What to expect at CES 2021

The Consumer Electronics Show officially begins this week. Thankfully, the Consumer Electronics Association capitulated in July and switched the whole thing over to being online-only. But it’s hard to know what CES is even supposed to be without giant convention halls filled with ostentatious displays, blinking lights, and hordes of exhausted and smelly people in off-the-rack suits. Whatever happens, you will be able to find all our coverage right here.

The chief executive of the CEA Gary Shapiro told the Wall Street Journal that his organization did its best to try to translate some of the experience online. I can tell you that many on our staff here at The Verge are absolutely dreading being made to click through 3D software models of booths like we’re playing the worst Myst remake ever.

But my guess is that it’ll be a lot smoother than that and really the thing we’ll miss the most is that it will be harder to serendipitously stumble upon some strange or clever new gadget at a tiny booth in the back reaches of the Sands convention center.

The CEA has smartly limited official keynote presentations to 30 minutes a pop. That should mean we’ll get to the announcements more quickly and have to spend a little less time hearing vague hand-waving about innovation. We’ll be covering those live (though without liveblogs), so stay tuned starting today and through the first half of the week.

The main CES keynote will come from Verizon (so expect 5G talk), but the usual suspects like Sony, Samsung, LG and others will have their own presentations. One consequence of moving the entire show online is that companies seem to be stretching out their announcements to fill the suddenly larger virtual space. So although CES’s official start is this week, many of the biggest announcements have already happened. This year’s TV announcements are essentially half-finished thanks to Samsung and Sony going so early.

This year, there will be a few trends to watch for. In TVs, 8K will continue to be everywhere but the real showdown is going to be between more traditional OLED TVs and Mini LED. But the real thing to watch for is HDMI 2.1, the new iteration of the spec that has the necessary bandwidth for more advanced gaming features. It ought to be everywhere this year. Oh, and LG has already shown off its weird concepts this year — transparent TVs are cool.

There will be plenty of 5G talk, but since this isn’t a phone show much of it will amount to more promises. Verizon is doing the keynote, however, so perhaps it will have something to say about improving its lackluster 5G network, which can often be slower than LTE. (Verizon’s 4G LTE network remains great, at least.)

Laptops and PCs will likely show up with their usual mix: a few weird concepts and a lot of decent spec bumps. I’m going to keep an eye out for two things: whether AMD can pick up more models from Intel and whether Intel can get a critical mass of “Evo” laptops with decent battery life. Because like it or not, the stunningly good Arm-based MacBooks are going to loom like a shadow over the whole proceeding. Perhaps a few companies will take a shot at making a better Arm-based Windows laptop, too.

As for smart home stuff, there’ll be the usual mix of oddities like smart toilets and improvements to the basics like fridges, ovens, and smart lights. I do wonder if there will be a small lull this year as we await the new CHIP industry standard that should reduce fragmentation in how these things communicate with each other.

One thing we’ll definitely keep an eye out for is health gadgets — and that eye will be extremely skeptical. CES is always the place where quackery and technology team up, but this year my worry is that more than a few overzealous companies will try to make COVID-specific pitches for their gadgets.

Last and perhaps least: phones. CES is rarely a phone show, and this year the fact that Samsung will be announcing its flagship Galaxy S21 just afterwards will tamp those announcements down further. I suspect we’ll see a lot of low and mid-range phones that bring down the cost of access to 5G, but I doubt anybody will try to front-run Samsung.

There may be surprises, too! You never know. We’ll be covering it all from the safety of our homes, so stay tuned. I’ll send out more newsletters than usual this week to try to keep up. And speaking of keeping up, below are the CES and CES-adjacent announcements that have already happened.