Autonomous cars. Crazy high-definition resolution televisions. Toothbrushes that have Bluetooth, for some reason.
These are just a few of the products on display at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, during which nearly 160,000 technophiles are expected to descend upon Las Vegas. This year’s show has nearly two miles of floor space, packed with the expected, like powerful smartwatches, to the downright weird, like a “smart belt” that gives your belly some breathing space after you’ve had a little too much of grandma's meat loaf. Still, a handful of categories have broken out as stealing the show.
If CES is any indication, 2015 will be the year 4K televisions could finally hit the mainstream. LG, Sony, Sharp, Samsung and others are dedicating plenty of floor space to their newest ultra-high definition sets. The standout here so far has been a new LG 4K set that uses OLED technology. That stands for “Organic Light-Emitting Diode,” but what it means in reality is a sharper picture with much-improved contrast over older high-resolution TVs.
4K displays have been kicking around for a while, but they’ve long been too expensive and devoid of content to make them a worthy purchase. But that’s changing. Some of these manufacturer’s new 4K sets aren’t much more than non-4K displays, like an offering from Sharp that will cost under $800. And platforms from Netflix to Amazon are beginning to offer more native 4K shows and movies, meaning there will be more content that’ll help give consumers a reason to buy a 4K set.
Still, it’s wise to take all of this with a grain of salt. 3D televisions were all the rage at the show back in 2010, and they’ve all since disappeared from store shelves.
The most hotly anticipated smartwatch of 2015, the Apple Watch, is nowhere to be found here in Vegas. Apple doesn’t attend the show, and in fact has a habit of making big announcements during CES in a bit of savvy counter programing. But there are plenty of other smartwatches and fitness trackers attempting to grab show-goers’ attention this year.
Take, for example, Withings’ Activite Pop, a classic-looking timepiece you’d be forgiven for mistaking for a typical "dumb" watch at first glance. The colorful Pop, selling for $149, hides fitness and sleep tracking functions behind its face, using a combination of a secondary hand and smartphone syncing to display vital information. Sony, meanwhile, rolled out a stylish stainless steel version of its SmartWatch 3. A company called Nymi is demonstrating a wristband that unlocks your devices using your heartbeat. And whispers of a new LG smartwatch came from a most unexpected place: Audi’s Tuesday press conference, during which eagle-eyed viewers caught a glimpse of an LG-branded, car-controlling device unlike anything the company currently offers.
Let’s get something out of the way quickly: 2015 won’t be the year the steering wheel goes extinct. But we’re getting closer, with Audi, Mercedes-Benz and VW all offering demos of various automated car technology. Audi pulled a stunt in which it got what it calls a “piloted car” (it shies away from “driverless”) from San Francisco to Vegas in time for the show. Mercedes CEO Dietrich Zetsche showed off a bullet-shaped autonomous concept car with a cabin that's more like a living room than a car. Audi presented a smartwatch app that can signal your car to drive itself out of your garage and come pick you up.
While fully autonomous driving is still a ways down the road, elements of that future are already making vehicles safer — features like blind spot warnings and parallel park assistance are all cousins of the tech that makes autonomous cars possible.
Oculus Rift, one of the leading companies in virtual reality, is showing off its new Crescent Bay prototype, and it’s a much-improved experience compared to Oculus’ previous offerings. Samsung, meanwhile, is offering demos of its Gear VR Innovator Edition, a mobile VR headset powered by a Galaxy Note 4. An upstart company called Virtuix has made a treadmill-like contraption that lets users move about in a virtual world without resorting to using an immersion-breaking controller. And several automotive technology companies are pitching "augmented reality” concepts, which can overlay valuable information about road conditions and traffic on your car’s windshield.
Whether or not virtual reality goes mainstream this year depends on hardware and content. Oculus won’t say when its Crescent Bay prototype will make it to consumers, and there’s still a pretty small (but growing) universe of developers making stuff to run on VR headsets.
The Absolutely Weird
Some of the most fun stuff at CES is also the downright strangest. Oral-B’s Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush syncs up with a smartwatch app in an effort to help consumers brush better. There’s more than a few floating speakers, which use magnetic levitation to spin a few centimeters off your desk. The smart belt that automatically compensates for your giant dinner is all the rage. TIME used an app that uses a selfie to unlock your banking app. A company called TrackingPoint has an intimidating-looking rifle that "allows even novice shooters to make mile-long shots.” And selfie sticks are, of course, everywhere you turn.