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Has the Consumer Electronics Show lost its gadget groove?

4K TVs at CES 2013

CES – the largest, most hype-fueled consumer electronics event – has lost its way. Where once it was a Mecca of revolutionary tech products, CES 2013 seems fixated on gimmicky gadgets and out-to-lunch technology.

The result: less wow, more yawn, and a worrying lack on innovation.

Historically, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been the gadget equivalent of Christmas. Amid the showboating, celebrities, hoopla and Las Vegas hype, CES has taken the wraps off some of the most groundbreaking technology that then went on to grace our homes and empty our wallets.

Since 1970, CES has fired the starting pistol on tech such as the camcorder, HDTV, Blu-rays, 3D TV and tablets. Even the compact disc player made its first public debut at CES in 1981.

CES proved a rich vein of newsworthy developments over the years. The bitter war between HD-DVD and Blu-ray reached new heights at CES in 2006, while Panasonic’s monster-sized 150-inch plasma TV make news bulletins worldwide. Bill Gates even used his CES 2008 keynote to announce his retirement from Microsoft.

So how’s this for contrast: Microsoft didn’t even bother turning up this year.

Are 4K TVs really the future?

What a difference a few years make. CES 2013 has been a disappointment of gimmicky gadgets, expensive geegaws, and shows signs of an industry that’s run out of ideas.

High on this year’s CES 2013 agenda has been the onslaught of 4K TVs. These ultra HD television sets deliver a resolution four-times more detailed than today’s HD TVs. There were some towering examples on show, including a 110-inch version from Samsung. It’s so massive that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Albert Square, rather than perched on your sofa.

4K is the future of TV – at least, that’s what the parade of companies including Sony, LG and Panasonic would have you believe.

Only, there’s a problem. There’s hardly any 4K TV content available, and there won’t be for many years, and certainly not content that can be piped into our homes. Actually, there are two problems. The ticket price for some of these sets is a whopping £20,000. At that price, I’d expect it to include someone to push the remote buttons for me.

CES 2013 teaming with gimmicks

The rest of CES felt like a rummage through a discarded novelty gadgets catalogue. Standouts include: Neurosky Necomimi Brainwave Cat Ears (yes, these are a thing) that you control with your mind while looking like a Playboy Bunny; Hapilabs Hapifork – a cutlery fork that tells you when you’re eating too fast; the OhMiBod – well, what that does isn’t actually publishable. And this strange bazaar was topped with hundreds upon hundreds of iPhone cases, like a silent silicon army watching the fall of CES.

Which? was at CES this year – and we’ve managed to sieve out the interesting tech that will be worth you looking at, including our top five highlights. As for next year? Well, it’s hard to tell, but the tech industry needs to pull more than just brainwave rabbit ears out of the hat.

The tech industry moves ahead in spurts and starts, but consumers aren’t too interested in microchip announcements and novelty gonks. If CES can get back to its consumer roots, unveiling a genuinely engaging world of consumer technology that can ignite our imagination again, then perhaps the largest gadget show in the world will find its way again. Let’s hope so.

Comments
Guest
Cashmere addict says:
11 January 2013

This article reinforces my view that Which? should refrain from sending their staff on expensive “jollies” at our expense, when so many of their reviews are badly out of date. Buck up Which?, or I shall vote with my feet and cancel my three subscriptions…

Guest

Thanks for the post – and after this year’s CES, I can see your point. Sadly, it’s a little hard to see into the future when we attend events such as CES as to whether it’ll be packed with new launches or a bit of a dud (as this year is).

We’ll be looking long and hard at our coverage of CES for next year – and if we feel we can’t get anything out of it, we won’t attend.

To be fair on the team attending it’s a long way from being a ‘jolly’. We attend to learn about what’s coming up over the next year and understand tech trends. The team works often 18 hour days during the show, reporting, creating videos and podcasting long into the early hours, and unlike other journalists aren’t propping up bars or being paid to attend fancy parties by manufacturers. We take it seriously.

That’s why we’re open when we feel things aren’t working as well as they should be, and we’ll be looking at whether we should be covering CES 2014 to ensure we – and our members – are getting benefit from it. If not, we won’t go.

Hope that helps!

Guest
Cashmere addict says:
11 January 2013

Thanks for your response, Matt; I’m relieved to hear you and the team have not been putting your livers in danger! I am no Luddite (I own a desktop, laptop, netbook, and more recently a smartphone, MBPro, iPad and Samsung Smart TV) and I do use and appreciate your Tech reviews, but get a little frustrated when researching more basic household/garden items, to find reviews are out of date. Perhaps I’m investigating the wrong things… 😉

Guest

4K TVs, well surely that’s one up from 3D TVs.

I wonder what it’ll be next. 5-Sense TVs perhaps? You know, to cater for all five of our senses.