I still have at least two CES stories left to run, if you include the iPhone case roundup. But neither of them will be as long or as thorough as Kara Swisher’s sweeping, photo-dotted roundup that she wrote for Recode.net. If you want another glimpse of CES from the trenches, go read it!
The 2014 edition of the International CES is over, and all reports suggest that it was the largest yet. That’s true for automotive fans or health gadget followers, but for us satellite folks, it was a little disappointing.
Once upon a time, I could count on CES to show off the latest in satellite free-to-air equipment, the FTA in this blog’s name. That presence dwindled, and in 2014, there was absolutely zero satellite FTA at the show. Searching for “satellite” in the over 3200 exhibitors’ descriptions turned up only 15 matches, including “satellite offices” and companies that supply to satellite and cable providers. Even Dish Network’s “Be anywhere, watch everything” description didn’t mention that s-word; Dish just happens to deliver most of its content through geosynchronous whatchamacallits.
On the other hand, a few companies showed a renewed interest in over-the-air free TV viewing. I got to hold simple.TV‘s second-generation receiver, fresh off the boat. Tablo exhibited a OTA receiver that’s very, very similar to simple.TV’s but with a tablet-oriented interface. Even venerable antenna manufacturer Channel Master introduced its own OTA receiver, the DVR+, which will launch with no guide subscription fees. The DVR+ also won a CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Award.
And most importantly, CES draws together all sorts of people to meet. I talked with technological innovators, iPhone case demonstrators, and some of the other folks who write about what’s new. I was even present for a friendly meeting of attendees from SatelliteGuys and DBSTalk at the Dish booth. There’s a lot of noise at every CES, but the connections make it worth it every year.
One of the hot topic at the International CES this year (along with driverless cars, wearable tech, and iPhone cases) was the “Internet of Things”, sometimes called “Internet everywhere”. Companies pushing the next new thing extolled the virtues of wirelessly connected appliances, so users could turn off a washing machine from the office.
Very few people mentioned anything about the downside of having all these internet-chatting devices around the house. I was starting to put together an article to explain the problems with this setup, then I saw that Peter Bright had already written it for ars technica. You need to go read Disaster Waiting to Happen.
Here at the 2014 International CES, I can see plenty of the usual suspects: iPhone cases, healthy living gadgets, iPhone cases, superb audio speakers, iPhone cases, nifty new electronic toys, and iPhone cases. But by searching carefully, looking in hidden corners, I can still find the kind of TV news that we care about.
One recurring theme is the issue of discovery. If you subscribe to Netflix, or Hulu Plus, or a zillion-channel pay-TV service, you’ve got thousands and thousands of viewing choices available. The trick is to make those choices easy to find when you want them or even when you don’t know what you want. Whoever solves this problem and gets the TV/video industry to line up behind the solution will control the screen.
At its press conference here, Sharp offered its version with a smart TV that can integrate all three of those services and several more besides. Two hours later, Dish showed off its latest Hopper version with a lot of the same features, displayed a bit differently. Those are just two examples; so far the only thing all these providers have in common is that they’re all trying to address the problem.
I wandered the exhibit floors and found more companies taking a stab at discovery. Yahoo’s smart TV was, well, another that looked like what the TV manufacturers were offering. One day, someone’s going to figure out an elegant solution, and until then, I’ll keep looking for it.
At its annual press conference at the International CES, Dish unveiled its latest, less revolutionary advances in its Hopper and Joey line of receivers. More importantly, it revealed its evolving focus on what it calls “enthusiasts” – tech-savvy customers who will embrace Dish for the ways it improves their viewing experience for a reasonable price. Recent partnerships with Southwest Airlines (free IP-based TV during flights) and Apple (free iPad to new Dish customers) illustrate the kind of people Dish hopes to attract.
Once upon a time, Dish positioned itself as the low-cost alternative, disrupting cable’s effective monopoly on pay-TV delivery. It isn’t as though Dish has renounced those low-end customers, but it’s clear that enthusiasts have more money and are more willing to spend it on whatever works for them. As a Dish shareholder, I’m happy to see Dish’s increasing emphasis on these upscale customers.
Dish CEO Joe Clayton said, “The American (video) consumer only cares about three things – Affordable, Available Anywhere, and Ease of Use.” Dish’s new receiver products, including the SuperJoey, Wireless Joey, and Virtual Joey for PS3, PS4, and LG Smart TV, are all aimed at improving ease of use for households with lots of TVs and TV viewers.
CES is chock full of incremental advances and only a few revolutionary leaps. Last year’s Hopper with Sling was one of those leaps; allowing subscribers to download recorded shows for offline viewing on an iPad is a compelling feature. This year, SuperJoey is merely incremental in comparison, a way to add two satellite tuners for households that want to watch four pay-TV shows at once.