While there were a few standout cord-cutting and streaming-video products at CES 2012, overall there wasn't as much innovation in the home video space as enthusiasts may have liked to have seen.
Now with the dust settling on CES 2012, the home video landscape looks surprisingly like it did before CES, albeit with a few bright spots. But any streaming-video lover (i.e. me) who was hoping for some major progress (and maybe even a few surprises) at this year's show was likely more disappointed than otherwise.
Same Google TV, new boxes
Many have hoped that Google TV would be the ultimate next-gen iteration of the home video experience, but I'm no more confident in the platform after CES 2012. Yes, there are new products and some of them are significantly better (in particular Sony's NSZ-GP9 Blu-ray player with voice search), but what Google TV really needs is an improved interface, more apps, and less bugs. The only real Google TV bright spot is forthcoming support for the OnLive gaming service, although many of the details are still unclear.
Blu-ray takes a back seat
Blu-ray innovation was effectively dead this year. Year after year there have been big improvements to Blu-ray players at CES, particularly the built-in content suites, but CES 2012 was more of the same, aside from one-off features like Samsung's HDMI-switching BD-E6500 and Panasonic's new touch-pad remote.
That's too bad, as Blu-ray players remain one of the better home theater values, capable of playing back all your legacy media, plus new streaming services. There's plenty that needs to be improved (cross-platform search, voice search, etc.), but it doesn't look like it will happen in 2012.
Cable and satellite get a face-lift
Satellite TV feels like old tech these days and the Dish Hopper DVR is particularly a throwback, with its mammoth 2TB hard drive capable of recording all network prime time television for eight days at a time. (Couldn't it just store a single copy in the cloud?)
But satellite/cable companies are looking forward, too, with both DirecTV and Verizon announcing the ability to access content via apps available on TVs and home theater products. Adding more value for existing monthly subscriptions via these new apps is one way cable/satellite can keep the cord-cutters at bay.
The two most forward-looking products at the show were Roku's Streaming Stick and the Simple.TV over-the-air DVR. The crazy small size of the Roku Streaming Stick is cool, but what's more interesting is how Roku sees the Smart TV concept as effectively broken. The Streaming Stick highlights the ugly truth that all those glitzy Smart TVs on the CES 2012 show floor will be out-of-date in just a few years. Roku says buy a "dumb monitor" instead and get your updated streaming apps with a dongle. Sounds like a better plan to me, although the requirement of an MHL port means the Stick won't take off for a couple years.
Simple.TV inverts the usual "DVR with apps" scenario to "DVR as an app." It lets you set up a single Single.TV box to "grab" over-the-air content, then you can watch recordings and live TV throughout the house on supported devices, which will include Roku, iPad, Boxee, and Google TV. And if you pay $5 a month for the premium service, you can watch your TV outside the home network, a la Slingbox. It's an intriguing strategy and as much as cord-cutters want to go all streaming, all the time, most TV viewers still need an over-the-air "lifeline" for sports and big live events like the Academy Awards.
The future of home video is coming sooner rather than later, but there still hasn't been a single killer product that brings cord-cutting to the masses. From the vantage point of the end of CES 2012, this year looks to be another modest step forward for Smart TV and streaming video, but not much closer to the unified TV nirvana promised by Google TV and others.