The 10 Best Products from CES 1967 - 2021

From Pong to Plasma, CES has a history of revolutionary tech

The Consumer Electronics Show, better known as CES, began in 1967 with a conference held at a New York, NY hotel. Since then, companies have repeatedly hit CES with announcements that quickly revolutionize the technology in our homes. Remembering the 10 best products from CES is a trip down memory lane that includes legendary retro tech.

01
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1970: Philips N1500 Videocassette Recorder

Philips N1501 video cassette recorder

Morn / Wikimedia Commons

Arguably the first historic consumer technology product ever shown at CES, the Philips N1500 was the first videocassette recorder for the consumer market. Shown in 1970, and then released in 1972, the N1500 was built for recording home television rather than playing big-budget movies. VCR technology wouldn't become mainstream until later in the decade. Still, this early effort proved the technology's potential and sparked consumer interest in the tech.

02
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1975: Atari Home Pong console

Atari Home Pong game console

Evan-Amos / Wikimedia Commons

Atari hit CES hard with a demonstration of its Home Pong console. Though not the first home console to hit the market, the game's popularity in arcades gave Atari an instant edge over the competition and brought significant attention to the company, which made another significant announcement at CES 1979.

This announcement was part of a shift in focus in CES. Originally centered on music, and then video, the show's expansion made room for new categories throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Today, CES hosts announcements that span every category of consumer electronics, from amplifiers to robot vacuums.

03
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1979: Atari 400 and Atari 800

Atari 800 home computer

Evan-Amos / Wikimedia Commons

CES was rarely a key venue for early announcements in personal computing, but Atari challenged that trend by announcing the Atari 400 and Atari 800 personal computers. High on the success of its games and Home Pong console, these early PCs established the company as a leader in home computers. Atari would remain competitive in that market throughout the early 1980s.

Atari would later fall behind with its disappointing Atari 1200XL, announced at the Winter CES of 1983. However, the company would continue to produce home computers until 1993, when it discontinued its last PC, the Atari Falcon.

04
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1981: Sony and Philips Introduce the CD

Sony and Philips introduced the CD format in 1981, touting it as "the phonograph record of the future." The CD, which could deliver one hour of interruption-free music, was far more convenient than the vinyl records that dominated at the time. CDs were much smaller and more durable than vinyl records, and even bragged of superior audio quality, though modern fans of vinyl will beg to differ.

Though only prototype players were shown in 1981, the technology's promise was made real in October of 1982 when Sony released the CDP-101 in Japan. That was shortly followed by Philip's CD100 in November of the same year. Variants of CD technology, such as CD-ROM drives for computers, would appear at CES time and time again throughout the 1980s. By the early 1990s, the CD-ROM had replaced not just vinyl records, but also floppy disks and game cartridges (in some game consoles, at least).

05
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1982: Commodore 64

Salesman explaining Commodore 64 to customer

Butler / Daily Express/Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The Commodore 64 took CES 1982 by storm, seizing the moment to deliver an affordable yet capable home computer to challenge Atari's 400/800 and the Apple II. Often referred to as the C64, Commodore's home computer impressed CES attendees with attractive graphics and high-quality audio.

Despite its capabilities, the C64 sold for just $595 U.S. dollars (about $1,600 today). This was incredibly aggressive pricing. Most home computers sold for at least $1,000 in 1982, and many exceeded $3,000. The Commodore 64 would go on to sell over 12 million computers and become a dominate force in computing throughout the mid-80s.

06
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1985: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Nintendo Entertainment System home video game console

The great video game crash of 1983, which drove out market leader Atari, put the entire industry in peril. Nintendo saved it by showing the Nintendo Entertainment System at 1985's Winter CES. Featuring colorful graphics, an attractive design, and reasonable pricing, the NES proved video games were more than a fad.

The console's 1985 debut also served as Nintendo's introduction to the North American market. Although popular in Japan, Nintendo's operations in the U.S. was limited to about a dozen employees at the time the NES was shown. CES 1985 was the company's breakout moment in the U.S. market, putting Nintendo in front of families across the nation and filling a vacuum left by Atari's collapse.

Nintendo also reaffirmed gaming's place at CES. Large game companies repeatedly attended CES through the 1980s and 1990s, a trend that changed only when the gaming industry grew large enough to found E3, its own industry conference.

07
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1996: The DVD Arrives

DVD-ROM inserted into DVD player

James Leynse / Corbis via Getty Images

DVD technology seemed to arrive all at once in 1996. RCA, Samsung, Pioneer, and Toshiba, among others, embraced the standards and announced DVD players or DVD-compatible devices. This industry agreement stands in contrasts to most new media standards. Even the Blu-Ray, now used today for all physical copies of high-definition movies, had to fight off HD-DVD.

The agreement came from an unlikely meeting of minds across multiple industries. Past media formats usually grew from a specific slice of the tech industry before expanding into others. This time, the entire consumer tech industry agreed the DVD way forward for disc-based media.

This included major companies in the PC industry, such as Microsoft. Although best known today as a standard for movies and television, the DVD was equally important for the PC, as the expanding size of programs had forced companies to ship software on multiple CDs. The DVD's adoption stopped this growing annoyance in its tracks.

08
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1999: TiVo's digital video recorder

giant inflatable TiVo logo

 

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

TiVo came to CES 1999 with a digital video recorder it had trialed in the San Francisco Bay Area in late 1998. Although not alone in the category, TiVo sucked up the attention with its slick device and attractive, user-friendly interface. The introduction of the TiVo, and other DVR devices, made recording and storing television easier and more reliable than any VCR ever invented, and paired nicely with the rise of HDTV.

Unfortunately for TiVo, and other companies making similar products (like ReplayTV), the idea proved easy for others to emulate. TiVo had some success, seeing nearly seven million subscribers at its peak. TiVo merged with a technology licensing company, Xperi, in 2019.

Today, most cable companies provide a form of DVR as part of their monthly subscription fee, making it a common fixture in homes across the United States.

09
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2001: Toshiba, Hitachi Plasma Televisions

Woman sitting in front of early plasma television

Koichi Kamoshida / Getty Images

Although talk of high-definition, flat-panel televisions surfaced at CES throughout the late 1990s, it became tangible with the 2001 introduction of plasma televisions from Toshiba and Hitachi. Boasting a stunning resolution of 1,366 x 768, they were the first flat panel TVs readily available to consumers.

This marked the start of two important trends in televisions; the rise of flat panels, and the arrival of HDTV. Today's televisions have 3,480 x 2,160 resolution and use either advanced LED or OLED technology, but the basic look and feel hasn't significantly changed.

Plasma technology eventually went out of fashion. Plasma televisions were heavier and used more energy than the LED and OLED TVs that followed them. The last plasma televisions were sold in 2014.

10
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2011: HTC Thunderbolt and Verizon 4G LTE launch

People carrying Verizon 4G LTE promotional boxes

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Major smartphone announcements rarely happen at CES, but HTC's Thunderbolt was an exception. It was the first Verizon smartphone to contain 4G LTE wireless technology, a huge leap forward over the 3G technology used prior. It was, for most U.S. consumers, the first chance to try 4G.

The HTC Thunderbolt's mobile data speeds blew away all competitors, including the iPhone. A modern 4G phone can sustain data transfers of several hundred megabytes per second. A 3.5G phone, by comparison, could manage a peak of about 15 megabytes per second. That's a huge difference, and one smartphone owners could easily notice.

Unfortunately, the HTC Thunderbolt was plagued by issues including poor battery life and overheating. Alternatives launching shortly after stole its thunder, and the phone is considered one of the smartphone industry's all-time biggest flops.

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