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'Dead people's junk and cool crap' -- the forgotten tech of Vegas

If CES is about the cutting edge, Las Vegas' thrift shops are about tech the world has ditched. Yet here, one person's trash is another's technological treasure.


"What's the oldest tech you have here?"

It's not a question you'd expect to be asking during CES. But as we escaped the floor of the world's biggest technology show in Las Vegas, we were keen to find what the city had to offer beyond flat-screen TVs and cutting-edge appliances.

It feels timely as the world looks back in celebrating the 10th anniversary of the original iPhone. It's hard to believe there was a time before touchscreens, but we wanted to reconnect with a time when the next big thing was reel-to-reel recording and cathode ray tubes.

And it turns out Las Vegas has a fabulous retro tech history if you're willing to look.

You could hit up the city's pawn shops. But ever since pawn brokers in this town became more famous for shows like "Pawn Stars" than for hocking gold jewellery, the queues to get inside places like Gold & Silver Pawn can get crazy.

So we hit up Antiques Alley. This strip of thrift shops and antiques stores, peppered between abandoned auto shops, sits in an unremarkable street of Vegas between The Strip and Downtown.

Here you'll find stores like Retro Vegas and Vintage Vegas Antiques -- second-hand shops owned by Vegas locals who have been watching CES roll through town for decades.

They know CES is going on down the road, mostly because the traffic gets so much worse, but these shop owners are more interested in showing us the fantastic old tech that was making waves 20, 30 and 40 years ago.

At Retro Vegas we find a full midcentury kitchen setup that looks fresh out of a Norman Rockwell painting, complete with matching pink appliances and an original Frigidaire refrigerator. It was a flashback to a time when your home had to look smart, not be smart.

When we ask about the older tech on offer, Retro Vegas owner Marc pulls out an old Motorola America Series cell phone (complete with matching case). Forget the iPhone -- the LCD screen on this guy was cutting-edge in its time.

Old CRT TVs on show at Vintage Vegas Antiques.

James Martin/CNET

Over at Vintage Vegas Antiques, we're drawn in by the massive display of CRT television sets in the window and a sign promising "dead people's junk and cool crap." Inside, we're not disappointed.

Old issues of Popular Electronics magazine sit on top of a TV with control dials on the side of the cabinet -- a feature that all three of our little CNET thrift-shopping crew agree we've never seen before.

While I get lost in the rows of vintage casino match books and swizzle sticks, CNET photographer James Martin is geeking out in decades worth of old photography tech. A Bell & Howell Super 8 camera from 1979, a Polaroid Model 80B Land Camera from '65, a 16mm reel-to-reel projector -- these relics are squeezed in between old barware and cheap tchotchkes that once filled homes across Vegas.

With a few more stops to check out an impressive antique store packed to the gills with cuckoo clocks, and a shop filled with original Star Wars toys, we're close to done.

One last stop at a thrift store showing off everything from mummified cats and skeletons to an original Soviet cosmonaut suit, and it's time to get back to the more modern showpieces at CES.

But a visit to Vegas' Antiques Alley was a great palate cleanser during a show where every gadget is billed as a game-changer, and every sales person is promising to disrupt the world of tech.

Living and breathing tech as we do every day at CNET, it was good to remind ourselves that tomorrow's big innovation can quickly become yesterday's thrift store junk.

But there will always be someone willing to buy it for a price.

New products from CES 2017: Check them out here.

CES 2017 -- what you shouldn't have missed: Didn't make it to Vegas? CNET shows you what you need to see here.