Today is the last day of CES 2014, and what a show it has been. This year’s consumer-electronics extravaganza was so incredibly crowded–even with a bunch of weather-induced cancelled flights from around the country–that at times, it was actually hard to walk. Adding insult to injury, there were tour operators leading newbs around the convention center en masse and congesting traffic even more.
For Home Tech, the crowds are a sign of health as new technologies from last year have time to settle in and make their way to our homes in a meaningful way. While there were not a lot of new technologies, there was plenty of buzz about existing ones. So without further ado, here are the impressions we came away with for 2014. We’ll delve deeper into several of these categories in the coming days.
#1 – 2014 Is the Year of the Smart Home
We speculated as much after the media event last Sunday, and it appears that 2014 will indeed be the year that smart home concepts take off for the mainstream. Sure, smart homes have been around for decades–with companies like Crestron, AMX, Control4, Elan, and Savant putting together sophisticated and custom home automation systems that run your home with no questions asked. Now, however, there is a flood of products on the market that make the smart homes feasible for anyone–not just the rich and famous. Some are even sold at Home Depot and Lowe’s for the DIY market. Smart Home platforms are originating from security companies, like ADT and Alarm.com, low-voltage-type manufacturers like Leviton, startups like Smart Things, slick Apple-esque solutions like Revolv, and traditional consumer-electronics/appliance manufacturers like Samsung and LG.
Starter packs are big with these smart-home companies. Whether its a collection of Wifi-enabled lightbulbs (there were tons at the show, more later), a gateway and app, or a suite of smart wall switches like Belkin’s WeMo plugs. Security platforms require a monthly fee. Individual home systems (like lights, thermostat, and appliances) are better with an overarching app like Revolv’s or Smart Things’ in order to integrate these disparate parts into one interface–or even to get them to work in unison. We’ll get into more detail when we have a chance to digest the information we gathered from the hundreds of smart home companies that appeared at the show. One thing is clear, however: The time is now!#2 – Inexpensive 4K UHD TVs Are Ubiquitous
Polaroid, TCL, Hisense, Seiki Digital, and VIZIO all showed 50-inch 4K Ultra High Def TVs for less than $1000. RCA also showed a 4K set, saying that, when available, theirs would be “competitively priced as RCA TVs always have been.” Clearly, consumers are getting more and more choice when it comes to 4K TV, but inexpensive Ultra HD sets are inexpensive for a reason. Sacrifices are made. Read what Technology Tell Editor-in-Chief Joe Paone had to say about them in his article “CES 2014: 6 Things We Learned.”
#3 – 4K UHD Content Options Are Growing
Some choose to look at the 4K UHD glass as half empty, and I choose to look at it as half full. For one, you’ve got the promise of 4K UHD Blu-ray discs coming to your living room. Plus, there is 4K streaming up the wazoo–even if there isn’t a boatload of content yet. Here’s what our cohort Steven Silver says about 4K streaming over at Entertainment Tell:
…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.
If you don’t want to wait around, you can create your own content. Panasonic and Sony both announced 4K camcorders. Sure, they are pretty expensive for the average consumer (Sony’s is $2K), but the video they can capture is breathtaking. Sony’s FDR-AX100 model is a smaller and lighter version of the company’s FDR-AX1 4K handycam. Home movies never looked so great.
#4- Cord-Cutting Is a Thang
To put it simply, cord-cutting means to sever the umbilical ties you have with your cable service and get your content through other means. At the show, cord-cutting was a subtle undercurrent that was sprinkled throughout press conferences and in conversation. For example, when I visited the Hisense booth to check out their Roku TV models, the person demoing the technology was showing me digital antenna channels instead of the usual cable offerings. Why? He was making a point that the TV had everything, and you didn’t need cable. Products are also beginning to appear on the market that are specifically designed for cord-cutters, like VOXX’s MyWayTV.
#5 – Smart TVs Are Becoming Smarter, the Norm
Tons of TV manufacturers were showing their platforms for the Smart TV at CES 2014. This includes high- and low-end TV manufacturers alike. Smart TV interfaces are only getting more intuitive. Nearly all the big manufacturers showed models that were improved over 2013 iterations, some featuring gesture control, others with improved remote controls, others showcasing voice control, and still others featuring improved search functionality that lets you search across platforms for the same content instead of selecting the app or service first. Even Intel showed a version of this, and of course, Hisense and TCL rolled out its own sets that use Roku TV as the Smart TV interface. Very Cool.