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CES signals key trends for TV

DPP Chair Mark Harrison was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for the BBC and the DPP. It’s the world’s most important consumer technology show, and always provides important trends for the media industry.

He sent back a report for Broadcast magazine. Here it is in case you missed it:

The Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas each January, has always been absurdly big. And it just got bigger. This year there were 170,000 delegates shuffling past 3,600 exhibitors across 2.2 million square feet in two convention centres and three hotels. That creates a lot of heat, hype and sore feet. But did it add up to anything?

Well this just might have been the most significant CES for years – and that’s because of three stand-out trends: Ultra HD is coming two years faster than we thought; Virtual Reality is virtually real; and the Internet of Things is now quite a thing.

First, UHD. There was the inevitable parade of enormous, curvy, absurdly thin television displays boasting Oled, Uled, Qled technology, and showing demo footage of flowers, frogs and underdressed females. But I was transfixed instead by the more modest parts of stands showing actual UHD content – from actual content providers. Netflix, Amazon, Youtube and others are already partnering with the major manufacturers to provide streamed 4k programming. Not a traditional broadcaster in sight.

The shock to the system for broadcasters is that on-line services are now able to commission and deliver content of a higher quality than traditional providers. Ouch. The race is on to get into the UHD game.

Meanwhile, if 3D was almost dead, it’s now been finished off by Virtual Reality. VR has been around for decades, always carrying a hint of Max Headroom absurdity. But with Facebook’s $2bn acquisition of Oculus, the game has stepped up. Without a product even on the consumer market, Oculus are producing work of staggering quality. They’re also the VR engine inside Samsung’s new low cost Gear VR.

Don’t mistake this for VR gaming – though there’s plenty of that too. What’s arresting for television-makers is the emphasis from Oculus, Facebook and Samsung on non-interactive yet deeply immersive experiences. I was a sceptic – but I found them compelling.

The third big trend was around the Internet of Things – data driven connected devices for every aspect of our lives. Some are plain daft – smart beds, belts and socks. But many are not – especially around health and fitness. This matters for three reasons. First the smartphone is now our sixth sense, controlling our lives. Secondly it raises huge issues about personal data – and who controls it. And thirdly, we have no idea whether populations living in a sea of analytics will start to expect something different from broadcasters.

These are mighty trends – and they could signal significant changes for broadcasters. Could. But another, more subtle, trend this year was that there was no single stand out player – no, not even Apple, who never attend CES but normally dominate the agenda. You have to admire an industry that’s so fragmented but can still shift fast to create increasingly better quality products in vast numbers for perceived new markets. Will they be like a murmuration of starlings: twisting, turning, and then gone? When the view clears, what will we be looking at?

Whatever it is, it’ll be in Ultra HD.