Every year around the holidays, I start to get an anxious feeling. My mind and body instinctively know deep down what’s coming shortly after New Year’s Day: another grueling trek to (and, shudder, within) Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show.
And every year, there are specific technologies that captivate the media and the attendees. Last year it was 3D TV (which turned into an epic flop). This year, several technology categories are riding high on the hype machine: Ultra HD TV, wearable tech, headphones, 3D printing, smartphones, tablets.
Here’s what I’m most interested to experience at CES 2014:
Ultra HD TV upscaling. I’ve seen a decent number of Ultra HD TVs at trade shows and other events, and they’re usually playing some canned, specially-made 4K (native Ultra HD) content — fashion models in exotic locations, scenes of Paris at night, nature videos. Problem is that those canned videos are virtually the only native 4K content out there. Anyone who buys an Ultra HD TV at this point will be watching good “old” HDTV shows and movies through it.
Manufacturers of Ultra HD TVs are attempting to overcome the content issue by extolling the virtues of “upscaling,” that is, taking an HDTV signal and technologically upgrading it to four times the resolution, thus matching Ultra HD TV’s native screen format. If this sounds familiar, it’s because HDTVs were in the same position last decade; there wasn’t much HD content available, so the sets upscaled standard-def TV… with varying results. I’d like to see one or more manufacturers at CES pop in a Blu-ray or turn on ESPN to show just how good their upscaling technology is. If they don’t, they’re hiding something.
3D printing. If you haven’t been paying attention to 3D printing, here’s the nitty gritty: You can essentially play God with a 3D printer. People are creating cars, guns, houses, apparel, even human organs with them. The ethical ramifications of this technology are vast.
I’m not counting on much discussion of that messy, thorny issue taking place on the show floor, though. I’m basically counting on seeing just how these printers make stuff, and what stuff they make.
Wearable tech. On the Internet of Things, the human body is becoming just another machine hooked up to the network. The endgame of this will be all kinds of digital technology embedded in the human body itself. (Again, let’s ignore the ethical questions because, you know, RAH RAH! TRADE SHOW!) But before that eventuality occurs, the interim step of wearable technology is connecting more and more humans to the global network today.
Wireless music streaming. We’ve reached a point where, unless you’re an audiophile, there’s really no need for audio cabling anymore. It’s easy to get snobby about audio (and there are many legitimate reasons to feel that way), but what’s really exciting about our young century is the democratization and ubiquity of music. You can enjoy any sounds you like, anytime, everywhere, through all kinds of devices, instantly.
Even better, you don’t need fancy equipment or cabling. If you’re streaming music from Pandora, Spotify, Grooveshark, SoundCloud or any other service, you’re not getting the best audio quality to begin with. What you are getting is the ability to take your music with you everywhere you (or rather your smartphone or other device) go.
So we’re rapidly freeing ourselves from the tyranny of cabling. What I want to see at CES are wireless music systems that also place a premium on true sound quality. The best of all worlds.
Curved and flexible screens. From TVs to smartphones, the standard flat screen is slowly giving way to something more dynamic. But really, why? What’s the utility? And how effective are these curved and flexible screens? I hope to find out more.
Free little bottles of room-temperature spring water in booths. Hydration is key at this event. And please, no Dasani or Aquafina. That is not water, because the bottle goes “pssst” when you open it. Come on now.
The Fireside Lounge at the Peppermill. Because at the end of the day, I hope to be in a swanky 80s-style lounge attached to a diner in the more worn-out part of town, drinking a beer, watching some characters, and feeling the flames from a fire pit make me feel uncomfortably warm. I just wish I could go with the amazing person who introduced me to it in the first place.
My hotel bed at a reasonable hour. Oh, who am I kidding?