CES 2014's home theater gear is the same, but better, and that's a good thing (wrap-up)

There was a surprising amount of promising home theater tech at CES 2014, focused largely on making existing products better, rather than entirely new product types.

Roku TV
Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

Living room tech always has a big presence at CES, but progress can often seem frustratingly slow , especially while other product categories make big leaps forward year after year.

CES 2014 was a refreshing change of pace, as I was surprised to find quite a few interesting home audio and video products on the show floor. While nothing was truly groundbreaking, there's lots of solid, incremental progress that should be showing up in home theater gear in 2014. And that's a lot more exciting than "concept" products that never make it to store shelves.

Over-the-air DVRs dominate, Google TV resurrected, and Roku TVs ditch the box
The coolest home video products were dominated by a comparatively old technology: over-the-air TV. While none of it was new for CES 2014, Tablo , Simple.TV 2 and Channel Master's DVR+ were all showing off their latest over-the-air DVRs, which all look vastly improved on the options that were available a year ago. Meanwhile, Aereo's streaming over-the-air TV service raised $34 million in financing and is aiming to expand to 50 cities by 2015, as long as the company can fend off the lawsuits by the broadcast network giants, including CBS (the parent of CNET).

Tablo
Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

Also piquing my interest was Hisense's Pulse Pro, an "Android TV" box that looks like what Google TV will morph into. It has a redesigned home page, plus an excellent remote with a built-in mic and gesture control. And if you want your streaming video without a separate box, the new Roku TVs from Hisense and TCL look promising, especially for secondary rooms where you don't want any extra clutter.

Sound bars evolve, and everyone wants to take on Sonos
On the home audio side, sound bars have almost entirely taken over. While there were plenty of traditional sound bars at the show, the big story was pedestal-style sound bars designed to sit under your TV instead of in front of it. Nearly every major manufacturer rolled out a big, flat sound bar this year, encroaching on a space that until recently had only a few competitors, such as Zvox and Bose.

Sony's TV Sound Base Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

Sony's TV Sound Base may have been the prettiest model I saw, but that wasn't enough to top LG's Sound Plate, which adds a built-in Blu-ray player and wireless subwoofer, making it one of the most interesting sound bar designs at the show. But overall it's great to see more competition in this space, as pedestal-style sound bars have several advantages over traditional models, such as never blocking your TV's remote sensor.

Along similar lines, every manufacturer is also looking to take on Sonos' multiroom wireless audio system in 2014. Panasonic, LG , Samsung , and Pure were just a few of the manufacturers showing off new wireless audio solutions from your home, although I've yet see anything that seems like a serious challenger to Sonos. If you don't need a whole home audio solution, there were also (of course) many, many Bluetooth speakers at CES 2014 , plus Rocki's promising low-cost dongle solution.

The PS4 expands its living room capabilities

And while it's not strictly home-theater tech, the coolest thing I saw at the show was PlayStation Now , Sony's upcoming streaming gaming platform that will work with the PS3, PS4, PS Vita, and some 2014 Sony Bravia TVs. Sony also announced a plan for cloud TV services -- including recorded and live TV -- but there weren't enough details available at the show to determine if it's something worth getting excited about.

Playstation Now
James Martin/CNET

The PS3 and PS4 were included (along with LG TVs) in Dish's Virtual Joey announcement , letting you access content from your Hopper DVR without the need for a separate box.

The PS4 may have lagged behind the Xbox One in living room tech at launch, but it looks like the gap will be shrinking soon.

 

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