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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  • name99 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    "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. "

    Not even close.
    The higher you push the resolution, the higher the correlation between adjacent pixels, meaning that the material compresses better for the same level of visual quality.

    Heck, even if you compressed a 4K movie into the SAME 30-40GB you'd get better results. The compressor will throw away information intelligently, whereas you can view an existing BR movie as consisting of an initial dumb transfer stage (downsampling the 4K to 1080p) followed by compression.
    (This assumes, of course, that the compressor is actually intelligent and, for example, scales search domain upward to cover equivalent area in the 4K movie as in the 1080p movie. This is a obvious point, yet I've yet to see a compressor that does it properly by default, so you will have to tweak the settings to get the improvement. But I am correct in this --- with a smart compressor 4K at 40GB will look better than 1080p at 40GB.)
  • legoman666 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    I was unable to find a good current-gen laptop with a 1920x1080 or 1920x1200 display for less than $1000. I eventually settled on a 3-4 year old refurbed IBM T61p with a beautiful WUXGA 1920x1200 15.4" display.

    I looked up the part number for the panel, a replacement is less than $100 from eBay: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&... I don't know what laptop manufacturers are doing these days that prevent them from putting a decent panel in their laptops, but they need to quit it. 1366x768 @ 15"? Are you joking? My 3 year old Dell netbook had the same resolution in a 10" form factor for $350.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who's disappointed.
  • Mithan - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    I have not bought a tablet yet because I want at least a 1080p display on them and yes, this is for surfing.

    As for Laptops, my last Laptop was a MSI GX640 and I specifically hunted that down because it has a good video card in it AND most importantly, it has a 1600x1080 display.

    I had bought some Acer with a 768p display but it went back. What crap.
  • lbeyak - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    For those of you who that these low-quality displays are good enough...

    I'm not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now, and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"
  • inperfectdarkness - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    it's my money, and i need it now!!!
  • name99 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    You might as well just give up.
    As far as I can tell most tech blog commenters
    (a) are completely unaware that something like Moore's law exists
    (b) think everything right now is absolutely perfect and should never be changed.

    Thunderbolt. Higher res iPad screens. 4K TVs. Windows File System Improvements. Cell phone system improvements. WiFi improvements.
    Doesn't matter what it is, there's a chorus telling you that it will always cost too much, that it probably won't work well, and no-one will care about the improvement.

    My god --- who would have thought that the hangout spot for 21st century Luddites would be the comments section of sites like Ars Technica and AnandTech?
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    The problem is that we're not even getting 1080p on a lot of laptops. I want 1080p pretty much as an option on anything 13" and up. Right now it's really only there on 15.6" and 17.3" displays (and of course, Sony has one 13.1" panel on the VAIO Z).
  • inperfectdarkness - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    i've been lamenting the watering-down of laptop screens for years. i'm bloody sick of 1080p screens. 1080p would be fine...if i had an 11" netbook. i LIKE gaming at 16:10--and i like doing it on a 15.4" screen. and for what it's worth, 17" laptops should be offering wqxga at a MINIMUM. ~300dpi should be the standard--regardless of display size.

    of course, part of the problem with stagnation is probably because xbox-360 has dilluted consumer expectations for gaming--which has resulted in games in which practically the entire library of new GPU's will run in 1080p at acceptable framerates. that kind of versitility didn't even exist at 1024x768 resolutions 10 years ago. the ti4600 i had back then was the ONLY card which even had a prayer of running at 1600x1200. so rather than software improving (and keeping hardware choking on rendering), we've plateaued & hardware has caught up big-time. that's also why 10 years ago, mobile gaming left a LOT to be desired. today, (at 1080p) you can't tell the difference in many cases.

    here's to hoping that my 15" form-factor laptop experience will soon offer 4MP gaming at a reliable 60fps. it's been long overdue. i'm still baffled by the reverse-progress in laptop displays. you don't see people rejecting 90's cars in order to drive 80's cars. doesn't make sense why we'd do the same with laptops.

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