CES Day 3: Gaming, Electric Vehicles, and a Warning From Microsoft

It’s all fun and games until AI takes over the world

The third day of CES 2021 isn’t the last, but it brings a close to the show’s keynote sessions. LG led the day with a roundtable discussion about gaming’s future in 2021, and GM outlined a practical plan for putting an EV in every garage. Microsoft didn’t have products to show, but the company’s president did share an ominous warning about the larger implications of hacking, and Asus revealed the only dual-screen laptops to show at CES 2021.

Competitive Gaming Drives HDR, Low-Latency Displays

DAMWON Gaming complete the winning plays for overall victory over Suning in the League of Legends 2020 Worlds Finals
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Gaming surged in 2020 as people across the globe looked for entertainment and escapism. LG hosted a panel to discuss how these trends will continue into 2021. Lesley Rohrbaugh, director of research for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), kicked off the panel by noting, “Gaming consoles were the third most desired tech gift on consumer’s holiday wish list in the U.S. recently.” 

The discussion soon shifted towards HDR. Habib Zargarpour, head of film development at Digital Monarch Media, said during the session, “I think this year is probably going to be the breakout year [for HDR], because I think the platform challenges have largely been addressed.” This includes not only support from all next-gen game consoles, but also gaming monitors, PC video cards, and HDTVs.

HDR isn’t just about image quality. Nicole LaPointe Jameson, CEO of Evil Geniuses, says it can be an advantage in competitive gaming, as HDR can highlight small details invisible in SDR. “That has huge implications on our ability to compete and perform,” Jameson said during the session. “We love when technology is pushing the envelope, so our players can consume more information at faster speeds, in real time, as you would see emulated in real life.” 

Jameson also pointed out that, because esports events are no longer held in person, the equipment used by players is less restricted. That means Evil Geniuses, and other esports teams, must consider the advantage of HDR and other new technologies. Any edge, no matter how small, could be significant.

The conversation then turned towards another hot topic in competitive gaming: latency. Tony Tamasi, senior vice president of content and technology at Nvidia, thinks this will be a focus for gaming hardware in 2021 and beyond. 

“There’s a correlation between lower latencies and better mechanical skill,” Tamasi said during the session. That means a monitor or video card with lower latency gives players a real, measurable advantage. Jameson agreed, saying that “the struggle of getting to near-zero latency is every esports player’s eternal journey.” 

That’s expected to drive demand for any hardware that can lower latency, such as high-refresh monitors, PC video cards, and controllers, mice, and keyboards with low latency modes. 

GM Wants an EV in Every Garage

The GM Ultium Platform.
GM

GM’s CEO, Mary Barra, delivered the company’s keynote on day two of CES. She showed a mobile living room, electric delivery vehicles, and flying Cadillacs. But that wasn’t GM’s only presence at CES 2021. Matt Tsien, GM’s executive vice president and CTO, delivered a more grounded discussion.

He reiterated GM’s investment in Ultium, a modular vehicle platform designed for electric vehicles (EVs). It will be the foundation for all GM electric vehicles over the next decade. "This modularity enables tremendous scale; scale we’ve never seen before in this industry," Tsien said in his presentation. "We have a plan to deploy 30 vehicles by 2025 across the globe, and I think that’s going to give consumers a lot of choice."

More electric vehicles on the road means a need for more electric infrastructure, but Tsien challenged the idea that electric chargers need to be as common as gas stations. Tsien said that, because the range of new electric vehicles exceeds the distance people typically drive in a day, "most people will charge their vehicles overnight at their homes." This is a shift from earlier EVs, which had a range of just 75-100 miles.

Still, GM won’t ignore fast charging. Tsien said the company is well-positioned to place charging infrastructure where people need it most. "We are able to leverage some of the data from our OnStar network," Tsien said. "We know where customers are concentrated, we know where vehicles are concentrated." That data can be used to help GM, and GM’s partners, put together a strategy for extending electric infrastructure as EV adoption grows.

While Barra’s keynote showed GM’s vision for the next decade and beyond, Tsien’s comments show where GM is going over the next several years, and it’s a simple story. GM will develop dozens of new EVs, sell them at competitive prices, and rely on improved range to overcome infrastructure limitations. The company hopes that will convince customers it’s time to switch to electric. 

Microsoft’s Keynote Takes an Apocalyptic Turn

Microsoft president, Brad Smith.
Microsoft

When you think of Microsoft, your mind likely turns to Windows, Office, Xbox, or Surface. But the company’s CES 2021 keynote, presented by Microsoft's president, Brad Smith, took a turn towards more serious topics.

The SolarWinds hack, first revealed in December, ranks among the worst in history. Allegedly the work of Russian intelligence, the attack used multiple avenues to compromise products made by SolarWinds that, in turn, are used by the US government and multiple businesses. 

Microsoft was instrumental in detecting and combating the attack, and the experience apparently made an impression. "The real-life of the past month, and the attacks that we’ve had to address, are of critical importance," said Smith during Microsoft’s CES 2021 keynote. "This wasn’t a case of one nation simply trying to spy on another. It was a massive, indiscriminate attack on the global supply chain."

Smith’s presentation was a rallying cry. He called on all companies in the tech industry to oppose large-scale hacks like SolarWinds, saying, "It is a danger that the world cannot afford." He encouraged companies across the tech industry to speak out against the attack.

Large-scale, government-funded hacking isn’t the only danger Smith discussed. He also said companies and governments should take seriously "the risk that humanity will lose control of the weapons of war," adding that "we live in a decade where hypersonic weapons and AI can make possible that very scenario." Smith used the classic 1983 movie WarGames to illustrate his point. 

These are heavy topics for a CES keynote, but they’re not surprising to hear from Microsoft. Most of the company’s revenue comes from its cloud and enterprise services. Smith’s speech shows Microsoft is worried about unpredictable, apocalyptic events that could damage or destroy its infrastructure. Given the events of the past year, it’s hard to say the company is being paranoid.

Asus Shows Dual Screens Laptops

Asus Zenbook Pro Duo dual-screen laptop.
Asus

Asus has traditionally used CES to present its full line of new gear to North American buyers, and the first virtual CES was no exception. The company announced dozens of new laptops, monitors, and desktops.

Its Zenbook Pro Duo dual-screen laptops took the spotlight. First released in 2019, the Pro Duo line shifts the keyboard closer to the user to cram in a second display that spans the laptop’s entire width. Asus’s Pro Duo 15 offers an OLED main display, while the Duo 14 brings dual-screen design to a smaller form factor. The Pro Duo 15 has Nvidia’s new RTX 3070 mobile graphics card for better gaming and productivity. Asus also revealed the ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 SE, a dual-screen gaming laptop with a 4K, 120Hz main display and Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics. 

Asus isn’t alone in offering dual-screen laptops, but it’s the only company that revealed new dual-screen laptops at CES 2021. The idea doesn’t seem ready for the mainstream yet, as it’s reserved for expensive, bulky, high-performance laptops, but Asus’ decision to build new dual-screen models two years after the original shows the company is committed.

Want more? See all our coverage of CES 2021 right here.

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