Five Trends from CES 2014 That Will Impact Streaming Media

As always, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week gave us a look ahead at many exciting new products. While Carlos Perez and I were there, we explored the show floor to find innovative technologies that could impact streaming media this year. From all that we saw, five technology trends stood out to us as ones that will make it easier to capture, deliver, or experience streaming media in 2014.

1. Ultra HD
Ultra High Definition seemed like the biggest theme at the show. Also known as Ultra HD, UHD, and 4K, you may remember that 4K prototypes were also all the buzz at last year’s CES, packing in four times as many pixels per screen as 1080p. This year, however, most of the TV manufacturers (e.g., LG, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sony, Samsung) plan to roll out many 4K models, which should help drive prices down. With companies such as Vizio now rolling out new model lines without 3D support, more engineering and marketing focus for 2014 will be invested to ensure that 4K is the next big thing driving new TV sales.

Where will the content come from? Feature-length 4K content doesn’t fit on a Blu-ray disc, so video streaming will be a key part of the answer. In a boon for 4K adoption, Netflix, YouTube, Comcast, Amazon, and M-GO all announced they will be rolling out streaming of 4K content this year, helping to drive demand for 4K-capable Smart TVs…

2. Smart TVs
Arguably one of the other most popular topics at CES was Smart TVs. Many of the 4K televisions on display were also Internet-connected Smart TVs, with built-in user interfaces and streaming applications. Such apps will let you watch the previously-mentioned 4K content from YouTube, Netflix, and others.

Speaking of Smart TV apps, Dish announced that consumers will soon be able to watch content throughout the home without a second set-top box by simply running their Virtual Joey app on Smart TVs and game consoles from select manufacturers. In a slightly different twist on eliminating set-top boxes, Roku announced that TV manufacturers will soon be able to build a Roku TV from a reference design they’ve created. Manufacturing partners will focus on building great hardware, while Roku will provide a more intuitive Smart TV user interface and 1,200 channels of content.

22% of televisions sold for the year ending November, 2013, were Internet-connected TVs. With Smart TVs set to have higher availability, more content choices, and lower prices in 2014, expect that number to increase significantly.

3. New Video Compression
Having sufficient bandwidth to the home or portable device is still a major challenge to delivering video content at the highest possible quality, and will become even more challenging if you want to stream to a 4K screen. Newer video compression technologies (codecs) called HEVC (an industry standard, also known as High Efficiency Video Coding or H.265) and VP9 (a royalty-free Google technology) can help. Both promise to reduce the bandwidth required to stream video content by 50% as compared to the H.264 and VP8 codecs, making delivery of 4K content more viable. Perhaps more importantly, both codecs will also provide existing devices with the ability to play back existing content at higher quality over lower-bandwidth connections.

Google commented on hardware manufacturer support for VP9 a few days before CES, and there were a host of HEVC product announcements and demos during CES. Expect to see HEVC- and VP9-capable TVs from most major manufacturers this year, and several major chipset vendors promised HEVC and VP9 hardware decoding for set-top boxes. Harmonic and Elemental each demonstrated HEVC encoding products. Wowza Media Server was part of CES too, transcoding content to HEVC and streaming it to Nexus 7 tablets in demos of DivX Live Streaming with HEVC over MPEG-DASH.

4. Mobile Surround Sound
There was quite a bit of focus on Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled wireless speaker systems at CES this year. However, the more interesting technology for us was mobile surround sound, allowing you to have surround sound wherever you take your mobile phone or tablet.

One example of this was DTS Headphone:X. While this content mixing technology was first shown at CES 2013, it’s now available commercially, and you can create a personalized listening profile. The 11.1 surround sound spatial sense you can get with this technology, even using inexpensive stereo headphones, is amazing.

Similarly, the Cingo technology from Fraunhofer IIS can also turn 2-channel portable devices into surround sound experiences. In a telephone booth-sized acoustic room labeled “the worlds’s smallest surround sound theater,” a Nexus 10 tablet did such a compelling job of simulating a multi-channel audio experience that I looked over my shoulder trying to find the non-existent rear speakers.

5. Drones
Small remote-controlled drone copters aren’t new to CES, but they keep getting better. Just as live streaming of video from mobile phones is changing our ability to experience live events where there isn’t a camera crew on hand, live streaming from drones may make real-time aerial news coverage accessible to many more broadcast journalists.

For folks doing serious video work, the high-end DJI S1000 octocopter and the Yuneec FlyingEyes HX3 hexcopter are coming soon and will be able to carry professional cameras aloft under their rotors. Can’t afford a helicopter for local news coverage? One of these might be the option for you. For the hobbyist or high school sports videographer on a budget, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter is a more affordable choice, allowing you to see and record a live first-person-view video stream for later on-demand delivery.

That’s our CES 2014 list. Which of these resonate with you? What other technologies shown at CES do you think will make an impact on streaming this year? Leave a comment to let us know your thoughts…

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