"What a long strange trip it's been." Been singing that line lots the last few weeks, as I reflect on the end of a crazy-long, 46-year, fun-filled Philly journalism career. And contemplate one last thwack at the ever-morphing worlds of consumer tech and entertainment I've covered, as encapsulated by the giant CES trade show taking over Las Vegas in early January.
Gary Shapiro, the CES mastermind and Consumer Technology Association president/CEO, and I first started going to the trade convention – then known as the International Consumer Electronic Show – in 1982. We both cherish the same early memory of "running to a booth selling compact discs" – then a new thing and an opening salvo for digitally coded mass media and gadgets. Stuff that's revolutionized the quality and accessibility of entertainment and communications, opening the floodgates to today's deluge of accessible, on-demand digital media.
At this point, there's hardly an enterprise on Earth "that doesn't define itself as a digital technology company," mused Shapiro recently. Or that dares ignore what's going down at CES. Thus explains the show's ever-growing (2.65 million square feet plus) footprint, huge (175K) attendance, and diversifying nature, "a necessity to keep people coming back, to experience something new," Shapiro said.
Then there's the growing interest in smart cities — automated tracking and management schemes vital "when half the world's population will soon be living in crowded urban settings," said Shapiro. (CES feels almost as claustrophobic the first few days.)
To help steer that smart-cities plan, we'll need 5G wireless technology, a soon-to-arrive (2020) communications platform far more robust than today's 4G/LTE mobile service. (Think a two-hour Guardians of the Galaxy movie downloading in 3.5 seconds.)
"Verizon is already talking about using 5G as an internet service provider in towns where it doesn't already have FiOS" fiber optic cable networks, noted Shapiro. 5G could also be the medium by which smart cars communicate with each other to achieve the safe, self-driving promise "great for accident avoidance and for older people to stay mobile."
And 5G could prove a big help in remote health care – including long-distance, robotic-aided surgery.
While the trade show's poster boy "rarely has time to get over to our C Space show at the Aria" hotel, that's the CES ground zero for cutting-edge entertainment developers and marketers gleefully disrupting the status quo, pushing customized choices in streaming audio, video, social media, and advertising.
(Got to admit I sometimes long for the simpler days when we all had a few shows, stars, and communications outlets in common. And if you wanted to listen to a cool, free-form radio show on a Saturday night, it had to be mine on WMMR.)
Another hot new topic at CES 2018 is eSports – the concept of watching, cheering (and sometimes participating), as pro teams play video games on a global scale, increasingly in a "smart arena" setting. Bizarro, huh? But so promising it's helped spark a CES Sports Tech Zone.
While the idea of virtually touring CES wearing VR glasses is still a few years away from reality, I have colleagues who watch the hottest media-day presentations as video streams on their computers. And so can you, even here in Philly. Just by Googling companies like Samsung or Panasonic along with CES 2018 to find the URL. The LG session that always kicks off the day (11 to 11:45 a.m. Philadelphia time Jan. 8) will be streaming live at LG.com. The company keeps pushing the envelope with "smart" appliances, including personal robots (another burgeoning CES story) and much more in the voice-activation space.
Toyota's grand CES preview/commercial follows at noon our time, likely with updates on U.S. R&D projects, alternative-fuel vehicles, and other "advanced mobility" finessing, following up on last year's artificial intelligence-imbued Concept-i ride.
No appliance maker has done more to reinvent itself than Panasonic, stepping out with "Business to Business" and smart city initiatives, including off-the-grid homes relying on storage batteries developed with Tesla. They'll share news at 1 p.m., likely at Panasonic.com.
Samsung's news conference is the hottest ticket at CES, this year touting 8K TV, we hear. While 8K content is nil, the superscreen should be great for watching four HD sporting events simultaneously in split-screen fashion. Kickoff for that game is 5 p.m. our time.
Sony closes the Jan. 8 media day at 8 p.m. We hear they're going to raise "aahs" with a revamped robotic dog called Aibo, now so loaded with artificial intelligence it comes when only you call and demands monthly feeding of software updates for a price.