Notebook Scribbles: CES 2013


The International CES is in full swing at this writing, and — as a person who arrives early and leaves late — here are a few observations.

1. It’s a hypochondriac’s paradise! A wide corridor in the South Hall pulsed with electronic tools for a thinner, fitter world. The digital pedometer wars are on, for starters, and as someone addicted to 10,000 steps/day (year four!), it got my attention. (Especially because my new Nike Fuel- Band conveniently broke on the first day of the show.)

One vendor — HapiLabs (where “hapi” is pronounced “happy”) — staved off crowds seeking a peek at its “smart fork.” It vibrates if you eat too quickly. And yes, it has a companion app for your smartphone.

2. Everyone, even the people who make the tumbler locks on your doors, wants to secure and automate your home. It’s another manifestation of advanced fragmentation: The alarm guys are here with home-automation mechanisms, as are the tumbler lock guys and the in-home wiring guys — and the cable guys, for that matter.

3. “The Internet of Things” is alive and well at CES. By now, you’ve perhaps given some thought to how many things (computers, tablets, phones) in your life need an Internet connection. Consensus estimation is 10 per household by 2015; most hard-core tech enthusiasts are easily in the 30s right now.

And largely, that’s before factoring in product that will make use of things like Pandora or Spotify: Your smart TV, your lights, your fridge. Whirlpool demonstrated a kitchen suite with high-end speakers for Internet and/ or local audio streaming; Samsung showed a refrigerator with a screen with sound and a browser (think on a stationary screen, rather than perching the laptop on the counter).

One new vendor — “Smart Things” — aims to use the protocols of the Zigbee Alliance to make our dumb things (lights, thermostats, garage doors, windows) smart.

4. Probably the big standout, though, was the next chapter in HD — “Ultra HD,” the rebrand of “4K” — there are 8K and 16K versions lined up behind it. If you remember the first time you saw HDTV, and thought, “Wow, this is better than my eyes can see” — Ultra HD is better than that. Stunning visuals.

It’s a long way off , though, much to the chagrin of the CE vendors, who seek the next HD slam dunk. Why? Content doesn’t yet exist that’s high enough in resolution to exercise the capabilities of the $20,000 screens. Forget about “down-rez” (downsizing resolution) issues. With Ultra-HD, “up-rez” tends to pop up in conversations — how to add bits to existing, Blu-ray-grade content to make it rich enough for the screens.

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