CES 2018 Highlights
Viva Las Vegas! I was proud to be one of seven representatives from World Wide Stereo at the 2018 CES, and extra proud to be one of five women — a definite minority in the consumer electronics industry. It was a wildly successful, productive, and exhausting trip. That’s five and a half days of discovery, education, networking, and negotiating… all in constant movement.
With more than 4,000 exhibitors, over 2.6 million net square feet of exhibit space across Las Vegas, this was the largest CES show in history. Never could we have predicted that WWS' 39th CES would be our best, but it surely was. Shouldn't we be bored with it by now? No way.
Much of the show was focused on the environment, renewable energy, digital health, and all the ways that electronics can serve mankind. Voice recognition, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality prevailed. It was all so very interesting.
For example, we saw a car designed by Hyundai that is scheduled for production in August 2018. It is powered by a hydrogen cell that runs on hydrogen and water taken from the air. It’s emissions are purified air regardless of the pollution it inhales. Roughly every 4,000 miles, this car emits as much purified air that a human being breathes in a year. Do the math: 500,000 of these on the road for an average of 20,000 miles a year and 2.5 million people breathe easier. At the end of the day, the car can park on the grid in front of your house and power your home for you. I saw a robot in the shape of a pillow that ambulates and is empathic. It can sense when someone is sad and in need of a hug or pick me up. These are just examples. It was simply cool.
Innovations for the consumer electronics industry came in the form of upgrades that are
real. The quality of the audio and video has been truly enhanced and the
functionality and operability of new products and old have been greatly
improved. No longer was it a show of just looking at more features that did nothing but give marketing something to
talk about. Going forward, everything
will be simpler to operate and so many things will be integrated! We were all very
Trends this year continue to be voice control. Voice assist manufacturers clearly understand the importance of taking an agnostic approach and incorporating multiple technologies into their products rather than being exclusively a Google partner or Amazon Alexa partner. Users within the same household often have different preferences — one prefers Alexa, the other Google, for example — plus, different providers work at different paces and providing that access to the latest and greatest innovations of each has serious consumer value.
TVs continue to get bigger and thinner, with improved image processors and refined voice assist capabilities. We saw more technology tweaks and improvements, rather than full redesigns. Sony has their new X1 Extreme Processor, while LG has their new A9 processor, and Samsung has a new Ambient mode feature and a first-ever modular microLED display that was incredible. We saw a few 8K TVs and a lot of new panels in the 85-inch range. Samsung projects that the sales of TV sizes 75-inch and above are expected to double in 2018. None of our clients have ever complained that their new TV is too big. Size matters.
So, let's get into it. Below is a photo (and video) journal of our experience at CES 2018. We're here to pass on the experience to you. And, as always, if you have any questions, please comment below or say hello. Enjoy!
From left to right: Stephanie Keough (Chief Merchant), Karen Cole (Co-Founder), Emily Cole (Director of eCommerce), Fern Rutberg (Senior Manager, eCommerce Sales & Program Development), Casey Ernst (Associate Buyer), and Bob Cole (CEO, President and Founder). Not pictured: Gavin Doering, our Director of Awesome in the showrooms for 36 years.
Klipsch showcased their entire Heritage line, including The Sixes, The One, and The Three wireless speakers, as well as the very attractive and brand new Heritage HP-3 over-ear headphones and Heritage headphone amp. And with "smart speakers" and "voice control" all abuzz, Klipsch revealed a "smarter", new generation of both The One and The Three wireless speakers with Google Voice Assist enabled (coming end of 2018, early 2019).
Klipsch also announced that owners of any of their Klipsch Stream series products will soon have access to a free firmware upgrade through the Klipsch Stream app that will allow them to enable Amazon Alexa voice control. (Products with Klipsch Stream include: Reference RSB-14 and RSB-8 sound bars, The Three Heritage Wireless speaker, RW-1 wireless speaker, Gate and PowerGate amplifiers.)
With the success of the Heritage line, Klipsch will continue to draw on its aesthetic, bringing the old-school design and modern acoustic engineering to inspire new products like the Heritage Theater Bar (a brand new sound bar) which can be customized in length, wood finish, or grille cover cloth.
A PWK Special Edition Euphoria Stereo 45 Amp custom built by Matt Formanek of ToolShed Amps. Klipsch paired it with the Heritage series at CES 2018 for a beautiful set-up and listening experience.
Klipsch MasterCraft Sport Series Boat Collaboration
And never one to throw a lame party, the centerpiece of the Klipsch set-up showed off their new marine-grade collaboration with MasterCraft sports boats. So, picture this: if you're water skiing behind the boat, you can still experience concert-level audio.
Samsung has 3 lines of QLED TVs all with improved black levels and color and many more zones of dimming than they had previously. They also have upgraded video processing.
The Frame TV series will get a 32” model and will have more art options and a slideshow feature. If you haven't seen The Frame, it's not to be believed. It looks like a handsomely framed piece of art that turns into a TV at the push of a button. Make sure you check it out.
Samsung will have 8K displays in a couple of sizes later in the year that will not accept anything above a 4K source. They're heralding their 85-inch 8K TV as the "first 85-inch 8K TV with artificial intelligence." There is a small amount of 8K content out there in the world, but it’s mostly from the last couple of Olympics and there is no delivery system. But the up conversion was good enough to see a significant sharpness and detail boost on 4K and 2K content if the original source material was good.
Ambient mode: Samsung is taking the lead in creating the “Least looks like a TV,” TV’s. The goal is to eliminate the black rectangle on the wall for a seamless environment that creates a living, breathing image that will adjust to the environment, time of day, and lighting in the room. The user can add photos, the weather, news, collages, and display the music that is playing. The app will allow you to upload pics of your actual wall or sense the color of the wall to make your TV either look just like the wall it’s on (totally camouflaged) or have any art you have on the TV take on the character of that wall. In one demo, the TV was mounted to a brick wall and the TV filled in the brick pattern via pattern matching technology to disappear and blend seamlessly into the wall behind it. Another showed a South Western panorama that appeared to be printed on the same stucco as the wall. It was crazy good! This ambient mode will soon be available on all Samsung QLEDs.
Then there was The Wall TV: The world’s
first modular 146-inch self-emitting microLED display was near impossible to
get near because of the crowds lined up around it. It is completely bezel-less
and can transform into any size, demonstrating how owners can customize the
size and shape of their display to fit their purposes. Boasting incredible
luminous efficiency and power consumption, microLEDs are smaller than LEDs and serve
as their own source of light. The display delivers incredible brightness, black levels, color gamut and volume and if you want to watch 4 football games at once, this is your TV.
For those interested in the aesthetic, Samsung will continue to have a curved TV in their lineup.
LG once again knocked it out of the park on the convention floor, one-upping last year's "OLED Tunnel" with their "OLED Canyon". A 92-foot long winding walk-through experience made up of 246 open frame OLED displays in convex and concave configurations. On the displays were waterfalls, tours through canyons and glacial wonders. It was spectacular to experience.
LG earned CES' 2018 Best TV Product honors for their C8 OLED TV with AI. They marketed to their new A9 (Alpha 9) processor (which specifically addresses judder and color banding), ThinQ technology, HRF (High Frame Rate) and AI OLED TVs with refined Google assistant and Alexa built-into all TVs.
The latest range of displays from Sony features their new X1 extreme processor (Sony’s proprietary 4K HDR Processor to enable 4K HDR viewing) and Android TV with Google assistant. Sony has also included Amazon Alexa Google Home integration for hands-free voice command control to play, pause, fast forward, and rewind tracks.
They have a new Bravia A8F series featuring Sony's acoustic surface technology which is similar to their A1E, but with a conventional chassis and mounting arrangement. The A1E will continue to remain their flagship model with the A8F coming in at a lower price point.
Sony also introduced the Bravia X900F series LED backlit LCD panel with X-Motion Clarity which they demo'd to show off how it "smoothens fast-moving scenes with no loss in brightness". Sony tweaked their video and motion processing and feel they have the best motion performance in the industry at this point. The Bravia X900F series is designed to match the company's HT-X9000F sound bar and will be available in 55-inch to 85-inch sizes. An 85-inch 8K HDR TV was also revealed that is supposed to have superior image quality to the Z9D series.
We toured Sony's Life Space UX series, revealing a revamped version of the VPL-VZ1000ES 120" short throw projector built into an organic glass speaker cabinet called the LSPX-A1. And we got a demo of their LF-S50G Smart Speaker with built-in Google Assistant.
Sony's New Headphones
Sony added Google Assistant functionality to a slew of headphone models. They've been busy introducing seven new headphone models: WH-1000XM2, WI-1000X, WF-1000X, and the just announced, and yet to be released models: WF-SP700N, WI-SP600N, WI-SP500, WH-CH700N, WH-H900N, and the MDR-1AM2.
The WF-SP700N, WI-SP600N, WI-SP500 are all IPX4 ("sweatproof") sport-series headphones with the 500 and 600 models being "traditional" wireless style (with a cable still connecting the two earbuds), and the 700 being "true wireless" (as in, no cables at all). The 600 and 700 both have adjustable noise-cancelling technology.
The Sony MDR-1AM2 hi-res over ear headphones are all the rage as Sony's replacement for their much-loved wired MDR-1A.
An Old Dog Learns New Tricks
Sony's AIBO android robodog with OLED eyes and internet connectivity was very cool... if you're looking for a companion that doesn't shed or pee on the rug? Touch sensors on the back and head allows it to react via shaking its head and wagging its tail when you pet it or scratch its ears and it responds to a few voice commands (via microphones) like "sit" and "shake". Twenty two different articulating parts allows it to move in an impressively fluid-like manner, unlike any robot I’ve encountered. It paused to scratch its ears and stretched like a real dog waking from a nap. Apparently it can differentiate between owners and “learn” which owner shows it the most love.
JBL showed off a new line of sport headphones - the Endurance Series - which features the Dive model, complete with IPX7 (totally waterproof), and most notably, has 1 GB of built-in storage for music files. This makes listening to music while swimming or running easy when there’s no signal available for streaming and lighter since there is no need for an external device, like a smartphone or separate music player. Updated versions of their best-selling portables include the Clip3 with updated carabineer design, Xtreme2 which includes a carrying strap with built-in bottle opener, and the JBL Go. All IPX7 rated. JBL showed off the IPX7 rating and the JBL connect feature (where you can pair up to 100 portables together) with a pretty cool water feature - transforming Pulse 3 and Clip3 speakers into a full-on fountain. (An IPX7 rating means it can withstand up to 30 minutes submerged in water up to about 1 meter - so, it's shower, poolside, and party proof).
JBL Link View smart display and speaker
A new addition to the JBL lineup will be the Link View countertop smart display and speaker — unveiled at CES in their "reveal room". A direct competitor to the Amazon Echo Show, and certainly not the only smart display/speaker combo launched at CES this year, but the Harman Kardon family is counting on their smarts and experience when it comes to audio to differentiate them from the pack. And oh what a difference it makes!
With an 8-inch screen with Google assistant built-in and two 10 watt stereo speakers, the Link view combines the technology and functionality of a Google Home smart speaker with that of a touchscreen tablet. Control your smart home, make a calendar entry and program a routine (ie. say “good morning” and it turns on your lights, and the coffee maker, tells you the weather and the traffic - or whatever you program - all with a simple, single command). Search the internet, watch videos, look up a recipe and have it walk you through each ingredient and each step without ever having to touch the device with your greasy food-covered fingers. You can also make video calls and, for the more paranoid user, the voice assist mic can easily be muted and the camera can easily be turned off - with a clear, visual indicator confirming when it is off or on so there is no confusion as to when the device is listening or watching. (Our Founder Bob ordered two for himself on the spot for himself!)
Our high resolution partner, Astell & Kern, won two CES Innovations awards. One for the A&K Kann Premium Portable MQS Audio Player with built-in headphone amp and the other for the AK70 MKII Portable MQS Audio Player. It's really good stuff by good people.
SVS' CEO and President, Gary Yacoubian along with Mitch Witten, Senior Director, Strategic Development, both pals of our Bob from way back, took us through a fabulous audition of their brand new high performance powered wireless bookshelf speakers: the SVS Prime Wireless. Featuring SVS' piano-gloss black lacquered finish along with nicely tactile volume knobs — giving them a bit of a throwback analog radio feel. The wireless connection is handled by DTS Play-Fi technology for wireless hi-res streaming and there are conventional inputs as well (Bluetooth is also an option).
And this was Mitch's favorite part: the Prime Wireless speakers represent one of the first executions of DTS:Play-Fi presets. Set the presets to your favorite Spotify or Pandora channel (or a multitude of other streaming options), and you don't need your phone to listen to music. A rocking pair of speakers — a lot of sound and impressive bass for their size. And of course, since this is SVS, these speakers do offer a subwoofer output. Shipping in the spring.
SVS also introduced a compact amp — 40 watts per channel
and with built in DTS Play-Fi. I can think of many solutions this little puppy offers.
From left to right: SVS CEO and President Gary Yacoubian, our own Bob Cole, and Mitch Witten, Senior Director, Strategic Development @ SVS.
AudioQuest... aka cable porn.
Receivers from Onkyo, Integra, Pioneer, Pioneer Elite, Denon, and Yamaha... oh my!
Some product highlights from Onkyo include a new hi-res digital audio player (PD-S10) and a 383 receiver that will be a 7.2 channel piece under $300 ($299). Rollout of new models will begin in March/April. They are also developing a premium reference quality 4K Blu-ray player to be released in the fall.
Denon set a new benchmark with the release of the industry's first ever true 13.2 channel AV amplifier as their new flagship: the AVR-X8500H. Naturally it supports next-gen formats like DTS:X, Dolby Atmos, Auro 3D, Apple AirPlay, Amazon Alexa voice control, and their own HEOS multi-room audio... not to mention about a million features. The piece ships later this month.
We demo'd some great new products from Yamaha that have yet to be announced. They have significant additions to the MusicCast lineup... BUT I can't tell you about those yet. What I can say is that they had their Enspire Disklavier acoustic piano on site to impress us all again. It made an appearance in last year's CES 2017 write-up, and we were all happy to experience it again in all of its awe and beauty. My iPhoneX videos don't do it justice — but if you're in the Philadelphia area, we'll have one in our Montgomeryville, PA showroom next month for a private concert for serious music lovers. (Event info coming soon - or message us for details).
Hi-Res Audio Pavilion
Sectioned off on the convention floor was the Hi-Res Audio Pavilion featuring our friends from Audeze, Bluesound, Astell & Kern, ELAC, and more. It was like one giant speed-dating hi-res listening room. Hi-Res has been around a long time but it finally has legs with the latest technologies making it real and affordable. Don't overlook it.
Pro-Ject showcased their Vienna Philharmonic Limited Edition Commemorative Turntable in their suite to celebrate the 175th anniversary of one of the world's most renowned orchestras. Based on the design of Pro-Ject's The Classic - but with a stronger build quality and higher tolerances - the entire record player is constructed from materials found in musical instruments. Hand-built to order, on the back of each unit is the serial number and the owner's name. Available in two finishes — and nearly sold out, with only 175 being produced.
We ran into a very proud Heinz Lichtenegger, Pro-Ject's President and founder — and rightfully so. Another well-deserved CES Innovation Awards honoree. All hail vinyl.