CES, Real Life and TVs

CES has ended and we saw a lot of new cool technology and innovative products. We also saw a lot of products that were a complete load of crap, but hey – that is CES. One thing though that should not be ignored however is that despite it being originally described as the Consumer Electronics Show, it actually is not for consumers. This is because it is a sales opportunity to distributors and retailers for products that they may wish to sell to consumers. Of course many of the products will end up in consumer hands because distribution deals have already been done and CES is the place to show them off as pre-announcement, but many will not. We don’t have a show or many articles for all the products that never launched… but then who would attend or read it? Products should not be counted on until there is a ship date…

Voice Control
A lot of CES news was very Amazon Alexa focused – with many companies showing off integration into the platform and making use of voice control. This is a great market move, and actually has a chance of success compared to previous implementations of voice because this is a platform and not a product integration, and I see Alexa taking off in the way that Cortana and Siri based products have not. That is not to say there are no problems ahead. Despite Alexa being an extremely well implemented platform, it does have usability issues in real homes and offices that do not immediately become apparent to the average early adopter – it struggles in noisy environments, particularly where other sources of sound are located that it does not know about like radios, TVs and children. That I am sure will improve but you can see it starting to dent the enthusiasm with reports of mass accidental purchases… I hope that voice Uis are seen as additive to the experience and not replacements for having a ‘quiet’ UI.

High End and Average Consumers
Another aspect to realise is that many of the products, particularly in the TV space, are not for average consumers and are actually high end products that will drive the market but not be the market. The UHD space is very much affected by this, as many of the TVs are targeted at consumers who pay thousands of dollars for a display, which is very much only the high end. You have to dig beneath the headlines to find the products that the average consumer will buy, but when you look you do see quite a number of UHD HDR based TVs coming to market in 2017 that will be in the price range that the average consumer will pay.

UHD HDR Smoke and Mirrors – the HD/UHD Ready problem
However the concern is whether the wow of the high end will percolate down to these screens, and this can be seen by the fact that although these displays support HDR, they only seem to support the barest content decode capabilities with display brightness levels below 400 NITs, only basic support for HDR10 and/or PQ and only just getting the HLG support and no chance of Dolby Vision, and color spaces that are significantly less than DCI-P3. Another issue is that a lot of the low end displays will ‘take liberties’ with color support and resolution. We see 8bit displays marketed as 10 bit using visual processing to simulate the additional 2 bits (10 bits is really needed for HDR wow), with lower than full UHD resolutions as well, with issues with color sub-pixel counts being less than they should be for full color gamut reproduction.

These displays will work for many consumer services that will launch in 2017 and 2018, but the challenge is that the Wow may be lost in cost savings and poor implementation. This is something that consumer support services and advisors will need to be revealing those products that don’t cut corners and provide true HDR implementations that at least get above 500NITs and have high quality displays with the correct color reproduction.

This is a real repeat of the ‘HD Ready’ problems of the last decade, but with more variables than just screen resolution.

As I finish this post I must add something I picked up from the blogs and reports of the last week. One comment  from a commentator that I heard and could agree with… that except for Alexa, much of what has been demonstrated at CES this year was very similar to the last four years – although I get the distinct view that there was a lot less drones…

Fairmile West is a Consulting company focused on working in the Consumer Device and Video arena. We work with clients on technology strategy and product delivery through key practices in Consumer Devices and Video Services. If you are interested in learning more about what we do, please do get in touch via our website – Contact us. You can also keep track with what interests us in the industry by following our Link blog at TV Tech News, and you can specifically follow news on Ultra HD via the following link – Ultra HD News.