At CES, a little skepticism goes a long way

LAS VEGAS—This time a year ago, LG’s 55-inch OLED TV was the belle of the CES ball. LG unveiled the massive HDTV set during its 2012 CES press conference, producing a chorus of hosannas from the press corps. And why not? You show me a 55-inch HDTV with bright, vibrant images and a thinner footprint than the current lineup of LCDs, and I’d be pretty enthusiastic, too, five-figure price tag or no.

LG’s 55-inch OLED TV was a big hit at CES in 2012, but the TV will only begin shipping next month?more than a year after it was first unveiled.

That 55-inch OLED TV returned to the headlines last week, when LG started taking preorders for the TV. Yes, that’s nearly a year after the OLED TV was first wowing people at CES. And, of course, the key word in that sentence is ‘preorder’. Should you want to part with your $10,320 in cold hard cash, you’re still going to have to wait until next month at the earliest for LG to ship it to you. And that’s if you happen to live in South Korea.

The gulf between the promise of new technology and the reality that same technology suffers more than its share of false starts was much on my mind Monday, as assorted tech giants took to the stage of CES 2013 to talk up their new products for the coming year. We?re spending this week enthusing about a lot of the gadgets and devices we’re being promised, but I’m sure you can forgive me for being skeptical if I wonder how many of the products we’re hearing about today will ever see the light of day tomorrow. And judging by my Twitter feed, more than a few people feel the exact same way.

Hey, remember the HP Slate? Good times, good times…

You can understand the reason for our cynicism. While it’s probably unfair to utterly dismiss CES as a festival of vaporware—more than a few actual shipping products we should actually be excited about get their moment in the sun here—the show’s record of turning theoretical hits into actual products embraced by the public leans toward the spotty side of things. Perhaps the nadir was 2010 when hardware makers, hoping to get the jump on Apple’s rumored tablet, rushed out a series of half-baked slates with the idea of stealing Cupertino’s thunder. Those products all fizzled out, of course, while the iPad thrived. Whatever competition Apple’s tablet faces these days, it’s certainly not from anything PC makers tried throwing against the wall three years ago.

Look, I’m as enthusiastic about new technology as the next person. If I wasn’t I’d spend the week camped out in my hotel’s race and sports book instead of schlepping around the Las Vegas Convention center. And as I write this in the wee small hours before CES 2013 even officially opens its doors, I’ve found more than a few products worthy of your attention.

Lenovo’s Horizon is among the products getting attention from the press at CES this year.

But when I get word of a 27-inch all-in-one from Lenovo, you’ll understand if I’m just a tad skeptical that such a concept is anything more than a grab for headlines. You tell me about Samsung’s Android-powered refrigerator, and I wonder if we don’t all owe Tim Cook a debt of gratitude for dismissively coining the phrase of ‘toaster-fridge’ as a symbol of convergence gone wild. And as impressed as I may have been by Sony’s fancy 4K TVs—particularly when it comes to watching sports—I can’t help but wonder if the American viewing public shares Sony’s certainty that these are must-have devices.

I think it’s certainly understandable when we hear about all this promising new technology at CES to indulge in a little dreaming. But a healthy dose of skepticism about what we’re hearing this week will serve every one of us well, as we see what pans out and what winds up simply panned.

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation’s largest consumer electronics show, check out complete coverage of CES 2013 from PCWorld and TechHive.

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