Ahhh, CES! The biggest trade show in the Western hemisphere. 3,200 booths, spread out over the equivalent of seven football fields.
Wear comfortable shoes or perish.
The most important lesson of CES is that the stuff they’re showing isn’t necessarily coming soon to a store near you. A lot of it is experimental. Prototypes, concepts, products and trends that will never succeed. Some of it more desperate than others (*cough* 3-D television *cough*).
If you had to boil down the most important trends for this year’s CES, though, you might come up with these.
Once again this year, the belle of the ball will be the goggles from Sony, Samsung, HTC, Oculus, and others. Yes, it’s virtual reality (VR), where you can turn your head inside your video game and “look around” the scene.
You hear people gushing about how VR will completely transform moviemaking and storytelling and entertainment; I say that’s going too far. These headsets are heavy, hot, sweaty, and, above all, isolating. The classic scene of friends playing a VR game is one kid wearing the goggles, and everyone else sitting on the couch waiting for their turn. At the moment, therefore, VR is still a novelty.
More promising, actually, is augmented reality—goggles you can see through, experiencing computer graphics superimposed on your real world. Microsoft will be showing the latest in its Hololens AR goggles, for example.
Self-driving cars are coming, and soon. Lots of cars for sale today already do lots of driving by themselves. Toyota, Volkswagen, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford will all be at the show, demonstrating how close they’re getting at fully autonomous cars.
Can you imagine? That will be the end not just of accidents, but also driver’s ed, driver’s licenses, and speeding tickets.
But smart software is also coming to drones; the new batch can follow you automatically as you ski or bike and, more importantly, can sense obstacles and avoid them automatically.
Internet of Things
This annoying term refers to networkability (and smartphone apps) for household gadgets like dishwashers, refrigerators, lights, door locks, thermostats, and so on. So far, there’s a lot more hype in this category than sales; the masses just aren’t buying. Probably because there’s no particular need for most things to be networkable.
More IoT gizmos than ever will be hawked at CES this year: smart showers, smart bikes, smart clothes, and smart sports equipment. None of it will sell very well.
We’ve come a very long way since “wearable” tech meant a Fitbit. Now they’re putting sensing technologies into shoes, belts, shirts, headbands, and so on.
The TV industry loved it when we all tossed out our old TV sets to buy HDTV ones. But now we’re done with that transition. Ever since, the industry has been wondering: How can they make us toss out our sets again like that?
This year, the buzzword will be high-dynamic range (HDR) TV, which some companies will call Ultra HD Premium. Turns out today’s TVs can display only a fraction of the range of colors and brightnesses that our eyes can see. HDR screens can come much closer.
Unlike 4K, you can see the improvement immediately. Much brighter whites, bolder blacks, more variations of color.
Of course, getting HDR means not just a new set, but new stuff to watch on it. Netflix, Amazon, and other companies have indicated that they’ll start producing HDR shows, but it will take some time before the rest of the TV, movie, cable, satellite, and Internet worlds get on board.
CES is a great show for crazy high-tech experiments. Give enough engineers enough money and room, and they’ll come up with some mind-blowers. There will always be a surprise hit or two—things we won’t know until we get there.
Fortunately, Yahoo Finance’s pages will teem with more coverage of new products—some of which actually might see the light of day.