CES 2014 has come and gone, or in process of being gone with the breakdown of the many exhibits…..the attendance made even the Las Vegas Convention Center seem almost too small! The weather on the East Coast and Midwest really played havoc with many, we understand that many hotel rooms ended up empty, but sure did not seem like it! It is always a madhouse, but also good to catch up with so many friends.

Cynthia Johnson, Managing Editor, SECRETS and Erin Phillips of Paradigm, Inc.

Take a look at all of the coverage from the SECRETS Team, reporting from LVCC, Venetian and some from THE Show. Final Thoughts from the Team……

Robert Kozel……..

Despite the weather delays, this year’s CES had another enormous crowd of well over 150,000 people. From a video perspective, 4K UHD televisions were on display from every manufacturer. While available 4K content is still a big issue, the messaging was that native 4K content is on the way and that your current content will look great on a 4K television. The other big theme was curved displays. The marketing message was that the curved display creates a more immersive viewing experience. If you don’t like the curved displays, then some of the televisions allowed you to curve or straighten the display at the touch of a button. I don’t think the average consumer is asking for a curved television, but market demand will surely dictate whether this is a feature that has staying power.

While last year’s OLED televisions easily stole the show, this year’s OLED televisions were mixed in among the huge crowd of 4K UHD televisions. While the OLED televisions were stunning, apparently there are still manufacturing challenges, so it may be a few more years before we see OLED televisions everywhere. While you could still find gorgeous HD televisions on the floor, they definitely took a back seat to the 4K UHD models. The pricing of the 4K UHD televisions will ultimately be the deciding factor, but 4K UHD televisions look like they are here to stay.

On the audio side of things, the support for high resolution audio was a major theme. The DSD format had a major resurgence with many companies including support for DSD and even DSD-upsampling in their media servers and DACs. Support for the DSD format was also making its way into portable music players like those from Astell & Kern and Sony. Personal audio was still a major theme at the show with many companies showing premium headphone and headphone amp solutions which can be paired with a laptop or personal media player. I was also surprised at the amount of coverage given to vinyl at the show. Many of the manufacturers were indicating that vinyl was being embraced by a younger generation that appreciates how vinyl connects them to the music. Hopefully that trend continues for a long time to come.

Chris Heinonen…..

Coming into CES I wasn’t sure what to expect in a couple areas. I was certain we would see 4K everywhere, but beyond that was a mystery. Would there be a 4K-disc format? What about plasma from other companies now that Panasonic dropped out? What kind of 4K content is going to be available for people to watch?

My first stop of the show, at Vizio, is likely my favorite of the show. They moved all their TVs to rear-array LED backlights that offer better performance than edge lighting. Most people shied away from this to save costs and make their displays thinner so this is a good change. Extending it all the way down to their entry-level E series means everyone can get a nice display now.

Far more impressive is their Dolby Vision Reference display. Offering 384 zones of lighting control and a larger color gamut with more dynamic highlights, it is the most impressive thing I saw at the show. Will it ship this year? Who knows. Can we afford it? No idea. What content is there going to be for that expanded gamut? Dolby and others have to work that out still. However, if this does come out, it’s going to be great.

4K is everywhere, but beyond that I’m not sure what it will be during 2014. All the displays are running custom demo loops on a show floor so it’s really impossible to get an idea of what they will perform like at home. We also are going to have to get our content from Netflix or Amazon via streaming this year. Even if Netflix delivers on that 15 megabit/second promised bit rate, which is 1/3rd the data per-pixel that Blu-ray offers. That even accounts for the improved HEVC and VP9 codecs that this content will use compared to H.264 and VC1.

Sony offers their studio content in a local media server with their displays, but that is the only physical 4K media available today. To get 4K with the same quality as Blu-ray offers now it might be another year or two, if ever. Everyone is dedicated to streaming but that is going to require better Internet bandwidth for everyone. Most of us have issues streaming 1080p Netflix at night now, and 4K is not going to help that.

Curved screens are also everywhere. I’m not sure how long this trend is going to continue, and I think it speaks more to the lack of picture quality improvements than anything. In the past five years we’ve seen rear array LEDs, edge lit LEDs, 4K, 3D and more features come out. With OLED still stuck at high prices, curved screens seem like a solution to not having features than to an actual problem.

When it comes to Blu-ray, players, they are a commodity device to most manufacturers now. No one mentioned them in their press releases, and only some of the vendors even had them out on display at the show. I’ll still test them all to see which is the best, but I doubt we will see large improvements over what we saw this past year.

I did hear some very nice speakers at the show. The quality of speakers below $5,000 keeps improving as companies like GoldenEar, SVS, Definitive Technology and Thiel release new models. A $5,000 pair is still very expensive to most people, but if feels like the price to performance ratio is increasing faster here than anywhere else.

Everyone at the Venetian seemed to use vinyl or a MacBook Pro for their music. I also noticed far more people moving to more modern tracks than the usual Diana Krall and standard demo tracks. I heard Daft Punk, Lorde, M83, and more pumping from rooms as I walked by. It is a nice change to hear music I actually listen to when hearing these speakers and makes trying to evaluate them in a room easier.

Overall CES 2014 left me a bit underwhelmed. 4K is better than last year, thanks to HDMI 2.0, but still lacking really good content sources. OLED is still too expensive, and the hot trend of curves doesn’t really help picture quality I feel. More people offering rear array LEDs is a great thing, and hopefully that’s a trend that continues over the year.

Stephen Hornbrook……..

If I am being honest, then I have to say that CES2014 was quite disappointing for me. With the exception of a few items, a list of those below, and seeing friends along with meeting new ones, there just wasn’t much to get excited about.  I got a chance to hear Golden Ear’s new Triton One speaker, and walked away wanting a pair of my own.  Piano on them sounded lively and tangible. I got a quick listen to the Revel F206 speakers and hopefully will be reviewing the larger F208’s real soon.

A quick rant about CES. There are just too many people and it is so chaotic that it is hard to enjoy CES.  I felt like there were too many people at the Convention Center that shouldn’t have been there. People just coming for fun to check out what’s new.  At one point I ran across two dudes carrying 20 oz Bud Lights and slobbering over an OLED panel. The show is critical for many businesses; let those that are there for work do their jobs easily and more efficiently.  But enough about the organization of the show, here is a quick list of the top things I saw at CES 2014.

New planar magnetic headphones from both HiFiMAN and OPPO.  I couldn’t be more excited about both of these.  They are doing some great things with design not only to improve sound performance, but also comfort.  I cannot stress how comfortable the new design is from HiFiMAN. Just amazing!  As for the first entry into the market by OPPO, all I can say is…..WOW!!!! They are going to be a hot seller.

More OLED panels.  I can’t say that they will be in your living room any time soon (my personal guess is 3-5 more years), but the fact that the shear amount of OLED panels at the show has increased by a lot is a great sign.  I hope they don’t force the curved design down our throats as it doesn’t add anything to the experience unless you are sitting very close or the screen size is very large.

Dolby Vision. Although I only got a less than optimal demo from Sharp’s booth, I take Chris Heinonen’s word for how impressive Vizio’s setup looked.  I applaud them for adding more to the viewing experience with higher dynamic range and larger color gamut. Resolution isn’t everything! It’s the same as the megapixel race in digital cameras. If you attach a terrible lens to a high megapixel camera, you won’t get as good of a photo as you would with a well-built lens and less pixels.  I really hope 4K brings more to the picture than just resolution and it is up to the big display companies to make that happen. Unfortunately they seem to be in too much of a hurry to sell more TV’s than in taking the right step towards 4K.

Piero Gabucci…..

Let’s first establish that digital audio is here in a big way as most 80% of the demonstrations came from laptops as source material. I’d say I heard maybe one or two rooms that used CD’s and the rest at least had turntables playing. The key is how well the audiophile world has accepted and embraced the future of digital audio. This was especially clear listening to Mark Levinson of Daniel Hertz demonstrate his Mac-only based Master Class audio playback software. It features EQ and tonal balancing of digital music and sounded superb.

Every audio manufacturer is rushing to make or improve their version of DAC’s or CD transports, like the Rega player. DAC’s are now in every shape, size and price point and now becoming portable for headphones like Chord Hugo.

In speakers I can see the future of wireless technology, WiSA technology is showing up in more manufacturers such as Paradigm, Martin Logan and Klipsch. There seems to be a small war between Airplay enabled devices and Bluetooth, the latter may be winning based on my informal discussions at the show.

I expect to see more Blue-ray material as well, besides the current popular method of acquiring high-res files, downloads.

Until next year at CES 2015…..The SECRETS Team

View our main CES 2014 Report