CES, the world’s biggest and splashiest showcase for the latest and greatest in consumer electronics, is a victim of its own outsize expectations. Yes, a long list of game-changing tech products first saw the light of day at the show — everything from the VCR, the CD, DVD, Blu-ray, even the original Nintendo Entertainment System and the first Xbox — but none of them changed the landscape overnight.
It’s a game of years and even decades, as these innovations trickle down from the early adopter tech community to society at large. Slowly but surely, though, as prices drop, that stack of VHS tapes becomes a shelf full of DVDs, then Blu-rays. And then the discs disappeared, too — a tiny stick streaming Netflix in their place, and for under $40, too.
The feeling you got from the floor of CES 2016 was that we’re somewhere in the middle of that timeline: You can see where all this amazing tech is gonna take us, eventually, but we’re not quite there yet. The cars are electric and — astonishingly — getting impossible to crash, whether a human is driving or not. And that same sort of collision-avoidance and self-automation tech is showing up in more drones, which were also ubiquitous at CES — including one that was big enough to ferry a person high above rush hour traffic.
Meanwhile, sensors and cameras are being embedded into everything — our clothes, our shoes and our most mundane home appliances — so your front door can automatically unlock as you approach, or your fridge can send you a photo to show how much milk is left. The TV images are more supersized and lifelike than ever, with roll-up and bendable display technology aiming to supplant rigid flat panels, and Netflix’s increasingly global network looking to change our very definition of the medium.
That is, if we even watch big screens anymore. CES 2016 was also the big coming-out party for virtual reality, with long lines on the show floor for attendees to try out the likes of Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and HTC Vive, all of which should be on sale later this year. Whether it’s widely adopted is anybody’s guess, but we can say this: The tech is definitely ready for prime time.
A cynic would say, “OK, great — but I saw all of that stuff last year, or the year before that.” And that person would be correct. From VR to autonomous vehicles to OLED TVs to ubiquitous sensors to smart fridges to follow-me drones, nearly everything we saw at CES 2016 wasn’t truly new. But it was all a bit better, a tad more refined — one step closer to you clicking “add to cart” and having it show up on your doorstep two days later.
To that end, here’s what we saw in Las Vegas at CES 2016.