Visitors experience VR (virtual reality) devices during the CES Asia 2016 on May 11, 2016 in Shanghai, China.
VCG—VCG via Getty Images
By Tim Bajarin
January 3, 2017

I am what you might call a seasoned veteran of the Consumer Electronics Show, now simply called CES. I started going to CES in 1976, and although I missed a few years, I have attended over 60 shows, if you count the summer events held in Chicago during the 1980s and 1990s. This year marks an important milestone for CES, as the show celebrates its 50th anniversary.

A crowd of over 170,000 are expected to land in Las Vegas between January 5 and 8. CES has become the major go-to exhibition to learn about what’s new in tech, and to spot upcoming trends. The exhibits are set up in two major venues: The Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Convention Center, with other exhibits in various hotels along the famous Las Vegas strip. Total floor space for all exhibits is over 1 million square feet. (If you’re attending the show, remember comfortable shoes!)

Here’s a look at the major trends I expect at this year’s CES, based on events, conference sessions and other material:

Smart Cars and Autonomous Vehicles

The auto industry has attended CES for decades, but more in the form of add-on sound systems, in-car entertainment systems and, more recently, navigational products. But CES has now become a showcase for many automakers to show off smart and autonomous cars.

We should also see a lot of products that can be added to cars to make them smarter. We will see some innovative designs from Corning Glass, in which the entire dashboard is made of glass, and other demos in Corning’s booth that shows how “smart” glass will eventually change the way we interact with our cars of the future. One keynote related to this will be by Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, where he is expected to show off an autonomous vehicle. The controversial Faraday Future, meanwhile, may show off a new vehicle as well.

VR, AR and Mixed Reality

Two years ago, Oculus VR introduced its Rift headset, and instantly became one of the biggest hits of that year’s show. Since then, Oculus was bought by Facebook, while HTC, Sony and Samsung, among others, have also launched rival VR headsets. However, VR so far has focused on games. When used in business, it is targeted for vertical apps that bring VR to fields like real estate, travel and many other visually-driven business disciplines.

Because VR needs powerful (and costly) goggles or glasses to deliver a serious experience, it will still be a few years before it reaches mainstream consumers. But VR will be big at CES this year, as will many apps and devices focused on augmented and mixed reality where VR and AR apps overlap the visual experience.

4K and 8K TVs

4K TVs, or Ultra HD TVs, were a hot topic during the last three CES shows — and that will be true once again. As prices have come down, 4K TVs have become more affordable, and almost anyone upgrading their TV should move to 4K even though 4K content has been slow to roll out. But 4K programs will be more plentiful in 2017, and buying 4K is like future-proofing your TV.

The big question will be: Should you buy an LCD, OLED or Quantum Dot model?

Sony argues that LCD has a lot of life in it yet, while LG wants to move everyone over to OLED. But Samsung says Quantum Dot is the future of TV screens. Cost will be a big factor in this decision. LCDs are made in mass quantities, are getting better in quality, and at the moment are less costly than OLED. Quantum Dot TVs are also pricer than LCD, but all three are highly competitive and the value of each is in the eye of the beholder.

CES will also have at least a couple of TV vendors showing off their new generation of 8K TVs. The goal is to start moving people to 8K by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which may be broadcast in the format.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things, or IoT, will be represented in just about every product shown in one form or another. Connected devices and IoT-related products will be in everything from new wearables and health-related products to appliances and vehicles. One could almost call CES “The IoT Show” given that just about every product shown will have some form of connectivity.

Personal Robots, Personal Transportation Devices and Drones

Given the amount of invites I have received about personal robots, I suspect this will be an interesting category being pushed at CES this year.

Some of these robots are task-oriented, like robotic vacuums and coffeemakers, but some are actually small robots that follow you around and become a type of personal assistant. Also hot will be personal transportation devices like hoverboards and different variations on the idea of giving people new forms of personal electronic transportation options. And we should see dozens of new drones introduced that target both business and consumers.

If you are a techie, this is your candy store. Be watching for the news that comes out of this show as it will be both entertaining and informative.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

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