CES 2016 Wrap-Up, Part 1
CES 2016 is now history and most of us are home, or at our next port-of-call. I have seen various attendance numbers but it’s somewhere in the range of 175,000; it was busy, crowded and impossible to see everything.
In my opinion the main categories this year were:
Autonomous vehicles stole the show. We covered the NVIDIA announcements and the commitment by Volvo to use the new NVIDIA supercomputer in a cigar box for their first autonomous auto offering. Even though it has not been announced, we saw evidence that the NVIDIA PX-2 unit is going to be used in many auto offerings over the next few years. We will continue to cover self-driving cars.
Drones continue to generate a great deal of attention. There were even more models offered by even more companies, but there is a back story that has little to do with the hardware—more on that in my next article.
Of course there is the IoT, the Internet of Things. It is now possible to connect anything and everything, from your underwear to your toothbrush, to your music library and your TV or phone. While there are many new and upcoming connected things, the absolute leaders of the pack are health and fitness devices.
Also ascending in popularity, offerings and uses is virtual and augmented reality. The first commercial units are now available, and a number of concept and pre-commercial units were shown. My opinion is that virtual reality will be popular for gaming and for entertainment, but I predict that the uses for augmented reality will greatly exceed those of VR. AR will be useful for entertainment, and also be widely used for industrial, communications, demonstrations and much more.
3D printing has made great strides lately. This year, we went back to see the folks at Voxel 8. They have made a great deal of progress, especially in the area we are interested in, which is the use of 3D printing to manufacture PCBs. Overall, they have gone from a startup company that had just received its first significant funding to a growing, maturing company that is gaining market share in an exploding industry segment in just one year. (Our interview with one of the founders of Voxel 8 should be live in a week or so.)
We also visited Nano Dimension, an Israeli company that is focusing on 3D printed PCBs. Simon Fried, Nano’s co-founder and CMO, inspired us with his commitment and progress. Take a close look at the photo of the Nano Dimension 3D printed board. If anyone is going to be able to 3D print a complete device in the not-too-distant future, it will be the technologists at Nano Dimension. Very impressive.
The use of 3D printing to manufacture electronic devices and other useful things is something else that we intend to cover significantly in the coming years.
And as always, there were many TVs, though most of us are very satisfied with our HD 1080p TVs. Yes, 4K does look amazing, but when you are watching a movie rather than studying a specific picture up close, the difference is not anywhere as astounding as when we first saw HD TV 10-15 years ago.
In addition, there is not a lot of content, and streaming 4K video takes a bunch of bandwidth. Still, even though 4K only has a tiny market share to date, and even though there is not much content, we saw 5K at CES last year. This year, that figure had risen to 8K resolution. Larger screens are now more common, many up to 100 inches or more.
We also saw some really nice curved-screen TVs. For me, I would prefer that they spend a few dollars to improve the sound. So many of the amazing screens with out-of-this-world resolution still sound like a 1980s boom box. Unless you add a decent audio system or at least a sound bar, many sound tinny and cheap. A few years ago, I reported on a 3D TV that showed passable 3D without the use of glasses. This year there was one that actually placed the polarizing filters on the TV screen instead of on your eyes, providing excellent 3D with no glasses. You do need a 3D-capable Blu-ray player and 3D-encoded Blu-ray disks, but it works. Still, as I have said for the last five years, 3D TV is just not something the vast majority of people want.
So, those are the major show categories. Of course, there were also robots, connected door locks, WiFi routers, super-powerful computers, and a large assortment of new, very powerful, cool notebooks and 2-in-1 notebook/tablets. But that’s no surprise. After all, how can you have a CES without PCs?
Let me now introduce a few of the coolest specific items that defy easy categorization:
The Blaze, Fitbit's latest tracker, is aimed at smartwatch lovers. A number of smartwatches were introduced at CES, but this one caught our eyes. This watch focuses on fitness, as you would expect from FitBit. It can’t read e-mails and texts like the Microsoft smartwatch and others can, but this wearable device leans on style, with a dash of extra watch-type smarts. You can change its design, too. The center part of Blaze pops out and can be swapped into other bands and accessories. The Blaze is reasonably priced at about $200.
The first in D-Link's new EXO line of Wi-Fi routers, the DIR-879 strikes a balance between performance and cost. This is an AC1900 router (1,300 Mbps on the 5 GHz band and 600 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band). The router features gigabit Ethernet for fast wired connections, a high-power amplifier for better Wi-Fi range, SmartConnect that blends two Wi-Fi bands into a single network, and Intelligent QoS that offers traffic optimization for Internet applications. It will be available soon. D-Link also introduced the Unified Home Wi-Fi Network Kit that consists of a Wi-Fi router and a range extender: the AC4200 Tri-Band MU-MIMO Wi-Fi Router (model DIR-891L) and the AC1300 Gigabit Wi-Fi Extender (DAP-1655).
Intel showed its next-gen Compute Stick. The new unit has a similar look and feel to the previous model, though it is slightly longer. This is because the new model has two ports (one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0), which is handy if you want to plug in wireless dongles for a keyboard and mouse, or any other peripherals. It's shipping now for a suggested retail price of $159 in the U.S.
Speaking of IoT, if you ever need to turn your oven on or off while you're out, Samsung has you covered. The company has added Wi-Fi to some of its newer ranges.
Dell's new Latitude Ultrabook has a couple of different options. The slim keyboard has full-size, backlit keys, despite being very thin, much like the keyboard cover on a Surface Pro. The premium keyboard acts more like a dock than a cover, with deeper keys, a better touchpad and a channel along the back that allow you to slot the tablet half in single-handedly. While I was very impressed with this computer and some of the new ultra-slim offerings from HP, the most impressive new notebook I have seen and used is the new Microsoft SurfaceBook. I did not see any on display but I did see some of them being used in the press room. (By way of disclosure, I just bought one and I love it, especially its power, extremely long battery life and very slim, cool-looking design).
Speaking of computers, check out the MSI Gaming 27XT desktop computer. It too supports a discrete desktop-class graphics card, grafted onto the rear of its screen. Origin's Omni ups the ante by cramming an Nvidia Titan X and an octa-core Intel Core i7-5960X into its all-in-one. I am not sure if I liked the design, however.
Again, in the IoT category, there is the new Kwikset Premis, a Bluetooth deadbolt that boasts compatibility with Apple HomeKit, the set of smart home protocols programmed into iOS devices. That means you'll be able to ask Siri to lock and unlock it. Kwikset’s SmartCode deadbolts and levers with Home Connect technology integrate with home security and automation systems, allowing the locks to communicate with other wireless products in the home such as security systems and home entertainment systems. Home Connect technology delivers convenience and peace of mind to homeowners with complete remote locking and unlocking via smartphones and tablets. When paired with most home automation systems, homeowners can receive text messages when their doors are locked or unlocked.
Cobra Electronics launched a new series of Drive HD Dash Cams for high-definition road recording and added security. Two new models sport 1080P full HD recording and ultra-wide viewing angle to capture as much of the road as possible, with the flagship model integrating Bluetooth smart wireless technology for added iRadar alert capabilities.
uSens showed off its advanced 3D hand- and head-tracking for augmented reality and virtual reality. The company’s 3D hand-tracking technology replaces the need for peripheral device support such as connected game controllers, cameras, and other input devices. It recognizes, tracks and learns from hand, finger, and head movements in the real world. This unit is not as yet available, but it is reported that it will be released by mid-2016. Again, VR and AR taking hold.
One event that was really no surprise, but which did garner headlines and a lot of discussion, involved copycat products. You can be sure that anything introduced at CES one year will be generate an exact knock-off copy the next year. Hence the following story:
LAS VEGAS–Federal marshals raided the Consumer Electronics Show booth of a Chinese hoverboard maker, responding to allegations by a U.S. company that its product was illegally copied. Future Motion Inc., maker of a device called OneWheel, on Tuesday filed a patent infringement suit against Changzhou First International Trade Co. in federal court in Las Vegas. The company won an emergency temporary restraining order, leading the U.S. Marshals Service on Thursday to seize merchandise Changzhou was displaying at its CES booth.
And finally, as someone who is passionate about DIY computing, I was extremely impressed by the computer case offerings by InWIn, a Taiwanese manufacturer. If there is a Rolls Royce of computer cases, this is it. One of their cases opens up to a totally different shape, allowing you to experiment with different components and configurations and then, at the touch of a button, it transforms back into an amazing but normal-looking case, just like a Transformer from the movie series. This truly amazing bit of precision engineering can be had for just under $2,500 (case only, you supply all the computer components).
After years of covering CES, I’ve discovered that there is one area that most show attendees never visit. It is one area that I have learned to appreciate greatly. So, Part 2 of this series will focus on this not-so-well-traveled part of CES that should not be missed.
CES 2016: Press Day, Showstoppers and LaunchIt Event
CES: Day One
CES 2016: A Preview and a Prediction for the Future