This year’s CES has had its fair share of problems, from controversy around a lack of female speakers to a blackout yesterday which plunged most of the conference in darkness. But the conference has soldiered on unperturbed, with attendees navigating the darkness via the light of their smartphones, and tech startups still trotting out ‘booth babes’, apparently oblivious to the whole misogyny debate which has surrounded the conference.
When it comes to the tech itself, one of the key storylines has been Google and Amazon going head to head in the battle of the home assistants, a contest that adland will be watching closely with 2018 expected by many to be the year Amazon takes on the duopoly. Elsewhere too there have been some interesting stuff on show, so here are our CES highlights for TV, VR and Video.
TV inevitably found itself caught up in the battle of the home assistants, as Google and Amazon race to connect up everything just about any device with an ‘on’ button. Google announced a host of new android TVs that will be Google Assistant compatible, while LG unveiled a new model which integrates the assistant for voice control. Meanwhile Hisense, LG and Sony announced Alexa compatibility with a selection of their models. Through these assistants, you’ll be able to use your voice not only to change the channel, but to also turn on the lights, set off the washing machine, and even order a pizza, all through your TV.
After debuting a futuristic ‘rollable’ TV a few years back, LG this year demonstrated a 65-inch version. Besides its novelty value, the TV’s flexibility means it can be rolled up and stored away easily, which is good news since most people who buy themselves huge TVs like to keep them hidden away and out of sight.
Samsung meanwhile revealed what it calls “modular TV”, which although not rollable, is similarly unconventional. ‘The Wall’ is the company’s new 146-inch TV, which uses “modular, self-emitting MicroLEDs” to apparently produce a brighter picture with deeper blacks than is possible with standard LEDs. What’s different here is that the modular tech lets customers customise the shape and size of their TVs, meaning you can now design your TV to fit your house (as opposed to the other way round).
The US Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) used the conference to release ATSC 3.0, its set of next-generation TV standards. Standards might not be a crowd-pleaser on quite the same level as a roll-up TV, but ATSC 3.0, which has been in the works for years, covers area like 4K Ultra HDTV, immersive audio and interactive services, and should make it easier for broadcaster to innovate in what they deliver to our living rooms.
Eight years ago, a VR headset would have been one of the more exciting attractions at CES, but nowadays VR is very much the meat and potatoes of the conference, and as expected we got a series of reveals from all the big players.
HTC unveiled the Vive Pro, the newest addition to its VR headset lineup which has a 2880 x 1600 display, putting it a level above the Oculus Rift in terms of picture quality. Perhaps more exciting though was the announcement of a wireless adapter compatible with the headset, freeing users from the tangle of wires which has plagued the more powerful VR headsets so far.
Oculus showcased a new headset too, the Mi VR Standalone, made in partnership with Xiaomi specifically for the Chinese market. It looks pretty much the same as the upcoming Oculus Go, another standalone model that runs without a PC or smartphone, though the two headsets will feature different SDKs, and the Xiaomi brand is significantly popular with China’s government than that of Oculus owners Facebook.
Two new standalone headsets were also launched by Lenovo and Yi for Google’s Daydream platform. The new headsets incorporate Google’s WorldSense tech which allows positional tracking, and will be priced below $400; relatively cheap, but likely to face stiff competition from the $199 Oculus Go. Google’s Daydream VR platform has so far only been available on its own Daydream View headset which requires a compatible smartphone to run.
Hulu used CES to show off its subscription figures, revealing that 17 million subscribers are now signed up to its subscription and live TV products, a 40 percent increase since may last year. The company raked in $1 billion in ad revenue in 2017 too. Jennifer Mirgorod, EVP of content distribution and strategic partnerships at Turner (one of Hulu’s owners) hinted that any “Netflix envy” is now gone (though with Netflix claiming 104 million subscribers last July, Hulu couldn’t be blamed for still feeling a touch jealous).
Facebook Watch on the other hand had no such promising stats to reel out. Analysts have been sceptical about how much anyone is actually watching Watch, with partners reportedly complaining they’re not seeing the audience they’d hoped for. Facebook’s VP of product Fidji Simo bought Kerry Washington, producer of Watch series ‘Five Points’, onstage to reiterate the social media giant’s commitment to its video platform. High profile content featuring famous names is appealing to marketers, but they might reserve their excitement for when they’re confidence that Watch’s viewing figures are meeting expectations.