Serving up ISE hors d’oeuvres

Michael Heiss offers some food for thought as the industry gears up for the veritable feast that will be served in Barcelona as ISE comes to town.

Looking back, 2023 was an interesting year for our industry on several fronts, and as I write this on the cusp of 2024 it looks as though that’s set to continue and maybe even accelerate. With CES and ISE starting the year with a bang, there’ll be plenty of indicators of how this year is set to shape up. 

It would be all too easy to look forward through the lens of “What will be new at the show(s)?” with the caveat that as you read this CES will have already happened. However, even when we see what is at the shows there is still the matter of tying that to the more important questions: “What will these things mean to my business?” “Will things change or remain the same?” “What are the new unknowns that these new knowns will cause?”

With that in mind let’s use this opportunity to do an “idea and ramification” shopping list rather than a product shopping list for what you may find at ISE and what that will mean for 2024. I’m calling these “hors d’oeuvres”. They are not so much appetizers that you have once a meal has begun, but rather the classic small bites that are passed around, or in this case walked around at a trade show, to give you a feel for what is ahead.


AI has become the buzz-word of the decade so far. Everyone is using it and it is being applied to, or claimed by, almost anything. However, take a deep breath and a step back every time you hear those two letters. Think about, and when speaking with vendors, ASK about “Exactly what is AI doing in this product?” What actual benefit will the purported use of AI being to a specific task or product? Of the literally hundreds of CES press announcements I’ve received I can hardly go from one to the next without seeing something about being “AI powered!”.

If AI is being used to make a product’s performance better, faster, more accurate or hopefully even less expensive then by all means promote it as such. The word of caution before taking a bite out of this hors d’eoevre is to see if the stated use of AI will, if you’ll pardon the bad analogy, improve the product’s taste.

As you traverse the halls of ISE and beyond, learn the different types of AI and the subtleties of AI vs LLM vs Machine Learning vs IFTTT vs old fashioned fuzzy logic. Don’t be afraid to dig in and see if AI is really doing something and what that “thing” is. Ask if the AI is done internally on the device or if it requires connection to the cloud and the database driving the AI tasks. Think about privacy implications. Think about intellectual property rights issues. Does the device draw in proper data, or does it use YOUR data to help power other AI queries? AI will bring benefits as well as potential perils. As 2024 moves along look for more coverage here in Hidden Wires as we navigate the technical, operational, and legal aspects of this together.

How big is big enough?

Many pundits in the popular press and on social media love to point to smartphones and tablets as the end viewers’ display platform of choice. Think what some may, we know better and need to understand how to get the message out.

The bigger is obvious. Perhaps driven by more affordable pricing, perhaps by the features and technology, screen sizes are growing and more clients are going to be asking for them. The “better” will be more than the size itself. No longer the sole province of high-priced models, there will be more options, brands and feature tiers to choose from. As you wander the halls of ISE pay attention to larger screen sizes for flat panel products. Your clients and your competitors will. To paraphrase the old cliché, “If 75-in is the new 65-in, then 85-in nor even 98-in is the new 75-in.

A word of caution, however, is always in order. Those who have been around since the days of the famous Panasonic 103-in plasma will remember the issues faced even then about getting the unit into existing systems. Pricing is clearly much better, down from the almost six-figure pricing from over a decade ago. Unfortunately, one thing hasn’t changed: contrary to popular belief, these mammoth panels do bend in the middle. ONCE. If you don’t get that joke you need to go back to some basic CEDIA design courses and plan reading to check the doorways against the sets dimensions.

Reports of projection’s demise are greatly exaggerated

While we’re on the topic of large screen sizes, let me repeat something I’ve said before and will continue to say again. There is still much life left the original dog in the large screen race: PTV. It not only makes it easier to get a large screen into a room where a single, huge, flat panel can’t make it through the door or around a corner bend to get it up the stairs. Led by the space saving convenience of Ultra Short Throw (UST) projectors and continued improvements in projector, image processing and screen technology, PTV is very much alive.

Think back to the highest reviewed home theater demos back at CEDIA Expo in September. What did virtually all of them use for the display? Another hint: Flat panel displays with micro-perfs to let the sound through isn’t something you’ll likely see at ISE.

Will this be dvLED’s year?

Other comments about flat panel displays notwithstanding, another thing to see if an hors d’oeurve turns into a full course meal is direct view LED (dvLED), also sometimes categorised as microLED (µLED). This technology has captivated everyone’s attention for the past few years. However CES and ISE will be the places where we will see if it becomes not just something everyone wants, but something everyone, or at more of us, can afford.

The production technology behind dvLED is advancing all the time, but the reality is that its pricing will still be significantly higher than OLED, QLED and QD-OLED. Hints from pre-CES briefings indicate that there will be some smaller sizes but pricing is still to be announced. Also, if what I have already seen at CES is any indication, look for at least one big surprise in the dvLED product category.

Is it a monitor or a TV?

This is a trend that has been gestating for a while. Thanks to the availability of HDMI 2.1 features such as VRR, sets equipped with G-Sync and FreeSync and more “Game Modes” have become a main feature push in the TV world. After all, why buy a specialized monitor when, particularly for casual or console games, a decent TV is all one might need?

Perhaps, but as always, look at the use case. Competitive PC-based gamers want smaller and flat screens because they don’t want to be distracted and need to focus directly on the action. Depending on the type of video card, they need refresh faster than the 144Hz that most TVs top out at.

Even with “work from home” becoming more of a hybrid thing in the face of “return to office”, many will continue to work remotely one or two days each week. For those users, wider and perhaps even curved screens may be the answer. Having switched one of my work stations from a two-monitor setup to a single 28” monitor capable of multiple screens I can attest to the usefulness of a single, large, specialized screen in lieu of a pair of 24” consumer sets.etaphor

There will be many options to choose from on the floor at ISE as there was at CES. TO use our hors d’oeurve theme, don’t pick the first plate that is passed around. See what is being offered and find the right piece for each job. Game, home office workspace or causal gaming are all valid. There will be many options to look at.

Connectivity keeps advancing

Sometimes it takes a few trade show cycles before a new technology hits the mainstream. On the connectivity front, this may well be WiFi 7’s year. More than a few brands are adding it to their lines this year. As broadband speeds increase in concert with demand from a home full of devices, you really need to look for it. It WILL be there.

Another connectivity scheme to look for is Matter. It, too, has been in the wings for a while; will this be the year when Matter will really matter?

EV charging

Across the globe, climate change awareness is leading to a major push to EVs. It may seem obvious, but EV charging is more than having an electrician pull in a new higher amperage outlet, hanging a charger on the wall, and plugging it in to the vehicle. Much more.

At the very least, depending on where the garage or charging point is located you may need to look at extensions to an installation’s WiFi. To do that in my own home required some tricks. What kit might you need for that? Or, for multi-unit housing are you prepared to offer solutions that integrate metering, security, authentication, and charge time notification? Some of this may require electrician skills outside your staff, but this is likely to become a key part of the home infrastructure. Look for the bits and pieces needed to do this so that you are not left behind.


While it is unlikely that there will be anything totally new and unexpected in the world of audio at ISE, a few things to be in the lookout based on what was at CEDIA Expo as well as CES are worth looking for.

Start with Audio over IP, be it Dante or pure AES 67 is becoming a “thing”. Where might you use it either for large scale home theatre or distributed audio? What is the knowledge you will need to use it?

Immersive audio is also a key technology, but while Dolby Atmos and DTS:X rule for theatre, what about its applications for smart speakers and sound bars. How are different brands delivering immersive audio with their own technology, regardless of whether the source is encoded or not?

Finally on audio, also taking a hint from products on display at CEDIA Expo, be on the lookout for single- or multiroom systems based on audio streaming devices. Sonos, Heos and Bluesound are the incumbents that started this trend, but there will be more than a few companies with products and ecosystems that might well rock the boat. How much the newcomers will change this part of the market is something to look for.

The Olympics impact

This is the most interesting but least specific product-centric thing to consider as you tread the halls of ISE for new product ideas and solutions. Don’t forget that this is a Summer Olympics year, and broadcasters like to use a high viewership event like that to debut or expand new technologies. This year will shape up to be no different.

Exactly what technologies your clients will be able to take advantage of this year will depend on where you are and what your broadcast and streaming rights holders decide to offer. Even with the start date only a few months down the road, it is still a bit of a secret as to who will do what, but based on what I am seeing at least here in the US, there will be more 4K, more Dolby Atmos, and perhaps even more HDR.

How will you be able to monetise this mammoth, global event? What upgrades will your client want and will you have the right products and technologies on your line card? Is your staff prepped to do all of this, possibly at the last minute? Use the upcoming Olympics to sharpen your sales, design and installation game and look for the education courses products that will help you take advantage of this potential opportunity.

Ah, so much for the hors d’oeuvres. The main course is being served at ISE. “eat carefully”, be respectful of your “diet” budget, but don’t leave wishing that there is something your missed “tasting”. Hopefully this will help you choose what’s on your menu.

Bon Appetite!

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