Insider Preview: TV Tech at CES

More than 180,000 tech faithful are expected to make the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas this week (Jan. 9-12) for the Consumer Technology Association’s annual gadget-fest known as CES.

CES 2018 will showcase a variety of innovative hardware that will draw the interest of broadband and TV companies, from smart homes powered by the Internet of Things to new cord-cutting tools to connected and self-driving cars, all contained in 2.6 million net square feet of exhibits that include hundreds of startups that hope to be the spark that ignites the Next Big Thing.

Multichannel News and its sister publications B&C and TWICE will be covering breaking news and the keynotes of greatest importance to the industry, with a focus on three areas that have emerged as critical topics before the start of the colossal show.

New Tools for Cord-Cutters

CES is usually a haven for new products tailored for the cord-cutting crew, and the 2018 edition will be no different, as two companies have already revealed their latest wares for this small but growing group of consumers.

Among them, Channel Master has taken the wraps off of Stream+, a device powered by Android TV that allows consumers to integrate OTT apps and TV channels that can be captured for free, over-the-air.

Stream+, a successor to Channel Master’s DVR+ platform, is being offered for the introductory price of $99. And, like that predecessor, Stream+ will not require any subscription fees for its optional DVR capability or integrated program guide.

Channel Master will announce its full retail price later this month, but it’s not expected to be significantly higher than the pre-order price, according to Joe Bingochea, Channel Master’s executive vice president of product development. The final price will reportedly be about $150.

With Stream+, a 4K/HDR-capable device developed in partnership with Technicolor, Channel Master intends to overcome some hurdles it had encountered with DVR+, as the lower-priced new platform will support a much richer set of applications.

Stream+ will have rights to all apps available via the Google Play store. The exceptions early on will be Netflix and Amazon Video, which require separate approval from those companies. “We’re pushing hard to get those done,” Bingochea said.

Dish Network, meanwhile, has soft-launched a new cord-cutting device under the AirTV brand that doesn’t support a DVR (yet), but does let users access and stream OTA channels in and out of the home. Dish has already developed AirTV apps for iOS, tvOS (Apple TV), Android (mobile and TV), Roku players and Amazon Fire TV streamers.

VR and AR’s Growing Presence

Virtual reality and augmented reality products and technologies are still in the nascent stages in terms of consumer adoption, but both will play a big part at this week’s show.

The Consumer Technology Association will expand the space dedicated to both AR and VR at this year’s show. Its Augmented Reality Marketplace will grow to a record 10,900 net square feet, making it 10% larger than that at the 2017 CES. Meanwhile, the show’s Gaming & Virtual Reality Marketplace, will expand to 34,100 net square feet, an 18% year-on-year increase.

Product sales in those categories are also expected to grow, as the CTA forecasts that sales of AR and VR headsets and eyewear will reach a record 4.9 million units in the U.S. in 2018, a more than 25% increase from 2017. Those sales will produce about $1.2 billion in revenue, a 10% increase from 2017, CTA added.

The organization noted it expects sales of consumer-focused AR eyewear will “accelerate considerably” within the next five years, a declaration that follows the recent introduction of Magic Leap’s “Creator’s Edition” AR platform and a report that Apple is pushing to get an AR headset pushed out the door by 2020.

HDMI’s Next Chapter

Ahead of the show, the HDMI Forum showed its hand, announcing details for HDMI 2.1, a spec that will be full of new features and enhancements along with some additions that could deliver near-term benefits to some of today’s set-tops boxes, TVs and other audio/visual equipment.

Some elements of HDMI 2.1 will work with HDMI 2.0 equipment using a firmware upgrade rather than waiting for a new super-speedy HDMI cable and fresh silicon, Charles Cheevers, chief technology officer of Arris’s consumer premises equipment (CPE) business, said in a recent interview.

One example, he said, is the introduction of Dynamic HDR (High Dynamic Range), which can be supported using metadata and current silicon.

Rather than applying HDR to the entire video on a uniform basis, Dynamic HDR displays video at its “ideal values” in areas such as depth, brightness, contrast and wider color gamuts on a scene-by-scene or even a frame-by-frame basis.

Most of what’s being baked into HDMI 2.1 is more future-facing, targeting new TV and video apps. The new specs will support up to 48 Gigabits per second of capacity (more than double the 18 Gbps delivered today by HDMI 2.0) and resolutions up to 10K.

Expect a few more details about what’s next for the new specs to be revealed today (Jan. 8) at a press conference with executives from the HDMI Forum and the HDMI Licensing Administrator.