3,100 exhibitors, 150,000 attendees and 100 breakfast-buffet options. What could it be but the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, an event that surely must be the bane of every stiletto-heeled exhibitor and the boon of podiatrists worldwide? Last week I attended two days of this annual electronics mega-festival and had some time between meetings to catch the spirit of the event and take a peek at some of the promised technology. My feet may never be the same.
First general impression: this show was massive. In two days I could not really do it justice, so I focused on the Las Vegas Convention Center and nearby exhibits. The show was packed. There were many times when I felt more like a part of a herd than a hunter (a technology hunter, that is!). There were a few duds. Among all the rows and crowded booths I occasionally ran across a nearly empty booth. The USB Techzone was an entire area dedicated to no-shows, I guess.
Some of the technologies that caught my eye were OLED displays, 4K and 8K displays, Nvidia and Qualcomm processors and action cameras. Let me explain.
- OLED displays. Organic light-emitting-diodes have been the hot, upcoming, display technology for at least three years at CES. This year there were 55” production units on display, and they were pretty impressive. (And pretty!) The colors are really rich on these displays. The screens can also be very thin, in part because they don’t need a backlight. Also very interesting were curved displays from at least three vendors. This works for OLEDs because the manufacturing process doesn’t need to have a flat substrate like a normal LCD panel. I can’t say that the curved displays are really that practical for TV applications, but for mobile applications these could be interesting. Certainly one of the more promising features of a curved OLED is that it might also be flexible, thus ending the era of cracked displays on dropped cell phones.
4K and 8K displays. Yes, you just upgraded your home TV to a 1080p high-definition beauty. Yes, you’ve upgraded your DVD player to a Blu-Ray® player so you can watch your favorite movies in high-definition glory. Yes, you are now officially out-of-date. 4K and 8K are the new ultra-high-definition TV standards that are going to try and get you to open your pocketbook and upgrade your TV again. These screens are truly impressive, and the detail is amazing. A 4K display has twice the resolution in each direction as your 1080p HD display. Correspondingly, an 8K display doubles each of these again. However, when looking at the Sony implementation, I noticed something very distracting. The content they were displaying had a very narrow depth-of-focus, which made most of the image deliberately out-of-focus—which seemed a bit counterproductive!
One implication for us is that with increased resolution comes a need for increased memory. The 4K display itself will require 4X the internal memory of today’s 1080p HD display. The 8K display will require 16X the memory of today’s 1080p display. Of course, the rest of the system that delivers content to these ultra HD displays needs more memory, too. How much? Probably about 40% more for 4K, because compression standards have improved. Going from 4K to 8K should be a bigger jump. Speaking of Blu-Ray…
- Blu-Ray MIA. OK, I’ll admit it: I’ve never been a huge fan of Blu-Ray. Discs get scratched, smudged and cracked. Give me solid-state storage or streaming delivery! For three years now, I have watched portable and automotive disc players for any sign of Blu-Ray. This year even Sony admitted that their future is in content delivery from cell phones or tablets. Score one for NAND!
Application processors. Big and busy. That would describe the booths of Qualcomm and Nvidia. Qualcomm had just released their Snapdragon™ 800 app processor for tablets and cell phones, and it was generating quite a buzz. I don’t recall ever seeing so many people lined up to see a CES silicon demo where there wasn’t some freebie being given away. Nvidia was also showing some of their applications in the automotive arena, where touchscreens are replacing mechanical knobs and dials for dashboard applications.
But back in the Qualcomm booth, tucked away to the side, was a small area dedicated to showing off some of the projects of Qualcomm Labs, an advanced development team bringing cutting-edge technology to market. In past years, this has always been a secret treasure trove, so I make it a point to see what they are cooking up. This year it was shades of George Orwell, with their creation of a software development tool for applications that gives the application all sorts of context information. This context information can be gleaned from the user’s email, text messages, location, numbers dialed, and the like. This is, of course, not unlike what Google does, and as you might predict, the 20-something-year-old whippersnapper describing this to me saw nothing wrong with it. I guess I am truly from another generation.
- Action cameras. One of the busiest booths I saw at the show was the GoPro booth. GoPro makes wearable, waterproof, high-definition sports cameras and accessories. But it wasn’t just GoPro that was busy. Some of their competitors were doing quite well, too. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, GoPro must indeed be feeling flattered.
- USB Flipperizer™. In the category of “Duh—why didn’t I think of that?” was the USB Flipperizer. This little gadget is a connector that you can plug onto your favorite USB widget, which then allows you to plug into your computer or other USB port either way. That’s right. There is now no right-side-up or -down. As a stand-alone product, it really is about as cheesy as its name, but interesting, anyway…
There really is so much I could continue on with, but let me leave you with a few closing thoughts. First, consumer electronics are alive and well. There is no shortage of innovation in this space, and it is these innovative devices that are enticing people worldwide to open their wallets and part with their euros, drachmas and dollars. Based on this show, it sure seems that the global economy is going to do just fine. Second, our digitization is complete, and it is demanding. Film and analog TV have long since been dead, but what we are seeing now is the explosion of precision digital data. Higher-resolution TVs, knob-free dashboards on self-driving cars, higher-resolution and faster-frame-rate sports cameras, context-aware applications—all of these are just the tip of the iceberg on top of the hidden mountain of digital data that makes it all happen. In the memory world, we can all sleep easier knowing that the demand for memory to move, manipulate, manage, and store this mountain of data is continuing to grow faster than we can imagine.