Post-CES 2013 Thoughts
By Chris Heinonen on
Despite not looking forward to it, really, at all, I did enjoy CES 2013 and all of the new technology that was showcased. Unlike last year I also got to spend a day in the Venetian looking around at more of the audio gear, and I learned that for what I care about, I can really avoid almost entire parts of the convention center without issue. While I took away a few things that I thought were amazing, I also think there are a lot of things people have to keep in mind when they read CES and other show reports.
– In virtually every situation, displays are not calibrated. They either don’t have time, or the show floor doesn’t work well with a calibrated image, or they just don’t care. Panasonic had one of the more impressive demos showing the VT50 and the new ZT60 with their relative black levels and red phosphors, but if the brightness was too high on the VT50, that would easily account for the difference. Was it perfectly dialed in? Unlikely. Was it unfair? No idea.
– We are almost always seeing custom demo material that we don’t own. All of our Blu-ray discs at home are heavily compressed, with lossy chroma and a maximum bitrate. At CES, any good vendor is using their own custom material with much higher bitrates, full chroma resolution, and that is designed specifically to show off their system. We don’t see the same material we see at home, so even if it was the same display you already own, it would still look better.
– Audio has the same issue. Almost all vendors have scripted demos that they run at the Venetian, and it’s almost always music that I’ve never heard before. Sure, the piano on those Magico S1 speakers was nice, but perhaps it’s just an amazing recording and I need that for home. Or perhaps it’s the amplifier? Parasound let me choose my music in their room, and had a nice selection (Radiohead and Bob Dylan, yes!), but these are also speakers and amplifiers that I don’t own. Is the new CD player amazing? Maybe, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to it on my gear yet.
Now, I could still listen and come away with some impressions. I heard some headphones I didn’t like, and some speakers that sounded thin, and that’s going to be a characteristic I can pull away regardless of the setup. Big, sweeping statements like “The best sound I’ve heard” are ridiculous when talking about a show floor, or a hotel suite, where you likely know very little of the music or gear being used on the whole. Far worse were people online trying to judge displays based on pictures that other people took. Besides introducing even more variables (the camera settings, the image editor processing, the viewers monitor and lack of calibration, etc…) many displays have features like expanded color gamuts that you can’t capture on a conventional camera.
I also grew a little tired of ridiculous products that I know aren’t likely coming out, or that I don’t think most people can afford. I am not a big fan of 4K, because right now 4K displays lack the expanded color gamut in the Rec. 2020 standard, they don’t do frame rates above 30p, they can’t do 4K 3D, and they need a new HDMI format before they can reach their potential. You also need to spend $36,000 on a Samsung model to even get full array backlighting in one, which I would think should be standard on any LCD-based display over $3,000 at this point. Since that means worse contrast ratios on the 4K sets than on the 1080p sets, most people will probably enjoy the 1080p set more!
We also saw 4K OLED that I can’t imagine coming out this year or being affordable, and we saw an endless selection of incredibly expensive speakers over in the Venetian that are priced beyond what most people can afford. Are they cool? Sure. Would I prefer to report on the GoldenEar Triton Seven, which I could buy a pair of for myself and eight friends before I buy the Magico S1s? I would. Those high-end products help to fund the research and development that makes it into products like the Triton Seven, though, so I’m glad they exist, but I think enough publications focus on them that I can let them go by without much mention.
Hopefully some of the great products from CES 2013 will come in for review soon, especially the new plasma displays from Samsung and Panasonic. They certainly looked great, but I’ll need to actually see one in my house to see how good it really is.