What to Look for at CES 2016

December 29, 2015, 4:16 PM UTC
Day Two Of Mobile World Congress 2015
A visitor wears a Samsung Gear VR virtual reality headset in the Samsung Electronics Co. pavilion at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. The event, which generates several hundred million euros in revenue for the city of Barcelona each year, also means the world for a week turns its attention back to Europe for the latest in technology, despite a lagging ecosystem. Photographer: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg Bloomberg via Getty Images

Not too many years ago, the primary focal point of CES was televisions. First came 3D, then 4K/UHD. And while this year’s consumer technology supershow will certainly have plenty of new bells and whistles for the center of the living room, the TV has been shifted to a supporting role.

In 2016, CES will focus on several emerging and evolving technologies that many feel have the potential to be the next driving forces in consumer electronics. The show, which is being held in Las Vegas Jan. 6-9 (preshow events begin Jan. 4), is the epicenter of technology, with companies ranging from Samsung (SSNLF) and Sony (SNE) to Toyota (TM) and BMW showcasing their products for the year to come and beyond.

Automotive technology will be one of the overriding themes of this year’s show, dominating more than 200,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 25% increase from 2015’s show. BMW will unveil a gesture-based interface, allowing drivers to control some car features with a wave of their hand. Kia and Mercedes are both expected to discuss (and perhaps show off) their self-driving vehicles, as well as discuss advances in connected car technology.

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Perhaps most intriguing in the automotive technology front, though, is the reveal of the Faraday Future, a concept car that’s expected to be the first real competition for Tesla (TSLA) (which has been staffing up recently, perhaps in anticipation of the battle).

Following that trend, Volkswagen chairman Herbert Diess will give a keynote address at the show Tuesday morning to launch an all-electric concept car.

As carmakers position themselves for future battles, virtual reality headset makers see CES as their last prelaunch chance to build buzz. Facebook(FB)-owned Oculus will showcase what is expected to be the final consumer version of the Rift (due to hit retail in the first quarter of 2016) and Sony is likely to showcase PlayStation VR (which lands by midyear) at its booth and press conference.

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The real curiosity, though is what HTC has in store for Vive. The company has been largely silent about the system since its debut last March, which wowed showgoers at the Game Developer’s Conference. It missed its announced 2015 launch date, which (along with HTC’s financial woes) raised some concerns on whether the headset would end up as vaporware.

Earlier in December, though, HTC announced it had made “a very, very big technological breakthrough” with the Vive, which was the reason for the delay until April 2016. The company is expected to discuss that breakthrough at CES.

Of course, TVs will continue to play a big role at the show, with high dynamic range sets attempting to turn heads this year. Wearable technology will have a major presence as well. And drone manufacturers will occupy 25,000 square feet, a 200% increase over 2015.

The technological breakthroughs could be overshadowed by real-world threats, though. CES is a massive event, attracting nearly 177,000 people in 2015. This year’s show will officially span more than 2.4 million square feet—along with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of additional square footage from adjunct events and meeting rooms at popular Vegas hotels. And being that high-profile makes it a potential target.

After recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., show organizers sent out a notice that they were augmenting the show’s security procedures, banning rolling bags, increasing bag searches, and requiring all attendees to be subject to metal detector screenings or body pat-downs before entering the show.

“While we know of no credible threat against CES, we remain vigilant,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which hosts the show. “We are communicating with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and local law enforcement officials as we enhance security measures on-site at CES 2016. We greatly appreciate our guests’ patience as we work to maximize security and minimize hassle.”

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