CES 2020 marked the fifth year in a row that I had the opportunity to attend North America’s largest trade show and one of the most influential consumer technology shows on the planet. The technology world — or at least a large chunk of it, anyway — descends upon Las Vegas in early January each year to hear the latest product pitches and see some seriously futuristic technology demoed right in front of their eyes. And each year, as advancements in artificial intelligence, cloud computing and more are introduced, the technology itself gets seemingly more and more out-of-this-world. And CES 2020 was no different.
But when it comes to consumer technology, the success of any of the products you see on the show floor at CES boils down to one thing that’s right there in the name of this industry: the consumer.
It’s brilliant to see a brand like Charmin go viral at CES 2020 for their toilet paper delivery robot; Sony shocked the world by bringing a full-fledged vehicle out on stage; and the foldable phone craze has evolved into a more appropriate niche with foldable laptops — but why should the consumer care about these or any of the thousands of other new products displayed during the show? And better yet, what are tech companies doing to simplify these products and help consumers understand how they’ll improve their daily lives?
That last point is something I’ve been craving to see at CES, particularly as it relates to two of the more-recently introduced technologies: 5G and 8K. Both 5G and 8K have dominated the last two CES events with new phones and new TVs touting their respective benefits. But in the most consumer-tech way possible, companies continue to throw buzzword after buzzword onto their packaging and promotional materials without actually doing anything to educate the consumer on these technologies.
As such, the onus falls inevitably on the retailer to bridge that gap between the product and the promise that it offers. So with 5G and 8K, here are some of the key points retailers should be aware of — and perhaps you already are.
It’s about far more than phones with this next generation of telecommunications technology. Sure, CES 2020 saw a number of new 5G phone introductions, and consumers are going to more immediately realize the incredible boost in speed with 5G wireless communications. But there’s much more to it than instantaneous video streaming.
The 5G network will enable low-latency communication between IoT devices, which will have possibly the most dramatic impact on the transportation industry. Autonomous driving systems are rooted on things like sensors that can communicate with cloud computing systems and other sensors within the car and — more importantly — with other vehicles. Reducing the time it takes for that signal to turn into a physical action, like braking when the car recognizes a pedestrian or another car is about to impede its path, is critical. And 5G is going to create an environment where near-instantaneous communication between those sensors and vehicles is possible.
In a similar vein, 5G will make the smart home a more functional reality. Perhaps one of the biggest drags on today’s smart home consumer is a lack of bandwidth with the number of devices trying to tap into the in-home WiFi network. According to a recent survey from Deloitte, U.S. households have an average of 11 connected devices. 5G is only going to push that number even higher as it will increase bandwidth and the reliability of the connection while reducing the strain on consumers’ network.
All of this comes with a caveat, though. Consumers, and telecommunications companies for that matter, are faced with a decision of two types of 5G network connections. If you haven’t already, you’ll start to hear about the difference between millimeter-wave 5G, and sub-6GHz. Simplified, the difference between the two is all about 5G spectrum and the frequency level its delivered at. mmWave is a much higher frequency, which means it’s a “truer” 5G experience. A higher frequency means the fastest speeds and lowest latency. However, as a higher-frequency connection, mmWave needs an unobstructed pathway in order to deliver reliable signals. It struggles, for instance, to travel through tinted windows let alone concrete walls of an office building, which is why early network reviews in the first 5G cities were so bad. Sub-6 GHz, on the other hand, offers broader 5G coverage, though the tradeoff here is not quite as fast 5G speeds and less-efficient latency.
That very conundrum is part of the reason the 5G rollout has been, and will continue to be, so slow. Cities are trying to figure out what works best for them, and in either instance, there’s going to need to be a major investment made for new 5G nodes and towers — the 4G ones can’t simply be upgraded and on their own won’t provide enough coverage.
During this past December’s Snapdragon Summit, Qualcomm suggested that “Real 5G” is some combination of sub-6 and mmWave on a global scale. What that looks like, and how quickly it comes together is very much up in the air.
The technology industry loves to advance and push itself forward at breakneck speeds, and there’s no better current example of that than the rollout of 8K TVs. Consumers continue to struggle to find native 4K content outside of the major streaming services and big-time sporting events. Local news broadcasts aren’t done in 4K, while network shows haven’t updated their studios with 4K ready cameras — and don’t get me started on upscaling old Seinfeld and Friends reruns.
Still, here we are coming off of CES 2020 and the number of 8K sets introduced at the show continues to rise.
The push to 8K likely has something to do with the quickly-approaching decline of ASPs for 4K OLED models. But the industry will also point to the growing trend of larger-screen models. The introduction of 8K will bring about stunningly beautiful images that can be displayed on 98-inch or larger TVs without losing any of its clarity. At 33 million pixels, 8K TVs quite literally start to look like actual windows into another world. They have this sort of 3D effect without being 3D TVs — which is probably a good thing considering how that trend faired.
However, similar to the split in 5G technologies, 8K is experiencing something of an internal split as well. In this case, though, it centers around two different standards of certifying an 8K TV. CES 2020 saw LG introduce a number of 8K TVs with the label “Real 8K” on them, which seemed to be a jab at a rival company’s 8K set. LG TVs follow the Consumer Technology Association’s 8K UHD Display Definition, which was introduced last fall. Samsung, by comparison, recently announced a partnership with the 8K Association to launch its own certification program.
What can’t be disputed here — and what both companies agree on — is the fact that 8K TVs feature a resolution of 7,680 horizontal pixels by 4,320 vertical pixels (7,680 x 4,320 = ~33million). The disparity here revolves around how exactly those pixels are measured and the use of something called Contrast Modulation. According to a brilliant breakdown on AVForums, Contrast Modulation is used to define “how separate and distinct” pixels appear to be to the eye. It measures the ability of a display to distinguish a pattern of alternating, one-pixel-wide white and black lines. The higher the percentage, the clearer the images and text will appear. CTA employs Contrast Modulation in its certification process. The 8K Association does not.
Despite the disputed methods of certification, 8K TVs did impress on the show floor at CES, particularly when native 8K content was readily available. In instances where it wasn’t — which would be the case in homes for at least a few years — the upscaling of content was far more successful than when we saw brands try to upscale 1080p to 4K. The jump here is exponentially better, which could provide retailers a solid sales floor pitch to customers looking for the best-possible picture quality.
The long and short of it is this: The technology on display at CES 2020 was wildly exciting, and it’s crazy to see just how close we are to seeing many of these products in the real world. But as tech brands continue to put their best marketing hats on, it gives the retailer an incredible opportunity to build rapport with the end consumer. Get yourself educated on the ins and outs of things like 5G and 8K and then impart that knowledge on your customer. Give them the basics, help them understand why and how these things can improve their lives and become their trusted source for all things tech.