Nobody can see all of CES. But I tried

 arstechnica.com  01/21/2020 11:30:36   Jim Salter
  • Technically speaking, this has nothing to do with CES. It's just Vegas. I was surprised to see slot machines literally the moment I stepped off the connecting bridge from my plane, though.
  • If there is a less attractive way to identify yourself than with a CES badge, I devoutly hope I never learn of it.
  • CES doesn't happen at any one location; it sprawls across Vegas. Some of it, however, happens at the Venetianthe hotel-cum-casino that I stayed in.
  • This dome arches above the lobby of the Venetian, one of the many locations housing various bits of the Consumer Electronics Show.
  • Our sister publication Wired reserved this restaurant in the Venetian as an HQ for the first several days of CES. This turned out to be a godsend, because the WiFi in my room was largely theoretical, and my AT&T LTE connection was glacial beyond belief.
  • This strange, trompe l'oeil indoor canal lies between the Venetian and the Palazzo, two sprawling hotel/mall/casino complexes sharing a single structure.
  • The illusion of sky in here is disturbingly goodespecially late at night and badly jet-lagged, which is the way I first encountered it.
  • This abandoned Mylar balloon was one of the very few immediately eye-catching flaws to the canal's "outdoor" motif.
  • This display is roughly 30-feet wide by 20-feet high... and it's utterly unremarkable within the scope of CES itself. I tried to capture a sense of how huge it was, but failed badly.

To the surprise and delight of the more experienced Ars staff, I volunteered to attend CESthe Consumer Electronics Show, held annually in Las Vegasthis year. The delight, as it turns out, is because if I hadn't volunteered, one of them might have been voluntold. I didn't let theschadenfreude get me down, though; attending CES has been a bucket-list item for me for more than 20 years. I'm not a huge fan of crowds, but the promise of "weird electronic stuff" and sights not offered to the general public had me mesmerized.

One of the things any CES veteran will tell you is that it's impossible to actually see all of CES. They're not kiddingit would be an overstatement to claim that CES takes over the entirety of Las Vegas, but it wouldn't be an egregious one. Parts of CES take place at the Venetian hotel/casino/indoor mall, the attached and similarly gargantuan Palazzo, and the Las Vegas Convention Center. Any one of those locations dwarfs any other convention center I've seen, but even all of them together aren't enough to entirely contain CESwhich also has offshoots in other area hotels, convention centers, and just about anywhere else you can cram a few hundred people.

  • As far as I could tell, The Dell Experience was largely a way to get drinks funneled into reportersbut I never went in, so who knows.
  • McAfee had a reserved bar/restaurant area in the Venetian as well.
  • This glass dome is another one of those things that technically has nothing to do with CES. Sure is pretty, though!
  • The Venetian has its own movie theater. Why wouldn't it? No idea what shows there.
  • CES hasn't actually begun yetthis is what it looked like the day before, on a "media preview day."
  • Amazon reserved an enormous presentation space in the bowels of the Venetian. Most of these things are prior-invite-only.
  • Rohm Semiconductors would, apparently, like your help in designing the next Batmobile.
  • I never did find out exactly what "the App rLOVEution" was, but I presume it's a part of the burgeoning field of teledildonics.
  • We still haven't even left the Venetian yet. These lesser-trodden halls hold spaces reserved by various companies for press demos given to 100+ people per room.

I hardly left the Venetian on my first day at CES. The show wasn't technically open at all yetit was an extremely limited "media preview" with a few high-impact press conferences from the likes of AMD and Intel, and not much else. To the great fury of our most dedicated AMD fans, I ended up covering Intel's press release a day before AMD'sbecause AMD mistakenly invited me to the location of their future party room, not their actual press conference, which was several miles across town.

  • For those of you who complained about covering Intel a day earlier than AMDyou're looking at the reason why. AMD reps accidentally invited us to their party room instead of to the actual press conference location.
  • For those of you who complained about covering Intel a day earlier than AMDyou're looking at the reason why. AMD reps accidentally invited us to their party room instead of to the actual press conference location.
  • For those of you who complained about covering Intel a day earlier than AMDyou're looking at the reason why. AMD reps accidentally invited us to their party room instead of to the actual press conference location.
  • AMD's party room, once actually put together, included a "Render Bar" with crudites, and this random Ryzen PC. The "Kill Some Time" logo on the vinyl wrap was also on the T-shirts being handed out.
  • The AMD party room was chock-full of Ryzen and Threadripper powered PCs, almost all of which were GAMER XTREME TO THE MAXX. I particularly enjoyed catching a couple serving staff dubiously eye-ing a row of Threadripper systems and asking one another "are those things making it hot in here?" Yes. Yes they are.
  • Some of the Threadrippers were playing promo videos on a loop. One of those videos was an AMD focused version of the '70s game show The Dating Game. Hooboy.
  • Some of the Threadrippers were playing promo videos on a loop. One of those videos was an AMD focused version of the '70s game show The Dating Game. Hooboy.
  • Some of the Threadrippers were playing promo videos on a loop. One of those videos was an AMD focused version of the '70s game show The Dating Game. Hooboy.
  • Some of the Threadrippers were playing promo videos on a loop. One of those videos was an AMD focused version of the '70s game show The Dating Game. Hooboy.

The next day, the AMD party room I'd first seen as a collection of cardboard boxes and a few people unpacking them was a wild, red-lit gamer's-paradise extravaganza, packed with greatly-appreciated appetizers and one gonzo Threadripper rig after another. A display on one side of the room ran through several promotional videos, including some kind of crazy processor-focused take on Chuck Woolery's 1990s cringe-reboot of The Dating Game.

My absolute favorite moment of AMD's lavish party, though, was a moment between two of the waitstaff during a lull in service. One eyed the table full of Threadripper gaming machines next to her and asked the other "is it just me, or are those things making it hot in here?" Judging by my own time with the Threadripper 3970x, that table was pushing several kilowatts worth of heatso no, even in a room comfortably packed with milling human bodies, I don't think it was just her imagination.

  • Approximately half of CES is basically a scaled-up version of the HDTV section at your local Best Buy or similar store.
  • Add 15% gaudy DJ/boom box/bluetooth speaker thingamabobs to the 50% generic TV display stat, and you're beginning to get a feel for CES.
  • CES: bringing you the 1990s in the 2020s! There were tons of displays with super-gaudy boom boxes in the late '80s / early-'90s style.
  • Yes, let's absolutely build a stereo into the thing all the ice and drinks go in and out of. Nothing can go wrong!
  • Speakers, controls, and cupholders on the combination party radio / drink cooler. How's the accidental-spill warranty on that?
  • Sometimes, "Innovation" apparently means designing a refrigerator to look like a more brightly colored reject from the 1950s.
  • Part of the CES experience is taking quick cell phone snaps, solemnly intending to look them up later and figure out what they were about. Then, later, realizing you don't have enough context in the photo to know why you wanted to.
  • If you're lucky, you took a second photo to give you the required context. This is TDK's "Starship," an autonomous delivery robot.
  • For no apparent reason, here's a couple of Sanrio/Hello Kitty endcap displays from your local Target, eating up insanely expensive floor space in the middle of CES.

One of the most disappointing things about CES for me is how little of it felt like "amazing, gonzo thing you'd never see anywhere else" and how much of it felt like either a perfectly banal department-store electronics sectionor a "weird goods" table at a flea marketwhere you can't actually buy anything.

I did eventually stumble across wild robotic exoskeletons for heavy industrial work, see-through augmented reality glasses something like a poor person's Microsoft HoloLens, and morebut in order to find them, I first had to wade through 1950s-styled refrigerators, 1990s-styled boom boxes, andfor some reasona pair of Hello Kitty endcaps, which didn't look any different from the ones you might find at your local Target department store.

  • Probably the single most popular open display I saw at CES was the Delta/Sarcos Robotics demo of their Guardian XO industrial exoskeleton.
  • I couldn't convince the Sarcos people to let me get in the full-on Guardian XO heavy-duty exoskeleton, shown here with a Sarcos employee operating it.
  • TCL had one of the wider-ranging display areas I saw at CES, with products ranging from "smart locks" to anti-pollution washing machines to personal blast coolers.
  • SK's "Battery as a Service" intrigued me, so I took a bunch of photos of their kiosk. I still have no idea what it really means.
  • More of SK's "Battery as a Service."
  • SK Hynixbest known to most Arsians as a RAM manufacturerhad a lot going on in their display area.
  • Blockchain coffee. It's an older buzzword, sir, but it checks out...
  • One of the many, many things I saw at CES but have yet to visit the website for.
  • TVs that double as "paintings" when turned "off" were everywhere at CES. Will the idea catch on?

Listing image by Jim Salter


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Delta Air Lines had an enormous open-floor exhibit, and it had a lot going on—the largest part of the exhibit was some sort of "virtual airport" thing, exhibiting a prototype system where the displays in airports show individually targeted information to travelers as they pass by.

On the other side of the Delta exhibit, Sarcos Robotics—who has landed Delta as a client—was exhibiting the Guardian XO, its fully functional, battery-powered industrial exoskeleton. We'll cover Sarcos—and the Guardian XO—more thoroughly soon, in its own report. Sarcos wouldn't let arbitrary reporters climb into the actual Guardian, unfortunately, but I did at least get to operate one arm of it. This is enough to give you a feel for how insanely strong the Guardian XO is, without running the risk of throwing a 50-pound weight like an NFL quarterback making a bullet pass.

The Delta/Sarcos exhibit was in the middle of the biggest floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and I spent a plenty of time wandering around randomly there, eyeballing everything from blockchain coffee—which I did not spend any more time on than it required to snap a photo—to "battery as a service," whatever that is.

  • A lot of companies are going hard after Microsoft's HoloLens in the not-necessarily-gaming portion of augmented reality. Vuzix Blade is one of them.
  • Yours truly, sporting a set of Vuzix Blade AR goggles—which I used to absolutely crush some Wolfenstein 3D Nazis in the demo.
  • This "integrated service provider of animation and film and television derivatives" is, somehow, "redefining quality of sound." Presumably, through those weird little robot things? IDK.
  • I'm not sure if it's the same company or not, but the same Batman-to-the-max display area on the CES floor features an entire LINE of heavily Batman-themed... vacuum cleaners? Vacuum cleaners. Sure, why not.
  • If you wouldn't take a snarky selfie with Batman, the Dark Knight, Lord of the Vacuum Cleaners, you and I would probably not be friends.
  • A surprising amount of CES seems like a flea market where you can't actually buy any of the sprawling selection of inexpensive merch. Like this table full of cell phone cases.
  • Behold—the audio section of CES, full of products whose quality you absolutely cannot determine while packed into a hundred-thousand-strong crowd!
  • I have no idea who made these weird stackable blocks with video displays on them or what actual purpose they serve. Neat, though.
  • Determined to outshine the boom-box display bringing 1990 back to 2020, this video flooring demo brings the 1970s back to 2020. Saturday Night Fever, anyone?

Most of the main floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center was split evenly between "flea market" and "department store" motifs, with few really surprising products. But there were some delightful pockets of weird and fun mixed in, like Vuzik's fully see-through AR goggles—which I used to play Wolfenstein 3D, because of course I did—and an extremely large and very Batman-themed vacuum cleaner display.

Enormous video displays, both LED and projection, were everywhere—but my favorite was a small set of stacked cubes, displaying a waterfall on every visible surface. Who made it? I don't really know. Why did they make it? I'm not sure of that, either, to be perfectly honest. But I enjoyed them.

  • Random IndyCar? Random IndyCar. Welcome to CES.
  • I'd never heard of IOWN, but its display reminds me of IOUN stones. Close enough.
  • E-bikes, e-bikes galore! Most, though not all, of these gadgets augment pedal power with electric motors, rather than replacing it entirely.
  • Closeup view of one of the Jetson electric-motor-augmented bicycles.
  • I had to spend nearly 20 minutes in a 20,000-foot open display area full of banners like this—and barking pitchmen, and games with cheap prizes—before finally figuring out that "Gravity" in this case seems to mean some kind of home automation system. (Probably.)
  • Canon, for some reason, had a full-on fashion show. Complete with elevated runway, size double-zero models, and weird vinyl (?) clothes.
  • Closeup of one of Canon's models and its presumably haute-couture clothing. I don't think this outfit would fly in my neighborhood. More importantly, I have no idea why Canon is showing it off at CES!
  • You'll never know what half the things you see at CES were really about. For example, this striking green space. Pretty? Yes. What's it promoting? I couldn't tell you.
  • IBM says this is a Quantum Computer, but they can't fool me. If you hit this too many times, its Limit Break will finish charging and this thing will zap you from orbit, I just know it.

There are lots of things at CES that a casual or even not-so-casual attendee might never find the purpose of. I walked through one display with an IndyCar and another large display floor for "Innovative Optical and Wireless Networks." I spent probably 20 minutes in another extremely large display area complete with carnival-esque barkers, games with prizes, and popcorn without ever really figuring out what was going on with any of them.

I also encountered what appeared to be a full-on high-fashion runway modeling show being put on by Canon—you know, the folks who make cameras and inkjet printers. I could not for the life of me discern an actual product being demonstrated at the runway display or see anything about the weird clothes the models were wearing that screamed out "things that Canon makes." I'm sure there was some reason for the runway—but nobody told me what it was.

Great piles of money have apparently been thrown at glitzing up various CES displays, but very little money was thrown at focus groups to help companies figure out if anybody would be able to tell what they're actually pitching.

  • Sony had one of the more effective demo areas at CES. There were lots of places to see lots of TVs, but the Sony floor consistently wowed me with the display quality.
  • I barely even care about the difference between 1080P and 4K at home. But I have to admit, Sony's 8K demo displays were impressive.
  • Another Sony 8K HDTV demo. Yowza.
  • This gigantic, free-standing Google... thing... complete with slide race (?) was one of the many, many parts of CES I didn't actually have the time to explore.
  • In addition to the gigantic building across the street from the Las Vegas convention center, Google donated either outfits, booth dressing, or actual personnel (not sure which) to a lot of the smaller exhibits in other areas of CES.
  • If you asked me to lay down money on whether there would be a collaboration between Klipsch and McLaren, I would have lost the bet.
  • I discovered this entire several-hundred-thousand-foot display floor completely by accident while just trying to find a way back to my hotel room. This seemed to be where most of the small and potentially entertainingly weird stuff was—I'm sad I didn't have time to see much of it.
  • Did I say the "small" stuff was in the offshoot area of the Venetian that I only found by accident on my last day? Well, it's CES. Small is a relative term.
  • The exhibition halls at the Venetian ranged from claustrophobically packed tiny stalls to huge open-air exhibits... but even the big displays might occasionally be made of raw particle board.

Although there were television-display floors everywhere you looked at CES, Sony's stood out. The company has an awful lot of current or upcoming 8K HDR HDTV models, and between the TVs themselves and Sony's choice of demonstration video, they looked good. I've got a nice 65" 4K HDR television in my den, so I didn't really expect to be blown away by any televisions at CES for any reason other than size—but I have to admit, Sony's impressed me. It's normally hard to get a good idea of a television or monitor's display from a photo, but these things look great even in the quick snaps I took with my Pixel 2XL.

After I finished up at the Las Vegas Convention Center on my last day, I headed back to the Venetian, dog-tired, and discovered an entirely separate exhibition hall by accident. I didn't have much chance to experience this side of CES—which seemed smaller, less heavily-funded, and more likely to trend towards fun "gonzo" things you never expected. The only reason I even knew this space, with tens of thousands of attendees, even existed was because security suddenly decided not to allow even screened bags up one particular escalator. So I had to make a detour to return to my room.

Next year, I should know better how to find the smaller, weirder spaces with unexpected gadgetry. And, yes—assuming Ars still wants to cover CES in 2021—I'll go back willingly.

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