We hope you enjoyed that end-of-year downtime. Because it’s now time for the tech world to descend on Las Vegas to eyeball, tinker with, and analyze what Silicon Valley has in store for consumers in 2019.
Keep up with all of our CES 2019 coverage by going here, or watch the breaking news on our main page.
As in years past, we’ll likely see voice assistants like Alexa pop up in just about everything, while flashy, tricked-out cars will make waves on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The Ions tribe is en route to Vegas as we speak; here’s what our analysts expect to see at CES 2019 this week.
Phones and 5G
CES is never the big phone show. That’s Mobile World Congress in late February, where we expect most of the major US carriers and phone makers will be unveiling their first 5G phones. That puts CES in an odd place: a little bit of an island of misfit toys in the phone world, where oddball, mostly Chinese manufacturers come to try to raise awareness.
So first, here’s what we won’t see. We won’t hear about the Galaxy S10, or the folding Samsung or LG phones, the LG G8, Moto G7, Nokia 9 PureView, or anything new from Apple. Save all of those expectations for MWC, or in the case of Apple, for March. If you’re hearing rumors about these products at CES, I think they’re about closed-door, backroom meetings with suppliers and retailers, not about press or public launches.
Instead, Chinese giants Huawei and ZTE are trying to make their case to re-enter the US market, even though they’re being treated as potential spies and foreign-relations punching bags by our government. They’ll bring along their sub-brands Honor and Nubia; we’ll get the first US look at the Honor View 20, which has a massive 48-megapixel camera. While both are huge phone makers elsewhere, they’re pushing big rocks uphill in the US, as the Trump administration has basically declared them to be enemies of the state.
Sony has been officially very quiet, but may introduce a new phone or two at the show. Its rumored XA3 is a midrange phone with reduced bezels. Sony may also announce its own 5G phone plans, as it was curiously out of the mix during all of last month’s 5G pre-announcements. Sony also has nearly zero market share in the US, but as a Japanese company, it isn’t being accused of spying, so maybe that will create some opportunity.
Less-controversial Chinese phone makers TCL and Coolpad will show up as well. We’re hoping to get an update from TCL’s BlackBerry unit on the follow-up to last year’s Key2 and Key2 LE. Coolpad, which generally makes low-cost phones, showed off a kids’ wearable at Mobile World Congress Americas last year, which never made it to market. I’ll be quizzing Coolpad on how it expects to sell its new devices.
Beyond that, things just get weird. Royole, which introduced the FlexPai folding phone in November, may be showing a closer-to-market version of that product. An odd little company called Rokit claims to have a 3D phone. They’ll all be entertaining things to eyeball, if not to buy.
Even though Verizon’s CEO Hans Vestberg is giving a keynote on Tuesday, I don’t expect big phone news from the carriers or chipset makers. I do expect Qualcomm and Verizon to talk about driving 5G hard into automotive, an area we haven’t heard enough about yet. Car makers have a very strong presence at CES, and cars have long development cycles. I’m expecting to hear about partnerships and alignments, especially from Verizon, to rival AT&T’s 4G OnStar service in a 5G world.
The forecast is rather glum for groundbreaking PC innovations at CES this year. PC makers tend to release their most eye-catching designs in time for the holiday shopping frenzy, and we certainly saw quite a few of those by the end of 2018, from the luxurious, unique HP Spectre Folio to a gaggle of Screen Pad-equipped Asus laptops. With the exception of new graphics cards from Nvidia (see below), we also don’t expect any groundbreaking components like new CPUs or memory technologies.
That’s not to say there won’t be any new PCs announced, however. In fact, we’re expecting a deluge of new and refreshed models. Venerable laptops like the Dell XPS and Razer Blade are typically refreshed during CES or slightly afterwards, and this year should be no different. Expect interesting but mostly un-lustworthy features, such as far-field microphones to turn your PC into an Amazon Alexa voice assistant speaker, laptops with marathon battery life, face-recognition webcams, thin screen bezels, and the like.
Gaming PCs should be a pretty hot commodity at CES 2019, for a variety of reasons. PC makers continue to innovate, especially with gaming laptops, where the race to get ever thinner and more compact is on. Expect to see slimmed-down versions of existing lines that don’t sacrifice much power.
On a related note, and more than any other single factor, expectations of Nvidia announcements are driving plenty of speculation. The graphics giant will reportedly reveal new hardware but not an entirely new platform. The announcements may very well help with the above goal of thinner, still-powerful gaming laptops for a swath of manufacturers. More specifically, the timing would make sense to roll out the Turing line of graphics cards to laptops for the first time, a very straightforward way to add power to notebooks.
While that hasn’t been confirmed, there are plenty of signs making the rounds online, and it’s almost inevitable this will happen eventually. There could be good news for desktop owners as well, especially those who don’t want to spend a fortune: Any potential lower-end RTX cards are not yet available, and could fill the gap between last gen and the new high-end cards.
Other than that, expect to see more advanced displays come to gaming laptops. Recently reviewed laptops like the Asus ROG Zephyrus S and Alienware m15, for example, boast high-refresh-rate displays, a feature that greatly appeals to enthusiasts. These and other high-end features should make an appearance in any model updates, alongside any new components.
Core PC Components
Rumors have been running rampant of the imminent launch of Nvidia’s most accessible ray-tracing-enabled video card so far, the ostensible GeForce RTX 2060. Nvidia now has a truck-size hole in the middle of its lineup between its lowest-end GeForce RTX card and the last-gen GTX “Pascal” cards, and a “Turing”-generation card in the $300-to-$400 range would seem to be a no-brainer. We would not be surprised, given the quality and volume of the leaks, to see the first cards from Nvidia and its board partners at the show.
As for AMD, PC gamers are awaiting the 2019 launch of its next-gen “Navi” cards to bring some competition to the consumer video card high end. But the company’s launch of the Radeon RX 590 shows that the company is still trying to patch its line with yesterday’s tech.
Whether mobile versions of the existing GeForce RTX 2080, RTX 2080 Ti, and RTX 2070 roll out, as well, and start to show up in gaming laptops is anyone’s guess, but the time is ripe. A few leaks in the weeks leading up to the show—among them the putative spotting of this Lenovo Legion laptop—would indicate that new-gen Nvidia mobile graphics could be in the CES offing, too. Whether these will be refinements of Pascal like the GTX 1160 mentioned at the link or mobile RTX GPUs…well, we’ll just have to wait and see.
A ton is happening in the PC display space these days: HDR spreading across the field, along with enhanced support in Windows 10; gigantic curved screens like the Samsung CHG90; high-refresh-rate, gaming-oriented panels appearing from all comers; and the advent of FreeSync 2 (with its advanced HDR support) on the AMD side of the aisle.
Samsung started the CES display horse race this week with a surprise, pre-announced rollout of several new panels, including a new, higher-res version of its 49-inch widescreen monster. We’d expect to see other key display makers follow suit with giant panels for business and gaming alike, supporting subsets of the previously mentioned features in various mixtures. And we’re still waiting to see the Nvidia BFGD panels touted at last year’s CES come to market. The new year brings new hope.
PC Storage and Peripherals
CES is a fertile breeding ground for PC peripherals. Last year, we caught a glimpse of a 1TB flash drive prototype that connects via USB-C, and we expect things to continue in that mold this year. In other words, new storage devices will shrink in size while growing in capacity, and everything from expansion docks to thumb drives will have USB-C (and maybe even Thunderbolt 3).
In particular, watch out for futuristic features like external hard drives with PC features like Wi-Fi and SD card slots built in, and slimmer keyboards based on the low-profile mechanical switches that Cherry unveiled last year. We’re also expecting to see some peripherals like drawing tablets and other prosumer favorites, as well as new lightning-fast internal SSDs for both consumer and enterprise PCs
Buckle up, because 8K is coming. But don’t pull your seatbelt too tight, because it’s still going to take a while before it’s in reach. CES 2019 will see some of the first consumer-available 8K TVs trickling out. It’s an impressive resolution (7,680 by 4,320, four times the pixels of 4K and 16 times the pixels of 1080p), but unless you have very deep pockets and don’t mind not actually having anything to watch, that isn’t going to mean much.
8K will probably follow a similar production and adoption arc to 4K and 1080p. In each case, the jump in resolution was a gradual series of lurches that started with some very expensive flagship TVs and no native content to watch on them. It took years for 1080p video to become widespread with Blu-ray discs and streaming, and we’re still in the process of stepping up to 4K with Ultra HD Blu-ray and even more streaming. Don’t expect to see 8K feature films or shows coming out on any consumer media for another year or two, and for 8K TVs to primarily focus on how well they upconvert 1080p and 4K content to 8K. Which, while it might be impressive, won’t look as good as native 8K video will.
Outside of 8K hype, we can expect mostly wider color gamuts and contrast ratios, and new features on smart TV platforms. 4K HDR will continue its march forward to increasing affordability. We’ve already seen some very good budget and midrange TVs that support HDR 10 and Dolby Vision, and that will probably continue—with increasing adoption and experimentation with more advanced HDR formats that use dynamic metadata, like HDR10+.
Smart speakers are starting to wrestle with smart displays for shelf space, but that doesn’t mean Amazon Echo and Google Home-like devices will be cooling down. Outside of Amazon and Google, third-party smart speaker manufacturers will keep making screen-free speakers in different shapes and sizes. Meanwhile, the smart displays themselves will probably see a few more options on the table outside of the Amazon Echo Show, the Google Home Hub, and the handful of third-party smart displays currently available.
Both Dolby and DTS will stay on the tongues of home theater and gaming audio, as well. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X spatial audio are still the most advanced consumer-available ways to get surround sound in your home, going beyond 5.1- and 7.1-channel audio to produce sound from all directions. Soundbars and speaker systems that support Atmos and DTS:X, including ones with upward-firing drivers for vertical imaging, continue to intrigue and push the limits of just how much audio processing can do with a limited number of satellites.
Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR)
Virtual reality is still here, and it still isn’t doing a whole lot. All of the big names are currently established, but it feels like they’ve been spinning their wheels for the last year, from Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to PlayStation VR and Google Daydream. Oculus Go is intriguing as an affordable standalone VR system, but with three degrees of freedom (3DOF) and one controller, it isn’t the most immersive.
Oculus Quest is the most promising upcoming VR system, with standalone 6DOF VR including two 6DOF controllers, with no PC or game system needed and no wires to trip over. That’s the device we really have our eye on, unless HTC, Google, or even Microsoft and Windows Mixed Reality have some surprises for CES.
Augmented reality is a wider and trickier field. AR tech is still far out of consumer hands, with the HoloLens and Magic Leap proving to be interesting early proof-of-concept devices and development hardware but not much else. Phone-based AR, meanwhile, is in the hands of everyone, with varying degrees of sophistication and success (and Pokemon Go is still popular). Keep an eye out for some more advanced AR tech in the form of smartphone cameras and enterprise-level video glasses.
Wearables and Fitness Gadgets
In 2019, we’re expecting smartwatches based on Google’s Wear OS to become a lot more powerful with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset under the hood, which offers better battery life and performance than last year’s chipsets. With more power also comes more capabilities. If the latest Wear OS smartwatches (particularly the Fossil Sport and the Montblanc Summit 2) are any indication, this year’s devices will also pack improved health features—like more accurate heart rate sensors and built-in GPS—while still keeping style a priority.
As for fitness trackers, there’s unlikely to be any revolutionary hardware. If anything, we might see brands beef up existing devices by adding smartwatch functionality (like what Fitbit did with the Charge 3). There’ll likely be more niche wearables, such as those geared toward athletes or improving your sleep quality.
For the past few years, smart speakers and voice-integrated hardware have dominated CES smart home coverage. And while it’s almost a given the trend will continue this year, there could still be smart home surprises in store.
In addition to the usual array of smart appliances likely to appear at CES, keep an eye out for major innovations in smart security and monitoring equipment as well. And with 5G finally making its way to communities across the US, it’s all but certain manufacturers will leverage this technology to create more efficient smart home hardware and appliances.
Cameras and Drones
CES isn’t a camera show. Sometimes we see a really big imaging announcement at the show, most recently in 2016 when Nikon decided to use it as a launchpad for its top-end D5 and D500 sports-tuned SLRs. But I’d be shocked if we ever see the likes of that announcement timed with a CES show again.
That doesn’t mean you won’t see any camera news out of CES. The big three—Canon, Nikon, and Sony—will be there showing off current wares, even if smaller players like Fujifilm and Olympus typically skip exhibiting.
Keep an eye toward Panasonic this year. It announced its full-frame camera system at Photokina. It’s teaming up with Leica and Sigma on development, leveraging Leica’s existing L-Mount. We saw early prototypes of the Panasonic S1 and S1R at Photokina, and I’d expect some more details to be meted out between now and their release date, currently pegged for the first half of 2019.
If you venture out of the main showroom and into the wastelands of South Hall, you’ll see a lot of drones. We’ve ogled them, inquired about them, and been struck by a few designs over the years, but very few that are shown at CES end up going on sale in the US. There are only a few brands that really matter in the market—Autel Robotics, DJI, Parrot, and Yuneec—and it’s hit or miss as to whether any will use CES to launch new products.
In other spaces, there will be generic no-name action cameras galore on display, but we don’t expect anything from GoPro, which just refreshed its Hero series a couple of months ago. You’re more likely to see small VR cameras, which are still a thing despite the masses accepting virtual reality with level of enthusiasm previously reserved for 3D television.
Finally, I expect Kodak to do make an absurd announcement that garners a lot of press coverage, but doesn’t actually net a product release. Last year it was a Bitcoin miner, the year before a Super8 movie camera. This year… I’m betting on a Kodak-branded InstantPot that can also be used to control water bath temperatures for C41 film development.
Cars and Transportation
This year’s CES will bring another crop of shiny new cars and prototype vehicles from automakers including BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes, Nissan, and Toyota, just to name a few. Not only are cars going greener—with more luxury electric and hybrid vehicles rolling out to compete with Tesla—but we expect even more tricked out in-car experiences with extravagant infotainment systems and extra tech bells and whistles to make you feel like the future has finally arrived and you’re behind the wheel.
Of course, what makes that comfort possible are another year of advancements in self-driving technology. Autonomous vehicle tech is slowly and painfully making its way out of the testing phase and into that long, awkward transition phase when self-driving cars, trucks, buses, shuttles, and more will start sharing the road with human drivers. We’ll be on top of all the latest in self-driving tech and AI-powered sensing capabilities. Aside from checking out the latest cars and hopping in some self-driving vehicles, we’ll also be riding around on some sleek new scooters and anything else with wheels that gets you from point A to B.
Keep up with all of our CES 2019 coverage by going here, or watch the breaking news on our main page.
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