CES 2017 In The Rear View Mirror

Overheard on the show floor, at the end of Day 3: “Why do I have to come back to Las Vegas every year? I didn’t do anything wrong.”

This year’s CES was one of the earliest I’ve attended, starting right after the first of the year with two days of press conferences (I attended just one) and four days of exhibits (three days were plenty for me), scattered all over Las Vegas from the main convention center to the Sands Expo Center, the Venetian Hotel, The Mandalay Bay, and numerous other off-site meeting places.

Turnout according to the CTA was strong, exceeding 160,000. And the exhibit halls were full up. Automobile manufacturers and audio companies camped out in the north hall, while the big names in consumer electronics staked their claims in the center hall, leaving the upper and lower south hall exhibit spaces to drones and VR brands, along with a slew of Taiwanese and Chinese manufacturers and trading companies you’ve never heard of.

It’s a lot to take in over the four days, but I managed to cover all of the halls and make it over to the Sands for a brief visit. Some colder-than-usual weather (with sleet and even hail mixed in) had people scurrying to get around, and the availability of Uber and Lyft drivers was erratic, to say the least.

Still, I came back with over 1,000 raw photos and a pile of videos that I’m still editing as this is being written. Selected highlights and trends observed at the show will follow shortly, but let me start with a few general observations. First off, this was a very laid-back CES. Ground-breaking announcements were few and far between, as were advanced technology demos.

Most of the things I saw this year had been introduced at prior shows and were simply refinements. Very little of what I saw was unexpected, and I had even predicted some of the products and trends. (It’s just a matter of connecting the dots over time.)

Sony's back in the OLED TV game with this 77-inch 4K monster (panel by LG Display). There are 65-inch and 55-inch models, too.

Figure 1. Sony’s back in the OLED TV game with this 77-inch 4K monster (panel by LG Display). There are 65-inch and 55-inch models, too.

 

LG's Signature

Figure 2. LG’s Signature “Wallpaper” OLED TV appears to float atop a large piece of glass…and it’s super-thin, too.

In the world of displays, there were ample demonstrations of quantum dot (QD) technology for backlighting televisions and computer monitors. Another major manufacturer is now on board with organic light-emitting diode (OLED) televisions, and we’re seeing the beginnings of ‘pure’ LED-based displays that use fine pitch RGB elements.

Interest in robots has spiked considerably, from table-top versions that help you wake up in the morning to models that can guide you through an airport to your flight and even check on the departure time and gate. Other robots can sweep the floor and perform mundane tasks, returning to their charging stations automatically. There was even a robot that could see and pick up objects, and some rudimentary demos of ‘learning’ robots were also on hand.

Automobiles are a BIG part of the show, particularly when it comes to all-electric models with varying degrees of autonomy. There were plenty of demos of self-driving cars and even one that can detect your emotions and physical state. Other eye-poppers included entire cars that were 3D-printed and cars with VR headsets for driving. (That last one is borderline nuts, if you ask me.)

And of course there were hundreds of examples of Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity: Smart refrigerators and washer/drier combos. Smart lighting. Smart cars.  Small smart appliances. Smart scooters. For that matter, just about anything in the home or business can be connected to the Internet for monitoring and control. In some cases, all that’s needed is a plug-in USB stick. In other cases, it’s a software and hardware installation.

What follows is a somewhat random listing of show highlights. These are products or trends I felt significant enough to report on. Some were shown on the floor; others required a private visit to a meeting room or hotel suite. A few of them need to be seen in person to appreciate their significance, and if you make it to the NAB or InfoComm shows, there’s a good chance of that happening.

Panasonic introduced four new Ultra HD Blu-ray players at CES (eith and without WiFi), but oddly enough, they still aren't selling this beautiful 65-inch 4K HDR OLED TV in the USA to go with them...

Figure 3. Panasonic introduced four new Ultra HD Blu-ray players at CES (eith and without WiFi), but oddly enough, they still aren’t selling this beautiful 65-inch 4K HDR OLED TV in the USA to go with them…

 

Samsung's new ultrawide QLED PC monitor has spectacular color rendering from quantum dots.

Figure 4. Samsung’s new ultrawide QLED PC monitor has spectacular color rendering from quantum dots.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are becoming the go-to platform for generating photons. Doesn’t matter if it’s for your TV (OLEDs, WLEDs with quantum dots), home and office lighting, dashboard indicators, or stadium signs. A new generation of so-called “micro” LEDs has come to market and is finding its way into digital signage, resulting in super-fine-pitch emissive displays with high dynamic range and very wide color gamuts.

On the television side, LG continues to make improvements to its line of OLED 4K TVs, showing models as large as 77 inches. They’ve even come up with a ‘wallpaper’ design that suspends the display on a clear glass surface, and the thickness of these displays has dropped below 5mm (that’s about ¼ of an inch). OLEDs can also flex, making them perfect for installation in cars, trucks, trains, planes – anything that moves.

In the LG Display booth, we saw prototype OLED dashboards, including a virtual instrument cluster with a transparent OLED (very cool!) overlaid on an LCD display for a 3D gauge effect. We also saw two-sided OLEDs as well as a method to use the front surface of an OLED TV as a speaker. It worked well, but by the laws of physics won’t have a wide field of dispersion.

Sony has also embraced OLED TVs with a flourish, buying panels from LG and using their own video processing in 77-inch, 65-inch, and 55-inch models. (They’re also using the front surface as a speaker.) The company is also a leader in micro LED technology; dazzling crowds with their massive 8K x 2K CLEDIS LED display made up of hundreds of seamless LED tiles. Look for more companies to embrace micro LEDs, and don’t be surprised if they start showing up in televisions by the end of the decade.

LG's 27-inch PC monitor has an amazing 5120x2880 pixels of resolution - that's right, 5K.

Figure 5. This 27-inch PC monitor from LG has an amazing 5120×2880 pixels of resolution – that’s right, 5K.

 

Hisense is into quantum dot technology and showed a full line of 4K HDR LCD TVs, driven by Nanosys QD science.

Figure 6. Hisense is into quantum dot technology and showed a full line of 4K HDR LCD TVs, driven by Nanosys QD science.

 

Even Qualcomm is getting into the HDR game, showcasing the processing power of their Snapdragon CPU to drive displays.

Figure 7. Even Qualcomm is getting into the HDR game, showcasing the processing power of their Snapdragon CPU to drive displays.

For nearly a decade, the standard illumination system for LCD TVs and monitors was clusters of white LEDs and RGB color filters; either using edge illumination and a light waveguide plate or direct illumination. A few years ago, we started to see a new way to produce more horsepower with brighter, more saturated colors and high dynamic range: Blue LEDs harnessed to quantum dots.

Now, everyone’s in the game. Samsung made the biggest splash at CES when they rolled out their “Q” line of TVs, using what they call Q-LEDs (quantum LEDs). But hold on – what Samsung calls a Q-LED isn’t really. It’s just an improved quantum dot that’s more efficient while the original Q-LED, developed by QD Vision, is a true electroluminescent device that would revolutionize displays (and probably run OLEDs out of business).

Nevertheless, Samsung dazzled with a full line of 4K quantum dot LCDs, as did Chinese manufacturers Hisense and TCL. Both companies are making a major push into the U.S. television market (Hisense sponsors a NASCAR team), and TCL is one of a handful of vertically-integrated TV manufacturers – from raw panels to finished sets. Other Chinese brands (Haier, Skyworth, Changhong, and Konka) showed 4K TVs with high dynamic range, but they don’t have the presence quite yet on this side of the Pacific.

Front projection is still very much in the game. LG, Sony, Hisense, and Changhong all showed an ultra-short-throw laser projector for home theater use that can light up a 100-inch (diagonal) screen – all with 4K image resolution. Somewhat lost in the translation was the ability to display improved dynamic range and more saturated colors (what Changhong called “flame red and pacific blue”), but there’s no question that this is a viable alternative to large screens, like the 120-inch 4K LCD TV shown by LeEco in their booth.

Unusual LCD and OLED sizes and aspect ratios continue to be popular. Samsung showed what they stated is the first quantum dot-equipped desktop monitor, a 34-inch curved model that claims 125% coverage of the sRGB color gamut and has a maximum refresh rate of 100 Hz. BenQ also showed an HDR LCD monitor using an improved panel design and coupled it with DisplayPort 1.3 (HBR3), streaming content at a maximum of 32 Gb/s from source to screen. And LG exhibited a spectacular 5K LCD monitor (5120×2880 resolution) that supports USB 3.0 Type C and Thunderbolt connections.

Figure 8. Although LG Display does a ton of work with OLEDs, they aren't leaving LCDs behind. Their new Nano Cell technology greatly improves color rendering, saturation, and dynamic range using nanoparticles smaller than 1 nanometer.

Figure 8. Although LG Display does a ton of work with OLEDs, they aren’t leaving LCDs behind. Their new Nano Color II technology greatly improves color rendering, saturation, and dynamic range using nanoparticles smaller than 1 nanometer.

 

Witrh Keyssa's KISS 60 GHz wireless dock, you won't need a DisplayPort (or HDMI) cable to your TV.

Figure 9. With Keyssa’s KISS 60 GHz wireless dock, you won’t need a DisplayPort (or HDMI) cable to your TV.

So how do we interface all of these displays? The big news for HDMI at the show was version 2.1, which increases the overall data rate to 48 Gb/s using speed improvements to the physical data rate per lane, plus expansion to a fourth lane and the adoption of Display Stream Compression – all the while retaining the same 19-pin connector as before (a neat trick, if you ask me). Now, will they announce a standard for native optical fiber interfacing?

Lattice Semiconductor, the parent company of HDMI, continues to dabble in 60 GHz wireless connectivity with their SNAP close-proximity wireless interconnect. As presently configured, it can support the same maximum data rates as HDMI 1.3/1.4 (10.2 Gb/s), so it can transport 4K video in the RGB (4:4:4) format at a maximum frame rate of 30 Hz, or transport 4L/60 4:2:0 video.

Over in the VESA booth, Keyssa showed their Kiss 60 GHz wireless solution, docking an Amazon Kindle tablet to stream 1080p content to a large TV. Both SNAP and Kiss utilize multiple in, multiple out (MIMO) antenna arrays and have similar data rates around 6 Gb/s upstream and downstream. What was different about Kiss is that it was making a wireless DisplayPort connection, not HDMI.

DisplayPort is also undergoing upgrades. Demos were shown of 120 Hz video output using a high bit rate 3 (HBR3) connection; maxed out at 8 Gb/s per lane. VESA also showed HDR through DP, along with a conversion to HDMI 2.0b for HDR televisions. Nearby, semiconductor designer Hardent demonstrated an improved version of Display Stream Compression, using 2:1 and 3:1 ratios. They are now venturing further by testing 4:1 DSC and its impact on latency, which with 3:1 packing amounts to just a few picture lines.

HDMI LIcensing showed off HDR 4K content with the new version 2.1 HDMI interface, which had its maximum speed raised to 48 Gb/s across four lanes.

Figure 10. HDMI Licensing showed off HDR 4K content with the new version 2.1 HDMI interface, which had its maximum speed raised to 48 Gb/s across four lanes.

 

Kopin's 2K x 2K minature OLED display is designed for heads-up augmented reality applications - and it looks great.

Figure 11. Kopin’s 2K x 2K minature OLED display is designed for heads-up augmented reality applications – and it looks great.

 

Figure 12. AR headgear is finally getting lighter, although still bulky.

Figure 12. AR headgear is finally getting lighter, although still bulky.

Over in the Westgate Hotel, Canadian fabless chip company Peraso unveiled the next generation of their 60 GHz wireless USB chipset, using the 802.11ad WiFi standard. In their tests, a 220 MB video file downloaded from a laptop through an 802.11ad router to another laptop in about 8 seconds (try that at home!). It’s also possible to stream wireless video in real time over USB this way.

Both Lattice and Peraso see potential for 60 GHz wireless with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets as a solution to the annoying, bulky and heavy cable bundles that go with the territory. Qualcomm, which had an enormous exhibit of 60 GHz products last year including twelve different tri-band WiFi modems and a smartphone (Letv), dialed it back this year with a modest exhibit of high-speed data and file exchange using their Snapdragon processor.

On the control side of things; you name it, it was connected to the Internet, from doorbell cameras and RFID locks to water sprinklers, shades, lights, thermostats, and major appliances. Samsung, LG, Hisense, Haier, and others exhibited interactive refrigerators with built-in LCD screens that can show video (play back recipes while you’re cooking or baking), keep track of what’s in the fridge and how old it is, prepare shopping lists and order groceries automatically (you know Amazon has a hand in that), and work as a whiteboard or virtual clipboard for leaving notes and keeping track of your schedule(s).

LG’s “knock” LCD refrigerator screen turns transparent when you tap it to see what’s hiding on the right side shelves. (Lots of potential for mischief there!) Samsung’s models will actually talk to you: You can ask the refrigerator to go out on the Internet and find a recipe and then read it back as you prepare the food. Another cool appliance, an induction oven, was shown by Panasonic. You can place everything for one meal – main course and sides – on one plate, put it in the oven, and everything is correctly heated and cooked without burning.

Figure 13. Samsung's OLED smart watches can change to show any watch face configuration you like.

Figure 13. Samsung’s OLED smart watches can change to show any watch face configuration you like.

 

Figure 14. Corning apparently woke up and smelled the coffee! All of the glass in this car - windshield, mirrors, light covers, etc. - is made from the company's tough, durable, and scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. (Why didn't they think of this earlier?)

Figure 14. Corning apparently woke up and smelled the coffee! All of the glass in this car – windshield, mirrors, light covers, etc. – is made from the company’s tough, durable, and scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. (Why didn’t they think of this earlier?)

I’ll close out by talking about robots and autonomous cars. Machine learning is a popular topic among scientists and we’re now seeing it come to fruition. Canon showed an assembly robot that can actually see; looking for and finding parts on a table, picking them up and putting them in the correct place. Toyota’s YUI car actually senses your emotions while you drive, along with your heart rate. It can automatically suggest places to eat, a movie for a cranky child, or simply takeover driving while you catch a cat nap behind the wheel. And LG featured a guide robot that will roll up to you in an airport, scan your boarding pass, tell you the flight departure time and gate and escort you to your destination.

Granted; these are somewhat exotic examples of machine learning. But on a more mundane level, you can now design a control system that will use face recognition to unlock and enable operation of devices in your home, school, and business. Face recognition will also work in a car dashboard, as shown by Mitsubishi and others, and real-time displays will update you on weather, time, road and traffic conditions, and even suggest alternate routes.

That’s it! I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I saw at the show, and will have more posts after I have some time to gather my thoughts. (And look at that – I never once mentioned drones!)