CES: The Main Halls
CES 2020 is now over, and the next round of shows is underway (NAMM is also over now, IPC APEX EXPO is next week, followed by AWE and others). CES displayed electronics related to gaming, monitors, computers, smartwatches, TVs, vehicles, cellphones, etc. However, the effect on the industry and the way we live will be felt until the next CES. The largest and most influential participants are usually found at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The LVCC is made up of three large, connected convention center buildings—some two stories tall—all connected as the largest show floor square footage anywhere. Next year, it will be even larger, as it has been announced that the LVCC will soon be expanded, adding 600,000 square feet of floor space.
Again, I must remind that even though we spent a full day at the LVCC, and we saw perhaps half of what was offered, and that does not include the spillover exhibition halls at the nearby hotels. Our journey at the main convention center starts at the South Hall where an area the size of the entire IPC APEX EXPO show is devoted to e-gaming.
If you are a gamer—and especially if you build your own beastly gaming rigs—CES was the place to be. In a previous article, I discussed some of the impressive components from one of the computer DIY industry segments leaders, Corsair. I also reported on the AMD announcements, but let me add some commentary on a new component from AMD that got my attention.
The AMD Ryzen 4000 Series CPUs for notebooks is codenamed Renoir. This past year, AMD dominated the desktop CPU market, especially for DIY builders with their amazing and very cost-effective Ryzen 3000 series. As someone who personally built a rig using a Ryzen 3000 chip, I can attest to its amazing power and reasonable price. This 4000 series has an advantage in that it is designed for use in laptops. It seems to basically be a Ryzen 3000 series with the capability of powering a light but powerful gaming notebook.
With the increase in popularity of advanced amateur and professional computer gaming, one would expect to see powerful as well as lightweight gaming notebooks. Lenovo announced their entry into the PC gaming notebook market at CES with the Legion Y742S. It’s not exactly light, but weighing a reasonable 4.18 pounds, they claim that this is their thinnest and lightest gaming laptop. This offering from Lenovo claims a battery life of up to 8 hours and features a 10th Gen Intel Core i9 CPU, which Lenovo says will offer clock speed of up to 5 GHz. Another feature is that it can quickly toggle between performance modes, depending on what you are doing. My experience with the Lenovo ThinkPad series of notebooks has always been excellent, so it will be interesting to see what the effect of their entrance into the growing laptop computer gaming market will be.
Dell also had a new offering—the G5 15 SE—with the latest AMD hardware and features. This unit will ship with a design language that the company describes as “fighter plane-like.” In addition, it will have optional 144-Hz displays available and an optional 4-zone RGB keyboard. It is planned for availability in April with prices starting at $799.99, but I would expect them to be considerably higher if you choose the more powerful options available for this unit.
Alienware is also rolling out a new 25” gaming monitor with the company’s Legend design ID. It features NVIDIA G-Sync and a 240-Hz refresh rate.
Other new gaming monitors include one from Samsung, who announced that they are now naming their gaming monitors under the Odyssey umbrella just as they do their gaming laptops. Their latest and greatest is a large curved gaming monitor—the Odyssey G9. This 49” monitor has an impressive 240-Hz refresh rate and up to 5K resolution supporting NVIDIA G-Sync.
While this is an amazing monitor based on its specifications, I think the aspect ratio with these ultra-wide monitors is too wide. If you use your computer for more than gaming—and almost all of us do—no matter how powerful of a beast you have built or bought, you will sometimes just use it for looking at a web page or writing a word file. Even if you use multiple monitors, I believe that the narrow height vs. width becomes somewhat annoying, especially if it is your only monitor, but that’s just my opinion.
There were also some new monitors using the more normal aspect ratio—many with the somewhat dated but still popular 1080P resolution. For example, ASUS announced its ROG Swift 360 Hz—a 24.5” monitor with an amazing 360-Hz refresh rate and very conventional 1080P resolution. Do higher refresh rates make you a better gamer? NVIDIA says yes, but I think the question is still up for debate.
The gaming area this year was quite large. In addition to computers and monitors, professional and extensive gaming setups were shown. For example, the Razor exhibit, which dominated the view of anyone entering the South Hall, included a plethora of gaming hardware. It had everything from laptops, mice, displays, and desktop and notebook computers to complete amusement park-quality gaming stations.
Of course, there were many more high-tech advanced components and visually amazing devices shown by many companies. In addition, the emergence of virtual reality into mainstream gaming was quite evident at CES 2020. Companies, such as ThirdEye Gen and others, showed lightweight, wireless VR vision glasses rather than the heavy, wired headsets that dominated just a few years ago. After all, the technology has advanced light years from the Apple II and the IBM PC, and e-sports has grown in just the last few years to be a billion-dollar industry with accelerated growth. It would be easy to spend the entire day exploring more of the numerous computer and e-gaming exhibits, but it was time to move on.
A topic that, a few years ago, was somewhat choice limited, but has gained in ability and popularity, is smartwatches. Smartwatch offerings that are not limited to using a specific brand of smartphone have been somewhat limited, but now, the vast majority of the more capable smartwatches will work in partnership with any smartphone. Further, some no longer need to be tied to a phone to make or receive a call.
A few years ago, smartwatches and fitness trackers were separate categories, each with a specific focus. But as each has evolved, the lines have blurred. Prices also now vary from under $50 into hundreds of dollars, and the capabilities vary depending on the focus of the design. Of course, all of them tell time, and most of them will provide notices of incoming texts or emails, but some also focus on exercise and fitness, and others will also track medical conditions. Some can provide an almost instant cardiogram in addition to blood sugar levels.
There are many brands available, but the top choices as of January 2020 based on BestReviews are, in order, the Samsung GearS3; the Apple watch, which would be ranked number one if it worked with other ecosystems; the ASUA ZenWatch; the Fitbit Versa; and the Motorola Moto 360. I also had the opportunity to look at many others, and one brand I would consider is Garmin, who has a wide range at all price levels. In addition, Fossil has shown an ever-improving line of smartwatches at the last few CES shows. Their line is extremely good looking, and their abilities are very impressive.
The point is that smartwatches are here to stay. I know that for the last few years, my dress watches have stayed in my drawer. There are so many ways to know what time it is, but trying to do without all the features of my two-year-old smartwatch would be like a teen leaving their smartphone home.
Over the last 10 years, we have seen TVs go from HD (1080P 60Hz), which now is common and low end, to UHD 4K. All of that was at CES about a year before it became commonly available. Yes, there were some TV trends that were being touted as the next big thing. Remember 3D TVs from just a few years ago? Now, you cannot even get one, and I do not believe there are any more 3D program sources.
This year, there were amazing TV resolutions up to 8K. 2018’s 4K TVs are now selling for a fraction of their original price today. 8K screens are amazingly lifelike (not that 4K is not) and have extremely high refresh rates. Some of the larger ones are selling in the $50K range, but we all know what happens to TV prices as the volume increases. Here is a forecast from TV Technology. My question regarding 8K—or 4K, for that matter—is the availability of the bandwidth needed to transmit programs or videos at this ultra-high resolution. However, the same thing was said about 1080P and even color TV back in the day. If there is a demand, a way will be found.
The most impressive showing this year was Samsung's Wall MicroLED TV, which was 292 inches, making it the largest TV seen at CES. For something slightly smaller, the display comes in 88-, 93-, 110-, and 150-inch sizes. There were very impressive offerings from Panasonic, Sony, LG, and TCL, as well as some very nice offerings from companies that most of us have never heard of.
Over the last 10 years, vehicles of all kinds have become intertwined with technology. First, it was GPS and satellite radio in the high-end automobiles at the turn of the century; now, they are common and expected. Five years ago, autonomous transportation was forecast to be commonly available by 2020. While that has not come to pass, primarily due to safety concerns the advent of 5G and its ability for vehicles to talk to each other and inform each other of conditions instantly due to high speed and lag-free transmission, it will be back on track quickly.
This year it was not just the high-end companies, such as Mercedes, showing pre-release vehicles; it was Ford, Jeep, Sony, Nissan, Audi, Toyota, Chrysler, Hyundai, as well as some names you would not expect, such as Byton and Fisker. All of these companies had autonomous offerings with the ability to be driven but clearly designed to be totally autonomous. The demonstration of the Hyundai Mobis was impressive, to say the least. It is clearly designed to operate on its own, but a push of the button and it converts to a fully human drivable vehicle. Otherwise, there is absolutely no clue as to how a human might operate it.
This year it was not just ground transportation but actual prototypes of autonomous drone-like air taxies. One that got lots of attention was shown by a partnership between Hyundai and Uber.
Last year, New Future Transportation Inc. (NFT )—a Silicon Valley developer of autonomous commuter transportation—presented the concept of their state-of-the-art two- or four-seater electric vertical landing and takeoff (eVTOL) vehicle at CES 2019 in Eureka Park. This vehicle is an “affordable” autonomous commuter transportation vehicle designed to drive like a family car; however, it flies autonomously for door-to-door commuting.
This year, NFT is developing an eVTOL vehicle that will work both as an aircraft and ground car (i.e., a drive-fly vehicle). Mountain View is NFT’s research and development center. It has a Center of Excellence based in Israel, and its quality assurance and manufacturing center will be located in Japan. A prototype of the vehicle is supposed to be completed later this year. This is a far-out concept for most of us, but this is the second year that it was at CES. With the prototype now scheduled for this year, it is something that we will follow with the real test being real measurable progress by next year’s show.
There were more transportation announcements and concepts than I could cover in the time available; however, there was one more that got my attention that was real and available. Harley Davidson, in partnership with Panasonic Automotive, released the LiveWire electric beast of a motorcycle a few months ago and showed it at CES. This advanced vehicle has built-in GPS and LTE connectivity with up to 4G LTE speeds, with its status being shown on a 4.3-inch liquid crystal touch-screen display with integrated navigation and music built into the dashboard. The motorcycle (if you can call it that) has an impressive build but is somewhat lightweight. It reportedly can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in under 3.5 seconds. Its range is 110 miles per charge. The selling price is just under $30K.
Before we wrap up the coverage of CES 2020, here are a few additional items that I found interesting.
As expected, there were lots of smartphones, many with no new features—just the next digit in the series. Most smartphones had notable improvements but not huge advances. Some examples include the Galaxy Note 10 Lite with a sizable 6.7-inch screen and 4,500-mAh battery, and Samsung's Galaxy Note 10 Lite appears to be a workhorse. The Note 10 Lite will come with a headphone jack (something that those of us who demand the highest quality sound from a wired headphone like), three cameras on the back—main, telephoto, and ultrawide-angle lenses at 12 megapixels each—and a stylus. However, there’s no pricing or release date yet.
Another example is the TCL 10 Pro. You may know TCL for its affordable TVs, but this good-looking and reasonably priced $500 phone should help extend its brand awareness. It appears like a Galaxy S10 clone, comes with four rear cameras, a headphone jack, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor. But the device's design—with a crisp screen, curved sides, and attractive colors—sets it apart from other mid-priced phones. TCL is also working on a foldable phone. This foldable prototype could come out later this year. The eye-catching phone will, when open, offer a 7.2-inch screen and cost less than the $1,500 foldable Motorola Razr flip phone, which also was a noticeable topic of discussion with many seeming to be waiting for the rebirth of the Razr.
IoT and Smart Homes
Another category that is getting more attention than ever before is IoT, with the key focus being on smart homes. A smart home is one that has incorporated connected control over much of what you do in your home, including turning on and off lights, temperature control, security, playing music, and just about everything from the sublime to the ridiculous—in other words, controlling everything from your location, whether it be from a different room, state, or country. It can be by specific control from your internet-connected device or by incorporating home automation. Home automation is exactly what it sounds like: automating the ability to control items around the house, from your thermostat to window shades, pet feeders, and even checking on the condition of your baby’s diaper. All of these actions are done on a schedule, with the simple push of a button, or by voice command.
There are many smart home product categories at CES, and there are also many benefits and drawbacks. Many of the things you can do with connected devices are cool and fun, such as asking your digital assistant to play a specific song, but there is a price, such as the potential invasion of your privacy. If there is a microphone in your house connected to the internet, you potentially have no privacy. On the other hand, if “you have fallen and cannot get up,” there is the safety factor of being able to ask for help.
At CES, there were hundreds of smart devices and controls. The IoT and smart environments, along with connected digital and robotic assistants, are changing our lives far more than we realize. The entire topic of IoT and smart homes is something that we will be reviewing in more detail in upcoming articles.
Samsung’s Neon Project
Samsung’s Neon project was also very interesting, with its realistic digital people. Samsung’s Samsung Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Labs debuted at CES this year. It described its Neon unit as "a computationally created virtual being that looks and behaves like a real human, with the ability to show emotions and intelligence."
Neon makes video chatbots that look and act like real people. Neons aren't all-knowing smart assistants like Alexa or Cortana, nor are they androids, surrogates, or copies of real humans, the company said in an FAQ shared with reporters. "Neons are not AI assistants," the company said. "Neons are more like us—an independent but virtual living being who can show emotions and learn from experiences. Unlike AI assistants, Neons do not know it all, and they are not an interface to the internet to ask for weather updates or to play your favorite music."
They are designed to have conversations and behave like real humans. They form memories and learn new skills but don't have a physical embodiment yet. Neons can help with "goal-oriented tasks, or can be personalized to assist in tasks that require human touch." They can act as teachers, financial advisers, health care providers, concierges, actors, spokespeople, or TV anchors. While they can borrow traits of real people and have a similar look and voice, they can't be exact copies of existing humans, Neon said. And each Neon is unique, with its own personality.
Are they real or not? Is it all true? Does it sound scary? Think of all the possible ramifications. It has been stated that Neon could change everything. Amazing advanced capabilities or really scary? You decide. Here is a video if you want to see more.
What are the things to watch in the coming year? That depends on your interests. If you build or use high-end computers, watch the new CPU chips from AMD, and let’s see if Intel regains its edge. If smartphones are your thing, then watch for foldable, easy-to-carry, mini portable computers with longer battery life. If you’re interested in remote activities, including everything from gaming to remote surgery and virtual assistants instructing you on how to do a repair or project or even walk on the moon, then follow XR (we will be covering the AEW VR event in a few months). And if all you want is a huge, lifelike TV, then watch that category, especially the pricing trends before you buy. There is so much amazing progress being made and so many unbelievable technologies and devices.
In other words, if it is technology-related—good, bad, amazing, or ridiculous—it was at CES, and there will be some incredible advances in the next 12 months. In the meantime, we will be watching and bringing you updates. As always, stay tuned.