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CES 2021 is going all virtual — here’s what to expect

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor
·6 min read

CES 2021 kicks off on Monday, Jan. 11. One of the largest consumer electronics exhibitions in the world, CES is normally held in Las Vegas, where more than 170,000 attendees and thousands of exhibitors typically pour into the Las Vegas Convention Center and the myriad hotels surrounding The Strip.

But like many large public gatherings, CES 2021 has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. So this year, the Consumer Electronics Association, which runs CES, will host an all-virtual event, featuring live-streamed keynotes from the likes of Verizon (VZ) CEO Hans Vestberg (Verizon is the parent company of Yahoo Finance), GM (GM) CEO Mary Barra, AMD (AMD) CEO Lisa Su, and Microsoft (MSFT) President Brad Smith.

The show will also include virtual announcements from heavy-hitters like LG, Samsung, Nvidia (NVDA), Dell, HP (HPQ), and Lenovo, as well as a host of others. Unfortunately, you’ll still need to pay a hefty fee to stream the show. That’s why we’ll be bringing you all of the biggest news and interviews from the showcase.

Here’s what you can expect from CES 2021.

It’s all about working from home

We might have turned the calendar to a new year, but the coronavirus is still surging through countries across the world, and that means millions of people are continuing to work from home if they’re fortunate enough to be able to do so.

And with prominent companies across a variety of sectors ranging from Microsoft and American Express (AXP) to Nationwide Insurance extending work-from-home orders well into 2021 and some allowing permanent remote work, you can expect a slew of tech companies to debut new products specifically geared to improving the work-from-home environment.

We’re talking about everything from dramatically improved webcams on computers, because let’s face it, they’re pretty terrible as is; to better speakers and larger displays.

According to Canalys, the global PC market grew by 13% in the third quarter of 2020, the most growth the industry has seen in 10 years, and you can bet big-name firms like Asus, Acer, Dell, HP, and Lenovo won’t want to miss out on the chance to see further growth as the need for PCs continues throughout the new year.

Gaming will be as hot as ever

The video game industry saw massive growth in 2020, with IDC reporting that global video game revenue was expected to rise 20% in 2020, topping out at $180 billion — that’s more than both the movie and sports industries combined.

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR LG ELECTRONICS - The World's First 1ms IPS Gaming Monitor at the LG Electronics booth during CES 2020 on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Jack Dempsey/AP Images for LG Electronics)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR LG ELECTRONICS - The World's First 1ms IPS Gaming Monitor at the LG Electronics booth during CES 2020 on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Jack Dempsey/AP Images for LG Electronics)

And while gaming was already on the rise at CES, with PC and accessories manufacturers leaning harder into the category than ever in 2020, 2021 will likely see an even greater boost for the industry’s presence at CES.

Think all-new gaming PCs, laptops, and desktops capable of running the latest games at their highest settings, new audio accessories, and so many light-up mice and keyboards the folks on the International Space Station might just be able to see it.

And don’t forget both AMD and Nvidia will be on hand for the big show, meaning we may get a better idea of what the two biggest companies in gaming graphics have cooking for the year ahead.

Autonomous cars and improved infotainment

Year after year, automakers pile into the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES to show off the latest high-tech gadgetry making its way into their vehicles. And while we won’t be able to see any of the slick new vehicles and impressive new infotainment systems in person this year, you can still expect plenty of announcements.

Daimler announces the world premiere of the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR concept car at the Daimler Keynote along with a sneak peek of the new Avatar 2 movie, background image, before the CES tech show Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Daimler announces the world premiere of the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR concept car at the Daimler Keynote along with a sneak peek of the new Avatar 2 movie, background image, before the CES tech show Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Autonomous driving technology has been the go-to for automakers and third-party software and hardware providers for years and CES, and as the industry continues its slow push toward a driverless future, you can expect CES 2021 to be no different.

Whether it’s new sensor technologies, improved artificial intelligence capabilities, or concepts for what drivers will do in their vehicles while they’re ferried around town, CES 2021 will provide a glimpse of what the still-distant future of fully-autonomous driving will look like.

Of course, infotainment systems and in-car connectivity will also get some of the spotlight. Everything from new user interfaces to bigger in-dash displays and 5G access should be on the docket for this year’s show.

Oh, there will be TVs

CES is one of the biggest events in the world for new television technologies, and while we won’t get to stand in front of a wall of bendable screens, or witness a 100-foot plus TV in person, CES 2021 will still give us plenty to talk about in terms of the latest TV trends.

QUHD TVs are on display at the TCL booth during CES International, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
QUHD TVs are on display at the TCL booth during CES International, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Like CES 2020, you can expect plenty of chatter about panels sporting 8K resolutions. And while it sounds like it’s a big upgrade, after all 8K is more than 4K, it’s really not. Unless you plan on cramming a TV the size of your living room wall into your home, 4K is still likely the highest resolution you need.

What’s more interesting is the kinds of form factors TV makers might roll out. For years, LG and Samsung have gone back and forth showing off wild new concepts for televisions including TVs that unroll like window blinds, radically curved screens, and smaller panels that can be combined to create one massive display. CES 2021 will likely provide us with even more intriguing designs that will eventually find their way into your home.

More exciting, perhaps, is the prospect of improved color technologies for displays. LCD panels are still cheaper than more vibrant, and far more expensive OLED panels, but manufacturers have been working to even the playing field between the two styles of TV. And we’re hoping to hear more announcements at this year’s CES.

The weird and outrageous

Outside of the standard tech fair at CES, there are always boatloads of oddities ranging from robotic luggage to hyper-expensive toilets. And despite the fact that CES 2021 will be virtual, there are bound to still be a slew of strange and interesting gadgets unveiled at this year’s show.

Smart home technology will still have a large presence at CES 2021, providing consumers with a better idea of how their homes will talk to and listen to them in the near future, whether that’s through a coffee maker or bathroom mirror.

And drones of all stripes are certain to make some kind of passing appearance this year, as they always do.

So while CES 2021 might not offer the excesses and incredible displays of years past, you can still expect to see plenty of exciting announcements.

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