Letter from America: What Did CES Stand For?

Heiss_Skyworth Connected

Last November, the Consumer Electronics Association changed its name to the “Consumer Technology Association” for the very valid reason that our industry is more than electronics and is, indeed, grounded in the broader world of consumer products.

Along the way, the press releases we received from the CTA regarding CES reminded journalists that we are to simply refer to the show as CES when mentioning it in our reporting—a change over the years from the “Consumer Electronics Show” and, more recently, the “International Consumer Electronics Show”. There was no mention of what the acronym stands for; it is just “CES”.

After spending six days early last month at CES, including two days for press events prior to the actual show, we began to wonder what “CES” stands for at this point if specific descriptive words are no longer appropriate. If this means that CES has grown into a global technology fest encompassing automobiles, appliances, all manner of connected devices, formats and services and, yes, a still healthy array of video/audio products, what does “CES” stand for? Figuratively, if not literally and legally.

With apologies in advance to our friends at CTA, we’ve decided to view CES through that lens for our report on 2016’s event. If one were to look at what was shown and attach a meaning to each of the three letters in “CES”, what would they mean?

“C”. Here, new thinking says the old “C” does still stand for Consumer” in that the target audience for almost everything we saw is aimed at our consumer/client’s needs. This year, however, the “C” could have as easily stood for some other things:

Confirmation: Trends shown as “science projects” in past years were confirmed as actual viable products this year by their mainstream appearance. 4K/UHD displays? Connected appliances? The continued growth of connected speakers as a replacement for what we once called “speaker docks”, let alone distributed multi-room audio? 3D, unlike 4K, just isn’t going to resonate with consumers in the long term? High Resolution Audio is real? All of those questions were validated and confirmed at CES.

If you want the “C” to stand for concrete examples, here are a few: A trek across the endless miles of show aisles showed significantly more 4K sets than HD sets, and at all price ranges. Bringing “confirmation” to clients that a UHD display, player or content is capable of delivering on the promise of better, not just more pixels, the UHD Alliance’s “Ultra HD Premium” logo and certification program takes care of part of that, while the virtual ubiquity of HDR, as discussed last month, forms a core of the better pictures.

On the audio side, the return of turntables from the likes of Audio Technica with a Bluetooth-equipped model and more traditional brands such as Sony and Technics proves that for High Resolution Audio (HRA), “everything old is new, again”.

Credible Competition: Face it, is a fact of life. On the product side the competition for displays will heat up as the likes of TCL, Hisense and other China-based brands along with licensed names such as Westinghouse, RCA and (for the US) Philips deliver products that have very credible, high technology models that, as one of these brands’ spokesman told us “Deliver Tier 1 features and performance at Tier 3 pricing.” These brands at retail will compete with what you offer at the higher end of the market. Be prepared to counter them or, perhaps more usefully, include them in your product mix.

This credible competition will extend to other product categories such as thermostats/HVAC control, smart locksets and all manner of other audio, video, connectivity and “sensor and notify” devices. That there is all this competition is bad to some degree as the DIY world uses it to compete with you, but it is also good as the increased number of products competing for the same spot in your line card and the home give you a more ways to compete with the box box/DIY purveyors.

Confusion and Choice: If combining these two concepts seems, well confusing, that’s intentional. Having so many products chasing after a similar market does create some confusion. However, it also creates the same ability to choose and properly differentiate your offerings, as noted above. Even better, it gives you the opportunity to offer what our channel does best: solve the confusion about not only the hardware products but the apps and software that drive them. Who else can guide the client to the right products and control for the task and then integrate them at all levels? Hint: It had better be you!

Connectivity: It was clearer than ever. At the CES all directions point to connectivity. Whether you sought out a connected leak detector for the basement, a washing machine or dishwasher that automatically orders detergent when needed, a sleep monitor in the form of a connected smart pillow, the almost obligatory locks, door bells, lighting controllers and more, connectivity was a major theme for CES 2016.

Before leaving “C” words, let’s circle back to “Confirmation”. Put all of this together and it once again confirms that we are in a very active, growing and viable market if we only choose carefully.

The “E” in CES used to sound for “Electronics”, and while the parent organisation has changed its moniker to “Technology”, for the “show” we still like the original However, since CES, itself, is no longer an acronym we are free to substitute some “E” words of our own.

Entertainment: Look beyond the autonomous cars, the connected this and connected that and be reminder that entertainment is still at the core of our business. If there was any doubt about that, among my fellow press colleagues the overwhelming “hit of the show” was the 16-tuner, 4K satellite set-top from Dish Networks. True, not available outside the US (at this time), the concept resonates globally and we expect to see similar concepts across the globe as time moves on.

What could be more entertaining than 4K content on a big screen? With Dish’s Hopper 3 you can alternatively use the connection to a 4K display for a sports-bar mode that shows four separate full HD programs at once. What could be more entertaining (and desirable) than that?

Carrying that theme a bit further, CES saw the major public introduction of UltraHD Blu-ray. Players and discs were shown and Samsung even announced that they had begun accepting pre-orders at an unexpectedly low $399 for delivery in early spring. Anyone with a showroom situation should view this as a mandatory way to show what entertainment can be with immersive, object-based audio and 4K native video with HDR can deliver.

Heiss_Laundroid 2017

Emerging: CES is rightly known as the place where new products come to reach the market and this year’s edition was no exception. Along with the products already mentioned above we saw new concepts such as Beam, a projector in a hanging light fixture that plays on a surface top, a connected door lock that automatically orders new batteries when the internal ones are due to run our, or a battery replacement that turns any smoke detector into a connected device, a housing jacket that turns a conventional cell phone into a satellite phone and much, much more.

Engagement: While some of the products and concepts shown were truly autonomous, most required the user to be engaged in one form or another. Whether it is listening to music, watching a video, tracking your exercise, health, sleep, energy usage or even where your pet is and how they are doing, almost everything at CES required user involvement in some fashion. Here again, it is up to you to show not only the benefits of the individual items, but train the user to use them, manage software/hardware updates, keep them supplied with sufficient yet secure bandwidth and consult one when something new and better has come along to replace the once new product.

CES has always been a show in more ways than one. Even in the world where CES has no direct meaning, that stands. However, with an opportunity to redefine what the “S” stands for we have the liberty to give it some other meanings on a broader scale that do not refer to any one specific product or category.

Stability: For all the change, confusion and occasional uncertainty that the overwhelming information overload that CES causes, we found a measure of stability underneath it all. Things are no longer too stable for outmoded formats, but the ability to gauge what is a constant, what is on the way out, and what is on the way up speaks to the viability of our industry. If your banker questions if the electronics, or if you will, technology, market is in it for the future, the answer is a resounding YES.

The best example of this at CES was the introduction of a new VHS/DVD player from Philips. That’s correct, two seemingly out-of-date formats given new life so that legacy content may be played and converted. True, not a growth market, but at least a good example of stability as long as the blank media is available. Same for the aforementioned new turntables and the re-birth of headphones. To outside observers it sometimes seems that our industry eats not only its young, but its “old” as well.

Disruption and stability can co-exist, and CES proved that to be the case.

Silliness. Sure, some of the things on display at CES were somewhat silly. Do we really need an automated, connected laundry folding device, a pizza-ordering button, or the video game to train a dog? Perhaps not, but you never know. To be sure, some of the way-out-there products at CES may never reach their Kickstarter or Indiegogo goals let alone make it to market and get some traction. On the other hand, some will be deemed more reasonable than we thought and get their funding. Some will be bought by a larger company to develop them, and some will fail as presented but give rise to newer developments that make the concept viable and attractive. Going to CES can be as much about seeing what is silly today as noticing what is real. Silly can become not so silly when it hits the right marks.

Finally, success. Despite global financial turmoil, retail market uncertainty changing brands and technology confusion, put all of the above together and we see CES pointing to all the ingredients for success. As we’ve said, not for all products or concepts and not for all brands and manufacturers.

Seeing all that was on display at CES, both on the show floor and in the private back rooms and hotel suites, CES had the optimism and sweet smell of success that we are all working towards.

As the year moves forward we’ll do deep dives into many of the categories we’ve briefly mentioned here. No matter what you call it, or the shows that surround it, we’re in a fun and potentially profitable business. We aim to keep you in good shape on both of those counts!

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group, follow him on Twitter @captnvid, or comment on his article, below.