Trends from CES 2013

The 2013 Consumer Electronics Show concluded this week, giving big players in the tech industry a chance to show off new products and services.

CES has lost some of its luster over the years, with companies withdrawing to hold their own Apple-style media events, but several major exhibitors were on hand to demo new technology.

Here are some trends from CES 2013:

4K televisions push forward

Though some households are still getting used to recently-purchased 720p and 1080p high definition televisions, the industry is pushing a new standard: 4K.

Sometimes called UltraHD (UHD), 4K refers to the resolution of these televisions, which varies but is often around 3840 × 2160 pixels.  By comparison, 1080p televisions generally run at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

The announced 4K televisions all received great reviews on picture quality, but, like any other cutting-edge technology, will be fairly expensive at launch.  Sony claims their first consumer 4k televisions will be “affordable,” but did not announce pricing at the show.

4K-native content will also be scarce, for a while, though Sony and others are working on distribution platforms.  The sheer size of digital 4K files makes them tougher to handle than the 720p streams being put by some of the services now.

Streaming media expands

Streaming services have been big for a while, but this year they may have cemented their place in the content hierarchy.

Netflix, which has long been promoting their streaming service over DVD rentals, made several streaming-specific announcements, including support for Super HD resolutions (1080p) and 3D for customers on partnering internet service providers.  Charter does not appear to be a supported provider, yet, though it has so far been on the higher end of Netflix’s monthly ISP rankings (http://nflx.it/WcM1kH).

Aereo, a service designed to stream local and national live television to homes not subscribing to cable, announced it will be expanding its reach beyond its New York City home base to reach customers in 22 cities, including Minneapolis.  Aereo users can also record live broadcasts for later viewing.

The service doesn’t appear to be redistributing the television content with the permission of the broadcasting outlets, so they’ve come under fire for alleged copyright infringement.  Aereo says they’re in the clear since they provide an antenna in each home, like any consumer could to receive signal.

Aereo offer much better better pricing than traditional cable and allows for custom subscription and payment options.  Cable companies could provide this service, but won’t, leaving a market open for innovators like Aereo.

Game devices popular

Game announcements are usually reserved for the E3 show in June, but several outside players used CES to announce gaming devices.  Casual-oriented platforms like the Wii and mobile phones have opened up gaming to new audiences, with the new companies hoping to serve them.

Graphics-card giant Nvidia demoed Project Shield, an Android handheld gaming device.  The device looks like a traditional game controller, but has a flip-up 720p touchscreen for HD portable graphics.  Project Shield can play Android games, but also stream PC gamer from the users computer and output up to 4K resolution quality picture to an external display.

Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset for use with games, was also shown at CES.  Funded at $2.4 million on Kickstarter (http://kck.st/NU6QRo), the headset provides users with a VR-like entry into their favorite virtual worlds.  Major game programmers have swung support behind the project, which makes it one to watch in 2013.

Finally, Valve Corporation, the company behind the Portal and Half-Life game series, expanded and acknowledged development on a “Steam Box,” or a personal computer sold preconfigured and designed to work with games distributed via the company’s Steam platform.  PC games in the living room has been done before and can currently be accomplished by industrious gamers, but Valve could take it mainstream.

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