Returning as a live show after being held as an all-virtual event in 2021, the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) took place from January 5th through 8th, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’ve attended almost 20 CES events and the 2022 show had the feeling of past shows, but while being a shadow of its former self – especially for audio, where it was less than a shadow and more of a dying memory.
Hopes were high in the fall of 2021 as many exhibitors, as well as the press that covers the show, looked forward with eager anticipation, only to have those hopes dashed by the rapid spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. The spread of the virus and the uncertainty accompanying it led to many exhibitors and members of the press dropping out and not attending the show. I had confidential conversations with industry exhibitors, as well as with my fellow journalists, and found the reasoning to be consistent from those who decided not to go. The corporate PR reps said that upper management had made the decision to go virtual even when staff was ready to have a live show, and in fact they were excited and anxious to show off their new products and disappointed by the decision. Almost to a person, the journalists stated that while they recognized the risk of severe illness from Omicron was low if they were vaccinated and had received a booster shot, the chance of a positive test while traveling and thus being stranded far from home played a role in their decisions, especially if paying their own way. Coming down with symptomatic COVID-19 while in Las Vegas could be a very expensive proposition! There was also a sense that the show was not going to be a good one compared to past years, and that made the risk even less acceptable.
I personally hemmed and hawed before deciding to attend. Besides the risk of infection, illness and being stranded, I feared that COVID-19 protocols would make attendance something of a slog in the mud. This turned out to not be the case, and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the organization behind CES, is to be commended for their efforts in this regard.
All CES attendees were required to be fully vaccinated, with their status verified by CLEAR and displayed on the CLEAR app. Masks were also mandatory and I went to the show armed with an abundant supply of KN95 masks. Registering was easy; when I checked in to get my badge at the Bellagio hotel, all I had to do was show my vaccination status on the CLEAR app, a government ID, and a barcode that was e-mailed to me beforehand. The badge was then printed and attached to a lanyard and I was sent on my way. Security checked my badge when I entered the building and again as I entered the exhibit areas, just as in prior years. Sanitizer was abundant on the show floor, as were signs reminding everyone to socially distance. Other than the vaccination step, it was little different than previous years. While measures were thorough and I saw almost complete compliance everywhere, I don’t think I would have recommended attending the show to those who have only a moderate to low COVID-19 risk profile. While the sparse attendance made social distancing easier than I anticipated, it still felt uncomfortable at times, and the social distancing process tended to break down in queues for exhibits and shuttle buses.
I’ll have a more detailed CES report in an upcoming issue but for now, here are a few highlights:
Pepcom’s Digital Experience!
The Digital Experience! is held by media showcase event company Pepcom at every CES on the night before the CES show floors open. Held exclusively for members of the media, many companies that cannot afford to exhibit at CES or who wish to connect primarily with reviewers will have tables and booths there. The Digital Experience has been held in ballrooms at The Mirage the past few years and is a favorite of media covering the show for the opportunity to check out new products, the free food and drink (which tends to be very good), and take advantage of the networking opportunities. The empty entranceway and low turnout were harbingers of things to come the next day, as the event is usually packed.
Audio/video product representation at the Digital Experience has lessened over the years, as the event has moved toward featuring more smart home and personal products than home entertainment components and TVs. 2022 continued this trend.
Victrola Premiere V1 Turntable Music System
One notable exception was the $499 Victrola Premiere V1 Turntable Music System, winner of a 2022 CES Innovation Award. The Premiere V1 features a turntable mounted in a base containing stereo speakers, which connects with a wireless subwoofer. Mounting a turntable directly on a vibrating speaker system is at odds with creating a resonance-free environment for an analog front end, but it has been done with varying levels of success by Andover Audio and other manufacturers attempting to create a single-piece system with acceptable sound. While they may not find much of an audience among audiophiles, such systems can find homes with those with limited space or who desire simplicity and low cost. The system features a Victrola VPC-190 moving-magnet cartridge, which did not bear any superficial similarities to the ubiquitous Audio-Technica models found on many if not most entry-level turntables.
The sound of the Victrola V1 was difficult to evaluate on the show floor, even if the floor was quieter than usual, but what I heard was quite a bit better than I have heard from other single-piece suitcase systems, and the wireless subwoofer filled in the bottom end nicely. If you are looking for a vinyl rig for retirees who want and need simplicity, or college students with limited space, or people who want to enjoy good sound from vinyl without a lot of fuss, the V1 could fit the bill.
Nebula Cosmos Laser 4K Projector
Another product that literally caught everyone’s eye was the Nebula projector. The company offers a range of compact, high-definition smart DLP video projectors, which incorporate a permanent LED light source, a built-in sound system, and the Google/Android TV operating system into a single component for home entertainment. Connect the projector to Wi-Fi, add your favorite apps, and enjoy home entertainment on a wall or a screen. An HDMI connection is provided for use with external video sources, and the smaller models like the Nebula Capsule II and Nebula Solar Portable can even run on battery power, and can double as a good projector for business use. I have tested many Nebula projectors and am quite enamored with them due to their excellent image quality, and all-in-one convenience and ease of use.
The top-of-the-line Nebula Cosmos models can project screen sizes of up to 150 inches in either 1080p or 4K resolution with HDR10 high dynamic range. The Cosmos Max 4K projection is my personal choice for home entertainment, and I have hosted many informal movie nights both indoors and outdoors with it, wowing my audiences and invariably getting a lot of questions about this neat home entertainment product.
The new Nebula Cosmos Laser 4K is their latest model and promises a big jump in brightness, thanks to its laser light source. It will launch in March 2022 with an estimated price of $3,000. A limited number of early bird 40 percent-off coupons, redeemable through Kickstarter, are available on the Nebula website for those who want to get in on it early.
Stay tuned for Part Two and coverage of the CES show floor.
Header image: CES Day 1, photo by Don Lindich.