Jarred’s Best of CES 2012

CES is all wrapped up and everyone is back home (presumably—there are probably a few who remained in Vegas to lose more money gamble a bit more), and one of the questions I’ve been asked repeatedly by friends and family is, “What was the coolest thing you saw at CES this year?” Now, keep in mind that I am only one person and I didn’t even see a fraction of the show floor, as there were plenty of meetings set up around Vegas, so this is just my perspective on the coolest technology trends at the show. You’ll also notice that there’s a common thread in what really impressed me, but this is a highly subjective topic so take it for what it’s worth: one man’s opinion. (And note that I am specifically not speaking for the other editors; I'm sure most of them would have a different top three.)

I Have Seen the Future, and the Future Is 4K

The most impressive thing I saw at the show for me is the 4K displays. Several places had such displays on hand, but I didn’t spend a lot of time with the various display/HDTV vendors so the first real close up encounter I had with a 4K display was at AMD’s meeting rooms. They had a 4K panel hooked up to a 7970 running an in-house demo. The demo itself wasn’t anything special, but the display… wow! I didn’t have a tape measure handy and the AMD reps I asked weren’t sure, but the panel appeared to be a 46” model (possibly 42”). I did check the native resolution, and while I’m not sure if all 4K displays will use the same resolution, this particular panel was running at 4096x2160, so it’s even wider than the current 16:9 aspect ratio panels (and closer to cinema resolutions); thankfully, with 2160 vertical pixels, I’m not sure many will complain about the loss of height.

Other than the sheer size of the display, what really stood out was the amazing clarity. The dot pitch at 4096x2160—even on a 46” display!—is slightly smaller than that of a 30” 2560x1600 display. I don’t actually need a finer dot pitch, and I had to increase the DPI of Windows in order to cope with my degrading vision (some text just looks too small to comfortably read from a couple feet away), but for videos and images I’m of the opinion that “more is always better” (provided you have the hardware to drive the resolution, obviously). Where I really see 4K being useful outside of people that love high DPI computer displays is for home theater enthusiasts that have 60” and larger displays—particularly projectors—where 1080p just doesn’t really cut it.

If you want another perspective, the consumer electronics industry is always looking for ways to get people to upgrade. When HDTV first came out, you had to choose between 720p and 1080i. A couple years later, 1080p launched and everyone “had to” upgrade. Then of course we had the 120Hz/240Hz/480Hz offerings, and 3D displays got thrown into the mix as well. Now that 1080p 120Hz displays are going for $500-$800 for 40-52” HDTVs, for a lot of people we’re at the point where our displays are good enough to last the next decade. So how do you convince people that they need to upgrade again? You come out with an even better standard. (I also suspect we’ll see a follow up to Blu-ray with native 4K support at some point in the not-too-distant future; that will also be when the content providers come up with a new “unbreakable” DRM standard that will cause a lot of grief and still get cracked within a year of launch.)

Now, I’m all for giant HDTVs, but even I would suggest that a 42” or 46” computer display sitting on your desk would be too much. Still, if I could get an IPS, PLS, or *VA panel and the weight was manageable for my desk, I’d be willing to give it a go. The only drawback I can really see is pricing; I don’t know what these displays will cost when they start showing up en masse at retail, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see five figures for a while. Then again, I remember when 60” plasma displays were going for >$20K about eight years ago, so given another decade we should see these panels in the <$1000 range (for 40-60”). However long it takes, when the price is right I know I’ll be eager to upgrade.

Looking Forward to WUXGA and QXGA Tablets
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  • cheinonen - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    I was covering home theater and video, and only got to spend two days on the show floor, but Sony's CrystalLED prototype was just amazing. Very bright, 180 degree viewing angles with no color or contrast shifts, near infinite contrast ratios, and perfect motion with no blurring or other motion artifacts. I can only hope that Sony decides to release it at an affordable cost, as it's just amazing to see.

    The OLED sets might have been almost as good, but the off-angles were not as good, and the demo content was not good for getting an idea of the quality compared to Sony. Of course they might ship this year and we have no idea when/if the Sony will be released. The 8K panel from Sharp was also just a proof-of-concept design, but amazingly detailed to the point that you can stick your head next to it and see no pixels. The contrast and angles were not nearly as good as the CrystalLED, though.

    Nothing in Blu-ray really amazed me, as the only different feature I really saw was Sony offering 4K upconversion on their new player for their 4K projector, but I'd need a 4K projector to be able to evaluate that anyway. Overall it was the new panel technologies that really stood out to me.
    Reply
  • AnnihilatorX - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    ZDnet article said something different regarding the CrystalLED:

    "Reports from the show floor came away impressed, if not awed. Engadget said the sample set on view failed to show off the speedy refresh rates, and our sister site CNET found that OLED TVs provided a bit more “wow.” CNET also posted a short video examining Sony’s Crystal LED Display in more detail that you can watch here. "
    Reply
  • cheinonen - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Which is fine. The OLEDs might be better, but the way the demo was setup on the floor I just really couldn't get a good idea for it, and the color shift on the LG model was a bit annoying since the Sony LED set had absolutely zero shift. I believe that Samsung had a demo unit setup in a private room that some journalists managed to see, though I did not, so that might have had better material or a better environment and led to a better response than I had. The other AV writers that I talked to during and after the show came away a bit split on the two, though we all want one of them in our living rooms.

    Unfortunately no video that anyone took will do justice of the motion on the CrystalLED, since you'll be watching it on a conventional display. I imagine it might never come out, but we can all hope Sony finds a way to produce it since the results were amazing.
    Reply
  • B3an - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Whats the difference between OLED and Crystal LED? Is Crystal LED just Sony's marketing BS for OLED? They both seem extremely similar.

    The Samsung TV at the show had a "Super OLED" display though. Super OLED sets don't use a color filter resulting in pictures with deeper contrasts and finer detail. So it should have been better.
    Reply
  • therealnickdanger - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Realistically CLED will likely never see the light of day. Sony stated that it was a tech demo and that they have no current plans to produce them. Considering each pixel is composed of 3 LEDs (RGB) on a chip, the display would be cost-prohibitive to build and sell in any mass market. Sony can't "choose" to release it at an affordable cost unless they find a way to make cheaper LEDs and find cheaper ways to connect them all.

    Even if you could buy a single LED for $0.01 (one cent USD - which you can't), you would need 6 million of them. I'll math for you: $60,000 for just one display. And that's only for 1080p, 4K will be mainstream before this tech will. LEDs have been in mass use for decades in all manner of electronics and the prices aren't even close to make LEDs cheap enough for this tech to work.

    This is where OLED comes in as a realistic alternative. Although as I understand they still need to work on its retention performance.
    Reply
  • demonbug - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    I've seen a lot of discussion of 4k displays following this year's CES, and invariably brief mention is made of the limited source material available. So; what 4k sources ARE available today? What are the demos running off of? What kind of processing power would it take to play, say, a 4k video stream encoded the same way as a blu-ray (I'm assuming 40 Mbit max for 2k video would roughly translate to 160 Mbit for 4k)?

    Basically, beyond getting the displays into production, what needs to happen before 4k becomes a wider reality? Have we seen some significant improvement in compression technology in the last 5 years that would make 4k satellite broadcasts possible without sacrificing a huge number of channels?

    4k sounds great, and and on the one hand it is just the next logical increment after 2k HD. However, it seems that we are still just barely managing the bitrates required by 2k HD in terms of storage, transmission, and playback; how close are we realistically to making the 4x jump in all of these to make 4k useful?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    I think 4K will largely be for home theater buffs initially, with Blu-ray players that upconvert to 4K. Then we'll get something post-Blu-ray that will have new DRM and support higher bitrates. Of course, average bitrate of 50Mbps could still fit a two hour movie on a 50GB Blu-ray, so maybe it will use the same disc medium but with new standards? Don't know, but we'll see. Reply
  • hechacker1 - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    Doesn't Blu-ray scale with layers? AFAIK, they've demonstrated versions with 10 or more layers. So we'd just need updated drives to read them. Reply
  • Fanfoot - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    From doing a bit of Googling, it looks like 100GB is the likely requirement for 4K movies, which means 4 layers rather than 2. Apparently most Blu-Ray disk players can only read 2 layers, so would have to be upgraded. I suspect the bit rates would blow them up even if they did support the BDXL format... Reply
  • chizow - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    @Jarred,

    Why wait for home theater/movie buffs to catch up when PC gaming could take full advantage of this tech today?

    We just need 4K/2K to be supported over a single connector or for both IHVs to implement their professional single resolution over multiple display solutions on desktop parts, like the Quadro version described here:

    http://www.pcper.com/reviews/Graphics-Cards/NVIDIA...
    "professional level multi-display technology called "NVIDIA Scalable Visualization Solutions" that will allow multiple monitors to function as a single display to the OS and "just work" with any application."
    Reply

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