Talk of the town

The brand with the biggest presence at this year’s CES was Amazon, thanks to the sheer number of new products developed to work with its Alexa voice assistant, says Exertis Unlimited head of marketing and PR Clare Newsome

After 2016’s political shocks and sudden celebrity demises, we should be used to expecting the unexpected by now. But CES 2017 still threw up some surprises, not least that the most influential company at the event wasn’t even an established technology manufacturer, it was Amazon.

Its voice-activated Alexa AI was at the heart of numerous launches; making the technology available to third parties will see (and hear) Alexa pop up anywhere from TVs and advanced audio systems to cars and smart-home appliances. All alongside Amazon’s own fast-selling Echo and Echo Dot speakers.

LG has integrated Alexa in a wide range of products – from its smart fridges to speakers and even a home robot – with other Alexa-toting kit coming from brands including Arcam, Samsung, Lenovo, Belkin, Onkyo, Incipio and Vifa (pictured).

The hands-free appeal of voice control in cars is compelling: forthcoming Ford cars will integrate Alexa, while Microsoft’s Cortana smart assistant is heading for BMW’s line-up and Hyundai vehicles will feature Google Home.

More intuitive control of devices, at home and on the move, was a big theme. Whether that’s more and more ‘smart’ products – CES even saw a connected hairbrush, featuring customisable app control and feedback – or the addition of voice and/or gesture control, manufacturers are making it easier to interact with tech.

For example, the exciting new generation of Kaiser Baas in-car cameras – the R40 and R50 – feature gesture control, so you can easily (and safely) signal you want to capture specific on-road action with a quick wave of the hand – not a potentially dangerous fumble to push buttons.

LG 'Wallpaper' W7 TV
LG ‘Wallpaper’ W7 TV

PowerVision also launched a PowerRay underwater drone – aimed at fishing and sailing fans – that can be controlled with head movements, thanks to a connected headset that also gives you a live video feed of the aquatic action.

The ultimate extension of easier consumer control is having a robot around the house, but despite several launches of ‘home assistants’ at CES, I can’t see many models hitting retail this year. Cost remains an issue, not to mention implementing Asimov’s Laws…

2017 may not be the year OLED TVs go mass-market, but the range of CES announcements show the technology has moved from a niche, early-adopter technology to the new premium consumer TV option.

With Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and LG all launching impressive OLED-based line-ups, the technology will be heavily promoted this year.

More affordable options announced were almost exclusively 4K, ever-skinnier and ever-smarter. The move to super-slimline sets obviously presents challenges to provide both the sound quality and connectivity consumers demand.

Manufacturers have come up with some interesting solutions, from super-slim connectors to a return to the monitor days of all connectivity being housed in a separate box. There are accessory opportunities here to enable slick mounting of two-box TVs.

Looking further into the future of TVs – and the sources that connect to them – a new HDMI standard was announced at CES. The HDMI 2.1 spec adds support for 8K and Dynamic HDR, plus Game Mode VRR, which allows for variable refresh rates and reduces screen tearing and input lag when gaming. Look out for products future-proofing themselves by adopting the new standard from this year on.

On the audio side of things, 2017 looks set to be the year Dolby Atmos-equipped products – particularly new-generation soundbars – go mainstream, with new models from Sony, LG and many more. This will provide more immersive sound to both gamers and movie lovers, without the need for multiple speakers that characterised early Atmos set-ups. (If you do have the cash and space for a serious Atmos system, check out Arcam’s new flagship AV860 AV processor, launched in stonking style at CES).

Specialist audio companies are also seeing the opportunities in providing quality sound for suitably high-end Virtual Reality systems. Audeze’s iSINE VR, for example, is a fantastic set of earphones with bespoke connectors for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (plus 3.5mm connection for Sony PlayStation VR, smartphones and more).

As befits Audeze’s audio credentials, these marry stunning sound with an ultra-lightweight design, so VR users will enjoy awesome performance without heavy headphones.

Flying the British flag, meanwhile, was Chord Electronics with its new Poly, an amazing UK-built accessory for its equally English Mojo mobile DAC/headphone amplifier. Essentially a super-small but powerful PC, Poly acts as a NAS drive, DLNA receiver, wi-fi hub, Bluetooth module and SD card reader/player. This transforms the Mojo into a fully fledged high-resolution network music player, streamer and SD card playback device, with wireless playback and control from smartphones.

So, that was the CES that was. If I could have brought one product home, it would be LG’s ‘Wallpaper’ W7 TV– with an OLED screen so ultra-thin and light you can simply stick it to the wall with magnets. I may have struggled getting my preferred 77in model on the plane, though…