CES 2018 Takeaways: Voice Control, Intel, ATSC 3.0, 4K HDR Dominate Sports-Centric Storylines

For much of the technology, 2018 promises to be an evolutionary year

With CES 2018 firmly in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take a look at how the caravan of high-tech new toys unveiled in Las Vegas may affect sports production. Here’s a look at the biggest sports-centric storylines: voice control and artificial intelligence, Intel’s big bet on sports, ATSC 3.0, Fox Sports and Hisense’s World Cup Smart TV app, 4K and HDR TV sets, and Turner Sports’ expanded presence at the show.

Its All About Voice
Among the many tech themes at CES, one stood out: voice. Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant were ubiquitous (along with Apple’s Siri), with countless manufacturers integrating the voice-control technologies into their latest innovations. Meanwhile, Samsung’s Bixby played a major role in the company’s vision for the future at its CES press conference, which focused heavily on its SmartThings IoT platform.

With Amazon, Google, and potentially even Apple entering the sports-rights bidding fray, one can’t help imagining how their respective voice-control technologies will factor into the next-gen sports-viewing experience to seamlessly present stats, scores, and tune-in and ticketing info; to adjust preferences; and more. Voice control is already being integrated into Comcast’s and Sky’s interfaces, with an emphasis on sports content, and into sports apps, such as MLBAM’s At Bat. Meanwhile, several pro franchises are developing their own voice-activated apps and functions as they look to connect with fans.

Don’t expect the buzz around voice to die down anytime soon. A new study by Rethink Technology Research projects that, by 2022, 142.9 million homes (vs. 21.3 million today) will have voice-control tech.

The explosion of voice control and virtual assistants was part of a larger artificial-intelligence trend at CES with many labeling 2018 “The Year of AI.” What exact applications AI will have in the media-consumption experience remain to be seen, but it’s sure to play a major role in sports media — on both the production/creation side and the consumption/viewing side.

Intel Is AllIn on Sports
Anyone who saw Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s Opening Keynote or visited the company’s jam-packed booth could see that live sports coverage is at the core of the company’s plans. Whether it was Intel technology’s extensive role in producing the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics or bringing in NFL analyst and former Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo to promote its True View immersive 3D technology, sports was certainly the headline for Intel at CES.

In addition, Intel announced a three-year partnership with Ferrari North America to bring the power of artificial intelligence to the Ferrari Challenge North America Series. Beginning this year, race broadcasts will use drones combined with AI technology, including the Intel Xeon Scalable platform and neon Framework, to enhance the motorsports experience for spectators and transform the way fans view live motorsports. A demo at Intel’s booth illustrated the ability of AI to recognize actions or automatically detect and identify objects by showing the identification of a car passing another car on the racetrack.

Intel, which launched its Sports Group in 2016, clearly sees sports as a major pillar in its future growth. Here’s another story that isn’t likely to fade away anytime soon: Intel heads into next month’s Winter Olympics, where the company will be an Olympic Partner and provide technology ranging from VR and True View to 5G and drone technology.

ATSC 3.0 Comes of Age
In Vegas, the Advanced Television Systems Committee announced approval of the complete set of ATSC 3.0 next-gen TV-transmission standards. The announcement — made by ATSC President Mark Richer, CTA President/CEO Gary Shapiro, and NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith — marks the culmination of a five-year effort to develop what broadcasters hope will be the key to bringing over-the-air TV into the Internet Age.

In a related announcement, LG Electronics, co-developer of the ATSC 3.0 standard, confirmed that all LG 4K Ultra HD TVs now on the market in South Korea incorporate ATSC 3.0 tuning circuitry and that the manufacturer plans to support broadcast trials and early-deployment testing in the U.S. this year. South Korean broadcasters have already initiated ATSC 3.0 for UHDTV broadcast service in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics.

ATSC 3.0 promises to open a whole new world of possibilities for sports-content creators, including the potential to produce and distribute live telecasts featuring immersive audio and 4K UHD, as well as interactive services. The first broadcasters are expected to begin trialing ATSC 3.0 in the next few months, ATSC 3.0 test transmissions featuring live sports content are likely at some point this year (building on tests at the 2016 World Series).

Hisense Targets U.S. Market With World Cup App
At CES 2018, Hisense announced a partnership with Fox Sports to create a 2018 FIFA World Cup app for its Smart TVs. Fox Sports GO: 2018 FIFA World Cup Edition will allow fans to choose from a variety of live 4K viewing angles during games, such as feeds that focus on specific teams or aerial views. For Hisense, which represents the Sharp brand in the U.S., the announcement marks a major step in growing its share of the U.S. TV market in an effort to compete with Sony, Samsung, and others. The app will feature live games and near–real-time highlights from 37 customizable camera angles and original soccer content.

In addition, Hisense announced its latest lineup of 4K UHD TVs: the 100-in. Hisense 4K UHD Smart Laser TV, a more than 1,000-zone H10E 4K Smart ULED TV, and the bezel-less H9E Plus 4K Smart ULED TV.

Besides providing U.S. fans access via the Fox Sports GO: 2018 FIFA World Cup Edition, the Hisense soccer experience will be a global affair, offering a dynamic content hub for World Cup content in selected regions across the world.

Keep an eye on this product as this summer’s FIFA World Cup nears. It is likely to provide a model for Smart TV app deals at major sports events in the future.

New TVs Roundup: 4K, HDR, OLED, 8K, and Dolby Atmos
It wouldn’t be CES without a cavalcade of massive, hi-res TVs. Whether it was 4K, HDR, OLED, or 8K, major CE players Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, LG, Hisense, and TCL rolled out their latest offerings. And on the audio side, Dolby Atmos and “smart” sound bars got plenty of buzz. Here’s a look at what these CE behemoths had to offer on the display front:

With live 4K sports productions now taking place multiple times per week in North America and Europe and HDR production ramping up quickly, there will be plenty of content for these next-gen displays in 2018. And Dolby Atmos is coming down the pike for live sports production as well. Expect 4K HDR productions at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics (where OBS and NHK will once again produce 8K content as well) and FIFA World Cup to drive consumer adoption of these high-end sets.

Turner Sports Continues To Expand CES Presence
Turner Sports once again trotted out the big guns for its annual CES Sports Zone. The event offered not only live productions of Inside the NBA, The Warm-up, and ELEAGUE Street Fighter V Celebrity Showdown but also the two-day Sports Business Innovation conference featuring leading execs in the sports-media industry.

Odds and Ends: VR/AR Evolves, BriziCam Puts Focus on the Fan, and More
Although there were plenty of big announcements on the VR and AR front, it felt like more of an evolution than a revolution (unlike in 2017). However, the big news is that manufacturers are releasing more and more tetherless headsets, which are expected to drive mainstream adoption of VR in 2018. And Oculus is expected to launch its first wireless system late this year. Here’s CNET’s look at the evolution of VR and AR at the show and Android Central’s rundown of the big VR/AR announcements.

Intel’s continued push behind True VR — which will offer content at PyeongChang 2018, March Madness, NBA All-Star, and more in the coming months — will help keep the VR torch alive for sports. Plenty of VR sports content is likely to be made available throughout this year, but (at least at this point) don’t expect 2018 to be “The Year of VR Sports.”…

…One of the most fun technologies for sports fans at CES came courtesy of Canon’s booth at the LVCC. BriziCam provides attendees at the venue with an enhanced on-site experience courtesy of its fan-controlled camera technology. Fans at the stadium can access the Brizi Dashboard via their smartphone, enter in their seat number, and then remotely control cameras installed around the venue to point at them and capture selfies and video clips to post on social media. Brizi’s demo at CES allowed attendees to test camera zoom capabilities of a Canon EOS80D camera (with a EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens) from a “field” away. As fans become more and more connected at the stadium, venues will be looking for unique new technologies like BriziCam to enhance the on-site experience…

…SVG provided live coverage of CES 2018. For a bigger picture of the show’s headlines, check out our two-part SportsTech@CES 2018 Roundup:

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