The tech trends we saw kick off at CES 2021

Another CES is in the books. Going all-virtual meant that it was a smaller show than usual — and since it was already a show that’s been on the decline in terms of influence for a few years now, we could feel it. Still: there were some big stories to follow and things to learn about what’s coming up in consumer tech.

That’s the thing about CES: most of the time the best technology shown off here is conceptual, wildly expensive, a long way off in the future, or all of the above. We’re interested in it not because we expect to find it in a store next week, but because it informs the things we’ll find in stores over the course of the next two years. Also, we’re interested in it because gigantic screens are dope, especially when they bend.

This year I think there are a few big trends to keep an eye on. There are those concepts. But there was also very real processor news with imminent release dates. AMD, Intel, and Nvidia all announced components that could make up some very great laptops (especially gaming laptops). And then: umpteen laptops were announced that will use those parts.

And since this is CES, we saw the state of the art for televisions move forward once again with Mini LED and brighter OLED. I have to say with TVs in particular, I am gratified to see tech companies competing on straight-up picture quality via higher contrast and HDR instead of merely higher pixel counts and, I dunno, 3D or curved screens. There’s also HDMI 2.1 in the world and all the features it enables. Wait for reviews, of course, but my guess is that if you’ve got a TV with some miles on it, this will be a great year to upgrade and you’ll be stunned by the improvement in quality.

Was there also a pod-based ice cream machine that people who like fun things enjoyed and curmudgeons like me grumbled about? Yes. There’s always a gadget that breaks out and gets more attention than we expected. The thing about this year’s virtual CES is that there were simply fewer to pick from. We had nearly as many big announcements as usual, but we didn’t have the odd corners of the show floor where we’d find diamonds in that very rough convention center.

I know that’s not an experience that the vast majority of people get to have. For most of you, CES has always been virtual. But we’ll never know what sales deals won’t get made or wacky speakers won’t get attention because a couple hundred thousand people stayed away from Vegas this year.

Five years ago I was lucky enough to get the chance to wander the CES show floor with Walt Mossberg, just messing around with the stuff that was new back then. After you’ve watched the recap of CES 2021 at the top of this post, I encourage you to take a look at what CES 2016 was like, below. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I hope I can get back to the in-person show next year.

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