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TVs and voice assistants dominate the biggest day at CES

CES isn't officially open yet, but there's already plenty of news to follow from the annual technology bonanza. Here's what you need to know so far.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You don't have to wait for Las Vegas Convention Center to open its doors to see what CES 2018 has to offer. A long lineup of press conferences on what's officially called Press Day (confusing, I know) brings a slew of new gadgets and services from some of the biggest technology players on the planet. It's a lot to take in, but we're here to help. Read on for the most important news so far. 

A ton of TVs

TVs are always big at CES, both in how many there are and in the size of the TVs themselves. And you can always leave it to LG to get the ball rolling. The company's early morning press conference showed updates to all of its TVs, from the top-of-the-line W8 series down to the more budget-friendly B8 series. They all retain slim profiles -- the W8 has the same "wall art" design that we saw last year in the W7 -- but gets new features like Google Assistant, an Alpha 9 processor that promises to improve sharpness and color (among other things), and the ability to play high frame rate (up to 120 frames per second) video for a smoother picture.

What really wowed us, though, was a 65-inch 4K OLED display that you can roll up into tube form. Two years ago we saw the same concept in an 18-inch size: Resolution wasn't stellar then, but this time the rollable display should match the high picture quality that we've come to expect from LG's standard TVs. Just don't expect to buy this one at Best Buy anytime soon.

Samsung is pitching QLED technology as the best way to topple OLED dominance. Like the the company's 2017 models, its 2018 flagship LCD TV uses quantum dots (that's where you get the "Q" in QLED) but adds a few improvements like a redesigned LCD panel to block interior light leakage. 

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In the land of things you can't really buy yet, Samsung showed a 146-inch TV called "The Wall." It uses Samsung's Cinema Screen technology, designed for movie theaters, so 146 inches is only a starting size. How does MicroLED work? Think of it like a jumbo screen at a stadium where an array of millions of individial, tiny LEDs create an image. Samsung also showed the Q9S, which it bills as the first 85-inch 8K TV with artificial intelligence. More pixels than a 4K TV may sound  impressive, but keep in mind that more pixels doesn't automatically mean a better picture.

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Samsung's Wall TV

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony also went big with its X900F series of TVs that range from 49 inches all the way to 85 inches. That's even bigger than last year's X900E series, which was one of the best-performing LCD TVs CNET reviewed last year. Like its predecessor, the X900F also has Google Assistant, but adds Dolby Vision high dynamic range compatibility and a new stand design.

The new OLED A8F series has Sony's Acoustic Surface speaker design, where the screen itself actually produces sound (cool!). It comes with Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range formats, Android TV, and support for both Google Assistant and Alexa.

Though Hisense focused on budget TVs last year (and had a strong showing), the company went more upscale this year with models using full-array local dimming, quantum dot color technology and compatibility with Alexa voice control. The company also showed a $10,000 laser TV that it introduced in late 2017. It's actually a short-throw projector with 4K resolution, built-in speakers and a wireless subwoofer.

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Arriving in Las Vegas, CNET's TV guru David Katzmaier's had high hopes for Hisense's Chinese rival, TCL. The company's P series, introduced last year at CES, was 2017's the best 55-inch TV for the money. Today TCL showed a successor TV, the 2018 6 series, which looks even better. It keeps features like full-array local dimming and Roku's excellent Smart TV system, but adds a 65-inch size and a slicker finish.

Nvidia's CES press conference was Sunday night, but its BFGD is still worth a mention. Short for Big Format Gaming Display, not surprisingly it's a 65-inch display built for gamers with features like a native 120Hz refresh rate and true high dynamic range (HDR).

Your voice assistant is everywhere 

The 2017 CES was a big year for voice assistants (particularly Amazon Alexa) and we expected more of the same this year. So far, though, it is Samsung's Bixby and Google Assistant that are grabbing the spotlight. 

Samsung said it will take Bixby, already available on its phones, and add the voice assistant to to its TVs in 2018. Press a button on your TV remote to use Bixby to search for TV shows and movies, check the weather, turn on your lights, play a song from Spotify and show photos. Samsung also improved Bixby integration on the Family Hub smart fridge by adding the ability to distinguish between different voices. Outside of Samsung, iHeartRadio unveiled Bixby support.

LG, meanwhile, has opted for Google Voice Assistant on its TVs. The "Intelligent Voice Control with Integrated Google Assistant" (great name!) will enable users to control numerous functions on the TV and search the program guide using the remote control. If you can't find your remote, you'll be able to control your TV with a Google Home speaker instead. Alexa users are in luck, as well. LG says the TV will be compatible with Amazon Echo devices.

Beyond TVs, voice assistants continue to spread farther into the home at CES. Google Assistant will control Insteon smart home devices, new Schlage deadbolts, a Hunter ceiling fan and a new LG smart speaker. Alexa, on the other hand, lands in products like an Asus speaker/router, a mirror that talks back to you and a Whirlpool smart washer/dryer hybrid. LG also added new Alexa tricks to its InstaView Q refrigerator. 

Google goes big

Google isn't a wallflower at CES, and I'm not talking about the giant Google pavilion with the slides or the Google-branded monorails (what's it called?!) that keep shuttling back and forth. The company also revealed four new smart displays. Designed to compete against Amazon's Echo Show, the displays are basically tablets with Google Assistant built in.

Sony, Samsung-owned JBL, LG and Lenovo make the displays for the non-hardware company. Prop them on your kitchen counter to do everything you'd expect from a smart speaker, like play music, check the weather, check appointments and operate your Google Assistant-connected devices around the house. They also let you make video calls, watch YouTube videos and look at photos using the "Hey, Google" wake-up call.

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Intel CEO Brian Krzanich opened up the company's keynote presentation with remarks on Meltdown and Spectre, two security flaws that have sent shockwaves through the industry.

James Martin/CNET

Intel's keynote 

CEO Brian Krzanich came to Las Vegas to talk about the future, but he had to spend a few minutes (two minutes, to be exact) on the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities to its chips that researchers found last week. Krzanich said Intel is working on fixing the performance flaws, but he did not address slower post-patch performance and his own controversially timed stock sale.

In future news, Intel said it will build highly detailed maps of roads around the world for self-driving vehicles with cameras already installed in production cars. The company also announced an exploratory partnership with Paramount Pictures to create new kinds of entertainment, a plan to bring VR to 30 events at the Olympics and a Volocopter autonomous passenger drone. Krzanich said that by the end of this year Intel would meet diversity goals (set in 2015) for "full representation" of women and minorities.

Car tech and much more

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