The Urge to Converge at CES 2017

The Consumer Technology Association’s annual gadget-fest gets underway this week in Las Vegas, and once again a top challenge will be filtering the cacophony of noise generated by more than 100,000 show-goers and figuring out what really matters.

Multichannel News will be keeping tabs on the breaking news at CES (follow our coverage at Some of the major themes heading in will include service convergence, 4K’s move into the mainstream, the rise of virtual reality and augmented reality technologies and products, the Internet of Things catch-all, and the growing role of artificial intelligence.

The ongoing migration toward converged services will be on display across all industries, Jefferson Wang, senior partner at IBB Consulting, a Philadelphia-based firm that counts MSOs among its clients, said.


Businesses like cable continue to tweak and optimize services that fit into shifting viewing practices as mobility becomes increasingly paramount.

“The distribution model is changing,” Wang said, noting that he expects cable operators to move more aggressively with mobile services in 2017. Comcast and Charter Communications have already activated their respective mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) arrangements with Verizon, and Comcast is making plans to launch an offering by mid-2017.

Wang argued that MVNO agreements aren’t just about building in more revenue generating units in an already-saturated market, but instead are poised to become an important piece of the arsenal that enables MSOs to distribute their existing assets.

Building on CES confabs in recent years, expect 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) to become even bigger fixtures this week as both technologies continue their push into the mainstream.

4K, it seems, is becoming a standard feature in most new TV sets even as HDR, a technology that produces brighter, more vivid pixels, continues to work its way through multiple and competing standards and formats, such as HDR10 and Dolby Vision.

With HDR, “It’s a holy war right now,” Wang said of those approaches. “But 4K has a clearer path.”

Phil McKinney, CEO of CableLabs, agreed that 4K/Ultra HD is “here and now,” but said he remains hopeful that the HDR standards issue will get ironed out.

He also said he believes HDR is more important than 4K from a consumer perspective. “The human eye perceives color as resolution,” McKinney said.

McKinney said CableLabs research has shown that the reaction by consumers to HDR “has been over the top” and that most all of them pick the image delivered on a 4K set with HDR over a 4K TV that doesn’t support it.

Most consumers, he said, don’t notice the resolution difference of 4K when the video is being watched from a “regular viewing range.”

McKinney said he also expects to see more activity around 8K video at this year’s show as Japan continues to gear up for the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

Elsewhere on the video front, IBB is also keeping tabs on the rise of personal live video apps and services from companies such as Facebook and YouTube.

The bandwidth impact of those services will grow as demand rises, and those services could become optimized for small field encoders that aid in the generation of onsite live video feeds, Mark Peters, partner at IBB Consulting, said.

VR and AR are expected to be hot topics at CES, with an expectation of greater emphasis on new standalone VR headsets that don’t require tethering to a high-octane PC or pairing with smartphones.

Though VR and AR will likely be “overhyped at the show,” more discussion will revolve around a mixed-reality experience that combines the attributes of both, McKinney predicted.

Based on the sheer volume of pitches about connected products heading into the show, the light of CES will be shining brightest on the Internet of Things (IoT).

But McKinney and John Curran, managing director of Accenture’s communication, media and technology practice, both see the bigger story about IoT focused on how to secure all of those linked-up devices.

IoT security started to become part of the story at last year’s show, but the increased emphasis on cybersecurity and privacy in the news all but ensures that the security aspects of IoT will loom much larger this year. “It’s become a pervasive topic that’s moved into the awareness of the mainstream discussion,” Curran said.

Securing that data will also become important for service providers, such as Cox Communications, that continue to expand into home healthcare services, which need to lean on high-performance, low-latency connections.

“Cable could have a pretty unique role in supporting the privacy issues around healthcare,” McKinney said.

Include cars among the things that will be connected. That also presents some potential challenges ahead for cable operators and other ISPs, McKinney said.

CableLabs is getting feedback suggesting some carmakers are expecting to push and pull between 150 gigabytes and 300 gigabytes of data per month for their connected vehicles. While that could drive the need for faster and faster broadband speeds, it could also put some pressure on usage-based broadband models.

The bandwidth impact of connected cars is being looked into, McKinney said, noting that some automakers look at cable as equivalent to a gas station with “every access point becoming a filling point to fill that car up with data.”

CableLabs doesn’t delve into business models like usage-based billing, but some discussions have looked at caching options that could reduce the network bandwidth requirements for a new breed of connected cars, McKinney explained. That, he added, could open up a possible use case for a full-duplex extension of DOCSIS 3.1 to deliver symmetrical multigigabit speeds on hybrid fiber-coax networks.


Artificial intelligence and intelligent assistance are also among Curran’s top storylines heading into CES.

While A.I. apps will be embedded into everything from smart cars to smartphones, robotics to health and fitness trackers, intelligent assistance is the “manifestation of that artificial intelligence,” Curran said, citing some well-known implementations from companies like Amazon, Google and Apple. Comcast and other service providers are also expanding rapidly into these areas with new voice-enabled remote controls and next-gen home security/automation services.

“I think A.I. has the opportunity to be the story of the show,” said Curran, who believes the technology will be among the “golden threads” that will be woven into many of the products and services displayed and announced at CES.

A.I. and intelligent assistance also represent a convergence of technologies, including Big Data, analytics, machine learning and natural-language processing, to establish a “hyper-personalized consumer experience.”

“This category is poised for growth,” Curran said. “It’s a new gateway to unlock the value in a broad ecosystem of devices that are coming onto the market.”