CES 2019 Showstoppers, the Show Floor, and Some Neat Stuff
CES 2019 is over, and those of us who spent four to five days trying to see and hear as much as possible are in recovery mode. There were over 182,000 attendees, and 6,600 of us were media all trying to get to as much of the 2.9-million-square-feet exhibit space as possible.
Three journalists from I-Connect007 attended the show this year, and my guess is that we saw in total less than 25% of the show. But we are reporting on some of the major press announcements and trends that will have a significant effect on our industry in the next few years.
CES, which used to stand for the Consumer Electronics Show, has become a primary platform for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). There is so much more than electronics, and some of it is difficult to consider as real technological advances. No matter what you call it, the key focus is on technology supporting devices of all kinds—and the vast majority of them are electronic.
We have already covered some of the press events, and upon reading my CES press day article, I think I was so caught up in the tech and excited about what I saw and heard from companies such as NVIDIA, Intel, and Samsung, that I perhaps got a little over-techie. Thus, for this one, let’s look at some of the advanced stuff that will change our world over the next few years. I’ll try to share some the fun I experience being one of the first to see—and in some cases, try—things that were considered science fiction when some of us were growing up.
Over the next few thousand words and dozens of pictures in this and the upcoming wrap-up article, we are going to look at some amazing things from the huge (and I mean HUGE) connected John Deere tractor and the large Bell Helicopter passenger drone to the tiny Travis language translator to a palm-sized picture-taking drone (flying selfie stick, anyone?) and lots of things in between.
The following are some of the best that I saw on the show floors at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Sands Convention Center, and Venetian suites and exhibit halls over a few days of trying to see as much as possible. Let’s start with a few small—but very impressive—devices, and then on to big stuff and a mix of things that were plain fun.
The Travis Translator is clearly an example of 1960s sci-fi. I first saw this device last year, and it worked well, but with the addition of AI and what appears to be machine learning capability, this year’s version is truly spectacular. This unit understands and speaks over 100 languages and is globally connected for amazingly fast and accurate translations. Not only does it allow you to carry a virtually normal conversation with someone that speaks a different language but it also has a teaching mode and records your conversation in both languages so you can either listen to it or read it. This device can be, of course, controlled by its touch controls, but it also can be controlled by using voice commands. Captain Kirk could have used this device for sure, but I am not sure if it speaks Klingon as yet.
New advanced tools that use precise measurement abilities and incorporate XR/VR to allow you to visualize your project as you design it are now available. The Plott AR/VR home improvement measuring DIY tool allows users to take their real design concepts into the AR realm and back to reality with precise measurements and calculations. Plott’s extended reality (XR) platform and accompanying hardware bring real-world elements and dimensions into the LetsPlott app—a design center for measuring the project and then using XR to visualize it as it will look in the real world.
BenjiLock is a simple and easy padlock that can be opened by a standard key or by using its owner’s fingerprint. This Shark-Tank winner comes in various sizes and colors. I can see everyone using one of these.
Drones are not new at CES, but their progress and ease of use have been rapidly evolving. This year, there were numerous drones from the huge Bell Helicopter passenger drone down to the mini selfie drone (covered in my CES 2019 preview article). The Bell passenger drone prototype is massive and impressive. It includes large buffers around the props, which are reported to greatly reduce noise levels to something that is not annoying to those on the ground.
The passenger load for this drone is reasonable, and while I was unable to determine the specific number, the final version that will carry it is considerably more than a helicopter of almost the same size. Bell says this is “Rideshare in the air.”
There is no doubt that passenger drones such as the Bell as well as a number of others are now crossing the horizon, and I would expect to see them being used soon and become relatively common within the next 10 years. Expect them to be autonomous eventually. Bell is testing it in Dallas, Dubai, and Los Angeles. The stated range is 150 miles. They hope to release it in 2025. Sitting in the high-tech cockpit flanked by high-resolution touch screens and controls, the Bell Nexus feels like it dropped straight out of a futuristic movie.
Another huge vehicle, and not something you would usually think of as high-tech, is the one from John Deere, but it does include a lot of new technology. The centerpiece for their first CES—and something that you could not miss—was a 20-ton combine harvester including AI. The combine has cameras to track the quality of grain coming into the machine using computer-vision technology so that its kernel-separating settings can be adjusted automatically. Farmers can monitor this remotely using a smartphone app. Deere was also showing other self-driving tractors all loaded with technology. Welcome to CES, John Deere.
Two of my personal areas of interest are building DIY extreme computers and high-quality audio. I will review the computer components in the next article, but first, let’s talk about two of the more interesting and impressive of the numerous audio offerings. One of these is Audio-Technica who has been in the high-end audio arena for decades. They used to be a leading supplier of turntables, but with vinyl becoming somewhat of a fad again over the last few years, they have introduced modern versions of their highly respected turntables and cartridges. The new versions of technology from the ‘50s and ‘60s come in models from home use—where you used to listen to your (or your parents’) old vinyl collections—to very high-end DJ versions.
In addition to the turntables, Audio-Technica’s significant number of new products on exhibit included their standard-setting ATH-M50xBT wireless studio monitor headphones, the new amazingly high-quality QuietPoint ATH-ANC900BT wireless noise-canceling headphones, and many more. The recently introduced ATH-M50xBT wireless over-ear headphones bring Bluetooth wireless technology to one of the most respected and wanted professional and consumer headphones—the ATH-M50x. The ATH-M50xBT offers the same sonic signature that has made the ATH-M50x an audio industry standard, but now with the convenience of on-the-go wireless operation. At their CES booth, they had a press demo room where we could get detailed information and had the opportunity to try and compare all of their offerings.
As a no-compromise audiophile, I have two brands of headsets that I use often—one being the wireless Audio-Technica set, and the other being my BOSE Quiet Comfort. As I sit here switching between them, I find the sound quality of both to be excellent.
The absolutely best audio enhancement for headphone use I have seen in years was introduced by Creative Labs, the company that first brought high-end audio to the early computers with their Sound Blaster line. There are many excellent headphones available with the wireless ones seeing great improvement to the point where they sound almost as good as the best of the wired ones. Still, headphones do not match live sound, nor do they match listening to a good set of multichannel speakers. When you put on headphones, the sound direction is stereo. Yes, I realize that there have been efforts to introduce multichannel headphones—some quad channel, some 5.1, and even a few 7.1—but the more channels they try to squeeze into a headphone, it seems to me, the lower the sound quality (still good but not quite the same).
What Creative Labs has done is invent and introduce Super X-Fi. Super X-Fi captures the listening experience of a high-end multispeaker system in a professional studio and recreates the same expansive experience in your headphones using complex algorithms and computationally intensive techniques to custom fit audio for every individual through a sophisticated head and ear-mapping process. Essentially, SXFI makes your headphones sound like being at a live concert or sitting in the middle of a high-end studio multichannel speaker setup. You are surrounded by the sound, and it seems to come from not just left and right, but from a 360-degree sphere. It works with its own optimized high-end headphones, but there is an app that you can download that will optimize the setup for use with a number of popular headphones connected to your smartphone, computer, or audio system. I could write more trying to describe the amazing sound quality and directional accuracy, but you really have to hear it for yourself.
In the next article, I will provide my forecast regarding what we will see in the coming year. I will also review more neat stuff we saw on the show floor including advances in 3D printing, retro gaming using new technology (Space Invaders using new hardware, anyone?), significant evolutionary advances in smartwatches (finally moving from Timex to Rolex in the smartwatch category), XR advances from gaming to valuable real-life uses, DIY computer components, and of course, transportation as the automotive industry takes its place as the key driver (no pun intended) in electronics.
Speaking of automotive, for those of you interested in the latest on this topic provided by industry experts, be sure to attend the IPC Executive Forum for Advancing Automotive Electronics at IPC APEX EXPO 2019 in San Diego, California, on Monday, January 28. For further information on this event, contact Forum Chairman Gene Weiner at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tracy Riggan, senior director of IPC member support, at TracyRiggan@ipc.org.
CES Press Day: NVIDIA, Samsung, and Intel CES 2019: More Show Floor Favorites