It’s 2013, and this year’s CES is the year of “Ultra HD,” or as it’s been known up until this new, consumer friendly buzzword was invented: 4K (for perspective, 1080p would be equivalent to 1K). And let’s be honest: no one wants Ultra HD. Really. It’s been argued since 2007 as to whether or not, at a typical viewing distance, most people could tell the difference between 720p and 1080p. Certainly no one will see the difference between 1080p and 4K (I refuse to use that buzzword) in the living room. Debatably it’ll be impossible to see on a tablet either, with the iPad 4 pushing 2048 pixels at 264 dpi and the iPhone 5 running 326 dpi. Unless someone is pretty much eyes-on-the-glass close, I doubt that anyone will be able to perceive the individual display elements on those screens.
But is this a surprise? Since 2010, CES has been pushing 3D TV. I know a grand total of one person with a 3D TV. And they didn’t buy it, they won it. They don’t use the 3D features. When they eventually got a PlayStation 3, they didn’t opt to set up the 3D hardware. And no one really wants 3D tech. Between the high cost of the TVs and glasses (and those with passive glasses receiving disappointing visual marks), it’s not a particularly compelling sell.
What else was CES obsessed over? Smart TVs. Smart TVs that people may own, but don’t really use. In fact, you have to go back to 2009 before you find TV tech that people actually paid money for, and used, namely 1080p and plasma display tech. There were also small things, like HDMI-CEC, which most people didn’t really know about, but heard in names like VieraLink, and does handy stuff like changing the input on your TV when your turn on a device, or turning the device off when you switch the input. No one bought a TV just for HDMI-CEC, but it’s in a lot of TVs now, and I haven’t heard of anyone complaining about it.
Now, we could make a lot of hay over how CES always introduces gadgets we don’t want, like the cell phone to babies, and the dozens of tablets, e-readers, speakers, phone chargers, food cookers, solar batteries, connected car tech, and so forth. And those products end up dying a dignified death at the hands of the free market system. Some of them are products we didn’t realize we actually wanted. Take tablets, for example: we had zero interest in Android tablets until the Kindle Fire came about, but everyone and their brother was promising one. Connected GPS units and advanced wireless technologies were also bandied about, and are now common place.
But the one technology no one thinks needs much improvement is the one they keep trying to cram down our throats, and it’s TVs. Most people don’t want their TV to go on Twitter, or project 3D images into their heads, and we certainly don’t care about 4K. It’s debatable if we care about ≥120Hz display tech (personally I hate it, and I don’t use that word lightly). It’s all part of what seems to be an effort to turn the TV market into something like the cell phone market, trying to push forward the march of obsolescence, and convince us we need a new TV every couple of years. But truth be told, we just want a big ‘ole dumb screen. Most of us have cable boxes, game consoles, and some of us have DVRs and streaming boxes. We just wanted our colors to have a bit more pop, the bezel to look nice, and to have enough inputs for all our junk.
I miss the kitschy gadgets and the “who would ever want that” whizbang doodads. You’d have thought that after the lackluster performances of Smart TVs and 3D TVs that manufacturers would have wised up, but I guess not. At least Qualcomm, despite their oddly assembled and sometimes insulting (as someone who was, apparently, “born mobile”) keynote, didn’t put all their money into 4K, noting that a lot of advancements in mobile tech is going to be behind the scenes in faster, more power efficient technologies (and really, what we care about there is power efficiency, because smart phones still have only so-so battery life), and doubling down on the coming data explosion with an expansion of connected devices and an Internet of (every)thing(s) with more intelligent routing, network management, and use of spectrum. They focused on some real, important, concrete things that will shape what happens with the devices of tomorrow, and only dipped into this year’s theme of “Ultra HD.”