Despite having first launched almost 50 years ago, CES has once again outdone itself in terms of scale and the number of exciting tech products that were teased at the show for launch later this year.
CE Pro Europe tracked down over 200 new products that were claiming to either revolutionise the smart home industry or were simply new pieces of AV kit that offered better picture quality, more detailed sound or some other improvement over the existing equipment installers deal with day in day out.
CES has never been a show specifically for the custom installation industry, both CEDIA and ISE are designed for that, but if there was one thing to take away from this year’s event it’s that the smart home is finally arriving.
That should bode well for the custom installation industry, but despite a consumer-awareness push from the likes of CEDIA, it seems increasingly the smart home of the future is becoming even more friendly to those who would rather pop into Currys than call up their local installer.
At the heart of the big consumer smart home push was Amazon’s plucky voice assistant, Alexa. Despite a noisy show floor, Alexa was the one voice that rose above it all – as it was seemingly on every new gadget that launched at the show.
Alexa integration was a key trend of 2016, but 2017 is taking that to a whole new level. While popular automation brands such as Control4 and Crestron have already launched an Alexa skill to allow users to control their smart homes, big name brands such as LG and Lenovo were beginning to get in on the action.
Lenovo was first out the gate with a new Amazon Echo clone dubbed Smart Assistant. Launched a whole two days before CES 2017 even began, Smart Assistant is almost a direct descendant from the Echo. It features a familiar cylindrical design and the Alexa AI, although its key stand-out feature was the existence of a Harman Kardon variant. Lenovo claims that this speaker is for those who want the Alexa assistant but also value a better sounding speaker, although it was hard to justify the additional spend considering the Echo Dot exists. With the Echo Dot audiophiles don’t need to rely on Alexa integration inside the speaker, as they can simply just connect the Dot to their favourite sound system – which is bound to sound better than Lenovo’s Smart Assistant.
It wasn’t just Lenovo that released an Amazon Echo clone either, Mattel had its own Alexa-based smart speaker named Aristotle. Unlike the Lenovo Smart Assistant, which is a direct clone of the Amazon Echo, Aristotle has been specifically designed for use with children. In fact, it’s not even children that can walk and talk that Mattel has in mind – targeting parents who want a smart speaker that also acts as a baby monitor. With Aristotle parents are able to ask the standard Alexa questions, order more nappies and even soothe a baby back to sleep. While this smart assistant has been designed with Alexa functionality, using the ‘Aristotle’ wake word will summon a completely different voice assistant; one specifically designed for children. This smart assistant is capable of a number of things, including hosting sing-alongs, teaching kids their ABC and 1-2-3s and even requiring that the person interacting says ‘please’ in order to get a response.
Smart speakers may have been all the rage but Alexa also found her way into an LG smart fridge, vehicles manufactured by Ford, and even a cute little robot that can control robot vacuums, smart lighting and more.
Google, Apple Bring Their Smarts
It wasn’t just Alexa that was spreading her AI smarts to a huge plethora of devices, even Google Assistant made an appearance at CES. Despite still being very much in its infancy, the Google Assistant has already received the backing of Hyundai, Nvidia, and Chrysler. Apple’s HomeKit was also rather prevalent on the show floor. Yale became the first manufacturer to offer a retro-fitted solution for users who want HomeKit on their smart locks, while Leviton’s Decora light switches also gained support.
In another bit of good news, August revealed its first mortice lock-compatible smart lock. Up until now the company has satisfied the US market with support for simple dead bolts, but with a mortice lock there is now nothing standing in the way of August’s UK debut. The smart lock manufacturer stopped short of confirming any upcoming launch plans, however.
With all these new smart home products launching in Las Vegas, one manufacturer came up with a solution to ensure they all remain secure. By far one of the most attractive-looking devices launched at CES 2017 was Symantec’s Norton Core, which was specifically engineered by the cyber security firm to keep IoT devices and a user’s entire Wi-Fi network secure, while simultaneously becoming a part of the furniture.
It wasn’t just the smart home that received a whole lot of attention at CES 2017 – there were also a number of AV launches that once again made Las Vegas the place to be to see the latest and greatest advancements in both picture and sound quality.
2017 Is OLED’s Year
Three manufacturers officially launched new OLED TVs over in Vegas, with LG, Sony and Panasonic all going head-to-head.
LG has long been the largest flag-flier of OLED technology and this year it continued to showcase further advancements it has made. The highlight from its announcements had to be the LG Signature OLED TV W, which is the first TV to boast support for both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision.
Year-in-year out TVs get thinner and thinner at CES, but 2017 took that to a whole other level. The LG Signature OLED TV W measured just 2.57mm thick and is so light that it has to be wall mounted using a magnetic strip. LG has managed to get the thickness down to the width of a coin thanks to its decision to move all of the TV’s internals to a separate soundbar, which ships with the TV. It’s this soundbar that houses an integrated Dolby Atmos sound system, alongside all the traditional ports users would typically find on the back of the TV.
It wasn’t just LG that stunned with its OLED TVs this year, however. Sony’s first foray into OLED technology is arguably even more impressive, especially considering it’s the manufacturers first stab at the technology. While Sony’s efforts weren’t quite as thin as LG’s, the Sony XBR-A1E Bravia 4K TV boasts a whole load of technology – including Dolby Vision, the company’s latest 4K HDR processor and a speaker system which is integrated into the back of the TV.
Panasonic’s OLEDs were a little less ground-breaking, although it promised brighter images and a clearer picture than some of its competitors. The Japanese giant also claims that its new EZ1002 is the world’s first HDR-capable, Ultra HD OLED TV, which also supports professional grade image processing.
4K Video, Audio and Beyond
Elsewhere in the world of AV there were a raft of new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players, Sony, Samsung and LG all had new models. There were also a few new high-end projectors launched in Vegas. Sony and Hisense went head-to-head in the 4K ultra-short throw category, while Wolf Cinema’s latest model boasts laser projection, 4K resolution and a whole host of other features.
On the soundbar front, it seemed to all be about Dolby Atmos and subwoofer integration. As far as Samsung is concerned, Dolby Atmos is less important than having an all-in-one soundbar, while LG was a little less convinced, bringing Dolby Atmos to its new SJ9 soundbar. Sony followed LG’s lead, also bringing Dolby Atmos to its offering at CES 2017.
Products have always been a key component of CES, but there were a few new technologies and formats that consumers should start seeing in devices in the future. These include the likes of Dirac’s Dynamic 3D Audio – which promises to revolutionise VR audio – ZigBee Alliance’s new dotdot universal IoT language, and even a brand new HDMI 2.1 specification that will pave the way for 8K TVs.
Although 2017 may have only just begun, if CES is anything to go by, this year may be a good one for the smart home and AV industry. Expect even more Alexa-compatible devices to launch in the coming months, while the prevalence of consumer-grade smart home tech should help raise the awareness of the custom installation industry.