CES 2016: Preview of the Las Vegas tech showcase
- 2 January 2016
- From the section Technology
Across the globe, tech industry insiders are charging their batteries and taking a deep breath.
CES kicks off next week - a sprawling consumer technology showcase that seems to extend to more Las Vegas venues every year.
From Samsung to one-person start-ups, thousands of companies will demo new products, while, behind-the-scenes, deals will be struck to make further generations of gadgets possible.
"Every CES is fresh and different, and we try to see what the future will bring," the event's organiser Gary Shapiro says.
"What I've learned is that sometimes the companies themselves don't even know if they're going to get their product finished in time."
VHS recorders, HD TVs, the Xbox games console and Blu-ray discs all made their debut at past shows.
But one expert suggests the tech giants may temper their ambitions this time round.
"Say goodbye to cool, say hello to practical," explains John Curran from the consultancy Accenture.
"Many of the larger companies now put less emphasis on CES as a launch pad for major hardware. So, they will focus instead on showing off new services to help garner excitement for existing products.
"But for the smaller businesses this is as big a venue as they are going to be able to find and is an excellent opportunity to catch the eye of journalists and key buyers from the retailers."
New TV tech always makes a stir at CES, even if some of the innovations are not always practical.
In recent years, Samsung and LG have slugged it out to boast the biggest sets, but this year it may be about having the bendiest.
LG made headlines in May when it showed off an ultra-thin prototype that could be peeled off the wall - it will be fascinating to see how much further the two South Korean firms have developed the concept.
As far as screens you might actually want to buy soon, expect the focus on be on "HDR".
The acronym refers to high dynamic range, and basically means that TVs can show millions more shades of colour and a wider dynamic range - added shades of brightness in between black and white - letting more detail be shown.
Amazon actually started streaming some of its shows in HDR this year, but competing standards meant the TV-makers hadn't put their marketing muscle behind the format.
That's likely to change at CES when a coalition of the leading players reveal a new specification. It will let them badge TVs to show they will support future HDR-coded content.
That should prevent an embarrassing repeat of the fact that many of the early 4K sets ended up being incompatible with the way ultra high definition video is now streamed.
Netflix had previously said it was waiting until this moment to start supporting HDR - expect its chief executive Reed Hastings to reveal more at his keynote CES speech.
And while it's likely to be many years before the mainstream broadcasters adopt HDR, several of the movie studios have said they will offer it on 4K Blu-ray discs - the first players are also expected to be unveiled at CES.
A big will-they won't-they question mark hangs over GoPro's CES plans.
The action camera-maker has promised to launch a drone called Karma in 2016.
The firm's chief executive Nicholas Woodman is speaking at a dinner event, but it's still unclear if he'll offer a first peek at the aircraft.
Even if GoPro holds fire, there are dozens of other firms set to show off flying tech, including:
- PowerUp FPV - a piece of kit from an Israeli start-up that transforms a paper aeroplane into a controllable aircraft that streams views back to a virtual reality headset
- Fleye - a ball-shaped drone from Belgium that hides its rotor blades behind a plastic sphere to reduce the risk of injuries
- Uvify - a drone from South Korea said to be fitted with 3D-recognition equipment that can navigate its way around indoor environments
Britain's Intelligent Energy will also be showing off a hydrogen fuel cell, which it says lets drones stay airborne for hours, rather than minutes, at a time.
And the Federal Aviation Administration has a booth and will likely provide an update on its new register for US-based drone owners.
Following years of hype, 2016 looks to be the year that virtual reality becomes - well, reality.
HTC is inviting select journalists to take a look at its revamped Vive VR headset on Monday.
The headset - created in conjunction with video games firm Valve - was supposed to have gone on sale by now.
However, the Taiwanese firm delayed the launch to add what it says is a "very big technological breakthrough".
Is it eye-tracking sensors, a way to get rid of its external wiring or something else? We'll soon know.
Sony is set to follow with its own press conference on Tuesday when we should get more details of the PlayStation VR - the add-on headset for its bestselling console.
But one company watcher thinks the Japanese firm will miss a trick if it doesn't make another VR-centric announcement.
"Sony should come out with an accessory to convert its Z5 Premium smartphone into a VR solution," says Ben Wood from consultants CCS Insight.
"Its 4K screen is a solution looking for a problem - its high resolution really would lend itself to the experience."
Oculus has already carried out a similar trick for Samsung's phones, but its focus this time will be on the Rift.
The Facebook-owned business recently confirmed the PC-powered VR headset is "on-target" for a Q1 launch.
With pre-orders about to begin, surely it's time to find out how much it will cost.
There should also be news about "affordable" 360-degree cameras - if VR is going to take off beyond gaming, people need an easy way to record their own videos.
In addition, keep an ear out for new audio-recording equipment capable of matching sounds to a VR user's point-of-view - France's Arkamys has already teased one solution that will be on show.
The Consumer Technology Association is talking up this category, noting there's 71% more space dedicated to robots than in 2015.
Few think robots are ready to go mainstream just yet, but there's still several companies worth keeping an eye on.
The US start-up Jibo is creating a lot of buzz after its "social robot" raised over $3.7m (£2.5m) on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. The project's chief, Cynthia Breazeal, will be popping into town to provide an update.
There are a couple of new droids from France - the Buddy companion bot (which you can see at the top of this article) and Leka, a machine designed to stimulate children with autism and other developmental disorders.
And from Japan, Flower Robotics promises to bring "beauty" to the field by showing off robots designed to be as aesthetically pleasing as they are useful.
You might appreciate its efforts in the future, when squadrons of the automatons are zipping about.
As we career towards roads full of self-driving, electric-powered vehicles, the automakers are embracing CES as a chance to reveal their latest innovations.
Ten of the big-name car manufacturers are exhibiting this year, but much of the pre-show buzz is being generated by a Chinese firm looking to disrupt the sector.
Faraday Future has promised to unveil a "concept" that will help "define the future of mobility".
The company has already lured several executives away from Tesla, announced plans to build a state-of-the-art factory near Las Vegas, and received backing from China's tech billionaire Jia Yueting. We'll learn more at its event on Monday.
Volkswagen will hope to steer back attention the next day - and repair its battered reputation - when its chief executive takes to the stage.
The firm has said it will have a new concept vehicle to show off - rumours suggest it will be an electric Microbus capable of driving up to 500km (310 miles) on a single charge.
Ford's boss, Mark Fields, is also in attendance. It's been reported that he's working on a tie-up with Google to create a new self-driving car business.
But it's not clear whether this will feature in his CES presentation or be kept back for the Detroit Auto Show later in the month.
BMW, however, has already confirmed it will be demonstrating Air Touch - a control mechanism for its in-car maps and entertainment systems that 3D-scans hand gestures to let drivers avoid having to fumble for buttons.
And Toyota is promising to show off a new "high-precision" road imaging system that will let self-driving cars share what they've seen to keep their maps up to date.
The technology may do away with the need to send out special vehicles equipped with expensive laser scanners to get the data.
"There'll also be more than 100 smaller auto tech companies," adds Accenture's John Curran.
"This year's focus will be a little bit less on infotainment and more on security and safety - so, we should see new collision avoidance technologies, anti-car jacking tech and ways for cars to communicate with each other."
Despite smartwatches gaining ground in 2015, Fitbit and its fitness trackers remain wearable tech's bestselling brand.
The firm has an early-morning press conference on Tuesday, suggesting it has something major to reveal.
"We could see a revision of Fitbit devices and software to better track stress via heart rate variability and skin temperature, along with software that offers coaching for better sleep and stress management," predicts Charles Anderson from the investment bank Dougherty & Company.
"We also expect to see Fitbit in more pacts with fashion brands."
The firm's activity-logging rival Misfit is also at CES. The business was recently taken over by the watch giant Fossil, and we may see the first fruits of their tie-up.
Chinese tech giant Huawei is tipped to unveil a smartwatch targeted at women and smaller start-ups are also expected to unveil female-friendly wrist-wear.
"There's been a very male bias to wearable tech but you're going to see what I call the jewellification of this stuff," predicts CCS Insight's Ben Wood.
"There's a big gap in the market - wearables for women will be a big theme."
Of course, another theme will be wearables that don't call attention to themselves, at least not until needed.
For instance, the French firm Atol will be showing normal looking glasses that tell a smartphone app where they are when lost.
In&motion has what it says is the world's first "smart airbag" for skiers - a vest that inflates in less than a tenth of a second upon impact.
And Digitsole has new shoes that tie up their own laces - something we've been waiting for ever since Back to the Future II.
Wearable tech for pets is also set to become more subtle.
PitPat, for instance, has a fairly unobtrusive activity tracker for dogs - a far cry from some of the more clunky animal-centric efforts seen at past CES shows.
Health and beauty
Cosmetics companies are starting to embrace consumer electronics.
L'Oreal is back for a second year with a new mystery product following the success of its Makeup Genius app in 2015.
Another French firm, Romy, is in town with a device that custom-mixes skincare ingredients to suit each user at different times of the day.
And the UK's Amirose is pitching in to offer special cucumber-enhanced eye pads said to be specially formulated to soothe "computer eyes".
There should also be a plethora of products that promise to aid longer-term benefits.
For instance, Ceracor will debut a sensor that measures the level of haemoglobin in the blood, which it says athletes can use to boost their endurance.
And Skulpt is showing off Chisel, a device that it says can be used to measure body fat and muscle quality.
As ever with health tech, some of the claims will need to be put under scrutiny.
Canada's Medical Wearable Solutions, for example, will have to justify its boast that its EyeForcer glasses are the solution to "the epidemic of Gameboy disease".
Also look out for an explosion in the number of products targeted at new parents, including a sensor that measures contractions, telling mothers when to go to hospital, and a smart changing pad that tracks the growth of newborns.
Four million UK households already contain some sort of smart home system, according to a recent report by Strategy Analytics.
Nest and Philips paved the way, expect a fresh flood of internet-connected thermostats, lights, fire alarms and plug sockets at the show - as well as new ways to control them.
Samsung has said it intends to make its next range of Smart TVs double as command-and-control "smart hubs", while LG has pre-announced the SmartThinQ Hub - a cylindrical device that does much the same thing.
If at this point you are trying to stifle a yawn, hold on - there are a few products in this category that intrigue.
The man who developed the original iMovie for Apple has turned his attention to laundry and will unveil a washing/drying machine called Marathon at Monday's CES Unveiled preview.
The device can be set to keep clothes locked inside until their rightful owner returns - although how many flatshares will be able to afford its $1,200 (£810) price is another matter.
Invoxia will be showing off Triby - a connected-kitchen product powered by Amazon's voice-activated assistant Alexa.
And there will also be other new kit to enhance the home including a showerhead that tracks how much water it has used, a module that lets you control gas fireplaces from your phone and a sofa that vibrates in time with shows on TV.
It's been said that it's a heck of a lot easier to get an overview of CES from outside Vegas rather than trying to tramp around its epic-sized show floors.
We'll certainly try to highlight the key announcements as well as some of the more weird and quirky reveals.
In addition, we'll have a special edition of Tech Tent on the BBC World Service on Friday, and you can track the BBC's tech team on the ground at the following Twitter accounts: