What to expect from the very first virtual CES | GeekComparison

What to expect from the very first virtual CES

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Last year’s CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, was the last for a long time when many of us would chat face-to-face, exchange invisible respiratory drops, wield the same germ-powered gadgets, and enjoy eating and drinking at restaurants without Windows.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, this year’s annual CES takes place entirely on our computer screens. The first-ever fully remote staging of the consumer technology industry’s tentpole event kicks off Monday, January 11.

Experiencing CES from afar poses some obvious challenges for those of us reporting on the show. We can’t stroll through the nearly 3 million square feet of expo space or try the new products on display. But we’re going to do our best to bring you our expert analysis of the tech fest this year, based on a slew of virtual briefings and our collective of decades on CES in the past. So fire up Zoom, strap on your VR headsets and get ready to follow.

Let’s get small

On the plus side, if you want to attend CES this year, you won’t have to spend money on registration fees, airfare, or lodging. In your pajamas you can see all the announcements and activities.

But there’s no question that this year’s CES is being scaled down. The Consumer Technology Association, which hosts CES, says about 1,800 exhibitors will be part of the show this year. That is less than half of the 4,400 exhibitors who presented technology last year. The CTA also pointed out that, by being a fully digital event, “the show will be open to audiences around the world,” but declined to say how many people actually registered for this year’s virtual CES. Last year, an estimated 170,000 people attended in person.

Some tech companies are exiting CES this year or distributing product news on their own schedule. Amazon will not have an official presence, although you can probably expect the Alexa voice assistant to appear in hundreds of products. Google, which put up massive Googley installations in Las Vegas during the recent CESes, says it will host partner meetings but is otherwise distanced itself from the show. Microsoft president Brad Smith will deliver a keynote address on technology that is both a weapon and a tool — a particularly pertinent topic — but most of the Microsoft-related news at CES will come from his PC manufacturer partners. Facebook and its Oculus division will also not participate. Instead, the company chose to tease its upcoming “smart glasses” in a blog post earlier this week. Anyway, most of the focus on Facebook right now is on its role in disrupting American democracy.

Samsung and LG Electronics will hold virtual press conferences and provide briefings about their new displays and home appliances. But it’s worth noting that Samsung is holding its annual Galaxy phone unveiling on January 14th –during CES, but not really a part of CES. We’ll also be keeping a close eye on Monday’s press conferences with Intel and Sony. And some of the keynote highlights include talks from the chief executives of General Motors, Verizon and AMD.

Look but don’t touch

So what new technology? shall will we see virtually next week? Exciting things are happening in TV land, says WIRED’s Parker Hall. The most stunning TV we’ve seen ahead of the conference is a new 110-inch MicroLED model from Samsung. (MicroLED is a relatively new display technology that uses small, inorganic LEDs, three per pixel, and it should provide perfect contrast.) More TV makers are also pushing 8K displays, including Samsung, LG, and Sony, as well as manufacturers from cheaper sets such as TCL and Vizio. And this may seem like a trifle, but many new TVs this year will come with upgraded HDMI 2.1 ports, allowing the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X game consoles to run at their full 120Hz potential on the screens.

Some TV manufacturers may wait to make their announcements until spring, when most new TVs hit the market. It’s just hard to stir up the same kind of hype for displays when you can’t show off an awe-inspiring OLED waterfall in person. And 8K displays have the same caveat that 4K did just a few years ago: It will be a while before 8K content is widely available.


CES usually provides a good opportunity to check out new laptop technology, even if we don’t see some of it until the fall. (It turns out that laptops are essential gadgets when you do everything from keeping a job to homeschooling your kids during a pandemic.) You often hear “the PC is dead, the PC is not dead,” said Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “But I see a lot of action in computing devices, especially around the ACPC — the always-connected PC.” That means we may finally start to see more ARM-powered PCs with mobile capabilities, so that if we can be “on the road” again in the future, we’ll always have a data connection.

WIRED’s Scott Gilbertson says this is also “the year of the AMD laptop.” Manufacturers are offering AMD models alongside the usual Intel-powered options, from Chromebooks to high-end gaming machines. AMD’s Ryzen 3000 C-series chips — optimized specifically for Chromebooks — are coming in new models from Acer and other PC makers later this year. Scott also says that support for Wi-Fi 6 and better screens with higher refresh rates will become standard in laptops in 2021 to meet the demands of modern games. And the whole WIRED Gear team is hopeful that laptop webcams will get a lot better in 2021. It’s an improvement that should have happened a long time ago.

Calling to the future

Most major smartphone makers will host separate announcement events sometime in 2021, as they have for at least a decade now. But some of the mobile announcements made during or around CES point to lasting trends.

This year, we’re likely to see nearly every phone manufacturer offering a 5G phone for less than $400, WIRED senior associate editor Julian Chokkattu tells me. Qualcomm just announced 5G support on its Snapdragon 480 chip for low-cost phones. As a result, Qualcomm can now offer 5G across its entire lineup of phone processors, rather than just the more expensive chips. Of course, the wireless carriers will continue the conversation about building out 5G networks — expect to hear more about that during Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg’s keynote address Monday night. However, Moorhead says it doesn’t expect any “swing-me-around-the-room announcements” around 5G.

Coming in smartphones later this year too, even if it wasn’t announced at CES: more foldable, rollable displays; high-end Android phones running on the snappy Snapdragon 888 chip; support for the new Wi-Fi 6E standard; higher screen refresh rates; and, following Apple’s lead, fewer phones that come with charging adapters in the box.

Home alone

If there’s another trend that has fully emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic and is likely to continue into 2021, it’s our obsession with our homes — working from there, working in them, and updating them. Or, as Adrienne So, senior writer at WIRED, puts it, “companies bet we want to vacuum our carpets, keep our abs tight, and keep our bums fresh.” (We might even see a commercialized version of a toilet that analyzes your poop.)

Companies like Samsung, Roborock and Eufy will be unveiling robot vacuums with eye-catching designs and new cleaning technologies at CES this year. Bathroom fixtures are getting “smarter” — yes, more home appliances with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chips in them.

On the connected fitness side, most wearable makers are skipping CES this year, Adrienne says. But that means it might be a year where hardware innovation is lagging behind software, with a greater emphasis on smart workout and recovery apps, AI-powered running coaches, and personalized training services, all on the phone or smartwatch you already own.

And of course, when there’s a serious health crisis, there’s always a sting in technical solution thinking: WIRED contributor Boone Ashworth says he gets a lot of pitches for high-tech cleaning gadgets. Think portable air purifiers, antimicrobial screen protectors, and non-contact sanitizer stations that disinfect while showing you ads. Some of these will be more legit than others, but it’s safe to bet that for many of us, even after the pandemic is over, disinfecting things can be an ongoing obsession.

Not the same

We will not be able to appearance from CES this year – the quirks, the novelties, the size and scale of the displays, the sleekness of the concept cars. Not to mention that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the Las Vegas tourism and hospitality industry, and the cancellation of mass events like CES will only add to the trauma. But the CTA says this year’s CES is not intended to replace or recreate a personal trade show and that the organization “looks forward to returning to our home, Las Vegas, in 2022 and beyond.” I never thought I’d be writing this, but I would also look forward to returning to CES in Las Vegas someday.

Julian Chokkattu, Adrienne So, Parker Hall, Scott Gilbertson and Boone Ashworth of WIRED contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

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