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What is CES?

What is CES
Here's what CES looked like 41 years ago, when the show was only ten years' old - it's a bit bigger now

In roughly a week’s time, you’re going to see the word “CES” embedded into every other technology news story you read. So what is CES? Why do people get so very excited about it? And is it just hype?

The basics first. CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show. It’s held in Las Vegas in the first full week of January every year, and despite its consumer-friendly name it isn’t actually open to punters: it’s for trade only. And journalists, naturally.

This year, CES 2018 officially runs from Tuesday 9 to Friday 12 January, but you’ll start to be bombarded with stories from Sunday 7 January (most likely the early hours of Monday due to the time difference) when the press briefings begin.

What is CES and why’s it so popular?

What is CES
Here’s what CES looks like now. And this is just one bit of one hall. Crazy.

CES is popular with tech journalists such as me because it’s the launchpad for hundreds of new products, it’s a chance to meet up with companies from around the globe, and because we can get our hands on products that may not have made their way to the UK yet.

It’s popular with trade for many of the same reasons. There are reps from the likes of Dixons Group making deals and checking out exciting developments on the show floor. It’s where everyone – well, almost everyone – is to be found at the start of each calendar year.

The reason I keep going to CES – and have done for the past decade – is that there’s no better way to get an idea of what’s going to happen in the world of technology in the coming 12 months. It’s nothing to do with the parties. Nothing.

What is CES: who’s there, and who isn’t?

First, the absentees. You won’t find Apple, Google or Microsoft on the CES showfloor. While Microsoft used to have a big stand of its own, it’s now there for private meetings and briefings only. Likewise Google.

Apple, naturally, is far too grandiose to lower itself to such things, preferring to hold its own events and stream them live. To be fair, this strategy works rather well.

Everyone else must jostle for the attention of attendees, and aside from the Big Three every company you can think of is there. A literal A to Z, including Acer, Dell, HP, Huawei, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, Sony, TomTom and Zyxel.

What is CES: ignore the hype

What is CES
If you have several thousand pounds to spend on a TV, and don’t mind waiting, then you’ll love CES

There’s a huge amount that’s great about CES, but there’s also a huge amount of hype. Each year there’s some Big New Thing, some of which makes it to reality (Alexa everywhere was last year’s unofficial theme) but much of it is just hot air designed to sell products. Did someone say 3D TV?

So, whilst reading all those CES stories, always keep your hype sensor on full alert. Just because a company spokesperson says that we’ll be buying nuclear-powered jetpacks this time next year doesn’t mean we will.

Instead, consider this. Will that product make my life better? Does it solve a genuine problem, or is it technology looking for a solution? Only a handful of “innovations” seem to hit the former rather than the latter criteria.

What is CES: what to expect

All the TV manufacturers love to launch huge, beautiful TVs at this Vegas show, and so I expect a deluge of ridiculously sized OLED TVs from the big names this year. It takes months before such products to hit the John Lewis shelves, though, and most of the time they cost thousands of pounds when they do – so don’t get too excited.

I’m also expecting new laptops from the likes of Dell, HP and Lenovo, new phones from Huawei and Motorola, and so many smart home/networking products that you could upgrade your home many times over.

What is CES
Oh VR, you promise so much – let 2018 be the year where you deliver

Personally, I’m hoping to see an AR/VR demo that genuinely impresses. I love the idea of VR, but we’ve been tempted by jam tomorrow for too long. Now that the headsets are starting to appear in volume – and for an affordable £300 to £400 rather than the £700 of the past couple of years – I’m crossing my fingers that the developers have created something amazing.

I’m less optimistic about some of the other much-trailed trends. Think digital health, 5G and machine learning. Yes, there will be much talk, but genuine products? I hope to be proved wrong, but I don’t expect to see anything that’s truly amazing.

CES 2018: Coverage on Big Tech Question

We’ve got two people at the show, so keep checking from Monday 8 January for updates from the show. Here’s hoping for some mind-boggling news and products.

Read next: What is 5G and when is it coming to the UK?

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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