Ah, CES 2014. What a rush. We’ve seen some of the best and duly recognised them with our CES Hot Stuff Awards. While we’re still pumped with adrenaline from CES 2014, we’ve calmed ourselves down pretty much to examine what this year’s consumer electronics show means for your future.
TVs - bigger, smarter and bendable
Two years ago, Samsung and LG demonstrated the future of TVs - curved displays. Last year, flexible displays became the hot topic at the annual consumer electronics show.
This year, we were absolutely stunned by the South Korean companies - bendable TVs. Yes, they physically bend. The technology showcased from 2012 and 2013 mated, resulting in a TV that switches between a flat panel and curved display mode.
Now hold your horses before you get all excited and eager to lay your hands on one. It’s not going to pop up at retail stores anytime soon. Heck, we might not even see it within this year. Judging from the two years it took curved TVs to make its debut in living rooms, these transformable displays aren’t likely to hit the market till 2015, or even later.
That, and the cost of these bendy TVs. Needless to say, its price will be in the five-figure range, and we’re not ruling out the possibility of it reaching a hundred grand. You’ll have to be insanely rich, or just plain insane, to plonk all that cold, hard cash on this flexible display. This is also true for curvy TVs above 100in, which were announced at CES 2014 by Samsung and LG.
That said, LG has some grand plans for its existing curved TV range. And it’s got a trick up its sleeve - webOS. The operating system, which LG acquired from Palm, was an underdog during its battle against rivals Google Android and Apple iOS. Injecting webOS into its new curved TV might up the ante for LG, compared to other makers that have failed to convince TV viewers to immerse themselves in its smart features and apps. Meanwhile, the usual stable of Android-powered TVs from Toshiba and new entrant Philips will be vying for attention in 2014.
4K in 2014
Just migrated your movie collection to full high definition (HD)? It’s time to get ready for ultra high definition (UHD), otherwise commonly known as 4K. Since last year, 4K TVs have invaded CES, and some have managed to infiltrate the homes of movie aficionados. But in reality, 4K TVs were virtually useless, because what’s the point of a display that delivers ultra high resolution, when its source content is still stuck on 1080p resolution?
Rejoice, for 4K content is definitely on the way. If not from movie makers such as Sony Pictures, at least we know video streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube are making some headway. In particular, Google is tackling a much talked about issue with streaming 4K content with YouTube - speed. UHD content that doesn’t require blazing fast 4G or fibre broadband speeds, with minimal buffering as you watch 4K content on it is the dream.
Netflix’s in-house production, House of Cards, is also going 4K, a sign of things to come in 2014. Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt told Stuff that with the deployment of High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC) for its programs, the streaming service can deliver its 4K content in the 10-16Mbps range.
While it’s geographically limited and unavailable in certain regions *cough* Asia *cough*, it’s taking an early step towards that white elephant you call a UHD TV in your living room.
2014, as we see it, could be the year of 4K content. And we can’t wait to feast our eyes on those ridiculously fine pixels.
In recent years, we’ve managed to spot those nasty moles and pores on actors when they are subjected to the full HD treatment. Safe to say, such detailed picture delivery will become more obvious with the advent of UHD.
Yes, movies will look sharper and clearer. But the whole point of UHD, is to deliver insanely fine pictures for juggernaut displays that measure 85in and above for the pixels to really matter.
So the question is, are you willing to pay an arm and a leg for a humongous TV to truly experience the wonders of 4K TVs? Here’s another question to ponder upon - if your living space is not huge, a modestly-sized 50in TV will be sufficient, and even at 1080p resolutions, these HDTVs do the job just fine. Or, you could eye for Polaroid’s 4K TV, priced below S$1500.
Either way, 4K TVs are the future. But it’s a future that needs true UHD content, and a generous amount of space, both on the display and where you place it, for it to make sense.
A smarter world - cars, connected homes and our future drone masters
Fellow humans, take comfort in an automated future, when brainy cars powered by Google Android. The green droid is making a beeline for automotive companies, forming an alliance to put its world domination plans into action. Drones dancing for our entertainment. Are they truly ours to control, or is it a devious ploy to enslave us without our realisation?
Ignoring the apocalyptic hypothesis for a moment, we are looking at what our future is to be - the Internet of Things. As creepy as we think it is for a robotic Mother to monitor your habits and send timely reminders, this is the face of the future.
Short of a Jetsons’ home where robots brush your teeth, the connected home is coming, and it’s all connected to your smartphone. Belkin’s WeMo-enabled cooker gives you a warm meal right after you get home. Parents get to catch more sleep, thanks to Intel’s absolutely SD card-sized PC that embeds itself into self-activated bottle warmers when a baby stirs from its slumber.
Rise of the Steam and tiny machines
Move over, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The spotlight has moved towards Valve’s upcoming SteamOS-powered machines. And with it, a new era of PC gaming begins. Unlike Sony and Microsoft, Valve is giving gamers full control of what they want - a souped-up machine that’ll put even dedicated PC gaming rigs to shame, or a modest hardware that’s sufficient for most games distributed on Steam.
Our attention, however, is on the Steam controller, which made an appearance at CES 2014. Hands-on with an early prototype revealed a steep learning curve, and a huge departure from what gamers are used to with PlayStation and Xbox controllers. Steam gamers have traditionally depended on their keyboards and mice to frag their way through, and the Steam controller is a huge risk taken by Valve. As Steam machines roll out, along with Steam controller, it’s anybody’s game, and we are sitting on the fence over the longevity of the keyboard or mice, or the rise of the Steam controller.
On the computing side of things, AMD has unveiled a palm-sized reference PC with specs that are not to be scoffed at. It’s beyond what smartphones and tablets can do with its full-fledged AMD Mullins chip that’s so powerful, it’ll run a game of Fifa 14 at full 1080p resolution with ease. If anything, we foresee AMD’s return with portable PCs, perhaps even a future, downsized Apple Mac Mini.
With the introduction of Steam machines, Valve has finally broken the one barrier that might have stopped non-PC gamers from adopting its game distribution system - the hardware.
Even if you've been a faithful PlayStation or Xbox gamer, you should get a Steam machine. Why? Traditionally, games offered on Steam are much cheaper than console versions.
Not to mention, there's all that too good to be true sales that happen during summer, winter, Halloween and many other daily deals that'll sorely tempt you to click on that buy button.
Everyone's going into wearable tech
As if it wasn’t apparent at this year’s CES. Everybody and we mean EVERYBODY was getting into the wearable tech game, even those who had no business being in the space at all.
We did expect some of the bigger guns to get themselves involved in the wearable space like LG's smartband and Sony's Core. Even Intel’s showcase of the potentials behind wearable tech was, in a way, unsurprising. It was the entry of brands like Razer and Epson's renewed focus that really signified the rise of wearable tech.
There were commonalities among the wearable tech that were showcased though. They were mostly around wrist wear and eyewear, with their functionalities centered around sensors, notifications or a combination of both. Smartwatches especially were making their presence felt and that wasn’t surprising since a lot of those that started off as Kickstarter projects (like the Hotwatch) had completed their funding run and were now ready.
Wearable tech definitely took centre stage at this year's CES. But it's still in its nascent stages and we'll definitely see a lot more of them in the coming years. The concept of wearable is still being refined and from what we've seen, it hasn't reached its full potential. Still, there's nothing wrong with getting yourself a smartwatch or even the Google Glass, once it hits our shores.
One thing I did notice was that instead of focusing entirely on the functionalities of the wearable tech, companies were making them look good too. After all, if you’re going to be wearing them, style will matter and a lot of the companies getting into the wearable tech scene realise that.
A good example would be MetaWatch’s launch of their Meta line. Designed by Frank Nuovo, the man responsible for the design of luxury brand Vertu's phones, as well as some of the more iconic designs from Nokia, the Meta line focuses as much on design and aesthetics as it does on functionality. The same could be said of Pebble’s launch of their Steel version and Netatmo’s jewelry-like June UV-tracking wristband. Expectedly, the wearable tech in 2014 will make you look good wearing them, or at least they’ll try.
That’s with the exception of eyewear. This year sees quite a number of other companies pushing themselves into the eyewear tech, ala Google Glass, arena. While none of them have the impact that Google Glass did, they did nonetheless show that there are alternatives to Google’s heads-up display. Design-wise, however, there’s still a need for smart eyewear makers to get their products looking good. From what we’ve seen, they still look awkward, bulky and geeky looking - not exactly something you'd be wearing daily, unless looking like a dork is your thing.
Baby Steps for Virtual Reality
One of the show stealers of this year’s CES was virtual reality (VR). With Oculus showcasing their improved version of the Oculus Rift, codenamed Crystal Cove, and Sony’s own VR headset getting a spotlight, you’d think that this is the year that VR gaming will hit off.
Actually, we’re not too sure of that. For one, the biggest thing that’ll help with the uptake of VR gaming isn’t the hardware itself, but content. And that’s something that is in short supply at the moment.
It’s not going to stay that way for long though - thank Valve for that as it has thrown its hat into the VR ring as it pushes its Steam Box project forward. According to a BBC report, the company will be releasing a VR software development kit that will supposedly set the standard in interface for VR controllers. That’s good news for the likes of Oculus and Sony.
Once a sizable amount of content specifically tuned for VR interfaces comes out, the headsets that the two companies produce will be more than just show stealers and demo products. They'll actually be put to use by general consumers.
At the rate that things are going though, it’s still going to be baby steps for VR. Until more content is available (which we expect will happen once the Valve SDK is released), it’ll still be stuck in the periphery as a niche interface. Really cool and revolutionary, but still not something meant for the mainstream. Hopefully that's not for long though, since we’d really like to put not only the Oculus Rift through its paces in more games, but also stuff like the PrioVR full body suit.