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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    I think it does, but I can't find an image to confirm and I might be confusing it with several other laptops.
  • EnzoFX - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    Of course every power user wants it. But the average user doesn't care, and won't care. They're used to $300-$500 laptops, and that's what they will continue to expect. Yes it's become a race to the bottom, but why would that change? I think it's much more likely that it'll remain the same because that's how the market has developed into. I think the real reasons tablets are pushing better displays is because they can't afford not to. They're supposed to have better viewing angles, and supposed to be something you can hold at any angle and distance. This is not the case with laptops. Laptops, IMO, as long as they continue to have the same form factor, will continue to have the same attributes, and the same race to the bottom.
  • Malih - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    I think the main issue is when Ultrabooks (and any laptops above $1000) have poor display, They are nowhere near $500, yet some of them have display resolution and sometimes display quality of a $500 laptop.
  • PubFiction - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    I will also add this. No one wants to add large amounts to the price of a laptop because they know they are going to throw it out soon. Lets leave apple users out of this because they are often less practical.

    People will buy very nice monitors because they can move it through a couple different desktops or add a second one. But most laptops simply do not have any reasonable option to do something similar.

    There are 2 things the laptop companies could have done. They could design modular displays. Have a connection similar to the asus transformer for the display. You buy the display of your choice and are able to upgrade or replace it if damaged. Then people might go for better displays knowing they might have that option.

    The other thing is maybe if laptop manufacturers had ever come up with some standards for design it would have helped too, if people had an upgrade path. This is the same reason for the cheapness of laptops. Why build a strong case when it should be replaced every 2 years?
  • PubFiction - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Somene of the reasons tablets are bucking the trend is because the internal components of a tablet are much cheaper. So you have something that overal is cheaper and smaller than even a netbook to produce. Second if you look at a tablet what makes it unique? Nothing other than the screen is the answer. They are so basica in design they are all almost the same. That is why they are always trying to push on the only 3 things that most people are ever going to notice. Thin, display, and price.
  • EnzoFX - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Gotta agree, well said.
  • name99 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    "Second if you look at a tablet what makes it unique? Nothing other than the screen is the answer."

    That may be true for Android tablets. iPads come crammed with sensors, and the iPad2 has notably more sophisticated sensing (eg being able to track its 3D orientation) than iPad1.

    The real problem is that Android land is utterly devoid of imagination ---- without Apple to copy they would be lost. Let me describe just some obvious addition that could be made to a tablet or phone --- and you tell me which Android (land of variety and choice) vendor has implemented them:
    (a) temperature measurements (using a bolometer) for both local temperature and "remote" temperature (eg point the device at my forehead and tell me how hot I am
    (b) incorporate a small laser. Now you can use the device as a laser pointer. Or as a plumbline. Or you can fire and detect a laser pulse, and use it for ranging.
    (c) sensible speakers. Apple has so far stuck to mono speakers because of the device rotation issue. Some Android vendors have stereo speakers --- which work OK if you're watching a movie and suck if the device is in portrait. INTELLIGENT would be to have four speakers, one in each corner, so that you can rotate the sound to follow the orientation of the device.
  • Malih - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    That'll be great if people can just bring back their old laptop to upgrade the internal components and still use the old case.

    At least there's now hope for upgrading a laptop with an external GPU, thanks to Thunderbolt/Lightpeak.
  • marc1000 - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    any words from AMD about radeon 7870 ????
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    No, but I'm guessing Ryan knows and is under NDA, or that it won't be for at least two months.

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