CES 2018: More is more

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The Wall by Samsung

The Wall by Samsung

After covering the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for at least a decade, we’ve become a bit jaded with regard to the news that’s generated at the event.

To be sure, product innovation is interesting and worth knowing, but it seems that the pace of innovation has slowed significantly and that most breakthrough announcements are made away from the annual gathering of the consumer tech industry. The 2018 version of CES is, perhaps, the least newsworthy that we’ve covered.

The big news is the wider spread of voice-activated digital assistants—Alexa, by Amazon; the Google Assistant; and Bixby, by Samsung—to more TVs, speakers and appliances and even a shower by Moen. Nothing about this really is new, even the spread into certain products.

However, take that voice-activated shower, for example. The U by Moen system allows you to start the digital shower system via a voice command through any of Amazon’s Alexa-controlled smart speakers. That’s nice, but it’s essentially the same system on which we reported in our March 2017 article, “Bathroom Innovations.” (The Amazon voice control adds $65 to the price.) Previously, the U by Moen system had smartphone control, which means that it had voice control through Siri, which is Apple’s voice-activated digital assistant. In other words, the “innovation” is minimal—additional voice control, rather than a new facet.

CES typically is a TV showcase, and the news in 2018 was definitely of the more-is-more variety—more organic-LED (OLED) TVs, more quantum-dot LED (QLED) TVs and more far-out future tech that manufacturers tout as the “first” with ever-more adjectives to distinguish the products.

For example, Samsung touted the first QLED TV that has 8K AI technology. We’ve written about 8K TV for years, and Samsung’s QLED technology isn’t new either. The innovation is that the TV will upgrade content to 8K resolution. Sound great?

It sounds like overkill to us. We’ve noted that the average consumer won’t see a difference between high-definition content and ultrahigh-definition (4K) content, unless it’s on a screen that’s larger than 70 inches. (Samsung’s new TV is 85 inches.) Whether a viewer will see a difference between 4K and 8K content is questionable. We believe that the Samsung TV, which Samsung says will be available by the end of 2018, will cost at least $40,000.

Samsung’s other “first” was the “world’s first consumer modular MicroLED 146-inch TV,” which aptly is named The Wall. Of course, a wall-size TV never won’t be impressive (let alone gigantically priced), and the innovation is of the future-tech variety when it comes to mainstream consumers, but nothing about it really is new.

According to reports, Samsung displayed a modular TV, which means that the screen can be expanded or reduced as you desire, in 2016. MicroLED, which is a display technology that competes with OLED and QLED, also has been around for years, although it hasn’t emerged even among smaller displays, such as smartwatches.