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Cynthia Wisehart on CES

For the first time in pretty much my adult life, there was no CES to schlep to Las Vegas for. No forced marches, no pitched battles for cabs, no scouting for a dinner reservation like a hunter in search of the last buffalo. No standing desperate and pregnant at the desk at the Monte Carlo while a merciful concierge calls all over town in search of a room that doesn’t exist when my flight home is canceled (I ended up at the Four Queens with a chair pushed up under the doorknob).

I miss it. Though I wonder now, after months of pandemic, if I would be skittish and overstimulated on a tradeshow floor surrounded by the now unfamiliar crush and din of people, bright lights, and sound. Will I feel strange in shoes? Will I reflexively Zoom pause between sentences waiting for the network to catch up? I guess we’ll eventually find out when we meet again and do not shake hands.

In the meantime, we have virtual.

CES already generated a furious pace of online chatter every year anyway. This year, it seemed less. LG not surprisingly dominated, and managed to make display sexy and aesthetic even without their customary lux booth (they did a virtual one). While the transparent bed screen got the press, the more practical news was OLED coming to smaller screens. Sony came with annual upgrades to stalwarts like the Bravia (with AI). For our industry the bigger (literally) Sony news was the latest Crystal LED on a massive scale. And a flashy new AirPeak drone. Sony and Samsung brought new Dolby Atmos soundbars. There were cool multimedia concept cars (see Mercedes with their massive dash system). News also came that Sony’s car from last year is now in road tests. Unsurprisingly there were some COVID-19 disinfecting gadgets and more robots to replace the humans we are not interacting with. No new robot dogs, but I think that reflects the times—our real dogs are proving themselves indispensable.

My colleagues at Residential Systems, TWICE, and TechRadar made their show picks. On their radar: an admittedly beautify LG multi-media refrigerator; Samsung Neo QLED TV and Premier Projector; cell boosters, LED downlights, and flush mounts for in-wall cameras. Acer scored with their laptops, as did Lenovo. The most entertaining lineup of award-winners is from TWICE, although baby monitors, skincare, bike locks, vacuums and sex toys are a bit tangential. From our world, Elite Screens made it into consumer company with its Aeon CLR 2 screen.

In the end it felt pretty low key, but nevertheless reflected a huge amount of enterprise from marketers and from product designers. Most of these products had been underway before anyone imagined where we would be in January 2021. It will be interesting to see where the product cycles lead, this time next year. As for virtual events in general, CES pulled it off and kudos. But I still think my colleague Megan Dutta gets the win on virtual events with her Virtual Happy Hour and the debut of the first AV cocktail, the Wallhanger.

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