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Five trends to watch at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show

Each January, the Consumer Electronics Show gives us a peek at all the slick technologies we can expect to see in the coming year. In 2015, some of those advances will be incremental and evolutionary (computers and tablets with faster processors, higher resolution cameras and camcorders), others will be eye-opening looks into the future (virtual reality headsets, intelligent appliances), while still others will be baffling and weird (even more curved screens, solar panel cleaning robots, biometric wallets). The show is still a week away (CES officially starts on January 6th), but we’ve been gathering advance information for months, and here’s what we see coming.

1. Big TVs get a boost from tiny crystals

Last year was the year that curved, Ultra HD (UHD) televisions became a thing. This year, the buzz in TV technology is going to be quantum dots. The technology has been on the market since 2013 in some of Sony’s “Triluminos” TVs, but we expect several other major manufacturers to launch quantum dot sets at this year’s CES—LG already jumped the gun and announced a series of quantum dot sets earlier this month. Just what are quantum dots, you ask? You can click here for a detailed explanation, but the short answer is that quantum dots are red and green nano-crystals on a film or in a glass tube in front of a blue-colored LED backlight. When the blue light hits them, the dots glow, emitting richly saturated color that manufacturers claim can approach that of a much pricier OLED TV. We expect quantum dots to appear first in premium sets, and video content needs to be optimized to truly take advantage of the wider color gamut enabled by quantum dots. Until that happens, it’s possible that quantum dots might actually make colors on existing content look oversaturated and unnatural—we’ll reserve judgement until we see these sets in our labs.

Get detailed lab results on new TVs using our TV buying guide and Ratings

2. Wearable tech escapes its novelty phase

Wow, smart watches exploded in a hurry, didn’t they? Most major consumer electronics companies now either have one on the market or in the works. At CES, we expect to see plenty of new smart watches, but the wearable tech category is broadening swiftly beyond wrist-top computers. Take, for instance, The Dash “smart” headphones from Kickstarter start-up Bragi, which won one of CES’s pre-show Innovation Awards. These wireless, in-ear headphones have a built-in heart-rate sensor and accelerometer to measure your body vitals and track your activity as you exercise. Also, we expect to see a lot of specialized devices such as the Owlet Smart Sock baby monitor, which can alert parents to any problems with their infant’s heart rate or oxygen level.

3. Appliances will pay attention to you

As appliances such as thermostats, door locks, and light bulbs increasingly become part of digital home networks, CES has become a showcase for smart appliances. While individual products such as the Nest and Honeywell Lyric thermostats, and connected, sleep-inducing LED lightbulbs have brought innovation and excitement to the category, it is still a confusing mess of competing standards. Some companies, such as AT&T and Lowe’s are offering home connectivity and control as a service, while others, such as Quirky+GE and Lutron’s Caseta system, are more component-based. We’ll be watching how the shifting alliances in the home automation space evolve at CES. We’ll also be keeping an eye out for products such as the Sengled Snap, a connected LED lightbulb with a built-in security camera, microphone, and speaker that lets homeowners look in on their houses from anywhere. This nifty bit of technological integration will let you scare the bejesus out of your house sitter when he hears your disembodied voice calling to him from the ceiling cans. (The product also won a CES Innovation Award.)

4. Cars become a smart phone accessory

This past fall, Apple deployed its CarPlay interface in select Pioneer and Alpine aftermarket systems (we tried it out in the Pioneer AVIC-5000NEX), and the system is expected to find its way into vehicles from more than 25 carmakers in the coming months. In 2015, Google launches Android Auto with an almost identical list of automakers on board. These interfaces adapt your phone’s functionality to your vehicle’s touchscreen—running car-friendly apps and turning phone, messaging, and maps into largely voice-controlled functions. Since CarPlay and Android Auto will both be distributed broadly, you shouldn’t have to pick your next car based on the operating system of your phone—or vice versa. But we’ll be watching to see which app developers line up behind each platform.

5. Video content catches up to Ultra HD TV tech

New, higher-resolution UHD televisions have been in stores for most of 2014, and prices are dropping fast, yet there is still remarkably little content for these sets. So far streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have taken the lead, offering shows such as Netflix’s “House of Cards” and Amazon’s “Transparent” in Ultra HD. Satellite provider DirecTV has also announced that it will provide UHD content, but only to customers who have the service’s Genie HD DVR and a compatible Samsung TV. We’re expecting content to rule at CES 2015, and to see more satellite and cable providers, as well as Hollywood studios, hop on the UHD train. What we don’t expect to hear much about are Ultra HD Blu-rays or any UHD plans from the major broadcast networks.

—Glenn Derene

Click on the image above to find all of Consumer Reports' coverage from CES 2015.

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