content come from?” At CES, we got an answer: Netflix. The streaming media power announced several content deals at the show, with CEO Reed Hastings appearing on stage at the press conferences of both LG and Sony on Monday to assure 4K TV owners that they’ll be able to watch Kevin Spacey scheme in 4K on the new season of House of Cards, a show that was shot with 4K cameras.
Amazon, despite not exhibiting, came through with some content deals of its own. The company, which announced last month that it is shooting all of its original series in 4K, announced during CES that it’s partnered with Warner Brothers, Fox and Lionsgate to make 4K content available to Amazon customers.
Meanwhile, while it’s not clear when cable and satellite companies will begin broadcasting in 4K the way they do in HD now, but Comcast did announce that it Xfinity customers with Ultra HD TVs will be able to watch 4K content through an app later this year.
– No more 3D! ESPN has not yet hopped aboard the 4K train, perhaps learning the lesson of the expensive failure of ESPN 3D. ESPN had hosted a 3D screening of the BCS Championship Game in the Las Vegas Hotel’s theater the previous two years, but this year college football fans seeking to catch Florida State’s thrilling victory over Auburn were acquired to find their own venue.
Indeed, aside from a large floor demo by LG, references to “3D TV” were all but absent from the show, with Vizio even announcing that they’re officially out of the 3D game. However, you can expect some big attempt at massive glasses-free 3D adoption to hit CES, likely in 4 or 5 years.
– The Living Room! In case you weren’t impressed enough with Dish’s DVR offerings, the company announced as upgrade to its set-top boxes, known as “Super Joey,” which can record up to eight shows at once. A wireless version was announced as well.
There was also much more streaming than you’ve ever imagined before. Whether through Bluetooth, Wifi or Airplay, going to get easier, and cheaper.
– Celebrity cameos! And I’m not only referring to a certain stage fright-stricken “Transformers” director. The big exhibitors at CES fell all over themselves to welcome big stars to their keynotes, press conferences and booth presentations.
Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, popped up at Sony’s keynote. Intel featured DreamWorks cofounder Jeffrey Katzenberg for a long stretch. Monster, as usual, had a large contingent, including Swizz Beatz, Nick Cannon, Meek Mill, and Shaquille O’Neal, who I passed in the hall at the Convention Center on Tuesday. When I later met my friend Mike, who stands 6’7,” for a drink, I had to admit that he wasn’t the tallest person I’d met that day. 50 Cent, as usual, was all over the place, as one of many rap stars pushing a headphone brand.
Speaking of music, there were also lots of bands of the past who performed at private parties, including Fleetwood Mac, Lynyrd Skynyrd and many more. And of course, the many sons and other relatives of Bob Marley who operate the House of Marley brand made their annual CES appearance as well.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s presentation Tuesday included visits from new company hires Katie Couric and David Pogue, the latter of whom delivered possibly the smarmiest presentation in CES history. I always enjoyed Pogue’s work at the New York Times, but his spiel, between its lame jokes, feeble cheap shots at other tech sites and super-topical reference to the “Jesusland” map from 2004, ensured that I won’t be a regular visitor to his new Yahoo Tech site.
That keynote also featured a visit from Saturday Night Live‘s Cecily Strong and Kenan Thompson, featuring more mediocre jokes about the tech world. After an hour of that, John Legend at the piano for three songs represented a welcome respite.
And of course, there was Doc and the DeLorean.