Three Trends to Watch in Las Vegas

As tens of thousands descend upon Las Vegas this week for the latest, greatest International CES, hot topics will comprise 4K/Ultra HD; the so-called Internet of Things, a grouping that includes smart-watches and other Internet-connected wearables; and new and innovative ways to deliver streaming video.

While covering the expanse and depth of topics at CES is a daunting challenge on its own, here are three specific things the Multichannel News technology team will track in the desert this week.

4K Inches Toward Mass Adoption

Monday (Jan. 5) will be a significant day for the world’s biggest TV makers, with big press events from CE giants such as LG Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony.

While last year witnessed the entry of “curved” 4K sets and some smaller Ultra HD models priced in the $1,000 range — an important threshold to reach for broad consumer adoption — expect this year’s crop to vastly improve the range of sizes and price points for 4K sets that will be available to consumers in the year ahead.

Another focus this year is expected to be High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging, a technique that expands the color palette and luminosity of pixels that aim to punch up the picture and bring a much-needed “wow” factor to 4K sets while also giving more traditional HDTVs a visual boost. Although HDR-based products won’t dominate the TV landscape for a while, show goers this week will have an opportunity to get a glimpse of the technology in its pre-standard form.

And look for TV makers to reach deeper into 4K content by striking deals to integrate UHD streaming apps from the likes of over-the-top providers Netflix, M-GO and Amazon, as well as from multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs). Heading into CES, only Comcast and DirecTV were among the MVPDs to debut 4K offerings.

Although 4K has yet to achieve a mass-market impact, lower pricing and the recent availability of more content in the eye-popping format have already helped to move the consumer adoption needle upward. Shipments of 4KTVs surged 500% in the third quarter of 2014, compared with the year-ago period, according to a recent report from DisplaySearch. Boiled down further, shipments of 4KTVs topped 3 million units in the period, extending total shipments to 6.4 million for the first three quarters of 2014. TV-set makers will be paving the way at CES to produce an even better 2015.

What Video Future Will Dish Serve Up?

Monday will also be a big day for Dish Network, which has long used CES as a springboard for new products and services that will grace its video road map.

Last year, Dish used the annual gadget-fest to debut the Super Joey and the Wireless Joey, new devices for its core pay TV platform. While Dish is expected to use CES to expand and flesh out products tied to the Hopper, its flagship, broadband-connected HD-DVR platform, it’s also anticipated that Dish will use the show to reveal more details about a “virtual” MVPD service that will deliver a scaled-down pay TV service completely over-the-top.

Dish has yet to announce the full details of the new product, including the content that will be offered, but the company has already disclosed that its coming “personalized subscription service” will be used to target cord-cutters, as well as consumers who’ve never taken a traditional pay TV service. Previous reports have said that Dish intends to sell the service in the range of $20 to $30 per month, limit some programming to a single stream per subscriber, and complement it with targeted advertising.

Dish has already outlined plans to tailor the service to consumers who are 18 to 35 years old, while also skewing toward men and sports enthusiasts. “We’re not going after the guy who spent $100 a month and has got a house and four TVs and three kids, and he’s 55 years old; that is not the target market,” Charlie Ergen, Dish’s chairman, said on the company’s third-quarter earnings call in November.

Is Charter’s ‘World Box’ Ready for Its Close Up?

In the weeks leading up to the big show, Cisco Systems issued invitations to news media and analysts for a VIP reception on Tuesday afternoon (Jan. 6) that will feature John Chambers, Cisco’s chairman and CEO, and Tom Rutledge, the CEO and president of Charter Communications.

The invite didn’t go into excessive detail, noting only that the executives will be on hand to “share news about how the two companies are collaborating to connect consumers to a world of new TV experiences.”

But by reading between the lines, it would seem that CES is an opportune time for Charter and Cisco to show off and demonstrate the long-awaited “World Box,” a new, IP-capable, cloud-focused set-top from Charter that will be outfitted with a new downloadable security system/conditional access platform.

Similar in some ways to Comcast’s X1 platform, Charter’s World Box and the underlying system powering it are also expected to support a bevy of cloud-delivered apps and services, including Charter’s “Spectrum” guide, a cloud-based interface that Charter will eventually offer on all set-tops, including millions of older, QAM-only devices that are already deployed in customer homes. Charter has already revealed plans to deploy its new cloud UI on a broad basis in 2015.

That strategy, which will rely in part on ActiveVideo Networks’s network-based processing platform and software from Zodiac Interactive, will also allow Charter to do something that other cable operators aren’t doing yet — bring a unified look and feel to its full base of set-tops, as well as to apps that run on tablets and other mobile devices.

If Charter chooses to show off the World Box at CES, it will mark the first public glimpse of the device. Charter has managed to keep most of the details about the project under wraps, but told the Federal Communications Commission last August that it had successfully lab-tested silicon in a prototype set-top that helped the MSO “refine the operation of downloadable security across two existing industry standard conditional-access systems,” adding that a future lab test would be conducted on the company’s live network.