CES 2019: More Show Floor Favorites
In my final piece covering CES 2019, I will review more automotive technology, updates on 3D printing, and some trending devices such as smartwatches and new computer components for those that either need or just want to have extremely powerful and impressive-looking computers. I will also talk a little about new 5G developments and then provide some predictions. If you have not read my previous article on showstoppers and neat stuff on the show floor, click here. If you have, let’s continue.
When you enter the main hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, you are greeted by a virtual scene that no picture can fully capture, which shows what you are about to experience.
On the other side, huge exhibits show the very latest large-format HDR 8K TVs and displays from many of the world’s leading suppliers such as Samsung, Sharp, LG, Sony, etc., as well as some you may not have heard of yet such as SKYWORTH, TCL, and more. Most were showing or teasing amazing 8K models, some with OLED screens and sizes up to and over 100” called “The Wall.”
Yes, the demonstration graphics on their screens were truly amazing, but considering there is no commercially available content for 8K yet (although there are some upscaling devices to convert 1080p or 4K to pseudo-8K being introduced) and no standards as yet, I feel that most will not jump into 8K in the next year. Most are just deciding to move to 4K from the present standard of 1080P because 4K is a significant improvement. Available 4K models are improving and the unit prices have started to become more reasonable. While the upscaling from 1080p to 8K is enticing for a few of today's buyers, there will be lower price points by year end, which should accelerate the presently almost nonexistent market for 8K. On the downside, the introduction of the initial 8K units will add confusion to an already undecided market just starting to seriously consider 4K. Those of us seriously considering 4K now have to decide if we wait for 8K or see what the 8K standard will bring? Will 8K drive 4K prices lower in the next 12 months?
So, here is my first prediction for 2019. I feel that there will be those that jump into 8K as soon as they can, but it will not be many because 8K will not be the new standard in the near future. Meanwhile, 4K will take off. Yes, the promise of 8K may retard the market some, but the new larger, higher quality, and lower priced 4K units available from more suppliers will help make 4K the new standard. After all, viewing HDR 4K is still an amazing experience.
Those of us in the industry realize that automotive electronics—whether it’s the components that enable autonomous transportation or enhance the drivers’ and passengers’ comfort through infotainment, power savings, safety, and everything in between—is the fastest growing and probably now the largest segment in the overall electronics industry. Be aware that CES has become one of the top automotive shows and was recently named one of USA Today's 10 best automotive shows. This year, the CTA reports over 290,000 square feet of exhibit space dedicated to automotive at CES. One of the featured sessions at CES was entitled “Revolutionary technologies like 5G, self-driving vehicles, and IoT are disrupting traditional models of transportation and communication, reshaping our communities, and increasing mobility, consumer choice, and connectivity.” In the last five years, CES has gone from showing just a modest number of only the most advanced vehicles to one where just about every brand was showing something.
Also, 5G and its very high speed and throughput will go a long way toward enabling safe autonomous transportation as will advances in AI, and, of course, machine learning. On this topic, I forecast that some of the safety issues recently getting attention—such as the collision between two autonomous vehicles in Vegas at CES (the headline on this one and the buzz at the show was that “no humans were hurt”)—as well as the general lack of confidence by the average person will slow down the march toward autonomous transportation. However, there can be little doubt that once the bugs are worked out, 5G becomes widespread, and people begin to see autonomous delivery vehicles become more commonplace, the rate of acceptance will accelerate rapidly. Over the last 10 years, the enabling technology for this as well as other technology segments (think XR, medical electronics, additive manufacturing, etc.) has made great revolutionary progress. Now, we are about to see the effect of revolutionary technology with rapid evolutionary progress in many areas. CTA states, “A self-driving car makes split-second decisions dependent on data transfer with zero latency (5G is needed for this to happen reliably). Through edge computing, your car becomes its own data center, computing intensive decisions locally without reliance on communication to a central server. Imagine the possibilities.”
Okay, enough with the opinion and forecasting; let’s look at a few of the coolest vehicles. The one that I found most sci-fi based on my 1950s–60s upbringing is the Hyundai Elevate. This is a concept car but is seemingly well on the way to reality. This concept car can drive normally, but when necessary, it can use its extendable robot legs to walk or climb over obstacles.
The chassis goes from a shrunk-down driving mode to the legs-extended mode for climbing or walking. We are told that it can climb a five-foot vertical wall or walk across over a five-foot divide while keeping passengers level. This Transformers-like electric car, which mixes robotics and transportation, looks like an interplanetary explorer. (Who knows? It may become just that eventually, but for now, it is destined for use right here on Earth.)
Another concept car, but perhaps one that is much closer to availability, is the BMW Vision iNEXT. This all-electric vehicle seems to be a step towards an emissions-free future.
BMW offered visitors the ability to experience the iNEXT, showing the way you will use it in the not too distant future. This is where disruptive technologies start to merge, and the value of XR becomes apparent. Thanks to a virtual test drive, this vehicle was shown using a sophisticated XR (a form of mixed-reality) setup that provides a virtual and immersive impression of what it is like to drive—or ride—autonomously in the BMW Vision iNEXT.
There were also advanced luxury vehicles and more concept cars from Mercedes-Benz and Nissan, and new electric car startup Byton that showed only part of their upcoming vehicle, but there were so many more.
My allocated half day in the automotive hall allowed me to see and report on only a modest fraction of what was being shown. One concept that seems to be very close to the real world was the Mercedes autonomous SUV. I expect there will be more details on these and other models available at the Detroit Auto show this week, and I forecast that many of the concept vehicles will become working prototypes by next year’s CES.
Time to move on to computers. I am sure that some of you think desktop computers are a thing of the past, and that all you need is a smartphone or a notebook computer at most. It is true that smartphones can do many of the things that a reasonably powered computer could do 10 or so years ago, and there are notebooks available that range from low-cost toys like the simple but capable Chromebooks to rather high-end gaming laptops, but if you are into multitasking as well as using power-hungry multithreaded-wanting programs, then there is no substitute for a real top-of-the-line computer that can complete its task in seconds or a few minutes rather than many minutes or even hours.
For example, do most people need a computer that uses an Intel i7, the latest i9, or an AMD thread ripper, overclocked CPUs, an RTX ray tracing, enabled GPU or two, 64 GB of RAM, and ultra-studio-quality sound? A device pushed to near its limits to the point where liquid cooling is required to keep it running at its full capability? Do most people even understand what they can do? Of course not, but there is a significant demand for these beasts, and with recent advances by Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and others—as well as the amazing graphics being used by the next generation of XR—both industrial as well as entertaining gaming and graphics could benefit from such computers. I predict that the rate of upgrading for those that do understand will once again increase over the next year.
I saw some of the most advanced and cool-looking components such as cases, liquid cooling, power supplies, and other peripherals. And let’s face it; when you are building a rig and choosing between different liquid cooling all-in-one (AIO) liquid coolers or more memory, etc., looking cool counts.
The best-looking components that I saw this year were being shown by Thermaltake (great looking and versatile cases and cooling), Razer (keyboards and gaming laptop), ViewSonic (ultra-wide, very high-end monitors), and EVGA (one of the first RTX 2060 ray tracing mid-priced GPUs).
There were others that I did not have a chance to see firsthand. As this is one of my favorite areas—and for those who also are passionate about DIY computer building—I promise that this is an area I will dedicate more time to next year. As I plan on building a new rig this spring, I will do a follow-up article on this topic once I choose the components and build it.
There were many factory-built computers on exhibit, units from all the well-known suppliers, and many from lesser-known but very impressive brands. There were none that I did not like, but the one that did get my attention was the Razer Blade 15 advanced edition, which is touted as the world’s smallest 15.6-inch gaming laptop. It is equipped with the new Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics 1060, which was just announced at the NVIDIA presser, but you can get even more powerful graphics all the way up to the RTX 2080, driving screen resolution all the way up to 4K. This top-of-the-line laptop is powered by an eight-generation Intel Core i7-8750H six-core processor and comes with 16 GB of RAM, and solid-state drives up to 512 GB. It obviously comes with Windows 10 and supports Windows Hello. Razor also showed an interesting gaming smartphone.
About a year ago, HTC released the Vive Pro—at that time, the next generation VR/XR headset. This year, they announced the soon-to-be-available Vive Pro Eye. This improved VR headset will come with built-in eye tracking, which enables “gaze-oriented menu navigation.” With this unit, you will be able to navigate menus, and select—and perhaps activate options—just by looking instead of using motion-based VR wand controllers. This could prove quite valuable, especially for applications such as XR-guided repairs or troubleshooting. Maybe we will see more of the Vive Pro Eye at the AWE show in late spring.
Are you into a smartwatch as yet? I know I am, and I find that I have not used my higher end standard watch very much in over a year mainly because even though I like to know how many steps I have taken as well as my heart rate and many of the fitness, relaxation, and GPS-measured walking apps, what I really have come to depend on is the ability to read a text or even look at an email at a glance without having to get my phone and turn it on. In today’s environment, when you get notice of a text, you want to see it even though you know that 75% or more of them are meaningless. With notifications on a smartwatch, you can glance at it and get the gist of the text in a second without interrupting your present activity.
The issue with today’s smartwatches such as Apple or Fitbit is that they are the Timex of smartwatches. They keep good time and mostly do what you want, but they are somewhat limited and generally have poor battery life. In fact, battery life is one of the most requested improvements with at least 48 hours being the desired minimum and up to a week being ideal. Until recently, we have not had the ability to go to the likes of Fossil, Breitling, Bulgari, or even a Rolex for smartwatches if you are so inclined and if fashion is a must. This year, finally, there were a plethora of new options supporting more advanced features with more attractive and high-end devices. Some of the features becoming available besides time, date, basic fitness information, calendar, and other notifications include music storage and control, photo-taking capabilities, ringing your phone in case you forgot where it is, a basic LED flashlight, GPS and mapping, a microphone and speaker, weather details, good waterproofing, and NFC payments with more features being announced all the time. As someone who would like to move up from my older Fitbit, I spent some time looking at some of the options.
Some other options on the way include the Matrix solar watch. This watch is not any higher in price than the present popular models, but it does have some significant advantages.
It claims to never need to be charged as it is constantly charging using solar and your body heat. While some standard non-smartwatches have had this ability, this is new for a smartwatch. The phone app includes built-in GPS maps, it does the things you would expect from a smartwatch, it is rugged, and does not look like an oversized postage stamp on your wrist.
Another option is the Garmin, which is still reasonably priced with most of the models selling for a few hundred dollars unless you choose the D2 Delta, which sells for over $1K. These include all of the normal abilities including notifications, optional graphics, heart rate, some with pulse OX GPS, and even maps and music. This seems to be a step up and is clearly an option.
Fossil is also an option. They have many models and features, and what is bringing them to the forefront is the recent announcement that their smartwatch group is being purchased by Alphabet—Google’s parent company. Remember, Alphabet did the same thing when it bought the HTC smartphone group, which has now become the increasingly popular Pixel phone. Pixel watch, anyone?
The point is that smartwatches seem to be taking off, and there are more good options with the ability to do more things all the time. There were many brands and models on display this year. In the future, carrying a phone all the time may not be necessary, especially as some of the newer models can connect to the net on their own. As the more successful companies merge and/or acquire others—and as the market share of smartwatches increases—things will change. However, what powers many of today’s smartwatches? The answer that I learned at CES is the QUALCOMM Snapdragon processor.
Whether you are considering a smartwatch now or in the future, do your research, ensure that it does what you want, and find out what is possible from its competitors. Check that it is not limited to an ecosystem that you may not always use. If you are not interested in a smartwatch, just wait. I bet you will be eventually.
Another hot topic at CES—as well as just about anywhere—was smart homes. There were so many connected devices at CES—Alexa, Google, Apple, Cortana, etc. You can control everything from lighting to temperature to music, connected alarms and notification clocks, and even refrigerator doors that act as your family’s smart home center (see the recent Samsung press announcements). There were even connected toilets that flush themselves and include overflow protection, and many other features including Bluetooth and MP3 capabilities. They save water, but they do use electricity.
We could spend page after page talking about the various smart devices that connect to a smart home, but when discussing this topic, one thing always comes up—privacy! When using an internet-connected service, you must consider the possibility of everything you say or do in your home being recorded and archived—from talking about your taxes to leaving your lights on and wasting electricity. There are huge advantages of and things to like about many smart home devices—although some are ridiculous—but privacy seems to be the biggest concern. This is a topic that will be widely discussed in the coming months and years, especially as privacy breaches continue to be discovered.
Other categories that we have been following include 3D additive manufacturing using 3D printing. This is an area that seems to have matured significantly over the last few years. We have been following 3D printing of printed circuits for the last few years and is an area that has started to become commercial with announcements of the purchase of circuit printers from Nano Dimension released on a regular basis. At CES, we saw 3D printing of real items—not just toys. This is a topic we will continue to follow.
Further, a 1 TB SD card gained our attention. It is expensive, but come on—one full terabyte in an SD card! That will hold thousands of pictures and a number of videos including 4K or even 8K resolution. Also, Intel is pushing the next-generation of advanced laptop computers. This effort is called “Project Athena,” which includes 5G and AI support included in what seems to be Ultrabook version 2. Intel will eventually release the specifications that manufacturers will need to meet to become certified.
Regarding new phones, there is the Royole FlexPai. It is a phone—not a PC—but the format may pave the way for an upcoming generating of micro PC devices that can also make calls. The FlexPai unfolds to a 7.8-inch screen running a version of Android 9, and it also runs Android apps in multiple windows in both its folded phone configuration or in the unfolded tablet.
There were so many more devices. For example, NVIDIA announced a mini version of its amazing new RTX graphics for laptops, so ray tracing on a laptop is coming. The Netgear Nighthawk AX12 was also shown at CES. This is the next generation of networking equipment. It includes eight antennas and uses Wi-Fi 6 and a 2.2-GHz quad-core processor. Additionally, it includes a hybrid virtual private network (VPN) setup, which allows you to use devices on your network (like a PC running a BitTorrent app) to run behind your VPN if you wish.
Let’s not forget the IEEE booth. Besides providing so much assistance to professionals in the industry for many decades, this year, IEEE had an amazing XR setup in their booth. In it, they had two globes where you donned XR gear and entered a globe where you could walk on an extremely realistic virtual surface of the moon.
As you can tell, I could go on. Even with all we have covered in the last few articles, we were only able to see and report on a fraction of what was announced, on exhibit, and discussed at CES 2019. With the advances in AI, ray tracing, machine learning, XR, and the enabling power of 5G, just imagine what we will have available to us in the coming few years. Stay tuned because there is more on the way!
CES 2019 Showstoppers, the Show Floor, and Some Neat Stuff
CES Press Day: NVIDIA, Samsung, and Intel
Dan Feinberg: A CES 2019 Preview