CES 2018: what to expect from the year’s biggest tech show

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

In a few days, we’ll all descend into Las Vegas for another year of the Consumer Electronics Show, an annual gathering of the latest gadgets, toys, car tech, and more. The Verge and Circuit Breaker are back to bring you all the latest from Vegas, with our teams on the ground this Friday and bringing you coverage all week long.

So what can you expect to see at the show? Every year brings larger television sets with higher resolutions than ever, faster drones, a variety of self-driving vehicles, and more wearables than you can fit on your body. We’re also bringing Circuit Breaker Live to Las Vegas, streaming exclusively on Twitter every day from January 8th to 11th at 2PM PST / 5PM EST. Our colorful cast of Verge staffers be there to give you our analyses, commentary, inside looks, and demonstrations of the coolest (and weirdest) tech from the CES floor. We’ll also query all your burning questions live if you tweet us! So do that!

Now that we’ve got a little business out of the way, here’s a glimpse at what you can expect to see over the next week at CES 2018.

VR will fade into the background, and AR will rise to the forefront

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

With three well-established commercial headsets on the market, virtual reality has started to feel like a normal corner of the tech industry and no longer like the next big thing. But with normalization and lukewarm adoption (only Sony and its PS VR headset post impressive sales figures), we’ve entered into a kind of VR malaise. Most people still haven’t even tried VR, as it still requires pricey external hardware and remains focused almost entirely on the game community. Even as Steven Spielberg’s big-budget blockbuster adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One prepares to hit the silver screen, it’s staring to look like VR will take many more years to manifest as a mainstream consumer product.

In its place, augmented reality has earned a new sense of purpose, with industry momentum thanks to Niantic’s Pokémon Go, Apple’s new ARKit framework, and the general rise of computer vision on smartphones that decorate our selfies with all manners of silly virtual objects. Like it was for VR, CES will be a destination for all the forward-looking ideas and far-out prototypes. For AR, that means goggles and glasses that will try to replicate the kind of futuristic tech only seen in science fiction. So while the phones in our pockets handle the low-end of AR, expect the products at CES to showcase what the high-end, experimental realm of this tech has to offer.

Electric car concepts galore

Photo by Anthony Dias for The Verge

CES has become a prime show for dreaming about weird, new ways to get around. But instead of the big car and concept reveals we’ve seen in past years, this year’s show looks like it will be more about the technology that is those vehicles, as well as what powers them.

Ford’s new CEO Jim Hackett will deliver a keynote address on Tuesday, January 9th. His speech will undoubtedly be a grab bag of buzzwords like “mobility” and “future of transportation,” and the company’s likely saving its biggest product reveals for Detroit. This is one of Hackett’s most high-profile appearances since was picked to succeed former CEO Mark Fields. He was chosen for his deeper relationship with Silicon Valley (he previously ran Ford’s Smart Mobility division), so this is a chance to hear him frame the future of one of the biggest carmakers in the world.

Ford and its competitors are so focused on the future, because the auto industry is flush with EV and smart mobility startups these days. Tesla is still the most sound competitor to any of the big three automakers, but there’s a CVS receipt-sized list of others trying to fill the space between “tech company” and “car company.” Many of them will be at CES showing off autonomous shuttles, self-driving technologies, electric scooters, and other futuristic transportation ideas — all things that companies like Ford (or Google, Intel, GM, you name it) are also working on in different capacities.

One of those companies is Byton, a Chinese automaker that’s pulled a ton of talent from the flailing Faraday Future. Byton will be at CES showing off its first car, an all-electric SUV that it’s referring to as a “Smart Intuitive Vehicle.” Debuting a fast, flashy, super smart electric car one year after Faraday Future did the same thing is an interesting choice, and it will be up to Byton to prove to everyone why it’s not headed for a similar fate.

Another thing to keep an eye out for is the continued escalation in the arms race between Uber and Lyft. The competing services have only been live in Las Vegas for a little over two years, but Lyft is answering last year’s Uber helicopter stunt by offering real rides in semi-autonomous cars.

All the other major automakers will be at CES in some form or another, too. It won’t be the clash of concepts we see in Geneva every year, and they won’t bring the same kind of news we see at other shows. But it’s possible that some of them could surprise us. And of course, the show floor (and the convention center parking lots) will be full of smart scooters, weird skateboards, and other ways to move.

TVs will adopt more HDR video formats

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Get ready for yet another big showcase of 4K HDR TVs at CES 2018. Over the last year, UHD sets have continued to drop in price to a point where they’ve replaced the bargain-priced 1080p TVs that lined store shelves two or three years ago.

High dynamic range (HDR) video will continue to evolve at the show. Expect many of the new TVs unveiled at CES to support both Dolby Vision and HDR10, though some may stick with just the latter. Advanced HDR is seeing more pickup as we move toward bringing HDR to broadcast TV, and HDR10+ might also begin to see wider adoption beyond just Samsung now that there’s Amazon content to stream.

LG and Sony will highlight their latest OLED sets, while Samsung, TCL, Sharp, Panasonic, and other companies will also show off their latest LCD models. They’ve got OLED handily beat on price, and odds are that Samsung has continued to work at narrowing the gap in picture quality between the two over the last 12 months.

Of course, you’ll see the usual mix of 8K displays, transparent screens, and other eye-grabbing demos that are ultimately little more than prototypes. CES 2018 is going to feel a little repetitive and redundant on the TV front, but the screens will still be very pretty.

Wearables get serious about health

“Wearables” at CES is usually a broad category, one that can include everything from GPS watches to brain headbands to AR glasses to “smart” underwear to gadgets that measure your vertical leap. But if there’s a trend that seems to be emerging in wearables for CES 2018, based on early reporting and pitches we’ve received, it’s health: legitimate medical devices, not-yet-approved medical devices, and likely some devices that make bogus claims, too.

There will be two areas of the CES show floor dedicated to health and fitness tech, together spanning a 63,000 square feet. But we’ve heard that companies like Fitbit and Polar won’t have booths this year (likely because they’ll launch any 2018 products on their own cadence). Instead, we’ll see things like connected blood pressure monitors, wearable devices designed for seniors, gluten sensors, fertility monitors, and sleep trackers — lots of sleep trackers. (The irony, because CES.)

It’s not surprising that wearables at CES are headed in this direction. The value of basic step counters and sleep trackers has changed as they’ve become commoditized and people start asking the hard questions about whether they truly help with health and fitness goals.

Google Assistant attempts to take on Alexa

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Smart home gadgets have had a big presence at CES for years. But it wasn’t until recently that they actually came within reach for most consumers, thanks to increasingly easy installations and connections to our phones and voice assistants.

The past few years, we’ve seen smart home tech take on the basics — traditional light bulbs, power outlets, speakers, door knobs, and so on. This year, expect to see companies continuing to expand the smart home’s reach to new types of devices and diversifying their offerings within existing categories. You may already have a connected light bulb, but there are tons of other places to put lights around your house.

A lot of these companies don’t want to get caught in the war between Apple, Google, and Amazon over who controls your home, either. Expect to see more devices that offer support for multiple platforms. Where there’s Alexa, there’s likely to be Google Assistant in the mix.

But most of all, it’s CES, so expect some strange smart gadgets you can’t ever imagine needing. They’ll seem ridiculous now — but they’ll show how today’s dull, disconnected devices could be (perhaps unnecessarily) smarter in the future.

PC gaming will be more important than ever before

Image: Razer

2017 was a strong year for PC gaming, with one of the world’s most popular games, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, becoming practically a system seller for the entire platform when it launched in beta back in March. It’s also never been cheaper or easier to get into PC gaming than it is today. Inexpensive peripherals, readymade PC bundles for graphics-intensive gaming and VR, and other friction-free entryways into the hobby are more readily available. Anyone who’s been thinking about building out a Steam library and making the transition from lapsed or console gamer to full-fledged PC diehard can now do it with ease.

That means a gadget show like CES will be overrun this year by all manner of PC gaming accessories, prototype towers, and new and experimental VR hardware. There should also be some exciting advancements in GPU enclosure technology, which makes it easier for lower-end laptops and desktops to game without needing a high-end graphics card installed directly, and cloud gaming hardware and software, to let us stream games over the internet and do away with hardware requirements entirely.

Beauty gadgets find their niche

Photo: The Verge

We’ve been waiting for the day when our homes are equipped with smart mirrors and connected hairbrushes. But fundamentally, we’re just hoping for a gadget that tells us how to look our best. 2018 isn’t going to be the year this happens. Instead, the beauty tech you’ll see at CES 2018 will begin to make its way into salons, makeup stores, and pop-up shops. Various companies will create their beauty gadgets as ways to monetize existing product lines. These tech companies will partner with big-name brands to create devices that offer advice on what skin products or makeup to use. Conveniently, the gadgets will only recommend products from partnered brands.

We’ve already seen this happen with beauty apps, like ones from Sephora and Meitu. Last year, HiMirror also showed off a smart mirror that made recommendations based on your skin’s health. There’s a future for a smart mirror that suggests products from a bevy of beauty companies, but for now, you’ll likely see a bunch of specialized mirrors for every individual company.

That’s just a taste of what’s to come at CES 2018. Stay tuned with us all week for more on a bevy of other gadgets, including headphones, wireless chargers, smart home gear, devices with “artificial intelligence,” and of course, the unexpected.


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