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Sunday, 4 January 2015

Consumer Electronics Show opens Tuesday in Las Vegas........

People try out the Sony Smart Eyeglass prototypes at last year’s International Consumer Electronics Show. Photo: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press / AP
Ultra-high-definition television sets that don’t have much content available. Wireless chargers that don’t work together because they’re built on competing industry standards. Wearable devices that few people have shown interest in buying.
Technology companies will once again be using the Consumer Electronics Show that starts Tuesday to unveil must-have new gadgets. The odds are stacked against them.
CES, the world’s largest trade show, is far from a hit-making machine. While the technology show is a leading indicator of trends and attracted 160,000 people last year, many products introduced at the event take years to make their way into living rooms — if they get there at all. The last time the event had a true stand-alone sensation was when Microsoft unveiled the Xbox game console in 2001.
“It seems that every year there’s a central theme to the technology introduced, and a lot of those have just whiffed,” saidJordan Selburn, an analyst for market researcher IHS.
This year, CES will be packed with splashy gadgets. Drones are being widely featured, as are connected cars and a range of smart-home technology designed to make everyday life more convenient. Quantum-dot televisions, which promise better color and lower electricity use in giant screens, will also be displayed.
That’s attracting crowds. Attendance at the event last year reached a record 160,498, up 15 percent from 140,000 in 2011, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. The number of exhibitors totaled 52,326 last year, rising from 51,236 in 2011. The group, which runs the event, declined to comment on the number of exhibitors registered for this year’s show or the number of people expected to attend.
“It’s so big that if you skip, it’s 'Why aren’t you going?’” said Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner. “A lot of these companies have to be there whether they want to or not.”
Yet the show’s history is littered with products that have flopped or been slow to take off. While high-definition TV made its debut at CES in 1998, it took seven years before 10 percent of the market used it. More than five years after 3-D HD televisions arrived at CES, few people are watching. Last year, one of the more memorable parts of the show wasn’t a product, but the moment when director Michael Bay cut short a presentation about Samsung TVs after a teleprompter failure.
“CES’ relevance grows as technology is now woven into our daily lives, and is helping to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, from health and transportation to agriculture and beyond,” said Karen Chupka, vice president of business strategy for the Consumer Electronics Association.
This year, companies including Sony and LG are renewing their drive to convert everyone to ultra-high-definition television, or 4K. Many of them will show off the organic light-emitting diode technology that promises even thinner TV sets capable of producing a more vivid picture, according to Selburn.
But Selburn said he’s seen little evidence that media companies and content distributors have firm plans to provide movies and TV programs on 4K-resolution discs. What’s more, there’s debate as to whether 4K screens offer many benefits. Viewed up close in stores, a giant 4K screen will look better than current high-def sets. At normal viewing ranges, some analysts have argued, human eyes aren’t capable of telling the difference.
This year’s Las Vegas show will also feature a fight over wireless-charging technology that threatens the introduction of new devices. Worse than the home video battle, where VHS duked it out with Betamax in the 1970s, wireless charging already has three rival groups — the Wireless Power Consortium, the Power Matters Alliance and the Alliance for Wireless Power — trying to make their version the industry standard.
“The rate of growth is being hampered by the standards battle,” said John Perzow, vice president of market development for the Wireless Power Consortium.
Even without the conflict, 2015 probably won’t be the year of wireless charging, according to Sujata Neidig, a marketing manager at Freescale Semiconductor. She said her company’s chips are going into wireless-charging systems that won’t make it into consumer hands until at least the second half of 2015.
Some companies have scaled back their participation in CES. Microsoft no longer does the eve-of-the-show keynote presentation or a giant booth to show off products. It now rents more than 20,000 square feet to use for invited customers and partners.
“CES brings together many of our important partners and customers, and so, as we do every year, we are taking advantage of this natural opportunity to connect,” said Microsoft spokesman Tony Imperati.
Other companies don’t bother showing up. Apple, which had a flop with the Pippin game machine at the 1996 show, doesn’t exhibit or have speakers at the event. The operator of the fourth-largest U.S. electronics retail chain sent just four buyers last year.
Apple’s absence and the rise of Mobile World Congress, a mobile-technology conference that drew 85,916 people to Barcelona last year, takes away some of the focus of the biggest consumer device — the smartphone — from Las Vegas.
“You’re missing a big chunk of what’s going on,” Selburn said. “That chunk doesn’t get addressed at CES.”