CES 2016: What’s Trending in Las Vegas

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Thought leaders from the world’s top consumer-electronics companies and tens of thousands of their closest friends will be in Las Vegas this week for the recently rechristened Consumer Technology Association’s annual gadget-fest, the International CES.

While it’s one of the noisiest shows on earth — making it difficult for innovative startups to grab the attention that they deserve — all eyes will focus on the topics destined for long debate: 4K/Ultra HD, virtual reality, over-the-top video and the so-called Internet of Things.

The 4K format is riding a growth wave heading into the show. Though there’s still a relative dearth of content available, seeds continue to be spread by consumer purchases of 4K sets and the emergence of 4K-capable devices from companies such as Roku (the Roku 4 player) and Amazon (the new Fire TV box). According to fresh data from IHS, 34% of U.S. homes will have 4K TVs by 2019.

While the likes of Samsung, Sony, Vizio, LG and Panasonic will be out with their latest (and largest) 4K TVs, expect the heat to turn up on sets that implement high dynamic range (HDR), a technology that brings more pop to those extra pixels.

Last year’s CES saw some early HDR entrants, but now that standards are emerging, the path for the video-enriching technology has cleared.

“I think it’s becoming more of a reality,” Phil McKinney, CEO of CableLabs, said of HDR. “Most of the broadcasters and distributors, like cable and satellite, have started to rally around a couple of different approaches.”

That work should also help to punch up regular HDTV, McKinney said, adding: “Keep in mind that High Dynamic Range also applies to HD. It’s not a 4K-only solution.”

McKinney and CableLabs have also been keeping close tabs on the developments around virtual reality, a market that is attracting venture-capital dollars from Comcast and The Walt Disney Co., and driving new initiatives at top programmers such as Discovery Communications.

This year will mark the debut of some high-end VR platforms, including the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, so expect the 2016 CES to focus on new and interesting content that can take full advantage of immersive 360-degree platforms that are a step above the “flat experiences that are being crammed into VR” today, McKinney said.

“We think [VR] brings a new kind of entertainment experience for the viewer,” McKinney said. “But when you think about 360-[degree] content, the whole mechanism of storytelling has to change.”

Also of great importance to the cable industry is the Internet of Things. Comcast has been taking the lead in this area in the form of a smart home certification program that is powered by a homegrown software development kit.

Several third-party suppliers are already on board, including August (smart locks), Chamberlain (garage door controllers), Lutron (wireless light controllers) and Nest, the Google-owned maker of the popular Nest Learning Thermostat.

An update on Comcast’s approach and what else to expect on the horizon for the smart home will be offered Thursday (Jan. 7) at a session hosted by Parks Associates that will feature Matt Eyring of Vivint; Daniel Herscovici of Comcast Xfinity Home; Scott Hublou of Salus; Matthew Pine of Carrier Corp.; and Ohad Zeira of Verizon.