CES 2014 Trends: Ultra HD, and Devices That Watch You

CEA economist predicts 75-150 announcments for new TV format this week

Samsung Ultra HD TV

While questions still swirl around Ultra HD television, the chief economist for the Consumer Electronics Assn. expects many answers to arrive during this week’s 2014 Consumer Electronics Show.

In his annual presentation on CES trends to watch, Shawn G. DuBravac, chief economist and director of research for the CEA, said he expects at least 75 announcements related to UHD this week, and perhaps as many as 150.

LG has already announced it will show multiple UHD televisions at the show, DuBravac, noted, but he predicted announcements across the UHD ecosystem, including media devices and services. “You’ll see distribution partners, studios, all coming together to figure out what that looks like.”

He said about 60,000 UHD TVs were sold in the U.S. in 2013 but sales are expected to jump to 500,000 in 2014. (Around 40 million TVs are sold annually in the U.S.) Globally, the CEA projects around 2.5 million UHD TVs will be sold this year.

DuBravac said that U.S. consumers tend to replace their TVs about every six years. Since there are about 119 million U.S. households, each with an average of around three TVs, consumers are buying a new TV about every three years. The CEA is anticipating quite of few of the HDTVs bought in the last upgrade cycle to become obsolete around the same time, triggering an echo of that earlier upgrade boom, though not as great as the original.

DuBravac noted long-standing trends in how tech innovations are shown at CES and adopted. Tech at the show is divided into two broad categories, he said: Technology shown to prove it is technologically possible, and tech that is commercially viable.

Tech in the first category this year will include transparent displays and flexible displays. “It may be another 5-10 years before it becomes commercially viable,” he said of this class of tech. “That is very common in the evolution of technology.”

UHD has moved to the second category, but DuBravac also cautioned to keep in mind the historic pattern of how new tech is adopted. “Adoption is slow early on and accelerates quickly from there,” he said. “We’re still in the tail of that “S” shaped adoption curve with Ultra HD.”

In answer to a question comparing Ultra HD and 3D TV, DuBravac noted that deployment of 3D TV tech into homes “has actually done pretty well.”

“3D TV looks like all those other S-shaped adoption curves, we’ve just stopped talking about it,” he said. “It’s become a lot less of a driver of set purchases as we might have projected, but the deployment of 3D is there. Now, usage isn’t necessarily there. But again, some of that takes time.”

Much of DuBravac’s presentation was on another accelerating trend, the incorporation of sensors into all manner of consumer devices, including new wearable devices. That should make it possible for new services to combine with existing systems. As one example, he raised the idea of wearable tech that senses the wearer’s stress levels and make programming recommendations based on that information, or devices that detect how many viewers in the room and recommend programs accordingly.

In light of the recent NSA scandals, that raised questions on privacy and user data. “I think you’ll see a number of companies address this week,” he said, but went on to muse “I wonder sometimes if privacy is an anomaly, rather than the other way around.” He pointed to small towns of the past where everyone knew everyone’s business. “I think if I can get a richer experience by sharing some of my data or having my data used on my behalf, that’s a fair tradeoff,” he said.

He also said he doubted the underlying individual or aggregate data would hold much interest for snoopers. “I’m not as interesting as other people worried about privacy must be,” he deadpanned. “I feel like we’re moving to a much more comfortable area where people are more comfortable with how their data is used and their ability to opt in and opt out.”