It's easy to be cynical about CES. Every year, hundreds of companies head to Las Vegas to hawk their wares to the tech press, which gulps them down like fast food. The big companies mostly spend their time showing off untold numbers of TVs that look excellent but aren't all that different from what we saw the year before. True innovation is hard to find, buried under the piles of commodity gadgets -- but when you find it, it's worth the trouble.
Take the Oculus Rift, which was introduced at CES 2013. Few were publicly thinking about virtual reality as a viable consumer product. We all remember the failure of Nintendo's Virtual Boy -- it may not have totally killed VR as a consumer product, but it was years before we saw VR hardware for consumers that actually felt compelling. Oculus had only a simple demo to show off, with no details on its business plan or how its gadgets would get into the hands of customers.
But that didn't matter. We were captivated, and Oculus rode that wave to partnerships with Samsung, a purchase by Facebook and status as one of the most dominant players in the nascent VR market. Indeed, the company directly influenced the business paths of four of the biggest companies in technology: Facebook, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft, all of whom have heavy investments in VR now.
That's not to imply that established product categories from big companies aren't worth your time at CES. Whether you're into home theater, PCs, cameras, cars, gaming or the many bizarre, hard-to-classify gadgets out there, CES has something for everyone. You just have to look hard to find the good stuff. Engadget will be doing that for you all week -- and we'll also bring you the new, unexpected and potentially industry-defining new technology as soon as we spot it.
Nathan IngrahamClick here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.
Let's be real: We're probably not going to see any MacBook Touch Bar clones at this year's show, but we'll likely see some Surface Studio wannabes. It's possible that there will be some all-in-ones or monitors with moving hinges, but don't expect anything fancier than that. Companies like Lenovo, HP, Acer and Dell usually roll in with an array of notebooks and convertibles, but they typically show up with iterative upgrades. We'll likely get models with Intel's new seventh-generation Core CPUs and NVIDIA's latest graphics chips. Last year, laptops became skinnier and more stylish-looking, and we expect them to continue becoming slimmer, with narrower display bezels as well.
While there were plenty of Surface competitors unveiled at CES 2016, this year will likely see more thin-and-light MacBook alternatives touting additional ports compared with Apple's offerings. Lenovo has already rolled out its new ThinkPad line for CES, featuring Microsoft's bloatware-free version of Windows and the anticipated upgrade to Intel's seventh-generation Core processors. We may also see more companies adopt Intel's Optane 3D storage system for faster performance, or borrow (cough, steal, cough) ideas from one other, such as HP's laptop with a built-in privacy screen or Samsung's fast-charging notebook (although they probably should steer clear of this, given Samsung's exploding-battery woes).
Another thing to look out for: more laptops that support Windows Hello with biometric sensors such as fingerprint readers or face- and iris-recognizing cameras. The few PC towers that might be unveiled at CES will most likely be smaller and more attractive than their hulking eyesore predecessors, taking after the HP Pavilion Wave that was released this summer. Because HP followed Lenovo's example and made a business-oriented modular PC, it's possible that other rivals such as Acer, ASUS, Dell and Samsung will do the same.
Otherwise, the PCs that will be announced at CES are less likely to wow than the ones that will be shown off closer to next holiday season. Given all the other eye-catching products that typically get unveiled at the show, PC makers are better off keeping their flagship products under wraps till later in the year.
As big as it is, CES isn't usually where companies show off major mobile innovations. That's reserved for Mobile World Congress at the end of February. This doesn't mean the mobile world will twiddle its thumbs at the 2017 trade show, however. In fact, CES this year promises to be more exciting than usual for smartphone and smartwatch fans. Big names in the business are expected to either stage a comeback or make a big splash in the US, and cutting-edge technologies like augmented reality and 5G will edge closer to practicality.
This year, we'll see faded brands and platforms take another shot at glory. BlackBerry will be "giving a glimpse" into the future of its phones now that TCL is taking the reins on hardware. Xiaomi is making its CES debut this year, and it's promising its first global launch for a brand new product -- an admission that it has to expand its reach beyond countries like China and India if it wants to recover from its recent sales plunge.
Last year was tough for smartwatches, particularly those brands trying to compete with the Apple Watch -- remember how Google punted the Android Wear 2.0 launch to early 2017? We may finally see some news on that front at CES. It's expected that the first Android Wear 2.0 devices will appear at CES, showing what they can do with major upgrades like Android Pay and Google Assistant.
Of course, it wouldn't be CES if there weren't some out-there tech on the way. This year, much of the mobile news will revolve around the buzzwords that dominated 2016. Case in point: Huawei. When its CEO delivers his keynote January 5th, he'll unveil a mobile strategy that centers around "artificial intelligence, virtual reality and connected technologies." Expect many, many other companies to take a similarly trendy focus. ASUS, meanwhile, could continue its history of boundary-pushing CES launches by introducing the second phone to use Google's Tango depth-sensing technology for augmented reality.
Even though 5G data won't be ready for the real world in 2017, we should hear a lot about the forthcoming technology at CES. It's close enough that device makers and carriers are envisioning what they can do with that much bandwidth, such as smarter self-driving cars and robots.
You should see some bread-and-butter phone updates, of course. Many companies use CES for launches that would otherwise be overshadowed at Mobile World Congress a month later. That's not to say that they'll be pedestrian. Take LG's 2017 midrange lineup: The company is making a point of including features that were previously reserved for higher-end devices, like fingerprint readers. Sony, in turn, is rumored to be reviving its 4K smartphone dreams now that the technology is more mature. In some ways, these could be the most important introductions at CES. They won't revolutionize the mobile landscape, but they should make once-exotic technology more commonplace.
TV / home theater
Coming into CES 2017, several of the big players in home theater are holding their cards closer to the vest than usual. Of course, even without a slew of pre-event reveals, we have some ideas about what's in store for TVs and the devices that surround them.
OLED is well-known for offering up the best display quality out there. So what comes next? Price cuts, for one: LG has made its series of 4K OLED TVs much more affordable while keeping the quality up, but it will need to go further to match LCD for value. As for the competition, we're waiting to see if anyone else will try the technology on for size. Panasonic and Sony are good candidates for OLED TVs in 2017, even if they end up using LG's panels.
There's no indication that Samsung will switch gears on its display technology, but it's already done an incredible job of improving LCD displays. Enhancing picture quality while lowering prices will keep the battle tight for at least another year.
Speaking of price, just how cheap can 4K TVs get? They've almost completely edged 1080p out of the picture, and in 2017 Ultra HD may be ready to finish the job, especially now that you can get 4K content through Netflix, Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, Amazon and more. We're wondering who will be the last manufacturer standing at 1080p.
After a decade of teasing, high dynamic range (HDR) video arrived last year. Unfortunately, despite collaborations like the UHD Alliance, support for different standards is inconsistent. Bringing wider contrast and more colors to TVs is definitely the next big step in picture quality. Now, customers are seeing TVs that say they're HDR capable but can't actually deliver the goods, and confusing compatibility could drive people away from even trying it.
Also mixing things up is a new HDR standard, Hybrid Log-Gamma, that's joining the ranks of HDR-10 and Dolby Vision. Meanwhile, video games, movies and TV are all jumping into HDR production, but there's still a limited amount of content available. The question of who supports what -- and how -- should make for a very interesting CES. The only thing we know right now is that anyone who can make things less confusing is a step ahead in the race to win Best of Show.
Given how good most modern sets look, it's becoming even harder to stand out from the competition -- so some companies will focus on design to catch consumers' attention. Samsung's sticking with the funky curve for its Ultra HD Blu-ray deck and, probably, for its new TVs as well. LG has a speaker that floats, and we don't know if it will stop there. We've seen various levels of artsy influence on televisions before, but the 2017 battle could take things to an entirely new level.
Big, beautiful and bright is always the story for home theater at CES and, of course, that will continue. The trick, as always, will be in persuading anyone to upgrade now instead of waiting for everything to go 8K, or maybe VR, in a few years.
Cars have been part of CES for years, thanks in part to the blindingly white Audi booth luring attendees to the automotive accessory-filled North Hall. But CES 2016 was the year that automakers like Volkswagen and GM took over the annual electronics show in the desert. VW showed some ambitious concept vehicles, while GM introduced a long-range EV that you could actually afford. With this year's orgy of gadgets just around the corner, the automotive industry is hoping to grab even more of the tech-news cycle with bolder electric vehicles and a fleet of autonomous cars.
Automakers have traditionally used the auto shows in LA, Paris and Detroit to unveil new vehicles. But the huge splash made by the Chevy Bolt announcement last year means we're going to see a ton of new cars (most of them concepts) in between unveilings of new TVs and connected home devices that will never land on retailer shelves.
In fact, nearly every major automaker is hosting a press event. Nissan, Toyota, Fiat/Chrysler, Hyundai, Honda and BMW will all be either showing off new or concept hardware or will be talking about the future of driving.
Not to be outdone by the old guard, Faraday Future will be unveiling its first production vehicle. Like, an actual car, not the napkin sketch brought to life it showed off last year. The company could have done this at the LA Auto Show in November or waited until the Detroit International Auto Show in January. Both of those events would have been an opportunity to prove to the world that it's a real car company (although according to reports, one with financial difficulties) ready to start populating the roads with tech-filled EVs. But instead, it's doing it at CES.
So expect an onslaught of car news coming out of CES. Even more than what was shown off last year. On the electric vehicle front, automakers will try to one up one each other on range. Who cares how awesome your concept car is if it needs to recharge after 100 miles?
Self-driving, while still years away, will get plenty of stage time -- not just from the car makers but from companies like Delphi, NVIDIA and Mobileye, which make the feat possible. Be prepared to see a ton of self-driving vehicles as we inch closer to full autonomy (which, I can't stress enough, will happen years from now).
Get ready for cars. Lots of cars. Ones that'll make you wish we already lived in the future with glowing headlamps and glass roofs. Vehicles that talk to you and show you your favorite show while you commute. Automobiles with insane 0-to-60 times and EV ranges in the hundreds of miles.
We did it, folks: Virtual reality is widely available as a consumer product. With the launch of the HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, Google Daydream and other mobile and desktop headsets, 2016 proved there's a market for virtual reality -- and video games in VR. Games are the most natural expression of everything VR has to offer, showcasing the platform's ability to immerse and engage users in new ways.
But VR is old news. As we enter the technophile fantasy land that is CES 2017, the video-game industry is looking at what's next. This means augmented reality, 4K gaming and only the fanciest new hardware and accessories.
It's certain that Sony and Microsoft will show off a raft of new technologies and devices at CES 2017, and it's a good bet some of this content will be gaming-related. Microsoft is in a particularly intriguing position, as it's been looking beyond VR, to the world of augmented reality, for a few years now. And now, Microsoft is on the verge of introducing AR to everyday folks, starting with a solid foundation in VR.
In 2017, a handful of partner companies will roll out a series of $300 Windows 10 VR headsets designed to introduce consumers to AR. Specifically, they're meant to be a bridge between VR and Microsoft's AR platform, HoloLens.
Microsoft has already laid out its plans for Minecraft on HoloLens, but other than a few tech demos, the company has kept its mixed-reality project quiet. CES 2017 would be a good place to break the silence.
And then there's Sony. The company had a busy year with the launch of PlayStation VR and the PlayStation 4 Pro, which is capable of running games in 4K. The PS4 Pro is a leap forward for the video-game industry, but it doesn't mean 4K gaming is suddenly standard. As we noted in September, it takes a while for games themselves to catch up with the promises of new, beefier consoles.
Developers are in the process of upscaling their games for the PS4 Pro, and Microsoft even has a 4K-capable console due out in late 2017, codenamed Project Scorpio. It's guaranteed that 4K TVs will be a hot topic at CES 2017 -- and that includes 4K gaming.
Plenty of big brands will bring their latest and greatest gaming hardware to January's show, including VR and AR headsets, keyboards, mobile devices, headphones, PCs and laptops. Expect to see new products and features from Nvidia, Roccat, ASUS, Razer and other companies. Anyone in the market for a Shield 2 or a relatively cheap HD gaming laptop? CES 2017 might just have your answer.
The day is near when video games will be barely distinguishable from reality, whether they're beautifully rendered in 4K on a curved OLED TV, presented directly on our faces in a VR headset, or projected onto the existing world via AR. CES precedes E3, the massive video-game convention taking place in June -- even if it doesn't offer any groundbreaking announcements, January's show will lay the foundation and establish priorities for the gaming industry in the year ahead.
Internet of things / connected home
The connected home has long been a promise of the future -- think internet-linked refrigerators and WiFi thermostats -- and is, therefore, a mainstay at CES. This year should be no different, though we expect to see less innovation and more just a continuation of existing trends.
Specifically, most companies are realizing that instead of building their own platforms, they need to be a part of a larger one to remain relevant. While big corporations like Samsung has its own in the form of SmartThings, most companies are turning to existing platforms like Apple's HomeKit and Google's Brillo to power their IoT ambitions. We saw some of this at CES in 2016, and we'll likely see more of that in 2017.
But the focus at CES 2017 will likely be on integrating voice assistants like Amazon's Alexa into existing products. This past year, we've seen Alexa incorporated into all manner of consumer electronics -- you can use it to control Neato's robotic vacuums, adjust the AC at the Wynn without getting out of bed and even lock your BMW from afar. So get ready for more of that in 2017.
It might sound like Alexa is getting a lot of love here, but that's only because it got quite a bit of a head start. A couple of months ago, Google finally brought its very own Echo competitor to market, which means we'll certainly see support for Home as well.
Indeed, Google Home also points at another trend in IoT -- artificial intelligence. The idea behind Google Assistant is that it integrates with your email and your calendar. It can learn your daily routine and, potentially, improve them. We'll likely see more of that AI and machine-learning integration in all manner of consumer electronics, which may or may not be a little creepy.
Aside from that, we'll probably see more of the same. That means more electronic pet feeders, more WiFi doorbell cameras and more connected kitchens. The IoT landscape has been pretty messy and confusing thus far, so there'll still likely be a few kinks to work out, and we're guessing that most of the so-called smart gadgets at the show will probably be pretty dumb. But we won't know until we check them out, so who knows? There could be a connected-home gem buried somewhere in the Las Vegas Convention Center.
So what about the rest? In 2017, Bluetooth 5.0 promises increased wireless capacity, better performance over distance and more — ideal when many phone makers are leaving the headphone port behind and moving onto wireless headphones. In fact, a strengthened Bluetooth standard will pave the way for better-connected homes, cars, wearables and pretty much anything wireless. That's pretty much half of the show -- but it's worth noting that we haven't yet seen a single Bluetooth 5.0 product.
We're also expecting more unusual wearables from companies not known for tech products. Safilo Group, an Italian company that makes frames for Dior, Fendi and Hugo Boss, is developing mood-assessing (if not altering) smartglasses. It will apparently pack multiple sensors behind the ears and on the nose bridge to measure brainwaves. Weird face-wear is just one form-factor. Smart shirts, shoes and maybe even belts (again), with or without fitness features, are likely to appear more than a few times around the halls of CES.
We already touched on the possible appearance of Android Wear 2.0, but what about all those other wearables? Pebble is no more, which narrows the field of wearable companies. Fitbit might have something to show, but we'll doubtless see plenty of forgettable wrist-based fitness trackers and watches. These new challengers will have to deliver a particular new trick or feature to have any hope of persuading us to tip into our collective wallets.
Expect to see more coding and programming tools for kids, as school curricula place increasing emphasis on STEM and the importance of tech skills. We'd wager that even more established toy makers will be wanting to get in on the action, meaning more toy robots and more building kits.
When it comes to toys for grownups, drones are unlikely to disappear from the show, but we may see new models that make it easier for beginner pilots to record video, race and more. If drone prices come down in the process, all the better.
However, CES is at its best when something insane appears. Intel's booth is traditionally full of future-baiting gadgets still years away from stores. Meanwhile, even the typically conservative likes of Samsung and Sony now have experimental arms looking for the next (left-field) hit. Maybe it's skin-care gadgets, maybe it's a digital vinyl player. Let's get weird.Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.