we questioned whether the CES wow factor would make a return. Perhaps it is going too far to say the 2009 event fulfilled those wishes, but I got the sense that, in spite of the gloomy economic background, there was greater depth and commercial potential to the innovations than in recent years. And again perhaps it is reading too much into what inevitably are subjective impressions, but it may have been the challenging economy that encouraged exhibitors to demonstrate their readiness to benefit from the next technology transitions when the upturn finally appears.
Of course there was nothing really new, and it would be wrong to go to CES or any other event with excessive expectations. Most innovations are evolutions or enhancements of existing technologies. The key is to look for genuine progress towards significant commercial opportunities, and this was clearly evident in connected TV, 3D and portable devices.
While previous shows have seen a degree of experimentation in internet and web-enabled TV, this year there was a sense that widespread commercial rollouts are finally imminent. There is certainly no consistency in the approach to web TV, and, as we have seen
, early implementations may be missing the real driver of consumer demand. But at least the products will be out there on retailer shelves, and vendors can start to learn what works and what doesn’t.
3D is at an even earlier stage in its lifecycle, although some would argue that its gestation began several decades ago. With so many false dawns behind it, 3D scepticism
is understandable. But doubts over user acceptance should not cloud the fact that technical implementations are clearly improving year after year. The very best, such as Nvidia’s 3D gaming demonstrations, are very impressive indeed and well suited to their applications. Others, such as Panasonic’s 3D Blu-ray, can be extraordinarily good when the content production chain has been well designed, but are weaker with legacy material. As we move through the next decade 3D will certainly be playing an increasing role in some form or other in the digital home.
The other broad trend is the increasing power of portable and mobile devices. Our research
is tracking the role of personal technologies in bringing Internet applications to the digital home. As truly portable computing becomes ever more powerful, as evidenced by Nvidia’s new ION motherboard, growing numbers of consumers will see such devices as their primary digital home content gateway, connecting ad hoc to the large TV screen as required.
These trends, while they will have near-term commercial impact, will also drive major new revenue streams for technology vendors and content providers alike over the coming decade. For that reason CES 2009 fulfilled its purpose to provide a vision of the future of consumer technology. The fact that fewer people – 110,000 attendees is the latest estimate – were there to see it is a sure sign that the industry is in the midst of a downturn, but it should not divert us from the fact that new technologies will inevitably replace old ones, fuelling new growth opportunities as soon as the economy allows.
Client Reading: Digital Media Devices Global Market Report