CES 2021: What to watch for at all-digital event

The tech industry extravaganza will be entirely virtual this year.

January 11, 2021, 5:02 AM

The annual Consumer Electronics Show -- better known as CES -- kicks off Monday in an all-digital venue for the first time in its history as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The mega tech industry trade show, which usually takes over Las Vegas in early January, is where many exhibitors unveil their latest innovations and gadgets to the public.

Like so many beloved events this year, the show will look a little different than in years past. Still, organizers are promising a revamped digital experience for the tech industry to still convene and share their latest ideas through an interactive online platform they created with Microsoft.

"We fully acknowledge that there was just no way that we could fully capture in a digital event the magic and serendipity that happens each year in January at CES in Las Vegas," Steve Koenig, the Consumer Technology Association's vice president of research, told ABC News. "And so instead of recreating CES, we reimagined it."

Koenig said they drew on inspiration from what was happening in the entertainment and sports sectors throughout the pandemic, and added their own twists to make it "a very experiential platform." A silver lining of the digital show is that it also opens up accessibility to those who haven't been able to attend in-person in the past.

This year's show is comprised of 1,800 exhibitors (compared to more than 4,000 last year), but it will also have an exclusive performance from pop star Billie Eilish.

In this file photo taken on Jan. 10, 2020, attendees walk through the Las Vegas Convention Center on the final day of the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show.
Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Some themes to look out for in this year's show, taking place from Jan. 11 to Jan. 14, are 5G technology, internet of things/smart home tech, automation/robotics innovation and health-centered technology, according to Koenig.

"We're still in the middle of a pandemic, there will be no shortage of innovations around wearables, telemedicine different devices to augment care," Koenig said.

Will Greenwald, a senior analyst and home entertainment editor for the tech publication PCMag, who has attended CES in Las Vegas more than a dozen times, said some of the things he is most excited for are the new TVs that will likely be unveiled throughout the week and the advent of next-generation 8K technology.

"8K is the new sort of resolution standard that isn't quite ready for mainstream yet. There isn't so much in the way of 8K content, but we're seeing more and more 8K TVs become available, so that might become a big thing," Greenwald said. "And just probably bigger screens -- which is sort of a running theme at CES."

Greenwald also encouraged consumers and enthusiasts to keep their eyes peeled for the latest announcements from phone manufacturers and in the computer hardware sphere.

Even if you're not a techie, Greenwald said tuning into CES coverage this year can be an exciting way to get the latest gadget news or help decide when to make a big purchase for your home.

"It's a good look at the technology that is coming down the pipe, and for specific product announcements it's an indication of what will be available for you to buy and when in the coming year," he said. "So, if you're planning to make a big purchase like a new TV, you might want to see what's going to be coming and should you buy it now, should you wait for a Super Bowl sale or should you wait for President's Day sale, or actually just wait for this new model coming out?"

Greenwald, like many, lamented not being able to wander the floor this year, one of the most exciting ways to discover the show's breakout stars (like the laundry-folding robot) in the past.

Koenig said they went to great lengths to make sure there are still personal ways to interact with the exhibitors and discover new innovations, and this year attendees can also curate their experience more by opting into specific interests such as fitness and wearables or 5G tech.

"I still fully expect to have those 'whoa' moments where it's either the technology of product, maybe a partnership announcement that we didn't expect," he said. "And those really cool discoveries that we we make each and every year at CES."

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