SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - The big tech show will go on, but online only: the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicks off Monday (Jan 11) aiming to create connections and showcase the latest in robotics, smart devices, digital health and more.
Some 1,800 exhibitors will be participating in the show, forced to go online-only by the coronavirus pandemic.
The new format will be a challenge for one of the world's largest trade events. In previous years, the Las Vegas extravaganza pulled in more than 4,000 exhibitors from start-ups to big multinationals, with upwards of 175,000 attendees.
The event opens with a media day - normally packed with press conferences in Las Vegas ballrooms - replaced with streamed video presentations from companies, such as Hisense, LG, Samsung and Sony.
The Consumer Technology Association, the trade group producing the event, will also unveil its forecast and trends for 2021.
Mr Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of the group, said the first all-digital show would be "showcasing the latest trends and innovation in artificial intelligence, 5G, digital health, smart cities, vehicle tech and beyond".
Digital CES is relying on artificial intelligence to match interests indicated in attendee profiles with exhibitors, hoping to put a software spin on the serendipity of stumbling upon cool products on show-floors.
Software will recommend people or exhibitors to connect with and provide tools for online meetings or chats.
CES has more than 300 speakers lined up, and a heightened focus on sessions diving into issues such as privacy and 5G Internet.
Sessions will be immediately available for replay on demand, and remain accessible until mid-February, according to CES organisers.
When the virtual show floor opens on Tuesday, attendees will be able to click into online exhibition booths for demos and chats.
Some unveilings that would normally draw crowds in Las Vegas are going ahead in the virtual space: Audi is set to launch its electric sports car, and LG will show off a large bendable display for gamers; other companies will be releasing gadgets adapted to super fast 5G wireless networks which are gaining traction.
But some analysts say the lack of in-person events has pushed many participants to the sidelines.
"A large part of the show is likely to be missing in action," said independent technology analyst Richard Windsor, who writes the Radio Free Mobile blog.
Dr Windsor said health tech will be at "the top of the agenda" for the pandemic-hit event, which he said will likely be "a diminished experience" compared with prior shows.
Show organisers said they hope to deliver a new kind of experience which can be useful to the expected online crowd of 100,000 or more.
"CES is one of the most experiential events in the world, where attendees can actually see and touch and experience the latest innovations," CTA spokesman Jean Foster said during a briefing ahead of the show.
"And while we can't recreate that magic that happens in Las Vegas, we can bring our audiences a new and unique whole digital experience."