CES 2016 Wrap-Up, Part 2: The Road Less Traveled
Those who have been following our coverage of CES 2015 and CES 2016 are familiar with our commentary on the bigger, more well-known companies. After all, what member of the CES press corps does not at least mention Samsung, Intel, Sony, and Nikon?
We also digress into coverage of little gems we’ve found, like the In-Win cases I mentioned yesterday, or even things that generate a special interest for us personally. But sometimes we find an entirely new universe of products to learn about and explore. We found such a dimension in the semi-private suites located on the upper floors of the Venetian, the Westgate, Mandalay Bay and other hotels.
Last year I was looking for a distributor of various drones and dash cams, and I found 4Sight. With the major advancement in drone capability as well as the quantum increase in drone use and popularity, I decided to visit 4Sight CEO Joe Greenfeld once again this year. I remember Joe discussing the possibility of drones being misused and drone accidents due to the large numbers of them in the hands of unskilled or careless operators.
So off I went to the semi-private suites to see what was new at 4Sight. Yes, there were new and exciting drones, including six-prop, heavy-lift units and some new dash cams. I had seen many drones at the show, but the large six-prop beast with matching controller, including its own monitor, was impressive indeed.
As for dash cams, when I saw how they can protect you from break-ins and from being blamed for an accident that’s not your fault, I had to wonder why we do not see more cars equipped with them. In fact, in the last year 4Sight has started to represent HP, one of the leading suppliers of advanced dash cams such as the 1080p HP f505g car camcorder.
While I was interested in their products, I wanted to get the opinion of an industry insider like Greenfeld about forces that might knock the soaring popularity of drones quickly back to earth.
- I am sure you have all seen stories with statements such as, “Those hoping to find a drone under their Christmas tree, take note: Starting Monday, federal registration is required.”
- “The new rule lands amid growing concern over the soaring popularity of camera-equipped hobby drones—and a sharp rise in sightings by alarmed commercial pilots.”
- “As of early December, 1,158 unmanned aircraft sightings were reported by pilots or crew in the United States, including some close encounters, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. That’s up from 238 such sightings in 2014.”
- “Responsible users will register; reckless ones won’t, predicts Richard Green, president of Babylon R/C Flyers. The guy that’s flying near an airport or near a plane—he’s not going to register.”
And from Greenfeld himself: “Nobody is addressing the probable use of these drones for terrorist activities.”
I spoke with Greenfeld about the increasing number of drone mishaps, close calls and new regulations aimed at preventing them. We discussed the potential loss of his business volume due to new and potential future regulations, and then I asked him to summarize his opinion about the issue.
“Well, isn't it wonderful that the FAA has put in place these rules and fines for flying drones? The problem is compliance. Most folks don't know about these regulations and even if they do, do you think they will comply? Hardly. The FAA does not have any staff available to hunt these incidents down. The only time that the FAA and the Federal government will get serious about these drones is when tragedy strikes,” said Greenfeld.
“A plane will go down from an errant drone flying into an engine or crack the glass on the cockpit window,” he added. “Or perhaps when a drone falls on a crowded road and causes a multi-car crash. The most serious issue is how easily they can be used for terrorism. These drones, and I am including the ‘toy’ drones, can carry a payload now—what? All in all, it is my opinion that drones will be outlawed in the very near future. Only professional drones flown by professional drone pilots, duly registered and licensed, much like all aircraft, will be allowed to fly.”
So, even though it could mean a decrease in sales volume, I believe that Greenfeld summarized the issue honestly and accurately.
(editor note: See Airbus' counter-UAV news here.)
Next, I decided to explore more of the offerings in this very different world of hotel suites. I wandered through a number of the focused micro-exhibit halls. I discovered a plethora of products, some from companies specializing in high-end cables and connectors, some on high-end audio components, high-end computer parts, high-end routers, or high-end tools. But the common denominator in the suites seemed to be “high end.” Why were these being demonstrated in the suites?
It seems that many companies have retreated to hotel suites. It’s cheaper and less hassle for them, and a focused way to concentrate on a narrow product offering; it’s also a great way to show off the Utopian properties of, say, a $7,500 pair of very high-end speakers or a custom series of $300 keyboards. Yes, it is a pain for those of us trying to see as many exhibitors as possible, but I found the extra effort well worth it.
One such suite I visited was a new distributorship located in my home area of Orange County, California. Source Systems Ltd. was founded in the last few years by a former TEAC executive, Mark Gurvey, and his wife and son. They specialize in extremely high-end audio, and when I say extremely high-end, I am not kidding. In fact, the truly amazing, clear, live-sounding music I heard was coming from a pair of the aforementioned $7,500 (per pair) speakers.
I asked Gurvey to show me what they were using to get such perfect sound. It seems that they specialize in taking any source of digital audio and converting it into the warm, natural analog sound that, if you close your eyes, makes you believe you are at a live performance.
Now, I consider myself to be a techie. I build my own computers, I got my ham radio license at 12 years old, and I always feel like I know this stuff. But Gurvey absolutely blew me away with his knowledge and passion for very high-end audio. I learned all about about why you should replace wall wart power supplies, the capabilities of certain types of cables vs. others, and I learned the optimum way to convert any digital output into optimum, amazingly high-quality analog audio. The next time I decide to upgrade any audio system I am calling Gurvey.
The product offerings by Source Systems appear to be the very best the world has to offer in each category; they are the very top of the line in each category, no matter where in the world they are made. For example, the speakers they offer are made by the French company Apertura. The prices range from $2,500 per pair up to $26,000 per pair. The Lumin Network music players are from Pixel in Hong Kong. The Wells Audio amplifiers hail from Campbell, California, and they’re a steal at only $3,500.
My point is that this is not where you would want to go if you want just a decent-sounding system at a reasonable price; this is where you want to go if you want an amazing system, something most people have never heard, and are willing to pay for it. You do not have to pay in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, although Mark did tell me he had configured systems in that stratospheric range. But if you want to know what the high-end standard is, no matter your price point, this is a great place to start and learn and listen.
So, my point is that CES features thousands of booths, many of them loaded with knock-off iPhone cases, cheapie headphones, and Wi-Fi connected toothbrushes. CES also has many upcoming technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, and the fast approaching autonomous automobile.
And if you look in some of the less obvious places, there are some truly amazing, very high-end products being offered by some very knowledge people who are more than willing to educate you, at a level that you may not even have been aware existed.
Next year at CES, I plan to spend one full day browsing the out-of-the-way suites, which are very much worth exploring. See you next year.
CES Wrap-Up, Part 1
CES 2016: Press Day, Showstoppers and LaunchIt Event
CES: Day One
CES 2016: A Preview and a Prediction for the Future