January in Las Vegas brings us the Consumer Electronics Show, a vast homage to things technically possible, but often impractical, with its immense collection of dazzling cut-glass flyswatters.
I’ve never attended, but for the tech community the updates from all the magazines and web sites are endless, as they try their best to replicate being in the desert with 160,000 close friends (try finding a hotel room during that event).
Drones were everywhere. One display featured at least a dozen drones dancing in highly-choreographed moves over and around each other; it turns out that they were using cameras mounted underneath to look at colored squares on the booth floor. After so many seconds, move two squares left and one up, then hover over the yellow and green-patterned square. One can only imagine the time spent programming this device, as well as the number of mid-air collisions that occurred while testing.
As for practical usage, there doesn’t seem to be that much, but it looked cool. For the show, that counts.
There was also a small “selfie” drone that you launch to move out 20 feet and take your picture, before it returns to your hand (unless it runs into someone, of course).
That had to be better than another phone accessory shown — the Belfie. Basically a stick with a remote photo button, its purpose is to allow you to take selfies of your own butt. Your friends will be amazed, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be impressed.
Another what-the-hell contender was the programmable home brew kit. Designed to take the hard work (and undrinkable mistakes) out of brewing your own beer, it can be loaded with pre-measured grain and hops, then left for a week to create your beverage … for only $1,800. Say what? Exactly how many six-packs can you buy for that amount of money?
Another device not destined for greatness was the helmet for hair growth, which uses lasers (yes, lasers) on your head to stimulate hair growth, for the price of $700. That’s much more expensive than just shaving your head and acting like you’re cool.
What Would You Buy?
So, what was actually something worth buying? Well, TVs are a major show item, with curved and ever-thinner displays, not to mention wall-size, figuring predominantly. Different display types, such as organic LEDs, promised darker blacks and higher contrast whites, and were displayed using videos of fireworks displays to dazzle the viewers and passersby. That’s useful if you’re a big New Year’s Eve in Times Square fan.
It was noted that no manufacturers showed what we consider normal HDTVs. Everything at the show were 4K units — not a 1080p unit to be found. Of course, the way the pixels are measured has been changed, so it sounds a lot higher and, thus, cooler. If they were calculated the old way, a 4K unit would be 2160p, not 4000.
Manufacturers, of course, want us to covet higher and higher definition units, even past the practical limits of our eyesight, because 1080p units are becoming a commodity and they are not going to be making much money from them. The good thing in this is that, by next Christmas, 1080p units will be in the bargain aisles.
The down side of 4K units is the lack of much content at that resolution. In a practical sense, the only medium that can supply that is streaming media — indeed, YouTube was a pioneer. Netflix is streaming “House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad” in ultra-HD, and Amazon Studios is filming (an obsolete term) its series that way, too.
What this does to data usage is immense. It is estimated that, in some areas and especially at night, more than 40% of Internet bandwidth is consumed by downloading Netflix movies. Increased resolution will require higher and higher chunks. If you’re on a plan that limits usage (or with a provider that reduces speed after you’ve used what it thinks is enough), you’re hosed.
One solution is a new 4K BluRay player. Oh yes, this means you’ll be replacing your video collection yet another time to accommodate this. Sony has a new player for only $699.99, but it only works with Sony TVs. I’ll take two, please.
Tech in cars was represented, too, with the increased use of screens (rather than switches) to control almost all functions, not just the radio and heater. Back-up cameras are now old hat; Honda, for instance, is advertising that every model now has one. Self-parking is increasing.
There were also a decent crop of $200 smartphones. Expect these to continue getting cheaper and cheaper.
Interestingly enough, there were no new tablets at the show. In fact, the CEO of Best Buy noted that sales of tablets has “stabilized” (his word for “flattened”). The idea that tablets would replace laptops may have run its course.
Units for control of home devices, from lamps to front door locks, proliferated. Many of these are “Home Kit Certified,” which means they may be controlled by an Apple iPhone. Standardization will be needed past this to make it practical for most people, however.
So, there you have it. A wonderful excuse to escape reality for a few days and bake in the sun. Las Vegas has always been good for that.
Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing and works on real PCs and networks (and not on TVs) doing troubleshooting and data retrieval. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at [email protected]. Older columns are online at http://feldwick.com.