There’s usually some degree of difficulty involved with figuring out what to expect from CES. Although we head in to the show pre-briefed on most of what will be shown, nearly every manufacturer keeps something a secret in order to surprise us. And even with all that foreknowledge, it’s always tough to gauge what will be a hit in the eyes of showgoers. This year, however, things are different. It has become abundantly clear that CES 2014 will be dominated by a single technology topic: Ultra HD 4K.
Never mind that nobody knows exactly what to call it (Ultra HD 4K, 4K Ultra HD, UHD, just Ultra HD, or just 4K), the industry has settled on the next big thing for television and, unlike the tepid response 3D technology received in years prior, Ultra HD is in a strong position to take over in the years to come. It won’t just be Ultra HD televisions that will be making headlines this year, either. 4K content and the means by which it will be delivered to viewers is also coming. That fact alone will change the conversation around Ultra HD, which has typically revolved about the glaring lack of said content and delivery methods.
As announcements are made and embargoes are lifted, we’ll see that every TV manufacturer has beefed up its Ultra HD television line-up and trimmed down its 1080p TV line. Everyone wants in, even Polaroid. Prices on Ultra HD sets will fall (though not by huge margins) while embedded features and technology will have advanced. HDMI 2.0 will be the new input standard, and upscaling chips will be promoted as bridging the gap between now and that time when Ultra HD content is bountiful.
We already know that Netflix will begin streaming Ultra HD content sometime this month, but we expect some bigger announcements from the streaming media king regarding more content availability and partnerships with certain TV manufacturers. Netflix may not be the only media delivery outfit talking Ultra HD, either. We’ll also see wireless Ultra HD streaming demonstrations attempting to prove that not only is streaming Ultra HD over a Wi-Fi network feasible, it is easy and looks great.
What about OLED?
OLED televisions will make their presence known, with LG providing the brightest beacon for the TV technology. But Ultra HD will probably cast a pretty big shadow, as it clearly has priority backing from the rest of the industry.
High-resolution audio: The Yin to Ultra HD’s Yang
Thankfully, CES 2014 will offer plenty of diversions from all the Ultra HD madness, but to get at some of the hottest stuff on display, A/V enthusiasts will have to abandon the show floor at the Las Vegas convention center and claw their way to Venetian Hotel. Just as high-resolution video has garnered attention, so too has high-res audio. Some amazing things are happening in the world of digital audio delivery, and that’s attracting more attention to audio manufacturers’ speakers and amplifiers. This year, Digital Trends will spend more time than ever at the high-end audio suites in the Venetian to bring you a close look at what’s being done in this suddenly blossoming category.
Sound bars and sound platters
Sound bars continue to be popular, and we expect we’ll see and hear some high-performance models at the show, but there’s a new product category that we expect to take the audio booths by storm this year: Sound platforms – also known as sound plates, sound bases, sound pedestals, etc – are the new hotness in one-box audio solutions. These devices sit flat on an entertainment stand or cabinet and function as a base for a television. Their increased cabinet volume allows for richer sound with more bass, even without an external subwoofer. LG is already onto the second generation of its Sound Plate, Samsung just announced the introduction of its Sound Stand; and that’s just the start. We expect nearly every audio manufacturer will have one of these on display this year.
When high-resolution audio isn’t stealing headlines, count on wireless audio solutions to step in. Naturally, there will be countless portable Bluetooth speakers, but we also expect to see more wireless surround sound systems and more companies taking on Sonos and its mesh network-based approach to whole-home wireless audio solutions.
What about the headphones?
Could it be that the headphone bubble has finally burst? We think so, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty on display st the show this year. We’re looking forward to checking in with well-established brands such as Sennheiser and Audio-Technica, as well as those relative newcomers which we expect will survive the implosion, such as Klipsch, Sol Republic and, of course, Monster.