CES 2021 Coverage: A Virtual Show Floor
I write this on the final day of CES 2021, and I expect CES will never be the same. It will not revert back to what it once was. I also cannot imagine it stays a totally virtual show; in doing so, I feel it would fail. Does that mean I think the 2021 show was a failure? No, not at all. In fact, it was a very good event, particularly in light of the medical and political pandemic that we have been enduring.
A Little History
The first CES took place in June 1967 in New York City as a spinoff from the Chicago Music Show, which, until 1966, was also the most popular event for exhibiting consumer electronics. Over the years, the show grew, moved to Las Vegas, added the attendees and exhibitors that had been obtained by COMDEX, and became the signature event to showcase all electronic industry products from TVs to computers, drones to 3D printers, and complete ready-to-use devices to components. If you wanted to compare ready-to-use advanced computers or if you want to compare computer motherboards and power supplies, etc., you’d attend CES or learn what was announced during the show.
Looking at the Future
Why then, do I predict a decline and potential failure if CES permanently transitions to an all-virtual format? It’s all about economics, plain and simple. Any company that exhibits at CES must pay to do so and cover the costs of exhibit space transportation, set up, and company time. This year, most of those costs (aside from a likely registration fee) simply were not a factor. Some of the companies I wanted to see and speak with had actually set up their own events during CES, but totally separate from CES. They sent out notices and many of us attended those events and received a benefit similar to what we would have just attending CES. In fact, unless you tried to look up an event on the official CES site, you may not have realized that it was an independent event.
I do expect that future CES shows will contain a significant virtual segment, but I certainly feel—in fact, I hope—that next year at this time we will be wrapping up coverage of a new normal, with major similarities to previous in-person shows.
Now, here are some of my observations on the virtual events and presentations at this year’s Virtual CES (with the understanding a few of these may not have been part of the actual CES 2021.)
AMD kicked off with a keynote address by Dr. Lisa Su, CEO and president of AMD. I have seen some of her other presentations, and she is a very impressive and successful leader. With her at the helm, AMD has made great progress.
While AMD is far from the global market share leader, its Zen architecture CPUs have gained respect over the last few years as the most advanced and respected performance leaders in the DIY/high end computer universe. The company’s big announcement was “the introduction of a complete portfolio of AMD Ryzen™ 5000 Series Mobile Processors, bringing the highly-efficient and extremely versatile and powerful ‘Zen 3’ core architecture to the laptop computer.” The new Ryzen 5000 Series mobile processors provide unprecedented levels of performance and excellent, perhaps previously unseen, battery life for anyone using a laptop—gamers, creators, and business professionals. New laptops powered by Ryzen 5000 Series processors will be available from major PC manufacturers within the next few months.
AMD also announced the AMD Ryzen PRO 5000 Series Mobile Processors, which will provide enterprise-grade security and seamless manageability to commercial users. Over the next year, AMD expects a broad portfolio of more than 150 consumer and commercial notebooks, based on the Ryzen 5000 Series Mobile Processors, will become available. AMD is also announcing reduced-TDP (power consumption) alternatives to the award-winning AMD Ryzen™ 9 5900X and AMD Ryzen™ 7 5800X desktop processors, coming to pre-built OEM systems only. Powered by the new “Zen 3” core architecture and with a lower 65W TDP, the Ryzen 9 5900 desktop processor offers an average of 24% faster 1080p gaming across select titles compared to the prior generation 7.
As AMD progresses, it is expected that the high-end Ryzen and Threadripper series of processors used by custom and DIY builders will continue to become available. Keep in mind we are talking up to 16-core, 32-thread processors.
So, what does this mean to the average reader here? For myself, I have built and maxed out my own computers for the last 25 years. Until this year, I have always used an Intel CPU; this year, I decided to use a Ryzen 9 CPU and Zen motherboard and I can testify that the performance and reliability is amazing.
While I’m on the topic of processors, what did Intel announce this week? Intel seems to have fallen behind in the last few years. Yes, Intel CPUs are still excellent and as the competition from AMD has increased, especially over the last few years, the Intel prices have come down, making the competition more intense. But Intel has been kind of stuck with 14nm architecture while AMD has had architecture down to 7nm, thus reducing size, TDP, and temp, while increasing the number of threads, etc.
Intel did make some interesting announcements, however. The company announced that next-gen business processors are powered by the 11th-Gen platform with vPro. The new vPro systems provide the best productivity experience, up to 23% faster with Office 365 and up to 50% faster productivity with video conferencing, according to Intel executives. It also delivers 1.8x faster video editing.
Intel also demonstrated its Control Enforcement Technology, or CET, as a strength of its system that can help block a control flow attack, something that a competing notebook from rival AMD has been unable to do.
Intel showed off laptops from Dell, HP, and Lenovo. Intel highlighted the Dell Latitude 9420 as a result of its Dell partnership for Evo vPro. For the less powerful CPU market, Intel announced new Intel Pentium Silver and Celeron processors that are designed for the first time on 10nm nodes. They state that these processors deliver up to 35% faster performance than the previous generation, thus faster rendering and productivity for the education market. I believe that these CPUs will be headed to Windows laptops and lower end units such as Chromebooks and Linux laptops.
Recently, Intel introduced Intel® RealSense™ ID, an on-device solution that combines an active depth sensor with a specialized neural network designed to deliver secure, accurate and user-aware facial authentication. Intel RealSense ID works with smart locks, access control, point-of-sale, ATMs, kiosks and more. The device, which comes with a dedicated system-on-chip, can adapt to changing appearances over time, and it is built to withstand spoofing, with a one-in-1-million false acceptance rate.
Intel is still the market share leader in CPUs and we all know that competition works well to enhance product development progress and control prices, so we can all hope that the competition between Intel and AMD—and with the expanded use of ARM processors by Apple—the competitive atmosphere of the last few years will increase.
The perceived responsibility for the success or failure of any company falls on the person in charge, true or not. Earlier, Intel made what may be its biggest announcement of CES week. It was not a technical advance but a management one: Former executive Pat Gelsinger as the new CEO, effective Feb. 15.
As usual, at CES it is impossible to cover more than a fraction of the presentations, exhibits and announcements. Following are some of the more interesting ones, especially some where I was able to gain access and meet with the various company representatives.
Razer, a leading supplier of computers, primarily high-end gaming computers and components, showed some great new offerings, some of them outside of the gaming corral. One such product is the “Project Hazel” face mask. This higher-tech mask meets surgical requirements, is N95 certified, and works like a powered ventilator, bringing in cool air and releasing hot air. It makes communications easier, has active ventilation, improves social interaction, has a built-in mic and is supposed to be very comfortable to wear. Besides its active ventilation, it also has auto sterilization, a UV sterilizer, and a separate case that can charge it wirelessly. It is not, however, on the market yet.
Their other Razer project that got my attention was the Brooklyn, a very high-end gaming chair that feels like a cockpit, with high-density memory foam, a leather-stitched seat back, and a carbon fiber body. What really catches your attention is built into the back of the chair: a rollable, transparent, 60” OLED display that deploys with the touch of a button. This is one device that I would have loved to have been able to see and try in person.
InWin, the supplier of over-the-top, amazing computer cases and new CPU cooling systems, as well as power supplies, was showing rackmount data storage servers. It introduced the InWin SR PRO, the latest in the SR-series AIO (for non DIYers All-in-One) liquid CPU cooler lineup that offers new ARGB lighting and up to 7 ºC temperature reduction performance improvement compared to the previous generation. It is available in 240 mm (SR24 PRO) and 360 mm (SR36 PRO) options. The CPU cooling block features a new diamond-cut aluminum design, ensuring operational longevity along with a premium look and feel.
The SR PRO cooler continues InWin’s patented twin turbine design that leads the industry by simultaneously pushing and pulling the water through the copper cold-plate to significantly reduce the temperature and keep the CPU cool.
One of my favorite laptop computer companies is Lenovo, and their ThinkPad series. I have always recommended the ThinkPad over the IdeaPad as the ThinkPad was originally designed and supplied by IBM. It seems to be true that there are absolutely no compromises regarding quality and reliability with this device. However, Lenovo will be using CES 2021 to showcase several new devices including the newly announced IdeaPad 5 Pro. This notebook sports a 16-inch display with a 16:10 aspect ratio for a wider amount of usable screen space, reduced blue light technology, up to 350 nits of brightness, and slim bezels for a 90% screen-to-body ratio. The laptop also features an all-metal body in “Cloud Grey” or “Storm Grey” color options. On performance, the IdeaPad 5 Pro will be powered by AMD Ryzen H-Series processors and will be available with NVIDIA GeForce RTX graphics and up to 32 GB of RAM—very impressive specs. Other key capabilities include an IR camera that enables Windows Hello facial authentication log-in and includes time-of-flight sensors to automatically pause a video when the user walks away. Meanwhile, per Lenovo, the IdeaPad 5 Pro will feature the new Alexa Show Mode capability, which adds voice control via the Amazon Alexa assistant and “turns your PC into an Echo Show-like display.”
Hewlett-Packard was showing off the recently debuted second-gen version of its virtual reality headset, the HP Reverb G2, which is aimed at both commercial users as well as gamers. Developed with the help of Microsoft and Valve, the Reverb G2 includes what HP is calling “the world’s highest resolution VR headset among major vendors,” with resolution of 2,160 x 2,160 per eye panel. Enhancements over the first-gen version include Valve-designed lenses that offer greater clarity, better tracking through the inclusion of additional cameras and higher-quality audio from Valve speakers. The headset also offers improved comfort with the ability to adapt the width of the lenses for different eye distances and an increased cushion size on the face mask. The HP Reverb G2 is available now for $599 but be sure you have a PC that is capable of using it.
My monitor choice at CES this year is a Dell (although there are a lot of new high-quality monitors being introduced.) Dell is debuting a new series of monitors aimed at improved video conferencing, including the Dell 34 Curved Video Conferencing Monitor. The 34-inch WQHD curved monitor is geared toward use with Microsoft Teams and features a dedicated button for joining Teams meetings, as well as other collaboration-friendly capabilities such as a pop-up 5-megapixel IR camera, dual 5W integrated speakers and noise-canceling microphones.
The Chromebook is one of my least favorite devices. To me they are not computers but just terminals that do very little without a connection to the internet. However, they do have an advantage because of their affordable pricing, and they work well for schools and other groups where performance is not as critical as cost. However, the Acer Chromebook Spin 514 stands out as the company’s first Chromebook to feature AMD Ryzen 3000 C-Series processors and AMD Radeon graphics, which enable strong performance, responsiveness, and reasonable battery life (up to 10 hours), Acer says. The Chromebook Spin 514 includes a 14-inch display with FHD resolution, and the device is highly durable with Gorilla Glass on the display and a reinforced aluminum chassis, according to the company. Other notable features include slim bezels around the display (for a 78 percent screen-to-body ratio) and a thickness of 0.68 inches, also it has options for up to 16 GB of RAM and up to 256 GB of storage. Additionally, Acer is offering a variant aimed at business users—the Acer Chromebook Enterprise Spin 514—with additional security and management capabilities has a starting price of $479.99 and is planned for availability in February. But a version of the Acer Chromebook Enterprise Spin 514 is reportedly priced at $749.99, which, in my humble opinion, is a very high price for a Chromebook.
The Vespera Vaonis is a portable space observation station that is a "perfect hybrid between a smart telescope and a camera." With its goal being to make astronomy more accessible, the app-enabled telescope is easy to use thanks to being fully automated, and it allows users to take photos and view findings with the app. The device will cost $1,499 and is expected to start shipping late in 2021. The Vaonis refines and simplifies telescope design, making them easier to use and opening the doors to a greater audience. Based on user-friendliness, portability and shareability, the company has created the Stellina and Vespera telescope/camera hybrids, offering a simple way to view the heavens and photograph the stars.
This year, MSI was not part of CES but instead put on a separate, and very entertaining, presentation focusing on its 2021 product launch. I specifically wanted to see their presentation because I’m presently using a new MSI MEG motherboard, and I’ve personally found their products to be exceptionally reliable. Other components they introduced include:
- New GTX 3000 (NVIDIA-powered) series graphic cards
- New gaming mouse
- New SSD drives with a targeted SSD for gaming, and a very impressive curved monitor
- New high-powered MEG motherboards
- A K-Series liquid (CPU) cooler (with built in LCD screen)
MSI also showed some complete computers. MSI Center software can search unlimited pictures by image recognition and give commands, and much more. Let’s say that you have a few thousand pictures on your storage drive and there is one of your family on a beach that you want to find. You have not labeled them and not even filed them by year taken. Just search for “beach” and all pictures that include a beach will be identified and shown to you. In addition, if you are an extreme gamer or you like lighting effects to match what you are doing or watching on your computer, MSI’s impressive sync room lighting with effects for specific game titles just may be your thing.
Kingston is a company that specialized in storage and connectivity devices. In fact, I have used their hard drives and found them to be reliable and perform well. During CES, the company announced its new PCIE 4.0 NVME SSDs. The trend to PCIE 4.0 is clearly in its advanced stage. They showed me their new client as well as data center drives and a new external 4.0 USB connected SSD, perfect for external back up and portable file storage for pictures videos and file transfer. This will provide the convenience of an external drive with the speed of a modern SSD. They also introduced their workflow system, which is a hub that supports almost any commonly used device to any computer, workstation or laptop through USB 3.2 gen 2. What I liked most is that you can customize it to suit the storage devices you choose. Microsoft
Microsoft President Brad Smith, in a virtual keynote, urged the tech industry to work together to ward off cyberattacks like the massive breach of network software firm SolarWinds's systems. In a keynote address that Smith pre-recorded for CES 2021, he stated that the SolarWinds breach was not a case of one nation trying to hack into the computer network of another, but “a massive indiscriminate global assault on the technology supply chain.” He said it is the responsibility of the entire tech industry to protect that supply chain. He stated, "It is a danger that the world cannot afford." As many as 18,000 of SolarWinds' customers were exposed to a software vulnerability in its Orion products that allowed hackers to breach the systems of U.S. agencies such as the Justice Department and companies that included Microsoft. Smith urged the tech industry to use its collective voice to tell every government around the world that this kind of supply chain disruption is not anything any government or company should be allowed to pursue. Smith also cautioned that machine learning, which is increasingly being used by companies and organizations across the globe to simplify and broaden a wide range of tasks, can increase the risk of bias and discrimination in a whole variety of different commercial settings. His comments were somewhat frightening and very timely.
Last year, John Deere showed off its huge semi-autonomous tractor. This is the company’s third year at CES, and the question remains: Why would John Deere be at a show like CES? The answer: Agriculture is now a high-tech industry and planting is one of the most important parts of farming.
Using this gigantic device, a farmer can know where every seed is placed. It places 100 seeds per second in a precise spacing arrangement maximizing the use of the land. The robot locates and cleans out the residue from last year’s crop, then makes a perfect seed trench to precisely place the seeds across the field, all automated. It’s still farming, but extremely high tech. The accuracy is 2.5 centimeters, and it can come back weeks or months later and find that exact site. John Deere has become a high-tech company automating the entire process. They are truly approaching autonomous farming. They now gather data to measure and improve the yield of the land. How many seeds vs. size or crop?
John Deere, a company that has lasted 184 years, emphasizes trust and gave assurances regarding the data they gather, how it helps the farmer and helps them improve. It uses the phrase, “Farming is Outdoor Manufacturing.” And it is becoming high tech.” Using technology, there is opportunity to measure and improve the earth where the crop is planted automatically in the coming years. (Note, the photo of this gigantic machine was taken at CES 2020, one year ago.)
So Much More
There was so much more to hear and see at Virtual CES. Perhaps in the future it will again be live with some segment also virtual and with virtual replays available. Is this the new normal? Will be return to the old normal? I don’t think that will be the case in either scenario. The new normal is still to be determined.
In any case, following are some additional topics that I did not get a chance to take part in but I still want to view at a later date. You may wish to look up and learn about any of these that may interest you.
- 5G Adoption Showing 'No Sign of Slowdown' Amid Pandemic
- Film Distribution Strategy 'A Work in Progress,' WarnerMedia Exec Says
- TV Makers Turn to 8K, Super-Sized Panels
- Samsung Unveils New AI-enabled Smart Home Products
- Survey Predicts Consumer Tech Spending Will Spike to $461B in 2021
- GM Says Auto Sector at 'Inflection Point' Toward Zero-Emission Future
- Tech Execs See State, Global Initiatives Driving US Privacy Law
- Consumers at the Wheel for Future of Streaming