Tuesday, May 11, 2021

CES 2021: what to expect from the very first virtual CES

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CES last year in Las Vegas, Nevada, this was the last time in a long time that many of us were chatting face to face, exchanging invisible respiratory droplets, handling the same germinal gadgets, and enjoying food and drink in restaurants windowless.

This year, due to the pandemic, The directory THESE takes place entirely on our computer screens. The first-ever fully remote staging of the consumer tech industry’s flagship event begins Monday, January 11.

Experiencing CES from afar poses obvious challenges for those of us reporting on the show. We cannot walk around the nearly 3 million square feet of exhibit space or try out the new products on display. But we’re going to do our best to give you our expert analyzes of Tech Fest this year, based on a whole bunch of virtual briefings and our collective decades of covering CES in the past. So fire up Zoom, strap on your VR headsets, and get ready to follow.

Let’s be small

On the other hand, if you want to check out CES this year, there’s no need to spend money on registration fees, plane tickets, or accommodation. You can watch all announcements and activities in pajamas.

But there’s no doubt that this year’s CES is shrinking. The Consumer Technology Association, which hosts CES, says approximately 1,800 exhibitors will be part of this year’s show. That’s less than half of the 4,400 exhibitors who showcased the technology last year. CTA also stressed that being a fully digital event, “the show will be accessible to audiences around the world,” but declined to say how many people actually signed up for this year’s virtual CES. Last year, approximately 170,000 people attended in person.

Some tech companies are pulling out of CES this year or running product news on their own schedules. Amazon won’t have an official presence, although you can probably expect to see its Alexa voice assistant appear in hundreds of products. Google, who at recent CES has set up huge Googley facilities around Las Vegas, said it will host partner meetings, but otherwise withdraw from the show. Microsoft President Brad Smith will deliver a keynote address that technology is both a weapon and a tool – a particularly relevant topic – but most of the information about Microsoft at CES will come from its PC manufacturing partners. Facebook and its Oculus division won’t be participating either. Instead, the company chose to tease its upcoming “smart glasses” by a blog post earlier this week. And the bulk of the attention on Facebook right now, anyway, is its role in disrupt American democracy.

Samsung and LG Electronics will host virtual press conferences and provide information on their new displays and home appliances. But it should be noted that Samsung holds its annual Galaxy phone unveiling January 14 –while CES but not really part of CES. We’ll also be keeping a close eye on Monday’s press conferences with Intel and Sony. And some of the highlights of the conference include talks from CEOs of General Motors, Verizon, and AMD.

Look but don’t touch

So what new technology will we see practically next week? There are exciting things happening in the world of television, says Parker Hall of WIRED. The most amazing TV we’ve seen ahead of the conference is a new 110in MicroLED model from Samsung. (MicroLED is a relatively new display technology which uses tiny non-organic LEDs, three per pixel, and it’s supposed to deliver perfect contrast.) More and more TV makers are also pushing 8K displays, including Samsung, LG, and Sony, as well as makers of cheaper sets like TCL and Vizio. And that might not sound like a big deal, but many new TVs will ship this year with upgraded HDMI 2.1 ports, so the new Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X game consoles can operate at their full potential of 120 Hz on screens.

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