Glorified chatbot assistants might’ve gotten the most buzz at last week’s Consumer Electronics show, but the best stuff we saw wasn’t struggling to turn science fiction into reality. (Okay, well, one thing on the list below probably fits that description, and I bet it’ll be easy for you to guess which one.) Technology is usually iterative and as such the most impressive things we saw at CES this year were just the latest examples of the core tech the show is known for: televisions, audio equipment, computer paraphernalia, and, yes, maybe a robot or concept car or two.
Keep in mind, though: I am but one man. Many outlets send large teams to cover CES, which is one of the two or three biggest trade shows in the nation, and far too massive for any individual to examine comprehensively. Yes, there are many booths I missed out on, and many no-doubt-amazing pieces of tech that I wasn’t able to watch or experience. Them’s the breaks.
That said, here’s what impressed me last week.
Screw it: let’s do the robot first. I saw a lot of robots in Las Vegas last week (and not just the people who keep mechanically pumping money into the slot machines), and Samsung’s Ballie was easily the one that made the best impression. Not only is it adorable, but it’s so modest in its goals that it’s one of the only ones that actually seems feasible for consumer use. Ballie is basically a personal assistant who can follow you around your house like a pet—or play with your own pets when you aren’t home. Want to tweak one of your household apps with your voice? Ballie’s there to listen. Just want to check in on your home while you’re away? Ballie’s got a camera. Are you into the idea of a BB-8 style robot buddy who just hangs out with you with no judgments and no pressure? You might need a Ballie. Considering the number of just completely pointless robots I saw last week, Ballie’s usefulness and versatility felt like a breath of fresh air. You know, that stuff we won’t have any more of once the robot uprising conquers the earth.
From the surprisingly practical to the admittedly experimental: the Vision-S was a concept car parked at the heart of Sony’s sprawling booth, and what a concept it is. Basically imagine all of Sony’s best and most advanced tech squeezed into a luxury electric car: that’s the Vision-S. It’s a car built for entertaining but also for safety, with almost three dozen sensors all over the place dedicated to tracking your surroundings. It can hit over 60 miles per hour in under five seconds, so don’t let anybody tell you that electric cars lack power. Sadly there are no plans to actually produce the Vision-S—that’s kind of a key part of the whole “concept car” thing—but if car manufacturers start including some of Sony’s technology in the way the Vision-S shows off, the daily commute could become a great way to catch up on your stories.
If you think Samsung’s Sero TV looks like a niche product, you’re probably an old man like me. I at least can recognize the appeal this TV might have for younger consumers. The Sero is a standard 4K TV, measuring in at 43-inches, with one notable gimmick: it automatically rotates to a portrait orientation whenever you do the same with your phone. Basically it’s built to be a TV to watch TikTok or Instagram Stories on. And the process is seamless—if you’re streaming from your phone to the Sero and turn the phone from one direction to another, Sero will almost immediately respond in kind.
If you’re looking for a more old-fashioned TV—one that knows how to stay put—the best combo of quality and price at the show came, unsurprisingly, from Vizio. Vizio may not match Sony, Samsung or LG when it comes to high-end models, but there’s a reason Vizio was the first HD and then first 4K TV for so many people: they make great products at a low price. I can tell you that the quality part of that formula remains true with their newly announced OLED TVs, which will come in 55-inch and 65-inch varieties and be out later this year. I don’t know what the exact price point will be, but if it’s in the range you’d expect from Vizio, it’ll probably be one of the cheapest OLEDs on the market.
If price is no object, though, you might want to check out LG’s leviathan of a TV. This one’s almost too ridiculous: it’s an 88-inch 8K OLED with Dolby Vision and Atmos and built-in access to both Alexa and Google Assistant. It is gorgeous and gargantuan, fit for somebody with a ton of space and just as much money, with a price coming in just under $30,000. Given the size and price tag this could feel like just a conversation piece or status symbol, but you’ve got to give it up to LG: this thing isn’t just big but incredibly well-designed, with an almost unparalleled image.
I might edit a games section but I’ve always been pretty open about how I don’t like playing games on the computer. I’m already here for work all day; I’d rather relax somewhere else, and with my 4K TV that’s so much larger and more powerful than my computer monitor. Well, Samsung has finally made a computer monitor that might keep me glued to my swivel chair after hours. The Samsung Odyssey G9 would probably keep me bolted tight against my desk whenever I have free time. This 49-inch model with a drastically curved screen has QLED backlighting, a beefy resolution, and a 5120×1440 resolution that will basically make your computer screen look more like life than life itself. It also has a refresh rate of 240 Hz, which, yes, is quite refreshing. With a beautiful form factor that looks like a robot designed by an Art Deco architect, the G9 is as beautiful as it is powerful.
Arcade1Up’s recreations of old arcade cabinets have clearly been a hit, with a steady stream of new models and game packages coming out since 2018. (If you’ve been to Paste’s office in Atlanta, there’s a chance you’ve played Street Fighter II on one of ‘em.) They’re not slowing down in 2020, and in fact announced two exciting new projects at CES. The first of them is an NBA Jam set that includes three versions of the ‘90s basketball classic and will include online multiplayer—a first for Arcade1Up. The second should big news for fans of pinball, whether it’s the real deal or the virtual kind: Arcade1Up will be releasing a series of virtual pins, potentially starting with a Star Wars machine. I’m typically not a fan of machines that try to digitally recreate pinball, but the Arcade1Up machine I played at CES has a couple of features that help make it feel more realistic. First off the screen is set inside the machine to mimic the placement of a real pinball machine’s playfield. Secondly the flipper buttons have solenoids, which means the machine can replicate some the physical aspects of pinball, like letting you nudge the machine or control the amount of power you want to put into the flippers. There’s promotional artwork out there that links Arcade1Up’s pinball machine to Bally, Williams and Zen Studios, so there could be a number of new and classic games available for this thing. No price has been announced yet, but if Arcade1Up can bring this in under $1,000, it could be a hit.
Okay, yes: this is prohibitively expensive unless you feel personally insulted by Bernie Sanders. The second record player from Mark Levinson brings some capital-L Luxury to the turntable market, with this aluminum-heavy unit that will set you back around $6,000. And when I say heavy I mean it: the platter alone weighs 14 pounds, and is spun ‘round and ‘round by a 12V motor. It promises that rich and warm tone some people insist you can only get from vinyl, but, uh, even richer and warmer due to how nice it is. I’m not sure how relevant this kind of super-high-end record player would be to me—most of the records I listen to intentionally sound like they were recorded inside a meat grinder—but the true audiophile of means might want to lend the No. 5105 their ear.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.