CES 2014 kicked off this week in Las Vegas, and the tech world is watching the world's top companies closely to get a glimpse into the future of consumer electronics. It's also a chaotic event filled with silly, speculative, and promising tech.
Let's filter out the noise and take a look at three important trends that tech lovers should be aware of.
Curved Ultra HDTVs are in, 3D TVs and media streamers are out
For home theater fans, Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) is betting heavily that curved Ultra HDTVs are the future.
Samsung introduced a show-stopping 105-inch curved Ultra HD display, and announced plans to release 55-inch, 65-inch, and 78-inch models as well.
These massive curved displays boast four times the resolution of current HDTVs, and are designed to emulate a 3D IMAX-like experience without the need for 3D glasses.
For non-curved Ultra HDTVs, Samsung is offering new sizes from 50 inches all the way up to 110 inches. Comcast, Netflix, and Amazon have already signed on to distribute Ultra HD content.
Samsung's new TVs are also smarter than before, thanks to the new Smart Hub interface. The Smart Hub allows users to split the massive screens into up to four quadrants, so they can perform other tasks, like web browsing, in another part of the screen.
This notably represents Samsung's eighth generation of Smart TV interfaces, putting it well ahead of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), which may or may not ever release a full-featured Smart TV.
If Ultra HDTVs take off, they could wipe out two technologies in one fell swoop -- 3D TV sets, which companies like Sony (NYSE: SNE) and Panasonic continue to support, and media streaming devices, such as Roku, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Chromecast, and Apple TV.
In other words, Samsung's new TVs could pull together multiple technologies just as smartphones did with cell phones, portable media players, and personal computers.
Wearable tech highlights powerful new tech from Intel
Another hot theme is wearable tech. In 2013, we saw plenty of smartwatches, such as the Pebble Watch, Sony's SmartWatch, and Samsung's Galaxy Gear. Movement-tracking bands from Nike and Jawbone added a whole new digital dimension to personal fitness.
To power these devices, microprocessors must become even smaller, more integrated, and more powerful -- solutions that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) CEO Brian Krzanich highlighted during a presentation. Some notable products that Krzanich highlighted include:
Smart earbuds with integrated fitness tracking sensors.
A smart Bluetooth headset with an integrated Siri-like personal assistant.
A smart bowl that can wirelessly charge the devices placed inside.
Smart watches that use "geo fencing" technology to notify parents if their children leave an area.
A computer the size of a SD memory card, which is powered by Intel's new 22 nanometer Quark platform. The tiny computer, known as Edison, includes WiFi, Bluetooth, Flash storage capabilities, and is powered by an x86 processor.
3D image scanning via 3D depth sensing cameras -- meaning that users could eventually scan an object and replicate the exterior via a 3D printer.
Intel's proactive approach to wearable tech shows that it is dead serious about challenging ARM Holdings, which controls a 90% market share in smartphone processors.
By leapfrogging over ARM to solidify a position in wearables, Intel has a good chance to reproduce the market dominance it achieved during the PC era.
Hydrogen-powered cars are back
While there's been plenty of excitement about Internet-connected cars, Toyota (NYSE:TM) has gotten serious about another technology -- hydrogen fuel cells.
Although Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) captured the public's imagination in 2013 with its sleek electric cars, Toyota, which produces the best-selling hybrid Prius, has gone back to research hydrogen fuel cells instead. Proponents of hydrogen fuel cell power argue that it simultaneously solves the issues of an electric car's range and charging time.
Toyota's new FCV (fuel cell vehicle), unveiled at CES after debuting at the Tokyo Motor Show last November, promises a 310-mile range and a refuel time of just three minutes.
By comparison, Tesla's Model S has a range of 300 miles on the largest battery and takes over an hour to charge.
While the specs are promising, Toyota will need a hydrogen fuel infrastructure to make its FCVs marketable.
Toyota stated that there will be up to 20 hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S. by 2015 and 40 by 2016, mostly in Southern California. By comparison, there are over 20,000 electric charging stations and 121,000 gas stations across the U.S.
Nonetheless, if any company can make hydrogen fuel cells mainstream, it's Toyota, which boasts an impressive track record with the Prius and Camry Hybrid. Prior to Toyota's CES announcement, Hyundai and Honda announced upcoming hydrogen-powered versions of the Tucson SUV and FCX Clarity sedan, respectively.
A final thought
In closing, those three trends -- bigger TVs, smarter wearables, and better vehicles -- have given us an exciting glimpse into the future of tech in 2014. CES 2014 will continue through Friday, so stay tuned for more updates!