What to expect from the very first virtual CES

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Last year’s CES in Las Vegas, Nevada marked the last time in a long time that many of us were chatting face-to-face, exchanging invisible respiratory droplets, handling the same germ gadgets, and enjoying food. and drinks in windowless restaurants.

This year, due to the ongoing pandemic, the annual CES is taking place entirely on our computer screens. The first-ever fully remote staging of the flagship event for the consumer tech industry 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 of decades spanning 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 the announcements and activities in your pajamas.

But there’s no doubt that this year’s CES is downsized. 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 have 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, which at the recent CES set up huge Googley facilities around Las Vegas, said it would host partner meetings but otherwise pull out of 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 Microsoft-related news at CES will come from its manufacturing partners from PC. Facebook and its Oculus division will not participate either. Instead, the company chose to tease its upcoming “smart glasses” in a blog post earlier this week. And most of the attention on Facebook right now, anyway, is its role in disrupting American democracy.

Samsung and LG Electronics will hold virtual press conferences and provide information on their new displays and home appliances. But it’s worth noting that Samsung is having its annual Galaxy phone unveiling on January 14 –pendant CES but not really part of CES. We will also be closely following 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 before the conference is a new 110-inch MicroLED model from Samsung. (MicroLED is a relatively new display technology that uses tiny non-organic LEDs, three per pixel, and it’s supposed to deliver perfect contrast.) More and more TV makers are pushing 8K displays as well, including Samsung, LG and Sony, as well as cheaper bundle makers like TCL and Vizio. And it might not seem like a big deal, but many new TVs this year will ship with upgraded HDMI 2.1 ports, so the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X game consoles can perform at their full 120Hz potential on displays.

Some TV manufacturers may wait until spring to make their announcements, when most new TVs start to hit the market. It’s just hard to generate the same kind of hype for displays when you can’t show off an awesome OLED waterfall in person. And 8K displays come with the same caveat as 4K a few years ago: It will take some time for 8K content to become widely available.

CES is usually a good opportunity to learn about new laptop technology, although we don’t see some coming out until fall. (Turns out, laptops are essential gadgets when you do everything from keeping a job to school to your kids’ homes during a pandemic.) You often hear “PC is dead, PC is dead. is not dead, ”says Patrick Moorhead, Founder and Senior Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “But I see a lot of action in computing devices, especially around the ACPC – the always-on personal computer. That means we could finally start to see more ARM-powered PCs with cellular capabilities, so that if we can be “on the go” again in the future, we’ll still have a data connection.

WIRED’s Scott Gilbertson says it’s also “the year of the AMD laptop”. From Chromebooks to high-end gaming machines, manufacturers offer AMD models alongside the usual Intel options. AMD’s Ryzen 3000 C-series chips, optimized specifically for Chromebooks, will arrive later this year in new models from Acer and other PC makers. Scott also claims that support for Wi-Fi 6 and better looking displays with higher refresh rates will become standard in laptops in 2021, to meet the demands of modern gaming. And the whole WIRED Gear team is hoping laptop webcams will improve a lot in 2021. It’s a long overdue improvement.

Phone for the future

Most of the major smartphone makers will be running separate announcements at some point in 2021, as they’ve been doing for at least a decade now. But some of the mobile announcements made during or around CES will point to lasting trends.

This year we’ll likely see just about every phone maker offering a 5G phone for less than $ 400, Julian Chokkattu, associate editor of WIRED, tells me. Qualcomm just announced support for 5G on its Snapdragon 480 chip for low-cost phones. The result is that Qualcomm can now offer 5G across its entire line of phone processors, rather than the high-end chips. Of course, mobile carriers will continue the conversation about building 5G networks – expect to hear more about it during Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg’s opening address on Monday night. Although Moorhead says don’t expect “swing-me-around-the-room” announcements around 5G.

Also coming later this year in smartphones, although not announced at CES: more foldable and rollable screens; high-end Android phones running on the zippy Snapdragon 888 chip; support for the new Wi-Fi 6E standard; higher screen refresh rates; and, taking inspiration from Apple, fewer phones that come with charging adapters in the box.

Alone at home

If there is one other trend that fully emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic that is likely to persist into 2021, it is our obsession with our homes – working from them, working on them and refreshing them. Or, as senior writer Adrienne So puts it, “Businesses bet we want to keep our mats vacuumed, our abs toned, and our butts fresh. (We might even see a retail version of a toilet that scans your poop.)

Companies like Samsung, Roborock and Eufy will unveil robot vacuums with eye-catching designs and new cleaning technologies this year. Bathroom appliances will become “smarter” – more home appliances with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chips will be inserted into them.

On the connected fitness side of things, most laptop makers are skipping CES this year, Adrienne says. But it does mean that this may be a year where hardware innovation takes a back seat to software, with a greater emphasis on smart training and recovery apps, running trainers powered by the AI and personalized training services, all working on the phone or smartwatch you already own.

And of course, where there is a serious health crisis, there is always an attempt at technological solutionism: WIRED contributor Boone Ashworth says he receives many arguments for high-tech cleaning gadgets. Think portable air purifiers, antimicrobial screen protectors, and touchless sanitizing stations that sanitize while they serve ads. Some of these will be more legitimate than others, but it’s safe to bet that for many of us, even after the pandemic is over, disinfecting things can be a lingering obsession.

We won’t really be able to capture the vibe at CES this year – the quirks, the novelties, the size and scale of displays, the elegance of concept cars. Not to mention that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on Las Vegas’ tourism and hospitality industry, and the cancellation of massive events like CES will only add to the trauma. But CTA says this year’s CES is not meant to replace or recreate an in-person trade show and that the organization “looks forward to returning home to Las Vegas in 2022 and beyond.” I never thought of writing this, but can’t wait to come back to CES in Las Vegas someday too.

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

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

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