LAS Vegas will be an even more extraordinary city this week – not content with hosting its usual two-thirds scale model of the Eiffel Tower and a slightly-larger than life replica of the Trevi Fountain, it will also host the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
This is where all the latest announcements from the world’s biggest technology brands are made. So Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, LG and more will hope to focus the world’s attention on new televisions, phones, computers and more, while China’s up and coming companies such as Huawei and ZTE will aim to make that crucial breakthrough into the mainstream Western consumer market. That’s not because they need the money, but because it’s where the global trends in gadgets that are shaping all our lives are set.
Ultra High definition TV is the new name for what used to be called 4K. That’s television with four times the definition of a standard HDTV – which many UK consumers have still not got round to upgrading to. The appeal is in a picture that looks so sharp it produces a genuinely more immersive experience, but for now its expensive. The set LG announced at CES last year, at 55”, has only just gone on sale in South Korea for £6,500, and these devices will continue to be for the rich. But the integration of on-demand, connected services, the web and 3D mean that the TV is finally becoming a much smarter device.
One issue, however, will be what people will be able to watch. According to Mike Gannon, home product architect for Motorola, “it is important that there is content to back up the advances in technology – otherwise the consumer will ultimately feel cheated”. He says the industry needs to decide on the standards that will make such high resolution content viable, otherwise consumers, programme makers and manufacturers will struggle to get the next generation of TV into the home.
Connectivity, whether it is via WiFi or mobile network, will also be a key theme: your mobile phone can now control everything from your TV to your boiler and even, thanks to products such as the Philips Hue, your light bulbs. At CES, analysts expect to see a growing emphasis on the integration of laptops, phones and TVs into one system, all based online. That means that you can easily, for instance, put pictures from your computer on your TV, or play music through your web-connected HiFi. Enthusaists will argue that this is already possible, but for now it remains the preserve of a relatively few geeks. Samsung and others want it to go mainstream, realising that tablets are stealing the lustre of TVs and computers because they’re now the interface people want to use for a range of services.
Although the mobile phone remains a key battleground, Samsung and Apple now consider their mobile launches so big that they warrant their own events. Microsoft, although struggling to get real popularity for its phones, is not going to CES this year. So it’s an opportunity, if rumours are to be believed, for Sony to launch its first major phone since it dropped the Sony Ericsson brand and for Chinese companies to emphasise that they make excellent devices that can be both cheap and powerful.
Indeed, whether it’s wearable technology, such as glasses which also disply information on the web or gadgets for fitness, the mobile phone remains the key controller for all of them. No wonder Sony realises it a game it must get back into.