Another International CES is a wrap and after spending a week in the eye of the storm, it is nice to be back home away from the throngs of people and electron bombardment. Having taken a couple of days to let things settle and go over my notes, here’s a list of the items that most stuck for me as I explored the near two-million square feet of Las Vegas convention space.
Most Inevitable: 4K
Ultra-high definition TV (aka 4K) is not only coming, it’s here, and in a massive way. You couldn’t visit a booth even remotely related to video without seeing multiple 4K sets. And whether you like Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sharp, HiSense, Haier, TCL, LG, Vizio, RCA, or insert any other name, 4K is likely going to be your next set.
LG Netflix 4K.
Most Questionable: 4K Content
Sure, the displays are here, and they can all upconvert 1080p content to 4K, but when it comes to viewing true, native 4K content, unless you plan on buying your own 4K camcorder and shooting your own videos, the answer from most vendors is, “It’s coming.” While Reed Hastings was at the LG and Sony press events to announce that 4K streaming would be coming from Netflix, it will require 15 Mbps download speeds, be very limited content (they only talked about “House of Cards”) and didn’t look as spectacular as other 4K content. So, looks like we’ll have the chicken (TV) before the egg (content) for the foreseeable future.
Most Likely to Change the World: 3D Printing
If you’ve never seen a 3D Printer in action, it is literally like watching magic happen before your eyes. Last year at CES there were a few 3D printers, but this year that was a large section in the South Hall of different manufacturers showing off their takes on this technology, some printing in PLA filament derived from corn, others using sugar, and others using chocolate. It probably isn’t too much of a stretch to say that 3D printing could launch the next industrial revolution, as they speed up production and limit losses from R&D and lead to innovation. And all of it is capable of being done on a desktop anywhere. MakerBot talked about a Robohand that one user made, which allows people to print a prosthetic hand for under $5 in parts compared to tens of thousands for a traditional prosthetic. MakerBot also announced its initiative to put a desktop 3D printer in every school in the U.S., and so far the company’s printers have impacted 106,268 students. MakerBot’s president compared it to his childhood and growing up learning BASIC with an Apple II computer in the classroom, and will be empowering the next generation to be smarter.
Best Sound: TAD
Technical Audio Design (TAD) Reference One loudspeakers.
Wandering the floors of The Venetian is a guilty pleasure as you indulge in suite after suite of six-figure audio systems. And year after year I seek out Andrew Jones Technical Audio Design (TAD) Reference One loudspeakers. These massive, $78,000/pair towers deliver the quintessential audiophile experience in my opinion, with lightning-quick, hyper-detailed sound from the Beryllium drivers, and bass that is huge and deep yet still tight and controlled. These babies are on my “if I win the lottery” must-buy list.
Best High-End Value: GoldenEar Technology Triton One
GoldenEar Technology Triton On.
GoldenEar Technology’s founder Sandy Gross claimed that he designed these speakers to stand next to the $50,000 super-speakers from other companies. After listening to several of those “super speakers” the sound produced from these sub-$5000 towers is nothing short of phenomenal. Read my listening review of the Triton Ones here.
Most Likely Sonos Killer: BlueSound
Sonos sits atop the wireless music streaming mountain, and the latest competitor to take its shot at the crown is BlueSound. What makes BlueSound a bit different is that the company is made up from the audiophile DNA of NAD and that BlueSound is designed to stream high-res audio content up to 24-bit/192kHz and can directly download high-res content from HD Tracks. I’ve requested a review sample and look forward to taking BlueSound for a test drive!
Most Random Celebrity Sighting: Lisa Loeb
There is no shortage of celebrities hanging around booths at CES. Last year walking out of the DTS booth I stumbled into magician David Blaine. This year I walked straight into Lisa Loeb coming off an elevator on the 35th floor at The Venetian. I looked down, saw her name tag, and said, “Holy crap! That’s Lisa Loeb!” and by then she was gone. I chose to “Stay (I Missed You)” and not to chase after her like a creeper, but don’t think I didn’t want to.
Most Not Ready for Primetime: Glasses-free 3D
Sharp's 8K Glasses Free TV.
Just when you thought that the electronics world had given up on 3D, it’s baaaaack! But this time without glasses. I wandered the showfloor looking at all of the glasses-free 3D demos that I could find and give a full write-up here. Suffice to say, there is only one technology that seems to work, and I wouldn’t take the rest of the sets even if they gave them to me.
Best Thing Everyone Can Afford: Stick N Find
At only $49 for a pack of two ($79 for four), Stick N Find is a device the size of a quarter that you stick onto objects you want to keep track of. Once attached, you can then track them up to 150-feet using a “radar” screen on an iOS or Android device or be notified via push message if the object leaves a pre-determined distance from your side. This makes Stick N Find the ultimate remote control finder or way to keep an eye on pets that like to bolt.
Best Door Lock: Goji
There was no shortage of smart door locks at CES, but the one that most caught my eye was the Goji. This lock has an industrial design that would make you call it the “Nest of doorlocks.” (Well, it made me call it that.) As you walk up to the lock, it will recognize you by name and automatically open. If it is a stranger, the Goji will snap a picture of them and then send it to you so you can see who is there. Also, Goji is looking to integrate with some of our favorite automation systems. Look forward to a review…
Most Cool Window Treatment: SONTE film
Sure, motorized window treatments are cool, but if James Bond wanted to get some privacy, he’d use SONTE digital film. This is film can attach to almost any window and is virtually undetectable when in place. But at the touch of a button—RF remote or WiFi app, automation integration in the works—the film changes almost instantly from totally clear to opaque. The film also blocks IR and UV rays.
Most Impressive Demo: Ultimate Home Theater Demonstration
For the past few years, a consortium of high-end companies has teamed up to deliver an over-the-top, killer home theater demo experience. Once again, this year’s demo didn’t disappoint as Kaleidescape, Digital Projection, Triad, ADA, D-Box, Screen Excellence, Bitwise Controls, and Fortress Inc. teamed up to deliver a seven-figure super room with pristine audio and video. Making this year’s demo even more awesome was the custom designed and engineered room-within-a-room by Residential Systems columnist and acoustics guru Anthony Grimani of PMI. The picture from DPI’s Titan LED projector was phenomenal as was the audio from Triad’s new Cinema Reference speakers, capable of delivering SPLs in excess of 120 dB in large theaters.
Most Impressive Booth Display: LG
LG's Wall of 3D.
The video giants go all out with their booth designs at CES, and no two companies try out one-up each other more than LG and Samsung. This year, while both booths had the most over-the-top-designs that drew huge crowds of people, based on the number of people that continually hung out in front of the LG display, I have to give them the nod. LG’s demo was made up of 140 flat-panel TVs (in a 20 x 7 array) that displayed a unified, mega-3D image and caused hundreds of people to stand, sit, and lay on the ground to watch. The 3D was amazing, with bright images that were totally immersive. Just because I thought it was also very cool, here’s an honorable mention pic of Samsung’s Ultimate Immersive Experience:
Best Knob Feel: D'Agostino’s integrated amplifier
If I have one audiophile fetish, it would be knob feel. There is nothing that beats the feel of a well-balanced, smooth-turning, perfectly machined volume knob on a piece of high-end gear like a pre-amp. Now, whenever I come across a new piece of gear, I always reach out and take the knob for a spin. This year, I got some good knob from Mark Levinson, Lexicon, McIntosh, and others, but the hands-down best knob feel goes to D’Agostino. Imagine a volume knob that was designed as the multi-jeweled centerpiece of a certified Swiss chronometer. The D’Agostino integrated amplifier knob turns with the perfect amount of smoothness and resistance, with amazing precision and balance. The volume needle also responds to the knob in perfect sync and with exactly the right amount of raise per rotation. If you ever get the chance to turn a D’Agostino knob, I highly recommend it.
Most Over the Top: Orpheus Headphones
With only 300 pieces ever made back in 1991, the $16,000 Sennheiser Orpheus still stand atop the tower of the world’s most expensive and exclusive headphones. First, they feel like putting opulence onto your ears. The leather is supple and buttery and rich, like wrapping your head in a Rolls Royce Phantom. Second, the tube amp is beautiful and looks like the perfect audiophile accessory to accompany such a masterpiece. And the sound… Ah, what can one say of perfection? I’d say that it was if a hundred angels were singing into my ears, but I think these phones imaged better and played much lower.
Most Pointless Trend: Curved TVs
Panasonic's curved TV wall.
I spoke to multiple video reviewers from different publications who know way more about video than I do and whose opinions I greatly respect and they all to a man (yes, all men) said that the trend of curved TVs was pointless and actually detrimental to the viewing experience because of a narrower viewing sweet spot. Also, it’s questionable how people will like the look of a curved set on the wall, with the edges coming out into the room. Anyhow, for my two-cents curved = dumb fad.
Best-Looking TV: Sony’s 4K XBR950B
In a sea of gorgeous video displays one stood out in my mind and that set was Sony’s upcoming 85-inch XBR950B. This LED TV with local dimming had high-dynamic range for amazing images and some of the deepest, inkiest, blackest-blacks that I’ve seen since the Panasonic ZT-series plasma. But not only black, but still retaining amazing shadow and low-light detail. The colors were also rich and bright and vibrant and burst off the screen. This set is going to sell for north of $25,000, but DAMN! It just looked amazing. If there was one thing that I could have brought home with me, this would have been it.