CES 2021 Preview: What to expect

CES 2021 is running online only, from 11th to 14th Jan

by Andy Bassett

Run by the folks at the Consumer Technology Association, the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which is now officially known simply as CES, is the world’s largest technology show and this year’s event, running from 11th -14th January, will take on a very different format from that which traditionally fills the huge floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

What is CES?

Every January, the consumer electronics industry kicks the year off with its biggest and arguably most important technology trade show and has done ever since 1967, when the first official CES took place in New York. Since then, CES has grown by more than 10-fold and now encompasses both traditional and non-traditional tech industries. It moved to its now permanent home of Las Vegas in 1978 and is a mainstay of the tech industry’s annual schedule.

It functions as a showcase opportunity for consumers to see what cutting edge technologies could be hitting the market in a few years and for blue sky concepts to score locker room points between competitors. Moreover, it is behind the scenes where many commercial deals get made with regards to all important sales and distribution throughout the global markets over the coming months.

When is CES?

The official dates for the 2021 event are the 11th - 14th Jan 2021. This will include a traditional media-only day on the 11th Jan followed by two days of exhibitor showcases and conference programming, then a final day of additional conference programming on the 14th Jan. 

Why is CES different this year?

Back in its first year there were 250 exhibitors and 17,500 attendees while more recently the numbers have swelled to 4,500 exhibitors and over 182,000 attendees. Now however, the list of exhibitors has fallen to just under 1000 and the numbers physically in attendance will be hovering at around 0. 

The reason for this is simple, CES 2021 will be a digital only event. This move online is in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic and marks the safest way of making sure the event takes place without risking staff, exhibitor and attendees’ health.  

Already, a number of large scale industry and media expos around the world have made alternative arrangements over the last 9 months, with events such as E3 moving completely online and the more recent IFA 2020 mixing an online and invitation-only attendance model to a degree of success.

CES 2021 Preview: What to expect
CES 2021 will NOT look like this

So, from 12-14th Jan, expect product announcements, demonstrations and presentations from the exhibitors along with the usual insights and keynotes from respected industry and media figures - all delivered digitally.

What’s of extra interest is that the CES website, which is already planning ahead, states that CES 2022 will take place both in Las Vegas (as usual) AND digitally, so it looks like the online presence could become a permanent fixture going forward.

What to look forward to?

Since the event encompasses all aspects of technology, from digital health, vehicle tech and smart cities through to entertainment, AV fans might find the menu of keynote speeches a mixed bag. This year’s main presentations come from Verizon discussing 5G as the framework of the 21st century, CTA will look ahead at tech trends shaping our future, General Motors are examining advanced mobility for communities and AMD will present the company’s vision for the future of research, education, work, entertainment and gaming.

The overview programme is as follows, with the embedded sessions restricted to registered attendees only.

11th Jan 2021: Exclusive Media only access
12th Jan 2021: Exhibitor showcase and conference programming
13th Jan 2021: Exhibitor showcase and conference programming
14th Jan 2021: Additional conference programming

Of more interest to AV enthusiasts is individual manufacturers within the AV sector who will have an online presence. There’s not a lot of detail about what they have got ready to unveil and, although a degree of secrecy is always a good way to really have those announcements land with impact, a few hints and clues to get the tech world buzzing are a great way to keep interest up - so expect some information to start coming out in the run up to Christmas and beyond.

What’s most likely is a concentration on new consumer models and product ranges and less reliance on the eye-catching, bleeding-edge concepts and prototypes which add to the ‘in-person’ wow factor, and it’s quite likely that the installers are looking forward to a year off from putting up LG’s trademark OLED waterfall display.

The online press conferences that will be of most interest to the AV community are listed below and these live streamed events are often available to view via the manufacturer’s own websites and social media platforms.


11th Jan 2021:

7:00 AM EST (12:00 Midday GMT): Hisense
8:00 AM EST (13:00 GMT): LG Electronics
9:00 AM EST (14:00 GMT): Samsung
10:00 AM EST (15:00 GMT): Panasonic / Philips / Skyworth
11:00 AM EST (16:00 GMT): TCL
17:00 PM EST (10:00 GMT): Sony

One question that AV fans might be pondering is whether the initial unfolding pandemic, subsequent manufacturing downturn and high street closures that gripped the world might have a knock on effect on TV manufacturers’ product cycles, lengthening them from 12 to 18, or even 24 months, as firms struggled to shift the latest models. That doesn’t seem to be the case and the initial slowdown seems to have given way to a surge in TV, audio and gaming sales as consumers increase their entertainment options at home.

What to expect from the big companies?

LG / LG Display

With LG Display now seemingly having sorted out its manufacturing and yield issues at its newest factory in Guangzhou China, it will continue to supply the world’s TV manufacturers with its OLED panels and pursue its own target of manufacturing 10 million OLED panels per year by 2022. Chief among its clients is sister company LG Electronics who, at the forefront of OLED TV production, uses CES to unveil an updated range each year. It’s likely, of course, that this will continue for CES 2021, with rumours of one of the new OLED model ranges being called the C1 based on an application to the Korean Communications Commission for a device called the OLED65C1. This seems to indicate that LG is not continuing with its current nomenclature beyond the CX (C ‘ten’) and is instead circling around back to ‘1’. It’s therefore logical to assume a B1 entry level OLED, plus a G1 Gallery and W1 |Wallpaper series of models too. This gives the company a few more years before they have to consider what to do when they approach C6 again.

LG already leads its competitors by having a compliment of 4x HDMI 2.1 compliant HDMI ports on its OLED TVs, but will the company bring its new models back on a par with its 2019 models and reinstate full bandwidth HDMI 2.1 at 48GBps? It could generate some brownie points if it did.  

CES 2021 Preview: What to expect
LG Signature OLED R

With the Signature Series OLED R having recently been made available for the consumer market in Korea, it’s possible it could be launched in other territories and perhaps in a range of screen sizes other than 65-inches.

And with Samsung’s recent unveiling of a more consumer friendly version of its Micro LED ‘The Wall’ technology, will LG do something similar with its own MicroLED powered display, the business oriented Magnit

LG produced a range of soundbars last year that featured the Editor’s Choice Award winning SN11RG which took the 2020 award for Best Soundbar in the £1,000 - £1,500 bracket and boasts 7.1.4 channels, AI room calibration and Meridian Audio technology. Expect further improvements and features in any new soundbars launched. 

Samsung 

LG’s great local rival recently announced its 110-inch MicroLED TV, more suited to the consumer market, so it’s possible that further screen sizes for the home could be unveiled. 

New QLED names freshly submitted for trademark hint at upcoming variants of QLED TVs, perhaps delineated by improved backlighting. With nomenclature such as QLED Neo, QLED Platinum, QLED Z, Quantum Matrix and QLED+ being lined up it could signal a range of Mini LED backlights on board to deliver far more local dimming zones. This will bring improved blacks and better contrast alongside QLED’s acknowledged colour performance allowing Samsung to position its TVs against LG’s OLED technology and possibly maintain a premium pricing structure too. It might take the opportunity to add more than one HDMI 2.1 port to its higher end models too.

CES 2021 Preview: What to expect
Samsung 8K Q950TS

Samsung Display continues to develop its Quantum Dot OLED technology and although prototypes have been demoed, it seems there’s a schism between the Samsung Electronics and Samsung Display as to the future of the technology. For now, QD-OLED TVs don’t look likely to appear this year and it’s reported successor, QNED, is even less likely to make a surprise appearance.

CES 2021 Preview: What to expect
Samsung HW-Q950T soundbar

Samsung’s flagship HW-Q950T soundbar won our Best Soundbar over £1,500 Editor’s Choice Award this year and continued Samsung’s impressive run of flagship soundbars after 2019’s HW-Q90R. It could be interesting to see where the company goes with its Q Symphony audio technology which integrated its 2020 TVs and soundbars. 

Samsung introduced its LSP9T Ultra Short Throw projector, dubbed The Premiere, earlier this year and may continue its return to consumer projectors with further models, as big screen entertainment at home starts to take hold.

Sony

The Japanese electronics giant is celebrating its 50th year as an exhibitor at CES - though probably not in the way it had originally planned to do - and its virtual press conference is scheduled for 11th January at 5.00pm EST (10:00pm GMT) with the public able to view on Sony’s digital event platform.

Like the other major TV manufacturers, each CES sees an annual update of its TV ranges, so we’d expect new OLEDs and 8K models to be announced and, now that the PS5 has finally been launched, any new Sony TVs might come with an increased number of HDMI 2.1 ports. The company’s Acoustic Surface Audio, which vibrates the panel itself to produce sound could also find itself in more models. 

CES 2021 Preview: What to expect
Sony WH-1000XM4 headphone

On the audio front, having just released the flagship WH-1000XM4, the long awaited successor to its hugely popular WH-1000XM3 noise cancelling headphones, perhaps the company will turn its attention to more announcements regarding its 360 Reality Audio technology, the surround sound rival to Dolby Atmos Music. Sony showed off a prototype 360 Reality Audio speaker at CES 2020 so a market ready model could  possibly  be on the cards.  

And having just launched its latest native 4K projectors in the form of the lamp based VPL-VW590ES and laser VPL-VW790ES, it seems unlikely there’ll be any movement on this front from the firm.

Panasonic 

Panasonic’s portfolio in the US includes a wide range of consumer electronics including kitchen appliances, homeware, personal grooming devices, cameras, headphones and earbuds and all of these may make appearances at CES 2021. However, the company does not release its TVs in North America, instead concentrating on other territories such as Europe and Japan.

Last year, Panasonic did actually show its flagship HZ2000 OLED model at CES and it ended up as the TV that impressed us the most in 2020 in terms of home cinema performance. This year however, Panasonic UK is holding an event prior to CES in order to launch its new range of TVs thus leaving the company’s virtual press conference to concentrate on its US product range.

CES 2021 Preview: What to expect
The Panasonic HZ2000 OLED TV

The Panasonic UK event itself features a strap line of ‘See it all. Feel it all’ giving a clue that perhaps its new models will deliver an even greater immersive experience, possibly via reduced bezels and improved audio.

It will also be interesting to see if Panasonic engineers can make even more tweaks to LG Display’s OLED panel and wring even greater performance from its top end TV, or maybe even add the custom OLED panel to models a few steps below the flagship. All will be revealed in early January.

Hisense

Hisense has bypassed the UK with some of its flagship models such as the (not to be confused with the similarly named DualCell) Dual Screen U9E Pro which launched this year in China, but we did get to see the U8QF and U7QF Quantum Dot ranges here in 2020. Whatever new TVs are unveiled, there are likely to be new models headed towards the UK in 2021, and some of them might even be 8K, which would be nice.  

Over the last few years Hisense has been pursuing its 4K laser TVs - essentially an ultra short throw laser projector with a built in TV tuner, combined with a light rejection screen - and its L9, revealed in Jan 2020 at CES, came with an X-Fusion TriChroma laser to help it reach 100 percent of the Rec.2020 colour gamut. Meanwhile, the company’s Sonic Screen, a honeycomb bionic structure used to redirect sound evenly in all directions was also revealed. So there might be further developments in either of these areas.

CES 2021 Preview: What to expect
Hisense's self rising Laser TV from CES 2020

Hisense’s foray into the world of OLED TVs was short lived and, once abandoned, the company had to put further effort into its DualCell technology in order to get more performance out of LCD TV display technology. This dual layer approach is a combination of a 4K colour LCD panel and a 2K monochrome LCD panel which is used to control dimming, and reports suggest that Hisense will be bringing a 75-inch, 12-bit dual layer LCD TV to the US, so this could be unveiled in a few weeks time at CES.  

TCL

With extremely successful sales in the US (the company is often quoted as the number two seller of TVs in the United States) TCL will want to keep interest up with new TV models. 

Having unveiled TVs at CES 2020 which used the company’s next generation Vidrian mini LED backlights - delivering up to 5,000 dimming zones for better contrast - it’s reasonable to assume some developments on this front given that TCL hasn’t opted for OLED as a display technology for its TVs. Therefore, improvements to the mini LED backlights coupled with TCL’s newly unveiled Intelligent Audiovisual Processor which uses the 2nd Generation AiPQ Engine to optimise images, could make for some exciting news.

CES 2021 Preview: What to expect
TCL 8K X91 TV 

So, with potentially, smaller mini LEDs, leading to more dimming zones, Quantum Dots and AI controlled images on board, could TCL unveil more mini LED based TVs that will happily compare with OLED’s black levels and contrast while delivering higher brightness and a wide colour gamut? And just as importantly, will they be headed to the UK?  

TCL has also made an investment into Quantum Dot OLED display technology, teasing a prototype for IFA 2021. Will it be presented during TCL’s press conference?   

No doubt TCL will also look to bolster its soundbar lineup, perhaps expanding the 3.1 channel TS9030, which uses reflector based Ray.Danz technology, to 5.1 channels or more.    
  

So, that’s what might be unveiled during 2021’s somewhat unusual CES show. Why not leave a comment and let us know what you’d like to see?

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