Top 6 trends to watch at CES 2021

This will be a CES like no other, as we experience it remotely from across the globe on our own screens. CES is still going to do what CES does best -- show off the latest innovations and ideas in tech, and set the agenda for what's happening in the industry in the months and years ahead. CNET will cover every category with our team of experienced reporters and editors who will dig up the most compelling products and the most important stories.

To get you prepped for this year's virtual show, here's a rundown of what to expect at CES 2021.

1. There will be less noise and more signal

This year's virtual CES will feature around 2,000 vendors. For context, last year's show in Las Vegas had 4,500. Typically, one of the biggest challenges of CES is the sheer amount of information clutter you have to sort through to find the good stuff. CNET always accepts the mission of filtering the key CES products and trends for consumers. This year will be a little different with less than half of the companies involved. The vendors showing up to 2021's all-digital CES are more likely to have something new and interesting to talk about, rather than just showing up because they always do and they already had the hotel booked.

2. The pandemic bandwagon will get crowded

Companies are going to be pitching a lot of tech to help people cope with COVID-19 fears, lockdown life and working and learning from home. In the health and smart home spaces, we're going to see high-tech masks, smart air purifiers, more hands-free devices, UV-C lights to kill germs and plenty more. Certainly, computer-makers will lean into over a third of American employees working from home to pitch devices and accessories to make their work lives easier. And home entertainment vendors will pitch TVs, soundbars and streaming devices and services to a public that is still stuck getting nearly all of its entertainment in the living room.

Note that CNET will discuss these issues in our panel, Will Tech Keep Home the Best Headquarters?

3. Transparent OLEDs will create buzz

With more of us at home, binge-watching, TVs were in high demand. Which is why we always pay attention to the next coming attractions in TVs at CES. There's always a massive TV or a rollable TV or another impressive -- if gimmicky -- new screen technology that becomes the flashy showpiece of CES. This year it's likely to be LG's transparent OLED screens. These are going from 10% transparent to 40% transparent, which opens up new possibilities for lots of creative use cases. Some of the ones that LG will show off at CES 2021 will include a smart bed where the OLED screen rises out of the footboard, a smart subway window where the maps and schedules are overlaid on the glass, and a restaurant partition between booths where you can see large images of menu items and even watch a chef prepare your meal.

4. The biggest gadget will take center stage

Automakers have been using CES as a platform to talk about what they call the "digitization and electrification" of the car for over a decade now. The problem is that it's been mostly talk from the world's biggest automakers, who make beautiful prototypes but have dragged their feet in making real progress. Momentum is gathering around 2021 being a breakout year for EVs, however. Automakers are converting some of the industry's most iconic brands to EV, including the Mustang, Ford F-150 and Hummer. Tesla just reached its long-predicted half a million vehicles sold in 2020, a number long mocked and doubted by the auto industry. On Tuesday, Jan. 12, GM CEO Mary Barra will give the opening keynote address of CES and Chevy has already promised that new EV announcements are coming. Oh, and speaking of large gadgets, John Deere's AI and robotics-powered tractor is one of this year's CES Innovation Award winners.

We'll be talking about all of this at our panel, The Great Commute Reboot.

5. Samsung will loom larger than ever

In a normal year, Samsung is always the 800-pound gorilla of CES, with the largest booth on the show floor, the flashiest press event and a flood of new announcements across TVs, audio, computers, home appliances and quirky attention-getters like last year's Neon AI chatbots. Samsung will continue to make the usual waves this year, but it has added more fuel to the fire by holding a Samsung Unpacked event -- ostensibly for its next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S21 -- on the same day that the virtual CES show floor opens on Thursday, January 14. Talk about trying to steal the show! In the past, Samsung has stolen thunder from its rivals by timing this event near Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (or a week or two before). But with MWC postponed to the middle of the year, Samsung is essentially co-locating its biggest mobile event of the year to CES for 2021.

6. 5G will be a big deal, again

From Roger Cheng: I know it feels like we say this every year, but a lot of things are in place to really allow 5G to dominate the conversation at CES, especially since this show is going more virtual and relying more on panels and discussions than whiz-bang demos of gadgets. All three US carriers now have nationwide 5G coverage. Every phone-maker -- including and especially Apple -- is on board. Beyond the Samsung announcement, you likely won't see that many 5G devices at the show. The discussion will largely revolve around the longer-term applications of 5G, like how we tap into 5G to solve some of the problems exposed by the coronavirus. The discussion will involve using 5G to close the digital divide, as well as to improve the experiences around telemedicine and remote learning and working.

Read more: 5G talk will dominate virtual CES 2021