21st April 2020 CES 2020

Our report from the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. Journalist Simon Lucas highlights just some of the exciting upcoming tech from his adventures at CES.

Las Vegas is an appropriately bonkers venue for the Consumer Electronics industry’s annual shindig. After all, where better than a desert city devoted purely to grown-up play-time for electronics brands of every kind to showcase their latest innovations?

With over 4,000 companies exhibiting in a total display area of nearly 3m square feet, and with almost 200,000 people attending (each and every one of them seemingly wearing a branded backpack), CES2020 is the undisputed daddy of electronics shows. As a consequence, it can be difficult (and tiring, and time-consuming) to see everything the show has to offer.

From enormous 8K televisions to Bluetooth-equipped record players, and from health-monitoring smart watches to ‘intimate personal massagers’, if it can be plugged into the mains or charged via USB it is almost certainly on display at CES2020. So, without futher ado, here’s our round-up of the most interesting, most trend-setting products of the whole shebang.

Big television brands

TV technology is a huge part of the CES2020 experience – and not only because the world’s biggest brands use it to explain their vision for the immediate future of our televisual requirements. It’s also that the TV stands are the biggest, busiest and most ostentatious of the entire exhibition.

For instance, in the Las Vegas Convention Centre Central Hall (which is big enough to warrant its own postcode), LG wowed with its colossal 8K TVs and rollable OLEDs, while still delivering a bit of real-world excitement with its smallest-ever OLED TV.

LG is proud to proclaim itself ‘the world’s biggest OLED brand’ and there’s no doubt the company has done very nicely by selling raw OLED screens to virtually all of its rival brands. The announcement of a 48in OLED TV will come as a nice surprise for those of us who admire the technology’s unarguable strengths but don’t want a whacking great TV in our front room.   

That 48in tiddler, the OLED48CX, is just one of 14 4K OLEDs announced by LG here. It’s joined by, among others, the super-slim G10 Gallery series (which is even skinnier than the 20mm GX series), the entry-level BX range (in 55in, 65in and 77in versions) and the 65RX. 65RX is that rollable OLED screen LG has been teasing us with for some time – it’s due on sale later this year.

Over at Samsung, the emphasis was on the company’s own cutting-edge TV technology – which means QLED, 8K and Micro LED. And, in the case of the simply extraordinary ‘Wall’, 8K and Micro LED.

On Samsung’s Convention Centre stand (the word ‘stand’ understates it somewhat – it’s the size of several football pitches), the Wall is arranged as a 292in behemoth with an 8K resolution. Of course, the beauty of the Wall is that it’s modular – as it’s built from numerous discrete arrays joined together, it’s possible to build a Wall of any size and aspect ratio. In this enormous configuration it looks almost humblingly good – bright enough to cure cataracts, rich and varied in colour, and capable of bottomlessly deep black tones.

According to Samsung, the Wall can be yours in 75in, 93in and 110in versions too, although they’re merely 4K resolution versions. While adamant the Micro LED technology will be with consumers during 2020, Samsung’s being uncharacteristically coy about pricing. Not one to speculate wildly for the fun of it, I’m going to stick my neck out and say they won’t be cheap.

Down at the slightly more real-world level, Samsung whipped the covers off four ready-to-go 8K models: 75in and 85in versions of the Q950T, an 85in Q900T and a 75in Q800T.

Aside from its startlingly bright and detailed pictures (at least when fed with the classic ‘trade show optimised’ content), the 950T is notable for its ‘bezel-free’ design.

Naturally enough the 950T does in fact feature a bezel, but at 2mm it really is minimal and when you’re a realistic distance from the screen it’s almost like it’s not there at all.

Pricing, you ask? Well, don’t hold your breath – nothing’s forthcoming as yet but, again, it’s probably not going to be what you might characterise as a bargain.

There are a whole load of far more mainstream Samsung TVs coming this year too, but in all honesty that’s not what the company came to CES to emphasise. No, it would rather let you see its 43in ‘Sero’ screen. Here’s a TV that can physically adjust itself, automatically, from landscape to portrait to best suit the content you’re streaming to it. What a time to be alive.

Sony wasn’t shy about its 8K ambitions, either. The KD-75ZH8 is Sony’s smallest, most affordable 8K TV so far – though obviously both ‘small’ and ‘affordable’ are relative terms. And there’s an 85in alternative in case size is in fact the be-all and end-all. Both feature Sony’s brilliantly effective Acoustic Surface audio technology, whereby exciters turn the screen itself into a speaker.

Of course, it goes without saying that Sony’s launching an absolute plethora of lesser/more realistic TVs during 2020 too. Like LG, it’s found space for a 48in OLED model (the KD-48A9H), and there’s an even more affordable OLED range (A8H) available in 55in and 65in screen sizes. All have Acoustic Surface audio (bolstered by rear-mounted subwoofers).

LED-wise, Sony starts with the X70, XH80 and XH81 ranges – choose from 43in to 65in screen sizes (or, in the case of the XH81, up to 85in). Moving up to the XH90 and XH95 ranges buys full array backlighting with local dimming, and the XH95 has Sony’s X-Wide Angle feature that’s intended to maintain picture integrity even for off-axis viewers.

There are a couple of things 2020’s Sony TVs don’t have, mind you. They don’t have HDR10+ in their HDR arsenal, because Sony a) uses Dolby Vision dynamic metadata HDR and b) doesn’t want to get bogged down in the whole ‘box-ticking’ thing. And they don’t have Filmmaker Mode – which mightn’t have been a problem before the start of 2020 but is now starting to look like a bit of an omission.

‘Filmmaker Mode’ is a picture mode that’s meant to override all your new TV’s clever picture modes. The brainchild of the UHD Alliance (which includes LG and Samsung, as well as the likes of Netflix and Dolby), it intends to deliver movies looking exactly as their director intended, without any interference from the TV itself – and it’s endorsed by bodies as august as the Director’s Guild of America and the International Cinematographers Guild. Naturally, LG and Samsung made a big deal of their TVs’ Filmmaker Mode compatibility. Sony kept quiet and looked the other way.

Everyone and everything else

Away from the global leviathans of the Las Vegas Convention Centre, CES2020 still had plenty to offer. Over at Nura, for example, the long-anticipated NuraLoop wired-yet-wireless in-ear headphones are every bit as intriguing as the show’s biggest TV. With active noise-cancelling, touch controls, Bluetooth connectivity and Nura’s remarkable automatic hearing test all part of the package, NuraLoop look (and sound) more than competitive. The single cable joining left and right earbuds together might make them look a bit retrograde in these true wireless times, but their ability to generate a bespoke sound for your specific hearing profile makes them unique.

Slightly less compelling than Nura in terms of unique technology, but more than making up for it where sheer quantity is concerned: Toshiba. The company had a couple of different sites split between the Convention Centre and the Venetian Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, and if it’s soundbars, headphones, all-in-one stereo systems or vividly colourful wireless speakers you want, there’s a new Toshiba product for you. I was particularly taken with the TY-WSB2200 soundbar with wireless subwoofer – far from the most glamorous product CES2020 has to offer, but among the best performance-per-pound offerings anywhere in town. Configured in a 3.1 arrangement, with Bluetooth and USB connectivity alongside a couple of HDMIs, it looks and sounds very capable.

JBL had a busy time of it too, not least with its first foray into the shadowy-yet-profitable world of gaming headphones. Its ‘Quantum’ range runs from £50 – £250, is completely platform-agnostic, and features noise-cancelling mics and memory-foam earpads. Up towards the top of the range, where Quantum One sits, niceties such as leather trim are joined by JBL’s really rather compelling QuantumSphere 360 head-tracking technology, designed to give a super-accurate sound location.

The company managed to look backwards as well as forwards, launching a smaller and more affordable version of its delightfully retro L Classic stereo speakers.

The L82 Classic feature an asymmetrical drivers-and-port, forward-firing arrangement, which ought to make them equally effective whether sited in ‘landscape’ or ‘portrait’ position – but more importantly, L82 Classic is available with JBL’s endlessly covetable chunky foam grilles in blue, black or orange. 

Of course, virtually everything on display at CES2020 features wi-fi capability – to the point that, when wandering one of the bigger exhibition areas, my smartphone picked up (no word of a lie) 161 available wi-fi networks. I counted them.

This is why the TP-Link stand in the Sands Expo space proved so interesting – the intrepid company may not be among the most glamorous, but its line-up of fast, stable and secure next-generation wi-fi accessories is pretty much compulsory. Covering 5G and wi-fi 6 mesh, alongside smart lighting and smart switching solutions, TP-Link would seem to have whatever you need to make your wireless online life as seamless and rapid as can be. 

On the subject of a relative lack of glamour, Vizio may not be one of the world’s highest-profile TV brands, but it intends to change that situation. And at CES2020 it whipped the covers off its first OLED TV range: the SmartCast.

On paper, it’s perfectly placed to compete. The numbers around peak brightness and depth of chassis, in particular, are well up to prevailing standards, and at 55in and 65in screen sizes it’s genuinely in the thick of the action.

The kicker, though, is likely to be price – while Vizio wasn’t exactly making with specifics, there isn’t a single Vizio product of any type that doesn’t have a price somewhere between the ‘competitive’ and ‘aggressive’ positions.

But while a massive TV is all well and good, a big telly makes a not-entirely positive decor statement when it’s not powered up – which can be off-putting. Epson certainly thinks the off-put will be intrigued by its EF-100 3-chip LCD projector. At the comparatively low price of $999, it’s a bright (2,000 lumens) Android TV-powered device, capable of images up to 150in and of connecting wirelessly with pretty much any streaming service you fancy.

Something for Everyone

From all this, it might seem that CES2020 was simply an exercise in discovering what can be achieved by throwing great big boatloads of money at each and every one of your consumer electronics requirements.

And, no two ways about it, most of what was being exhibited featured a price ticket reading, at the very least, ‘hefty’. There’s certainly an ‘innovation premium’ in this industry, and at CES the hottest tech comes with an equally sweltering price-tag.

But it wasn’t all high-priced excitement, as a wander past JLab Audio confirmed. Because if you are the forgetful type, or perhaps a little careless and/or accident-prone, the remarkable JLab GO Air true wireless in-ear headphones might be just the ticket. At a trifling $29 per pair, they’re almost cheap enough to be considered disposable – and if you want to treat the kids without risking financial ruin, they’re absolutely ideal. 20 hours of battery life? A charging case? Touch controls? All of them present, all correct, and all available for considerably less than a modest round of Las Vegas drinks.  

That’s the beauty of CES. For every giant global brand gearing up to knock your socks off with some incredible and previously unimagined innovation, there’s a smaller, less heralded company positively determined to democratise the latest technology. That’s why I love CES, and that’s why keep going back.

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