This week, the tech blogs and the tech pages in many newspapers will be filed with news of all the supposedly wonderful things that are being presented at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But this is very much an annual ritual where loads of would-be products are on display, but many will never see the light of day.
It’s also fair to say that, typical of recent years, some companies are acting in anticipation of what Apple might do, or is rumored to do. So we have Samsung introducing the 12.2-inch Galaxy NotePRO and Galaxy TabPRO tablets. While a case for larger tablets of this sort really wasn’t made in Samsung’s presentation, don’t forget that an alleged iPad Pro is supposedly under development by Apple for release later in the year. The online chatter talks of a 12.9-inch display, and possible use as either a tablet or a note-book. But it’s not that convertibles have had much success so far, so why would Apple want to play that game?
A look at the announcements by TV makers clearly demonstrates the near-desperation in trying to entice you to buy a new set. Unlike smartphones, which are usually upgraded in a couple of years, a well-built TV can last a decade or more. For those who have already endured the high definition transition, and have 1080p sets in the living rooms or master bedrooms, is there any compelling reason to upgrade now?
Ultra HD? Well, having four times as many pixels sounds good in theory. A number of new models are being introduced with that standard, and some budget lines are coming in at less than $1,000, but don’t expect much for that price. Among the features touted are the enhanced ability to upscale lower resolution content. This is important, because there’s not much Ultra HD around. Indeed, aside from some streaming video, Pay-Per-View and Blu-ray, there’s not a huge stock of 1080p content either. TV channels, even the cable and satellite feeds, generally use 720p or 1080i.
So is there any reason, other than the bragging factor, to go Ultra HD? Well, I suppose if you have a large display, above 60 inches, or sit real close. Otherwise the visible difference isn’t significant. Indeed, at a normal viewing distance, 720p and 1080p don’t look altogether different.
Regardless, the TV industry has decreed that you shall have Ultra HD, kicking and screaming, so might as well get used to it, particularly when prices come down to a point where they’re not much higher than 1080p. At the same time, such TV makers as VIZIO — successful mostly for lower-cost gear — are moving upscale. So VIZIO announced a no-holds-barred Reference product line ranging from 60 inches all the way to 120 inches. There’s even a built-in sound bar, and the promise of cutting-edge display technology. Prices have yet to be announced, but they won’t come cheap.
Now some high-end sets are even offering curved screens, bowed towards the center. Supposedly you get a more dimensional image, though I expect people who watch TV from the sides or at close range will find this scheme an overpriced source of discomfort. There are also super thin OLED screens described as bendable, but again I wonder about the advantage in any normal setting.
One feature getting much lower priority this year is 3D. None of the newest HDTVs from VIZIO include that feature anymore, and other TV makers are cutting back. Clearly 3D hasn’t gone anywhere, so why not sell the TV sets for less without a feature most people don’t care about?
Now with Apple supporting Ultra HD on the latest Mac Pro and MacBook Air with Retina display, and the latest Final Cut Pro X revision, there’s good reason to take it seriously. But will Apple deliver a full-blown Ultra HD set? Or will it just be an Apple TV on steroids?
When it comes to Apple TV, one report even suggests that media streamers are a dying breed, as more and more sets offer improved “smart” apps, which supposedly supplants the need for an add-on box. That might explain why Roku is licensing their technology to some TV makers, though only the cheaper brands have taken them up on the offer so far. But Apple TV offers more than just a few dozen third-party channels. There’s iTunes and AirPlay, which aren’t duplicated on other set top boxes or TV sets, though I suppose Apple could also license technology to selected TV makers and gain some advantages against possible inroads by Google.
And, as you might expect, there are more and more wearables, ranging from smartwatches to other gadgets that are designed to do nifty things when affixed to your wrist. So far, none of these products has really taken off. If you expect an iWatch from Apple, you know it will never come at a CES, that Apple would hold one a special event to launch such a gadget.
Are the tech companies really pushing smartwatches just to steal Apple’s thunder? Well, do you remember 2010, when a number of companies introduced tablets when rumors arose about Apple’s solution? But when the iPad was announced, most of those contenders ended up stillborn.
Yes, many of the products being touted at CES will go on sale, eventually. But some won’t, and I can assure you that a TV set that you can bend is definitely not on my shopping list.