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Having attended consumer electronics shows in various capacities since 1965, I have witnessed the growth and evolution of the CE industry from many different perspectives. Some shows announce revolutionary, even disruptive, technologies; others reflect evolutionary trends.

Although CES is primarily a near-market hardware show, increasingly dominant themes are based on enabling technologies. For example, wireless broadband networking of virtually all classes of devices has been a growing theme in all product categories for the past few years. Possibly the most significant example of this trend is the combination of two enabling technologies – those of ubiquitous wireless interconnectivity and reliable miniature sensors – creating the maturing category of cost-effective consumer health monitoring services and devices.

As an increasing number of consumer electronics services and features are software based and less dependent on industry standards, it is becoming obvious that there is virtually no profitable business model for CE hardware. The “hardware” is becoming simply necessary enabling devices in a growing number of competing service “ecosystems” (think Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon et al). Even in these business models, both hardware and software implementation tasks are commoditized by “the cloud.” The money is in the proprietary code. How unexciting. It’s hard to show innovative code at an international CES display booth.

But in the final analysis the success of a consumer electronics product rests in the ability of that product to “wow” the senses. (The complete scientific and quantitative analysis of “wow” will not be a subject of any of my future articles.)

The winner of the wow factor at CES12 was, hands down, 50” HDTV OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) displays as exhibited by LG and Samsung. When displaying 3D, that wow factor went up several notched.

Next on the wow scale was UHDTV (or UHTV) i.e. Ultra High Definition TV. Some call it (incorrectly) 4K, which is the cinematographic definition of essentially the same thing but with a different aspect ratio. Basically, UHTV refers to TV images that are essentially four times the resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels) of present HDTV. Nobody combined both UHTV and OLED. Now, that would be a double wow. Add 3D – a triple wow. Add glasses-free 3D (that works) – a quadruple wow. But, that’s next year. Maybe there is a business case for CE hardware (at least for awhile). TV wins again.


Posted by Ed Milbourn, February 15, 2012 7:45 AM

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About Ed Milbourn

After graduating from Purdue University with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Industrial Education in 1961 and 1963 respectively, Ed Milbourn joined the RCA Home Entertainment Division in 1963. During his thirty-eight year career with RCA (later GE and Thomson multimedia), Mr. Milbourn held the positions of Field Service Engineer, Manager of Technical Training and Manager of Sales Training. In 1987, he joined Thomson's Product Management group as Manager of Advanced Television Systems Planning, with responsibilities including Digital Television and High Definition Television Product Management. Mr. Milbourn retired from Thomson multimedia in December 2001, and is now a Consumer Electronics Industry consultant.