The C In CES

Previously, I mentioned that CES isn’t supposed to be called the Consumer Electronics Show. That’s according to the Consumer Technology Association, the entity that puts on the show every year in Las Vegas. It’s now just CES.

I thought about this as I walked the exhibit floors and passed booths showcasing TV displays that are bigger than most people’s living rooms or touting AI or 5G or IoT. As I recall, the reason for the “name” change was to take the focus off electronics and to put it on technology.

Yet “consumer” is still a big part of the show. Sure, you’ll find exhibitors there talking about self-driving fleet vehicles and enterprise-level hardware and software. But for the most part, CES is about technology for consumers.

On the other hand, in our industry, that same “consumer” equipment is used in professional settings. I was reminded of this during a press conference detailing the next standard for HDMI—HDMI 2.1. The standard is preparing to deliver 4k at 120 fps and 8k at 60 fps and allowing for dynamic HDR.

During a Q&A period discussing the new HDMI Ultra High-Speed cable spec, a reporter brought up the issue of non-locking connectors. HDMI cables—including the HDMI Ultra High-Speed cable—don’t include a locking mechanism to keep the cable from accidentally being pulled out. (You can add devices to connectors to achieve that goal, however.) Other cables have this feature. For example, a standard size DisplayPort cable has this mechanism—something I’ve forgotten on occasion.

Away from the crowds, the future of HDMI is presented by the HDMI LA.

One of the presenters was quick to point out that HDMI is a consumer spec, that it was never designed to be used in the professional space. Not having a locking connector helps prevent damage to a TV or streaming box when little Sean goes running behind the TV and trips over the HDMI cable. Because it’s not a locking connector, the cable pulls out of the TV, rather than the cable pulling the input connector—and maybe more—out of the TV set. Sure, you’ll lose sound and picture for a moment while you give Sean a timeout and reconnect the cable. But at least you won’t have to dip into Sean’s college fund to replace that new 75-inch roll-up OLED with the impossibly thin bezel that you just bought.

Consumer or not, we still use HDMI in our profession. Sometimes the cables are used in “less critical” situations, such as monitoring, where a brief signal loss might not be the end of the world. Other times, the cable might be the critical link between a camera and an external recorder.

Is that a bad thing? No. Just as we might use a practical light on set that’s a consumer device, I don’t see a problem using HDMI for routing video and audio, as long as we understand that we are using consumer-grade technology.

Just as we wouldn’t expect a practical light that was purchased from a local lighting store to perform as well as a Litepanels Gemini, we shouldn’t expect HDMI to perform as well as professional video transport. And, in this case, by “perform” I don’t mean HDMI degrades video and audio. I’m referring to the example above—the cable being accidentally knocked out during a take and causing loss of recording.

We can’t forget that sometimes we use “consumer” tech. Tech that was never designed for what we use it for. We must remember its true limitations and how those limitations might affect our work, many times when we least expect it. If we keep all that in mind, then we can make use of consumer technology.