Foldable phones, bread-baking robots, and sci-fi toilets: This week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas had its share of far-out gadgets, many of which likely won’t ever turn into mass-market products.
But there were also a few devices that stood out from the crowd, demonstrating both how fast technology advances and where media consumption and production could be going in years to come. We selected five such notable innovations for Variety’s second annual Best of CES list.
Samsung MicroLED modular TV
Samsung first showed off its modular “The Wall” TV at CES 2018, and the company was back this year with an even bigger version: Assembled with 12-by-12-inch display modules, the screen measured a whopping 219 inches in diameter. The company also showed off a 75-inch 4K version based on the same modules, and it demonstrated how consumers may in the near future be able to assemble screens of any size in minutes by just snapping the tiles together.
Samsung didn’t announce a release date for any of these models yet, but the company is clearly getting closer to turning its modular TV technology into real products. It has invested a lot into the MicroLED technology that powers it all, and promises great picture quality with vibrant colors and wide viewing angles. Out of all the futuristic TV tech shown at CES 2019, Samsung’s modular MicroLED TVs seemed most likely to have a major impact on the future of television.
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Lenovo Smart Clock with Google Assistant
One year after introducing their first joint smart displays, Google and Lenovo were back at CES to unveil a new bed-stand version, dubbed the Lenovo Smart Clock. With a 4-inch screen, the Smart Clock is optimized around morning and evening routines, which includes slowly ramping up the light of the display, sunrise-like, starting half an hour before your alarm goes off.
The Smart Clock also includes some touch sensors to let you tap the case if you need a few more minutes in the morning, and the display is optimized for size and alarm clock functionality. The device does not play YouTube videos, with Google product manager Mert Topcu telling Variety that video playback simply didn’t make sense. However, it doubles as a fully functioning Google smart speaker, which includes the ability to send music, podcasts, and more from your phone to the device via Chromecast. The Smart Clock will go on sale for $80 this spring.
Obsbot Tail AI camera
With the exception of 360 video, there hasn’t been a whole lot of innovation in the consumer / prosumer video camera space as of late. That didn’t stop China-based Obsbot from building a camera that uses cutting-edge technologies in novel ways: The company’s Tail camera uses artificial intelligence to identify subjects in a shoot and then automatically track them with smooth camera movements, courtesy of a built-in three-axis gimbal.
Obsbot Tail also records with up to 4K / 60fps videos, and supports HDR 10 and other advanced imaging technologies. But what’s really cool is that Tail supports gesture control, allowing the person in front of the camera to quickly switch back and forth between different modes — an ideal feature for YouTubers and anyone else looking to produce videos without any help from behind the camera. The Tail will be available on Kickstarter next week for around $500.
Roland Go Piano with Alexa built-in
Few devices shown at CES this year didn’t offer some type of voice control, and most of them relied on either the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa for their cloud-powered smarts. Standing out from the crowd of Alexa devices was the Go Piano with Alexa built-in, which Roland plans to release later this year.
Hands-free voice control simply does make a lot of sense when your fingers are busy trying to find the right keys. In addition to picking select songs to practice with, Alexa can also start a metronome, slow down or speed up the tempo, and even play educational games, including one that helps budding musicians with their ear training. There’s no word on the price of the Alexa-enabled piano yet, but it will likely be a bit more expensive than the existing version of the Go Piano without voice control, which currently retails for around $320.
Tablo Quad 4-tuner DVR
Tablo has been making networked DVRs for years, offering cord cutters an easy way to record broadcast television and then stream it to a wide variety of mobile and TV-connected devices. At CES, the company showed off its latest addition: A 4-tuner device that allows consumers to record up to four shows at the same time and that offers state-of-the-art networking for buffer-free TV fun.
On the surface, the Quad may just look like a revamped version of an existing product. But what made the device really shine at CES was a smart new ad-skipping feature that uses cloud-based video analysis to jump over those ad breaks without altering the actual source video. It’s a lot smarter than what some of Tablo’s competitors are offering, and made even some of the new software features from major TV manufacturers look a bit dated. Tablo’s Quad DVR will be available for $200 in March, and the company’s new ad-skipping feature will find its way to its other Tablo models in the coming months as well.