CES 2017: Press Day, LaunchIt and Showstoppers
Before the show opens, CES provides two days and evenings not open to the general attendees, to enable companies, large and small, an opportunity to present their new offerings to the press. These opportunities range from small meetings with individual members of the trade press to huge events such as those presented by Samsung, Asus, Sony, Intel, Panasonic and others, with literally several hundred in attendance. It is not possible for any member of the press to attend and sit through more than a fraction of them.
Following are some observations from some of the press conferences and events I attended at CES on press day.
1. Panasonic announced some new countertop convection ovens, which were neat, but not exciting; there were no new TVs. The most interesting item for most in attendance seemed to be the Lumix GH5 camera. This camera can take 4K and 6K photos and incorporates some advanced video options. Its new digital live sensor increases the pixel count by 25% compared to the previous GH4. The camera is set to be out in the U.S. around the end of March or early April and will retail for $2,000.
Figure 1: Panasonic Lumix GH5 camera.
2. Samsung: This company is still trying to put its battery fires and phone recalls into the past. At CES they announced some new appliances and new Chromebooks (big yawn), but they also announced their new QLED TV. The QLED series claims 100% color volume and displays every color regardless of brightness level. This is done via nano-sized quantum dots in the screen that help improve the black levels and overall imaging details.
An area of improved consumer convenience included in the new models feature a single, transparent “invisible connection” cable, which, via a small box, can connect to all set-tops and other peripheral devices, even if they’re set up on the other side of the room, thus eliminating the ever-growing rats nest of cables. Samsung also announced it is extending its “Smart Hub” interface for smartphones via a new app, allowing TV owners to control their content via a smartphone.
Samsung is just one TV brand to announce greatly improved image quality by using advanced displays. There are many different definitions of what is being called high dynamic range (HDR) display technology. What one company calls HDR may be totally different than what their competitor means using the same term. It is like what we saw 15 years ago, when HD TV was just getting going. One company would call 780i hi- def, and the other would only call 1080i or 1080p hi-def.
Let’s take a moment to discuss HDR for TVs and computer displays. First, there are no standards. The industry has been looking for the latest great thing for the last five or six years. First it was 3-D, then add to that LED backlighting and then 4K, then 5K and even 8K. Some call HDR more color depth, some higher pixel count, squeezing more and more pixels into the screen area, beyond what the human eye can even see. Of course, our present hi-def T V standard which is 1080p is very low definition for a computer monitor and not that high for a TV.
Besides the resolution, we now can choose between standard backlighting, backlights with local dimming and now quantum dot technology and let’s not forget the transition from LED to OLED (organic light emitting diode) but wait, how about faster refresh rates. Watch an action flick on a standard 1080p 60Hz TV and then on a similar size and resolution 120Hz screen and you will clearly notice the difference. Any combination of these and even more features can be called HDR. For computer monitors, add in active sync and very fast refresh rates to the mix and the combinations become so numerous; so there is nothing to say what truly is HDR—no standards as to what composes a true HDR display. Is a 4K TV with quantum dot backlight with a refresh of 120 Hz, but nothing else HDR, sure, why not? How about an OLED but at a lower resolution but perhaps at 240Hz refresh—is that HDR also? If not, why not? The point is that there are no standards, there is no understanding by the average consumer what all these technologies do. If you are considering very high-quality computer monitors with active sync and curved screens the issue is even more complex. Yes, HDR is coming and if you need a new TV or monitor now the choices are complex but if you have relatively good technology now you just might want to wait. No matter what Samsung, LG, Sharp, Sony, etc., are saying, things are changing fast and the demands of the consumer for quality, price and features assure that things are changing rapidly.
OK, let’s get back to the list of notable observations:
3. Intel announced that they have “joined forces with the world's leaders in automated design and technology to pave the way for self-driving cars. With investments and expertise in a broad set of in-vehicle and cloud technologies, connectivity, safety and security features, and deep learning assets, Intel is uniquely positioned to turn the dream of automated driving into a reality.” My immediate thought was does that mean that Intel is now catching up with or staying ahead of NVIDIA in the autonomous car universe? It was not that many years ago, that they were not even in the same universe. How things evolve.
Intel is adding to the uses of VR with its new Volke technology. Historically, the footage of what spectators can watch from a live event is limited to whatever broadcasters have chosen to air, which is further limited by the camera operators’ angle. New VR technology by Volke VR, recently acquired by Intel, is immersing fans into basketball and football games, allowing them to see the game from any nearly angle on the field.”
Of course, Intel is constantly pushing the envelope with updated CPUs, the heart of any powerful PC, and they are announcing advances in the upcoming next generation of connectivity, 5G. Intel states, “In the next few years, 5G will fundamentally transform our lives, bringing us a society and environment where everything is smarter and more connected. From smart cities to intelligent wind farms, agriculture, and hospitals, the Internet of Things and connected infrastructures will generate zettabytes of data from an estimated 50 billion devices.”
4. ASUS—Asus seemed to want to focus on their new Zen and Zen AR smartphones. Yes, 8Gb of RAM in a phone is exciting but if the focus is on more games on a smartphone and even VR from a phone, I find myself yawning. One thing that Asus is showing, even if it was not a key focus, is their new monitor, the Design Curve MX38VQ, a massive 37.5-inch monitor with a 2300R curved IPS panel that boasts ultra-wide QHD (3840x1600) resolution. The MX38VQ also features a Harman Kardin branded 8-watt stereo speaker system and Qi wireless charging base built into the stand. Monitors are in full transition from the standard TV 1080p standard, finally. For those of us who never embraced 1080p have been considering 4Kor other interim technologies waiting for the next standard. This unit is a big positive step in the right direction.
5. Mobile help and Medical—A few of many medical IoT devices. Two companies, and Medical and Mobile help, have teamed up. These are devices for managing patients even at home. They address chronic care with 86% of medical costs in the U.S. spent on chronic disease. These and the very many other medical IoT devices being announced help to get individuals to assist with managing their own care. They also offer a connected weight scale. Plusses are affordability; usability in connected as well as non-connected mode; design—does not look like a medical device, which is considered a plus for some. Today, a patient with one of these devices is monitored while at home throughout the day, enabling any events to be caught in advance.
6. Many other medical alarms and monitors are being introduced and these can be life savers for some of the highest risk patients. Medical alarms gather BP, weight and other vitals and sends the information to the caregiver each day. For now, however, they only run on the Android platform. The nurse or caregiver immediately contacts patient if data is outside of safe parameters. The patient can video conference and call for help if needed and can also communicate with their family. The subscriber fee for this service is about $50/month.
7. Royole was showing flexible design and flexible sensors. Human machine interface displays and smart devices (such as VR headsets), 0.001 mm very thin flexible display, the screen was an amazing, very thin and transparent screen. This allows a flex phone that can be bent around and worn on your wrist. Car dashboards flow with the curves of the dash instead of a flat panel. Also, flex signs on the rear of a cyclist’s backpack. Royal moon also announced an advanced VR headset for use with TV, movies, games, etc. It will be available from Amazon this month.
Showstoppers offered two events—Launch.it as well as the Showstoppers mini CES for press only show.
ShowStoppers has been running this Shark Tank-like competition for the past five years. At CES they allow the finalists to make a short presentation and demo their technology and products. The contestants are then questioned by a panel of distinguished judges and the event is open to individual discussions between the contestants and the press, as well as interested investors.
Following are my choices for the most interesting finalists of the competition:
- Akoustic Arts—This French startup is launching the A, a directional speaker. It’s like a traditional speaker, but it creates a very targeted sound. You must stand in front of the speaker to hear the sound. If you are off to the side, even slightly you cannot hear what is playing.
- FoldiMate—FoldiMate is a laundry folding machine. You place your items of clothing into the device and it removes most of the wrinkles and folds the item ready for placement in your dresser. You feed your clothes to the machine from the top, one by one. A couple of minutes later, you get a pile of folded clothes. The company’s original concept video from June 2016 got a lot of views. The company then managed to attract 7,000 pre-orders. FoldiMate plans to ship at the end of 2018.
- HoloLamp—HoloLamp is an augmented reality device. It uses an optical illusion to trick your mind into thinking that you’re looking at real 3D objects. The device looks like a small lamp/projector combo. It uses face tracking so that the object changes as you move your head. You really think you’re looking at a 3D object such as the chessboard from the original Star Wars.
- Kino-mo (my personal choice for #1)—Kino-mo is working on holograms. It’s a fan-shaped unit that spins to project a 3-D hologram of any object that floats and twists and turns in midair. I found this offering fascinating.
- Nonda (the actual winner)—Nonda aims to make any car a connected car even if it is a 1956 Ford. Nonda CEO Nick Staubach stated that the clear majority of U.S. cars (over 75%) still don’t support Bluetooth. With more than a billion cars on the road, though, that’s still a big market.
- Revinax—Revinax plans to help people learn better through the help of what it calls “immersive tutorials.” The company’s CEO and co-founder, M. Ros, is a surgeon and his company has long been involved in using virtual reality to train doctors. The surgical workforce, the company argues, must expand greatly over the next few years, but in many countries, access to doctors who can teach is rare. Revinax uses 3D cameras to film surgeries and doctors can then use VR helmets to study another doctor’s technique. Given that these videos can easily play on most smartphones, the company’s tutorials are also easily available to virtually any surgeon.
- TwinswHeel—TwinswHeel was created by twin brothers from France. Benjamin is the automotive and aeronautic engineer, and Vincent is the automotive system engineer. TwinswHeel is an automotive vehicle for freight carriers. It looks like a small land-based droid with two wheels on each side. It can carry 88 Lbs. over five miles, which allows it to deliver all types of packages. Companies like Amazon are working on airborne delivery drones; a ground droid like this one could also be a useful solution.
One of the best opportunities to see new tech and devices is at Showstoppers. This event is a great opportunity for the press to see, try, and ask detailed questions on many interesting and amazing new devices. Just a few of the many interesting and more importantly, truly useful and fun devices include:
- From invisible shield, a screen protector so tough that it prevented the usually fragile iPhone screen from breaking even when hit with a hammer
- Epson’s new video glasses for either VR or for drones
- For those of us from the late ‘50s, there was a classic pinball machine but made with up-to-date technology.
- From Ockel, a truly mini PC with 2 USB 3 ports, display port, HDMI, USB-C and Ethernet
- How about a new mouse? No big deal you might say, well if you are a gamer or just a fanatic geek there is the new Mad Catz RAT Pro with amazing high DPI
and very fast tracking speeds, motion sensors and of course, RGB lighting
Of course, there were hundreds of other interesting offerings at Showstoppers, some of which I will cover in additional columns over the next week. Next in queue are the latest developments in automotive from the huge advances in autonomous driving, what is literally just around the corner to the insane new audio rock concert in a car set ups. In addition, one of the most disruptive technologies, 3D printing for true electronic manufacturing, will be covered in the next one so stay tuned.
Editor's Note: To read the previous CES articles, please click the links below:
CES 2017: Preview and a Projection for the Future
CES Unveiled: Press Day and the NVIDIA Keynote