Total Pageviews

Monday, January 7, 2013

The C.E.S. Reality Gap

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas officially begins on Tuesday, but a tension that has run through the show for the last several years was already on display Monday, as many companies held news conferences showing off their newest gadgets. In many cases, the companies were touting larger, clearer - and more expensive - televisions. On the one hand, these televisions were impressive technological achievements; on the other, it is unclear how relevant they are to the average consumer. (Brian X. Chen wrote about how the television industry is struggling with this dynamic for Monday's newspaper.)

LG said that it would begin selling a 55-inch, $12,000 OLED television this March, and Sharp said that later this year it would begin selling its own Ultra High-Definition televisions, also known as 4K televisions because they have four times as many pixels as their high-definition predecessors. Samsung showed an 85-inch 4K television and promised a 110-inch television would come later this year. This is the kind of eye candy that draws people to C.E.S.

But technology companies have been pushing products like Internet-connected televisions or 3-D televisions for years. Each January, Las Vegas hears about the imminent mainstream acceptance of some television technology that never quite catches on. Many were taking what the television makers had to say on Monday with a grain of salt.



Of course, just because C.E.S. is the best place to gawk at newfangled gadgets does not mean that it is a place to pick out what to buy immediately.



Ma tt Buchanan, a writer for Buzzfeed, predicted that 4K televisions would eventually become standard, once the prices come down. But he said this could take several years.



Mr. Buchanan did not travel to Las Vegas to reach this conclusion, though. He wrote an article explaining why this was the first year in the last six that he was not attending the show. He wrote:

Two overlapping trends have chipped away at CES and events like it: First, software and services have become the soul of consumer technology. Hardware (seriously doesn't the word “electronics” in the conference's dusty title make your eyes instantly droop a bit?) has become increasingly commoditized into blank vessels that do little more than hold Facebook and Twitter and the App Store and Android and iOS. And the best and most interesting vessels, increasingly, are made by the very companies making the software.

The second major trend threatens not just CES, but all the gatherings like it, including the increasingly moribund political conventions. The social web has replaced the trade show as a platform for showcasing and distributing products and concepts and ideas. When major tech companies -and new, tiny tech companies! - have a product to launch, they host their own events and rely on the press, Facebook and Twitter to do the rest.

On Quartz, Christopher Mims was more blunt. He has already declared this year's show a dud.