[Community of A/V Enthusiasts]
Here we go again...
CES 2012 was my rookie initiation and let's just say my head was on a swivel the entire time I was on the floor. Of course, I had always heard about it and had spent many years salivating at the chance to look at "all of those wonderful toys" but I never thought they'd let a louse like me in! Well, now that I have one under my belt, I'm ready for 2013.
Gadgets, gadgets, gadgets!
It's not hard to be bowled over by all of the spectacular televisions and displays on the floor and the audio gear is sure to knock my socks off, but I've always held a special place in my heart for things that I can hook up to stuff and new technology items that make my life easier. Let's just say I have an inner James Bond in me and I never got a chance to employ a guy like Q to invent stuff for me. I've been hearing a buzz about the Samsung smart tv hub and I'm wondering if somebody is actually going to finally figure out this thing that google tv so far has not delivered. I feel like the next BIG thing isn't quite here yet and I'm just searching for any kind of hints as to what it's going to be. Maybe it'll be some new television interfaces. Maybe it'll be some new mobile/handheld control that will bring ALL of my tech devices in my home together. Maybe it'll be a watch that I can watch TV on and video conference with my beer buddies. Who knows?
One thing I know for sure, is that I'm ready to go and much more equipped this year to cram as much cool stuff onto my wish list for 2013.
Look for my Aston Martin... It'll be parked out front.
Day 1: With CES 2012 firmly logged in my books, I marched right into this year’s convention knowing pretty much what I was going to tackle first. I steered clear of all the eye popping television displays (saving those for tomorrow) and went right to the Marvell booth to get this year’s update on the new Google set top box. They demoed it for me last year and I was hoping I'd get my paws on it, but it never happened. I think that was for the better. It seems like they've ironed out some kinks on it this year and I actually exited the booth with one under my arm for further review. Right off the bat, the remote seemed much better with motion control and voice activation built right in. You can actually say "Launch YouTube" into the remote and YouTube launches immediately. The guy who demoed it for me was Chinese and actually started out communicating to it in Chinese. There was actually a setting for a British english accent! This thing is truly global and I anticipate ordering both Chinese food AND fish and chips with it in the future. The interface seems really cool and this so far is the thing I'm most excited about from CES. By the way, it hooks up with Zigbee which allows you to control lights, your oven, thermostat, etc. More on that tomorrow.
Being the connection guy I am, I'm always drawn to devices that allow me to connect my devices across multiple platforms. I want to watch a movie on my IPhone and connect that to my IPad and connect that to my television. In other words, I want all of my content from the palm of my hand available all the way up to my television. The Google set top box is one way of doing that, but the other thing that caught my eye was the intel wireless display system. Using the term WIDI you're able to share video, pictures, etc. across all of your devices. We're talking 1080P all the way down the line. There's an actual set top that you can hook up, there's a projector you can hook up or an actual dongle that plugs right into your TV that enables the WIDI to allow viewing from your phone or tablet to your TV. Sort of an Apple TV without the apple. Might be interesting for some of you who want less fiber in your diet.
The headphone of the day was at the Sennheiser booth. The momentum series is maybe the most aesthetically pleasing headphone I've seen. I've noticed a trend of companies "classing" up their headphones with either wood tones or more classic retro looks to them. I like this. Sonically the headphones sound amazing, but I like the fact that they look great also. This is coming from a guy who has a wood case on his IPhone... Seriously!
The first thing I did at CES this year was to attend the Pebble wrist watch press conference. Even though on the surface it has pretty much nothing to do with home theater, it symbolically represents where I want all of my tech to go. The watch is able to control and communicate with my smartphone and tablet through bluetooth technology. My dream is to one day seemlessly integrate all of my devices together from the very smallest wristwatch all the way up to my Home theater and today was the day I was going to see if there is any light at the end of the tunnel.
One of my first stops today was the Hifiman booth. Their headphones actually won a "best of" award for secrets in 2012 so passing up this booth up would be like passing up a bar advertising "free beer". I listened to the HE-300's and they sounded great! The HE-300's are sort of their entry level over the ear headphones and I grooved some Miles Davis and Norah Jones on Hifiman's own personal digital music player. The player had a very cool wheel interface and I look forward to hearing more from their line of headphones.
I made a quick stop by Turtle beach to check out their surround sound headphones. I listened to their XP seven model and I'm still blown away at how you can become fully immersed in a surround sound environment with these things! Now don't get me wrong, I love my surround sound system I have at home but I can see some advantages the closed ear environment that headphones can provide me during certain intense battles in a particular bloody war game.
My favorite eye candy of last year was Sharp’s 85” 8k display so I headed over there to drool over it again. It’s still as impressive as ever and they had more content to show this year. It really is breathtaking. Sharp is pushing their IGZO technology which consists of tinier transistors than before. A really cool demo they had involved a touch screen display of a car that when you pinched to zoom, each pixel became another picture of a different car and you could zoom up into THAT and each pixel of THAT car became another car picture. Holy infinity, it was pretty cool!
As you should know by now, my holy grail is connectability among all of my devices and I'm waiting for one of the major manufacturers to step up and get it right. Let's just say Sharp has a ways to go. They have something called webtv split which just splits your screen into live television on the left side with a web browser on the right. I like the fact that it wasn't a small picture that you had to squint at, but it's EXTREMELY limited because it only splits with live television. None of the apps work with it. They call they're app hub "smart central" but I think their smart central has some homework and studying to do.
Next up was Panasonic and like most companies their 4k televisions were front and center. Their new 4k OLED was gorgeous to look at and even more astounding when you realize how thin it is. From the side it literally almost disappears! How ironic is it that tv's are becoming as thin as Credit cards yet our credit limits need to expand just to pay for these damned things!
Smart viera is Panasonic's method of device connectivity and it looks like they're heading in the right direction. After downloading the app on your smartphone or tablet device, you can with the flick of a single finger, share photos, video, music etc. with your tv. The interface is beautiful with a calendar, clock, local weather and such displayed on the screen along with icons to help you navigate to where you want to go. You can even use your tablet as a remote control or a gamepad and there's also a really cool feature where you can calibrate your tv right from the app. It's very intuitive and is a HUGE upgrade from what they had last year. I see light at the end of the tunnel, but at this point I'm still not sure if it's a freight train.
One thing is becoming apparent to me at CES and that is if you want to see the most eye-popping, impressive "WOW" factor presentation, head over to the Samsung area. It's usually the most crowded place in the hall and it's for good reason. The automated multi tv display in the center of the booth was spectacular! 8 tv's on spinning, sliding arms all synchronized as if they were auditioning for the Bellagio fountains! The 110" tv's at the entrance didn't hurt either. Samsung sure knows how to make an entrance!
Samsung isn't all eye-candy, though. I demoed their smart hub "ecosystem" and I think it's by far the most polished interface yet. They break it down into 5 areas: social, apps, ontv, movies and photos/videos/music. A smooth animation rotates like a cube to each seperate area with a gesture based remote. The functionality of the apps hasn't necessarily improved, but the navigation is MUCH better. It's now easier to find movies on Netflix (which by the way, has paired with Samsung for future distribution of ultra HD content), Amazon, etc without having to leave the tv environment. The ontv feature when paired with a cable set top box opens up the possibilities even more. Not only can you view your guide with gorgeous tiles but it learns your tendencies and will tell you upcoming shows that you may want to view live or record. It even has an interesting timeline display that shows you what is coming up in an easy to view linear fashion.
Last year, one of the coolest things I saw was LG's simultaneous viewing which was made possible by using their 3D technology to allow 2 seperate viewers see two seperate images on the same screen. LG was gearing it towards gaming, but Samsung this year had a tv that upped the ante to allow two seperate 3D images to be viewed individually with seperate stereo sound for each set of glasses. It really is a cool feature and the possiblities are endless. For example, if you had a spouse who liked to watch cat shows and you wanted to watch NBA basketball, you could watch them at the same time on the same tv.
The LG booth is my second favorite booth to visit at the show and I was eager to check out what they've done with their google tv integration. While their interface isn't as smooth and pretty to look at as the Samsung smart hub, the content and functionality are the best of the show. You can set up seperate channel guides geared to what you want to view. You like NBA basketball and NCAA football? With a few clicks you can get timelined tv schedules of every NBA and NCAA game by date. I know some of you are saying you can do that with your cable box now or with your tivo, but the difference here is that this is cross platformed within the tv. This means that you can browse the stats of your favorite player with the web browser and then easily switch over to actually watch him play or find out when his team is playing again. You can browse with picture in picture anywhere on the screen while you're viewing anything else you want. There are no limits! (Listen up Sharp and your smart central split screen weakness!) There's even a microphone built right into the remote. Say "launch youtube" and the youtube app launches. Say "I like horror movies with bloody axe murders in the snow" and it will connect you to "The shining" on Netflix or Amazon video. Say "I want one of those Sharp 85" 8k tv's for my living room" and it'll say "get a real job"
Ok, I made that last one up...