The Best Tech of CES 2023

Some of IEEESpectrum’stop finds at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

6 min read
A man wearing an HTC Vive XR Elite headset.

HTC's Vive XR Elite is a lightweight mixed-reality headset.

Matthew S. Smith

CES 2023 was a successful return to form for the world’s biggest consumer electronics show after two difficult years. The time away has clearly changed the vibe of the show, which is a tad less glamorous than before. Some companies shifted to new locations, or to smaller booths, giving scrappy upstarts a chance to grab the spotlight.

The metaverse has a good show

A HTC Vive XR Elite headset on a mannequin's head. The mixed-reality HTC Vive XR Elite supports video passthrough.Matthew S. Smith

In an ironic twist, CES 2023’s grand return to in-person gathering was marked by technologies that could make such gatherings obsolete.

The most impressive was HTC’s Vive XR Elite, a US $1,099 mixed-reality headset that weighs just 625 grams with battery and less than 300 grams without. My demo of the headset left me impressed; it offers the fidelity of a great virtual-reality headset with mixed-reality video passthrough, all in a headset smaller than the Meta Quest 2.

HTC’s excellent headset was flanked by dozens of smaller announcements and demos. Magic Leap was present, showing the Magic Leap 2 (which was released in September 2022). And the show floor was filled with impressive accessories for AR/VR headsets, such as Owo’s haptic suit. This $425 device looks like an athletic shirt but contains 30 electrical-contact patches to create virtual sensations like skydiving or a dagger wound. It’s not for everyone, I’d wager, but the range of effects is remarkable for such a thin, lightweight suit.

Consumer computer hardware turns up the heat

A WIndows laptop open on a table.The Acer Predator Helios 18 (as in 18-inch display) is one of several powerful—and huge—laptops shown at CES 2023.Matthew S. Smith

CES is always filled with new consumer PC hardware, but 2023 was an especially packed year. Nvidia brought its new RTX 40-Series mobile chips which, in addition to improving frame rates for 3D applications, can generate entirely new frames with AI.

Intel and AMD, meanwhile, continued to trade blows with absurdly powerful laptop processors. Intel’s latest have up to 24 cores and 32 threads, while AMD offers up to 16 cores and 32 threads. The fastest mobile processors can handily defeat top-tier desktop processors just a few years old. AMD also introduced Ryzen AI, the “first dedicated artificial intelligence hardware in an x86 processor.”

AI tech weaves its way through everything

A slide showing a diagram of the AMD Ryzen dedicated AI engine.AMD’s Ryzen 7040 series processors have a dedicated AI engine.AMD

AMD’s Ryzen AI processor was announced with support for Microsoft’s Studio Effects, a set of web-conferencing filters and features. It includes eye correction, which uses AI to make it appear as if you’re looking toward the camera even when you’re not. Nvidia showed a similar feature in its own Nvidia Broadcast software.

The show also debuted new text-to-speech and translation apps, an app that uses a neural radiance field (NeRF) to 3D-scan objects from smartphone phones and video, and more. Spectrum’s tour of the show’s AI tech has the details.

Display innovations continue the march toward 8K

An 8K television from Samsung mounted on a wall.Samsung’s 8K NEO QLED uses micro-LED technology.Matthew S. Smith

Samsung remained committed to pushing 8K televisions at CES 2023. Samsung showed its newest NEO quantum-dot LED (QLED) 8K displays, including microLED displays up to 140 inches. LG took a different approach, highlighting a 97-inch 4K OLED television with a surprise twist: It’s wire-free (aside from the power cord), with video beamed to the display from a device roughly the size of a shoebox.

But it’s arguably computer displays that saw the most practical innovation. LG showed off the LG Ultragear OLED gaming monitor, the first 27-inch OLED monitor under US $1,000, and a 42-inch OLED monitor that can flex between flat and curved with the touch of a button. Samsung doubled down on its super-ultrawide displays, bringing new 49-inch QD-OLED and 57-inch mini-LED monitors.

Asus brought a glasses-free 3D OLED laptop display called Spatial Vision. It’s similar to Acer’s SpatialLabs but with an OLED panel instead of LCD, delivering better contrast and depth. The 3D effect is convincing and easier on the eyes than past incarnations.

A solar-powered car tries to shake up EVs

The Lightyear 2 is a solar-powered car promised to sell under $40,000.Matthew S. Smith

Lightyear is an electric car company that wants to charge its electric vehicles using the most readily available, powerful, and renewable power source in our solar system: the sun.

The came to CES 2022 to talk about the Lightyear 2, a revision of the European original built for global domination. It promises up to 500 miles of range on long journeys and nearly unlimited mileage for short, daily trips. Solar power is delivered by a tip-to-tail array of solar panels that line the hood, roof, and trunk.

Lightyear is taking preorders for the Lightyear 2. Pricing is not yet set but promised to limbo under $40,000, with production starting in 2025.

While other automotive concepts go all-in on in-cabin tech

NVIDIA GeForce NOW is coming to cars from Hyundai, BYD, and Polestar.

While Lightyear’s innovation was mostly exterior, other electric-vehicle makers showed lavish, tech-centric interiors.

The star was Sony and Honda’s collaboration, Afeela, which promises a driving and interior experience connected to over 40 sensors that monitor every aspect of the driving experience. Drivers interact with a massive in-car entertainment system that will use Epic Games’s Unreal Engine 5 for eye-catching visual fidelity.

Afeela wasn’t alone. LG showed off a 57-inch LCD panel designed to span the width of a car’s dashboard. And in another gaming crossover, Nvidia announced that its cloud game-streaming service, GeForce Now, will come to select cars from Hyundai, Polestar, and BYD.

Home tech jumps on the Matter bandwagon

A woman pressing a button on a smart home device.Samsung’s Smarthings Station supports the Matter and Thread smart-home standards.Samsung

Matter, a new smart-home communication standard designed to bridge devices from hundreds of companies, was among CES 2023’s big winners.

Samsung revealed the new SmartThings Station, a tiny smart-home hub about the size of a deck of playing cards. It doubles as a wireless smartphone charger and provides support for the Matter and Thread smart-home standards. Coming at just $59.99 in February, it’s significantly less expensive than many prior smart-home hubs.

GE, Eve, Leviton, Govee, Nanoleaf, and Aqara (among others) also debuted new Matter-compatible devices. The standard’s broad industry support will finally make it possible to buy smart-home devices without worrying you’ll end up committed to a dead-end smart-home ecosystem.

Health wearables make big promises

A smart ring on the finger of a woman holding a water bottle.The Evie ring can track heart rate, oxygen saturation, and menstrual cycles. Movano

The Citizen CZ Smart brings space-age tech to your wrist. It uses IBM’s Watson platform to power AI that decides ideal times for the wearer to sleep and wake—creating a score that monitors the user’s alertness. As the watch collects data it will recommend “Power Fixes” to reduce fatigue.

Evie Ring, a smart ring focused on women’s health, was another standout wearable. Though much smaller than a watch, the ring can monitor heart rate and variability, menstrual and ovulation cycles, sleep stages, skin temperature, and oxygen saturation. Movano plans to seek FDA approval as a licensed pulse oximeter.

Last, but not least was the debut of inexpensive, over-the-counter hearing aids. The most affordable was JLab’s OTC Hearing Aid, which is priced at just $99. This is sure to send shock waves through the hearing-aid industry. Prescription hearing aids are often priced in the thousands, and even competing OTC hearing aids, like the Sony CRE-C10 and Jabra Enhance Plus (also shown at CES 2023), are well over $500.

All in all...

The Consumer Electronics Show isn’t the same as before, and I’d bet its attendance is well off the highs of CES 2020. Despite that, the show is arguably among the more alluring of recent years, with major reveals made in automotive, display, and wearable health devices. So despite such minor misgivings, make no mistake: CES is as relevant, and exciting, as ever.

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The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
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A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay
Blue

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.

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