The Best of CES 2012by Jarred Walton on January 17, 2012 6:15 PM EST
Jarred’s Best of CES 2012
CES is all wrapped up and everyone is back home (presumably—there are probably a few who remained in Vegas to
lose more money gamble a bit more), and one of the questions I’ve been asked repeatedly by friends and family is, “What was the coolest thing you saw at CES this year?” Now, keep in mind that I am only one person and I didn’t even see a fraction of the show floor, as there were plenty of meetings set up around Vegas, so this is just my perspective on the coolest technology trends at the show. You’ll also notice that there’s a common thread in what really impressed me, but this is a highly subjective topic so take it for what it’s worth: one man’s opinion. (And note that I am specifically not speaking for the other editors; I'm sure most of them would have a different top three.)
I Have Seen the Future, and the Future Is 4K
The most impressive thing I saw at the show for me is the 4K displays. Several places had such displays on hand, but I didn’t spend a lot of time with the various display/HDTV vendors so the first real close up encounter I had with a 4K display was at AMD’s meeting rooms. They had a 4K panel hooked up to a 7970 running an in-house demo. The demo itself wasn’t anything special, but the display… wow! I didn’t have a tape measure handy and the AMD reps I asked weren’t sure, but the panel appeared to be a 46” model (possibly 42”). I did check the native resolution, and while I’m not sure if all 4K displays will use the same resolution, this particular panel was running at 4096x2160, so it’s even wider than the current 16:9 aspect ratio panels (and closer to cinema resolutions); thankfully, with 2160 vertical pixels, I’m not sure many will complain about the loss of height.
Other than the sheer size of the display, what really stood out was the amazing clarity. The dot pitch at 4096x2160—even on a 46” display!—is slightly smaller than that of a 30” 2560x1600 display. I don’t actually need a finer dot pitch, and I had to increase the DPI of Windows in order to cope with my degrading vision (some text just looks too small to comfortably read from a couple feet away), but for videos and images I’m of the opinion that “more is always better” (provided you have the hardware to drive the resolution, obviously). Where I really see 4K being useful outside of people that love high DPI computer displays is for home theater enthusiasts that have 60” and larger displays—particularly projectors—where 1080p just doesn’t really cut it.
If you want another perspective, the consumer electronics industry is always looking for ways to get people to upgrade. When HDTV first came out, you had to choose between 720p and 1080i. A couple years later, 1080p launched and everyone “had to” upgrade. Then of course we had the 120Hz/240Hz/480Hz offerings, and 3D displays got thrown into the mix as well. Now that 1080p 120Hz displays are going for $500-$800 for 40-52” HDTVs, for a lot of people we’re at the point where our displays are good enough to last the next decade. So how do you convince people that they need to upgrade again? You come out with an even better standard. (I also suspect we’ll see a follow up to Blu-ray with native 4K support at some point in the not-too-distant future; that will also be when the content providers come up with a new “unbreakable” DRM standard that will cause a lot of grief and still get cracked within a year of launch.)
Now, I’m all for giant HDTVs, but even I would suggest that a 42” or 46” computer display sitting on your desk would be too much. Still, if I could get an IPS, PLS, or *VA panel and the weight was manageable for my desk, I’d be willing to give it a go. The only drawback I can really see is pricing; I don’t know what these displays will cost when they start showing up en masse at retail, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see five figures for a while. Then again, I remember when 60” plasma displays were going for >$20K about eight years ago, so given another decade we should see these panels in the <$1000 range (for 40-60”). However long it takes, when the price is right I know I’ll be eager to upgrade.