Jarred’s Best of CES 2012

CES is all wrapped up and everyone is back home (presumably—there are probably a few who remained in Vegas to lose more money gamble a bit more), and one of the questions I’ve been asked repeatedly by friends and family is, “What was the coolest thing you saw at CES this year?” Now, keep in mind that I am only one person and I didn’t even see a fraction of the show floor, as there were plenty of meetings set up around Vegas, so this is just my perspective on the coolest technology trends at the show. You’ll also notice that there’s a common thread in what really impressed me, but this is a highly subjective topic so take it for what it’s worth: one man’s opinion. (And note that I am specifically not speaking for the other editors; I'm sure most of them would have a different top three.)

I Have Seen the Future, and the Future Is 4K

The most impressive thing I saw at the show for me is the 4K displays. Several places had such displays on hand, but I didn’t spend a lot of time with the various display/HDTV vendors so the first real close up encounter I had with a 4K display was at AMD’s meeting rooms. They had a 4K panel hooked up to a 7970 running an in-house demo. The demo itself wasn’t anything special, but the display… wow! I didn’t have a tape measure handy and the AMD reps I asked weren’t sure, but the panel appeared to be a 46” model (possibly 42”). I did check the native resolution, and while I’m not sure if all 4K displays will use the same resolution, this particular panel was running at 4096x2160, so it’s even wider than the current 16:9 aspect ratio panels (and closer to cinema resolutions); thankfully, with 2160 vertical pixels, I’m not sure many will complain about the loss of height.

Other than the sheer size of the display, what really stood out was the amazing clarity. The dot pitch at 4096x2160—even on a 46” display!—is slightly smaller than that of a 30” 2560x1600 display. I don’t actually need a finer dot pitch, and I had to increase the DPI of Windows in order to cope with my degrading vision (some text just looks too small to comfortably read from a couple feet away), but for videos and images I’m of the opinion that “more is always better” (provided you have the hardware to drive the resolution, obviously). Where I really see 4K being useful outside of people that love high DPI computer displays is for home theater enthusiasts that have 60” and larger displays—particularly projectors—where 1080p just doesn’t really cut it.

If you want another perspective, the consumer electronics industry is always looking for ways to get people to upgrade. When HDTV first came out, you had to choose between 720p and 1080i. A couple years later, 1080p launched and everyone “had to” upgrade. Then of course we had the 120Hz/240Hz/480Hz offerings, and 3D displays got thrown into the mix as well. Now that 1080p 120Hz displays are going for $500-$800 for 40-52” HDTVs, for a lot of people we’re at the point where our displays are good enough to last the next decade. So how do you convince people that they need to upgrade again? You come out with an even better standard. (I also suspect we’ll see a follow up to Blu-ray with native 4K support at some point in the not-too-distant future; that will also be when the content providers come up with a new “unbreakable” DRM standard that will cause a lot of grief and still get cracked within a year of launch.)

Now, I’m all for giant HDTVs, but even I would suggest that a 42” or 46” computer display sitting on your desk would be too much. Still, if I could get an IPS, PLS, or *VA panel and the weight was manageable for my desk, I’d be willing to give it a go. The only drawback I can really see is pricing; I don’t know what these displays will cost when they start showing up en masse at retail, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see five figures for a while. Then again, I remember when 60” plasma displays were going for >$20K about eight years ago, so given another decade we should see these panels in the <$1000 range (for 40-60”). However long it takes, when the price is right I know I’ll be eager to upgrade.

Looking Forward to WUXGA and QXGA Tablets
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  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    No, it's basically not worth it on phones.

    I have an 800x480 4.3" display, and it looks more than fine to me. I also used an iPhone 4 and 4S with their 960x640 3.5" display. I'd take the 800x480 at 4.3" any day. It doesn't look any better to me at this tiny size, and I'd rather have the larger screen.
  • Finraziel - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    I'm using the Samsung Galaxy Note now (is it released stateside? No idea...) which has a 5.3" screen with 1280x800 display and I never want to go back. This resolution means I can view just about any website without zooming in in landscape and it's big and sharp enough for me to read ebooks in PDF form on (such as programming books). So for me, yes, the increase in resolution is definately worth it :)
  • R3MF - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    " while I’m not sure if all 4K displays will use the same resolution, this particular panel was running at 4096x2160, so it’s even wider than the current 16:9 aspect ratio panels (and closer to cinema resolutions)"

    I can't help feeling they would have done better to just make 4K a straight 2:1 aspect ratio, and kept the resolution at 4096x2048!
  • MamiyaOtaru - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    gah I have been dreaming of a QXGA LCD for my desktop for ages! I'm stuck at 1600*1200 and hating this new widescreen stuff
  • iSayuSay - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Technology is always about patience. If we're just patient enough to wait for them to be mature and more common, you can jump in with a much reasonable $$$.

    Hard lesson learned when I bought launch day PS3 back in 2006. It was friggin $650, I couldn't afford to buy one actually, but I "had to". It was very very expensive to me.
    And just within 13months after that I got the YLOD for the first time in my life! My super expensive launch day PS3 was unrepairable, not under warranty anymore and I was just frustrated.

    I paid Sony $650 just for being lousy beta tester! Now we could buy a $300 PS3 with no YLOD, more energy efficient, better cooling system and chips.

    I said no more!! No more wasting my hard earned money to buy a expensive beta phase technology.
    And I would wait 4K display to be matured enough, have adequate and affordable contents, price range and availability.

    Even now, how many 1080p content was actually available? Does it already widespread like standard DVD? I know many people who owns a LED HDTV but not care enough to notice that they still watch sub 720p content.
  • bhima - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Most poignant point I've read all day: "What really irks me is that all of this comes in a 10.1” IPS package, exactly what I’ve been asking for in laptops for the past several years." AMEN brother. I bought a Sager because it actually offers a good 95% color gamut screen. As a designer, I really have a small window of choice because these manufacturers don't offer a decent monitor yet every tablet seems to push out great displays.

    The 4K TV thing is great, but in terms of gaming there will be a huge technology gap once the 4K monitors are priced reasonably. I just don't think our GPUs will be able to push those kinds of pixels in the next 3 years except for maybe the $500 beast cards or SLI/Crossfire.
  • bhima - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Needs an EDIT button:

    The Lenovo Yoga is ALMOST perfect. If it just had a wacom digitizer in it, it would be worth a lot of money to me and other graphic designers. Hell, it could force even Mac-heads to consider converting to Microsoft.
  • chizow - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Idk, at the rate GPUs progress, next-gen single GPUs tend to perform similarly to last-gen's top-end SLI configs. Its not quite 100%, probably closer to 50% increase over 2 years but its very possible we'll see a single GPU push 4K/2K without much trouble while maintaining high framerates (~60FPS).

    4K/2K is roughly 4x the resolution of 1080p, very close to 2x2 supersampling over the same screen area. We already have mid to high-end configurations pushing 3x1080p with surround configurations from both vendors with relative ease, and even 3D with those same resolutions which is an effective 6x1080p.

    4K/2K wouldn't be too much additional burden, I think even a high-end single card would be able to push that resolution without too much trouble, and today's high-end card is tomorrow's mid-range card.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    I'd just look at our triple-head desktop benchmarks if you want to know roughly how well current GPU setups can handle 4K displays for gaming. Basically, something like HD 7970 CF or GTX 580 SLI will certainly handle it, though you'll want the 2GB/3GB models. Now it's just waiting for the price to come down--on the GPUs as well as the displays.
  • cheinonen - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    4K support for studios varies a bit based on which studio it is. Sony, for example, has their Colorworks processing facility on their lot and all of their work is done at 4K at a minimum, with some work done at 8K resolution. As 4K displays start to come into play you will likely see a transition to 8K workflows at studios that allow them to sample CGI and other effects down to 4K for release. If you search at Sony's website you can find a list of 4K theater releases and theaters that support them. The majority of digital cinema is still presented at HD format, though Blu-ray releases likely use a slightly different master since the colorspace and gamma target for cinema releases is much different than the Rec 709 target for Blu-ray.

    100 GB for 4K is really pushing the limits of the medium, and not likely to be what would be used. Most Blu-ray titles clock in around the 30-40 GB range for the film, so given 4x the resolution you are looking at 120-160 GB for a film of similar quality. Another current issue with 4K at the home is I believe that HDMI 1.4a is limited to 24p at 4K resolution, so while films can work fine, no TV or Video content will be able to be upscaled outside of the display or projector. I imagine before 4K really catches on we will have another update to HDMI, and a new media format, as downloads are obviously not fast enough for 4K streaming or downloads yet.

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