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CES 2020 Preview: Full Stream Ahead

Entertainment has always been a key component of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, but the explosive growth of subscription streaming is arguably making the tech­nology showcased there more integral to Hollywood’s future than ever. 

The new breed of 8K TVs, expected to be on ample display at the Jan. 7-10 event in Las Vegas, not only offers an even better picture than 4K UHD, but also enhanced con­nect­ivity to make sure tuning in to Netflix or Disney Plus is as seamless as watching broadcast TV. Voice assistants will help find favorite movies, artificial intelligence will help discover new favorites, and 5G will enhance wireless transmission into the home and into the car, where the promise of autonomous driving brings with it a whole new captive audience for filmed entertainment. 

“The streaming wars are having an impact on everyone,” says Michael Kassan, CEO of consulting firm MediaLink. 

Although the initials CES still stand for Consumer Electronics Show, the show’s focus in recent years has shifted away from hard­ware and gadgets to technological innovation. And technological innovation is what made streaming possible in the first place. 

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Here is a preview of this year’s CES, where more than 700,000 products will be showcased and more than 170,000 attendees from around the world are expected to attend. 

MUST-SEE TELEVISIONS

The 8K era has arrived, but where’s the content?

Televisions have always been center stage at CES, particularly with the advent of flat-screen TVs, high-definition TVs, 4K UHD TVs and, now, 8K TVs, the latest advance in the drive to replicate the theatrical experience in homes — with an added touch of “smartness” through Internet connectivity to enable easy access to streaming services.

Dozens of models are now on the market, including a critically hailed 65-inch model 8K QLED TV from Samsung that early last month was on sale for less than $4,000, nearly half the list price. So the 8K era is upon us, although there’s still one crucial, missing ingredient: content. 

Sure, there are bits and pieces of 8K floating around, courtesy of YouTube and Vimeo. But no major movies have been released in 8K, and there’s been no word from Hollywood — which is still trying to push 4K Ultra HD into a mass-market item — about when, and even if, 8K content will be made available on Blu-ray Disc or through digital delivery. Streamers, too, have been mum.

And yet the lack of content won’t be an issue for long. 

The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will be broadcast in 8K, giving the new format a badly needed publicity boost. And during the 2020 holiday season, the next wave of video-game consoles will come to market with 8K capability — including the PlayStation 5, shipping between October and December, and the Microsoft Xbox Project Scarlett, also arriving in the fourth quarter of the year.

Mark Wagman, managing director and lead of the data technology and solutions 

practice at MediaLink, says he expects 8K to be a “big deal” at the show, just as it was last year. 

“There are things on the floor that are fun to look at from an aspirational aspect, and then there are things you can point to that will impact your world today,” he says. “I think 8K will be one of those things where people congregate with oohs and aahs about how cool it is, but we’re not going to see it become a significant consumer item for another 24 to 36 months.”

VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY 

Less splash, more substance as companies integrate tech into products

Hollywood’s infatuation with virtual reality and augmented reality may be over, but that doesn’t mean the VR and AR business is dead. Indeed, according to the Consumer Technology Assn., this year’s CES will boast a 30% increase in VR and AR exhibitors compared to 2019.

“We’re no longer seeing the splashy hardware platform an­­nouncements,” says Clifton Dawson, CEO and principal analyst with Greenlight Insights. “But CES has become an important show for immersive technology startups and other key technology providers to demonstrate novel, compelling solutions in such areas as display qual­ity, body tracking, and ergonomics.”

VR lets professionals learn new skills in a safe environment. And much of the excitement around AR, meanwhile, is centered around location-based, or geo-based, AR, which uses GPS data to determine a device’s location and then adds virtual objects based on the ac­q­uired data. Yelp’s Monocle app, for example, lets users find nearby bars or restaurants by simply pointing their phone. And then there’s the Star Walk app, which lets users point their devices toward the sky and get the names of stars, constellations and visible planets.

5G WIRELESS ARRIVES

Look, ma, no buffering

One of the most talked-about topics at the show will be 5G, the next-generation wireless technology that began its global rollout last year.

“Last year’s big story was 5G, and this year’s big story will be 5G,” says MediaLink’s Kassan. Delivering data 20 times faster than 4G, the technology also boasts lower latency and massive capacity that will allow it to handle not only current devices, but also emerging technologies such as autonomous cars and connected home products. 

From an entertainment content perspective, 5G couldn’t have come at a better time. The technology seems tailor-made for streaming. And yet 5G won’t be an overnight sensation; it is estimated that by 2022, 5G phones will only account for 50% of all phone units shipped in the United States. 

Beyond streaming, 5G will enable a wide range of new applications associated with the 

Internet of Things, from autonomous cars to connected products in the home. 

In addition, “5G will be a major tailwind for the VR/AR industry in 2020,” says Dawson. “The hype around 5G is a bit frothy, but smart VR/AR companies are starting to articulate how 5G will improve their current product.

VOICE ASSISTANTS/SMART SPEAKERS

Alexa, play the restored and remastered ‘Gone With the Wind’

Alexa, Siri and “Hey, Google” are once again expected to 

be star attractions at CES 2020, along with a host of other companies that are integrating voice technology and artificial intelligence into their products. They’ve progressed from turning on lights to managing our fleet of household appliances — and from an entertainment perspective, Alexa may soon turn into your personal movie concierge, finding and even recommending movies or TV shows.

And yet privacy concerns remain, particularly after reports last year that malicious apps can eavesdrop through Echo speakers and that Amazon stores audio recordings for review by employees. 

Wagman says while he remembers being wowed a few years back by a Whirlpool “smart kitchen” display, “the pendulum appears to be swinging the other way in terms of what you and I would deem creepy and not creepy.” He notes that Sonos last September unveiled a speaker with no voice assistant “for people who don’t want a microphone in their bedroom.” 

CONNECTED CARS

Your personal mobile movie theaters

With the advent of connected cars, computers help us park, change lanes and brake; we can also check text messages and sync our phones. And with the promise of self-driving cars fast becoming reality, it’s no wonder that CES has become a magnet for carmakers as well as technology firms hoping to do business with them. 

“CES is now one of the bigger automotive shows in North America and, to some extent, the world,” says Jeremy Carlson, an automotive analyst with IHS Markit. “CES has really given automakers, and automotive suppliers, a place to showcase their technology — not just what they have, and also what they can do.”

IHS Markit forecasts that by 2023 nearly 70% of passenger vehicles sold will be connected. Self-driving cars are taking a little longer than initially anticip­ated, Carlson says, but when they do roll around, watch out. 

“If all of a sudden autonomous driving becomes the thing, you’re going to get a lot of drivers who commute who will now be sitting in their cars, watching content,” Kassan says. “So I think content creation and content consumption will go up markedly.” 

Tipsheet   

What: CES 2020   

When: Jan. 7-10

Where: Las Vegas Convention Center 

Web: ces.tech

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