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  • Writer's pictureReece Bithrey

The Defining Moments Of CES Over The Years

(Picture Credit - The Verge)

It would appear that the digital age had spelled the end of trade shows. The last few years have seen industry experts spell the end of the such big occasions with the likes of The Verge discussing murmurs surrounding the "death of CES" all the way back in 2012. However, attendance numbers have increased since their original projections to a staggering 180,000 people per year for the last few years. Even if they do end up winding down in a few year's time, the impact of consumer tech trade shows cannot be understated - here's some of their most landmark developments.


1979 - The Year Of The 'Gaming' Computer

The landmark Atari 800. Picture Credit - Engadget)

In its early years, CES was designed as a show for appliances related to television and radio. Of course, the first real VCR was unveiled by Phillips at the 1970 edition, costing the princely sum of $900, worth some $6000 in today's money. However, as the eighties hoved into view, that was all about to change.

Atari had given inklings of the future with the launch of the Pong console in 1975, building on the successes of the machine that had graced arcades for a number of years. The idea of moving arcade games into the home wasn't something that had been explored extensively, only by the Magnavox Odyssey upon its release in 1972 as the first proper games console. However, Atari wanted more than just a games console (the 2600 would fit the bill perfectly), and the home computer revolution can be seen to have been popularised by their unveiling of both the 400 and 800 machines at CES 1979 for $550 and $1000 respectively.

Atari hadn't invented the personal computer with the 400 and the 800 but did add to the growing list originally started by Apple and Commodore a couple of years earlier. The 400 & 800 were the first to utilise custom coprocessors however that made them more of a 'gaming' machine than the Apple II was and would signal the future for computers such as Commodore's smash hit 64 which remains one of the best-selling computers of all time.


1985 - The Nintendo Entertainment System Wins Back The People

(A NES ad from the UK from the mid-eighties. Picture Credit - Imgur)

A couple of years before the launch of the NES in 1985, the gaming industry was shock by. major crash. Known to some as the 'Atari shock', the large-scale recession was catalysed by market saturation with regards to the amount of consoles available as well as available games, as well as people moving away from consoles to personal computers. All of this ultimately led to a 97% drop in revenues from $3.2 billion in 1983 to only $100 million in 1985.

However, Nintendo had looked to revitalise their hugely successful Famicom for the world market, following over 2.5 million sales in their native Japan that wielded a 90% market share. Following a failed attempt with Atari to market the Famicom in international markets, mainly thanks to the former's lack of funds, Nintendo went it alone, and whilst the Famicom had been successful in Japan, the American tech press were skeptical that it would have any form of success. As a result, CES 1985 saw very few press outlets even mention the Nintendo booth when the futuristic NES debuted.

One of the only real optimistic outlets throughout the entire period would be Computer Entertainer who openly went against the grain by stating that "Can another video game system buck the trend and become a success? ... Perhaps if the press can avoid jumping all over the Nintendo system and let American consumers make up their own minds, we might find out that video games aren't dead after all." Soon after the NES' release, they were to be proved right, and by 1988, the Nintendo Entertainment System, with its 17 games at launch, would shift over 7 million units by 1988.


1991 - Is That A Nintendo Playstation?

(The extremely rare 'Nintendo Playstation'. Picture Credit - KMUW)

As the tech world entered into the the nineties, CDs had become commonplace and gaming a more-than-enjoyable pastime. Nintendo had experienced further success with the SNES, or Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and were looking to expand its capabilities in line with the growing interest in CD-ROM technology.

CDs of course had been introduced at CES a few years earlier, and had become commonplace in the world of music at the time. With the gaming world now at the forefront of technology, Nintendo were looking to capitalise on this interest in CDs, as other manufacturers such as Sega would do in the coming months. To do so, Nintendo would partner with Sony to allow development of an add-on for the SNES that utilised Sony's Super Disc technology. The partnership would also allow for Sony to develop a hybrid console known as the PlayStation in a similar vein to NEC's TurboDuo.

As a result of unfavourable royalty agreements, the day following the announcement between Sony and Nintendo, the latter announced they had partnered instead with Phillips. This gave them the right to feature Nintendo's characters in a few games for their CD-i device, but even with this partnership, the SNES never actually got the originally planned CD-ROM add-on. Furthermore, the overall poor reception of the Sega CD that went with the Mega Drive caused Nintendo to pull the plug on the idea and the only product of their working relationship, the games for the Phillips CD-i, were poorly received and the entire console was considered a failure.

The story on the other side for Sony is the more well-known outcome. Outraged at Nintendo's decision to pull out the day after, Sony would go back to the drawing board and release their own console as they had originally planned with the Nintendo partnership under the PlayStation name in 1995. It was a commercial success, and the rest, as they say, is history.


CES has often been the primary platform for big companies to showcase their latest and greatest products. Over the years, it's seen some incredible developments that have gone on to revolutionise the world of tech for decades to come. From the personal computing revolution to the return of gaming to the forefront of development, it's such large conferences that bring out the best in companies, and to lose them in the future will change the face of development for many years to come.


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