The Consumer Electronics Show happens every January in Vegas and it's basically where the world's leading gadget manufacturers go to show off all the shiny new products people desperately want but can't afford. Buzzwords like 4K, UltraHD and OLED swarm from the event like locusts, dominating all the tech blogs and business-show coverage for the next week or so, but what's it all mean, realistically, for the average movie geek?
If there's any single takeaway from CES 2013 it's that companies are putting physical media in their rearview and turning the bulk of their attention to the almighty cloud that is media streaming. Sure, Blu-rays aren't going away anytime soon - in fact, Sony just announced a new BD player that'll yell at you about your body-fat index in between movie marathons thanks to some health and fitness apps - but manufacturers and content providers alike are banking on consumers in turn spend their increasingly small entertainment budgets on content they don't physically own. And they're using hardware as the gateway drug.
Forget all the 4K and UltraHD talk for now (though we'll come back to that), and just keep in mind that no matter what resolution your new TV is or whether or not it's a plasma, curved OLED or a freaking laser projector, you'll actually have to go out of your way to find one that doesn't have a streaming service built in. They're called Smart TVs, and they all have apps that will let you access Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Vudu and pretty much any streaming service under the digital sun. And if subscription services aren't your thing, manufacturers and studios will soon be bundling individual streaming titles with their hardware as a sort of sampler pack.
The details of that last bit are still nebulous, but it was revealed at CES that the digital backup/streaming service UltraViolet will be teaming with leading TV and Blu-ray player manufacturers to include five to 10 digital titles with a hardware purchase. All of the major movie studios are apparently onboard, which means that if you buy a new BD player in the second half of the year, it might come with a handful of free movies.
Now as for all of the new TV buzzwords, the dominating one there is 4K. We've already explained the difference between 4K and 1080p resolutions before and nothing has changed since then. In fact, there's still no way to actually purchase physical 4K content (and don't hold your breath for it, either), which means companies are having to get creative with how they're actually going to give you 4K content to watch on your absurdly expensive TV. For example, Sony's 4K TVs will come with a loaned server that includes a handful of their own movies that are mastered in 4K (so now you can watch That's My Boy in the highest resolution possible from your very own living room!), but unfortunately other TV manufacturers don't have the benefit of also owning a movie studio, so they're left selling you a 4K panel all by its lonesome.
How will you watch movies in 4K on your brand new, disgustingly expensive TV, then? Well, now we're back to streaming. Cloud content providers are beginning to stockpile 4K content and come up with new ways of beaming it straight into your TV. Netflix, for example, has just announced Netflix SuperHD and 3D streaming options. But don't get too excited yet, because chances are that even if you wanted to make use of the streaming service, you won't be able to. Your ISP determines the availability of this higher bit rate Netflix streaming, and as of right now the only providers in the country onboard are Cablevision and Google Fiber.
So, in a nutshell, CES 2013 is all about showing off hardware that can make movies absolutely gorgeous in your living room, you just can't actually keep those movies in your living room. They'll all be stored somewhere else. Welcome to the future, where companies would rather you either rent something or just store everything you own at their house. Kind of a gloomy vision for collectors,eh?
Oh, and for a really awkward presentation from CES, check out Qualcomm's desperate attempt to mash together pop culture and semiconductors. Skip to 30 minutes for an appearance from Guillermo del Toro, who is promoting both Pacific Rim and tablet computers at the same time.