To talk about my visit to CES* this year, I need to get into some history. This blog started as FTABlog, supporting FTAList.com, which still provides the best list of Ku-band satellite free-to-air (unscrambled, legal) TV channels available in North America. Because of that perspective, my relationship with CES has changed over the years.
*The official name has changed more often than you might expect. It launched as the Consumer Electronics Show, then officially switched to the International CES, and is now just CES. Every year, its press releases provide guidance on exactly how its name should be used in articles. But I digress.
When I first started attending the show, it was just before the Great Recession and satellite free-to-air equipment was still on the exhibit floor. For a couple of years after the economic downturn, some past and future attendees stayed home, and hotel rooms were easier to find. CES has been growing ever since, and the days of inexpensive rooms look like ancient history. FTA satellite equipment vendors vanished, but for a while there were plenty of TV pioneers to interview. In past years, I saw over-the-air streamer Tablo TV in the startup Eureka Park and the launch of Sling TV, the first over-the-top provider, on the main floor. Now OTT streaming video is mainstream, and there’s just not that much left to interest free-TV fans.
Don’t get me wrong. CES remains an amazing experience, and I heartily recommend that everyone should attend at least one. Even in a haystack of incremental advances and knockoffs, there are always at least a few amazing innovations. If you want to network with other technology professionals, CES is a great opportunity. But this year had less dazzle and less TV than in past years.
Because of my other projects, there have been years when I’ve spent only a single long day at CES, and that’s just not enough time to see everything. This year my schedule restricted me to the last two days of CES, which was also suboptimal. The final day is deliberately shorter, and many exhibitors begin wrapping up even before that early close.
(Three days at CES may be too overwhelming for some attendees, including me. In my experience, the best possible CES visit is the middle two days. If your goal is to be the very first to see new cutting-edge products, then join the crowd that comes for just the first two days.)
The highlights of my visit, as always, were the people I met. Theodore Head, who runs SiliconDust, makers of the excellent HDHomeRun over-the-air TV receivers, talked about plans for the Scribe Duo, a more integrated DVR to make life easier for new users. (I’ve often said that the most successful consumer electronics should be as easy to use as a toaster, which leaves out all FTA satellite equipment I’ve ever seen.) Javier Ruano, GM of OTA antenna maker Televes, showed off some prototypes, of which I’ll write much more next time.
I’ll leave you with some photos of the 2019 CES. I haven’t decided whether I’ll be back next January, but when I look at the pictures, they make me smile enough to want to return.
At the RCA booth, a guy explained that a huge percentage of antennas sold at retail and soon returned had nothing wrong with them but had just been incorrectly placed. That was the genesis for this RCA antenna with a built-in signal meter. It also works with an RCA phone app that suggests which direction to point for the best chance at receiving particular TV stations.
Previous CES shows (is that like “ATM machine”?) featured an amazing array of cell phone cases in a variety of styles from a variety of vendors. This CES was different – there were more cell phone chargers than cases. Plus plenty of battery-enhanced cases.
The usual half-dozen stunning displays at CES was down to maybe one this year: this amazing, wide, curved video wall that was so much more impressive in person.
Tired of sports spoilers in the TV bottom crawl? Maybe you need a TV Jockstrap®, my CES Goofy Award winner.
Finally, my favorite CES 2019 photo. As I walked the exhibit floor in its final hour, I encountered a woman giving a full presentation to literally no one. She rolled through the whole spiel to the empty aisle before her. It was time to leave.