The first big tech show of 2019 kicks off in Las Vegas this week.

As in recent years, China still has a massive presence at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). It's true that the trade war with the US means fewer Chinese companies are making the flight across the Pacific. Yet, there are still some 1,200 Chinese exhibitors present -- a sizeable number unmatched by any country besides the US.

Here's what we're expecting to see.

Better self-driving cars, more touchscreens

Over the years we’ve seen plenty of flashy vehicles from China. In 2016, drone startup Ehang showed off a driverless “flying car” that promises to transport a single passenger to any destination up to 10 miles away. A year later, electric car maker Faraday Future unveiled a Tesla challenger that promised plenty of neat features. (It’s still in production limbo amid the company’s much-publicized financial woes).

This year, another Chinese electric car startup, Byton, is back at the CES with a production-ready SUV called M-Byte. It’s got plenty of screens: A touchscreen spans the entire dashboard, another sits on top of the steering wheel, one between the driver and the front passenger, and more in the rear for passengers. American and European users can use their voice with Amazon’s Alexa.

Talk about distraction for drivers. (Picture: Byton via Weibo)

Meanwhile, Baidu will introduce an upgraded version of its autonomous driving platform Apollo. It wants to help vehicles navigate urban roads in city centers and residential areas. The company is largely considered a pioneer in self-driving cars in China. But it’s now hoping to sell its technology elsewhere, having forged partnerships with the likes of Microsoft and Ford. 

Still trying to make AR and VR happen

While US consumers seem to be a little fed up with virtual reality right now, it’s another story in China where interest appears to be growing. So perhaps there’s a reason why HTC is teasing new gear again, just a year after it unveiled the high-res standalone Vive Pro. Another reason why it may want to introduce a new headset: Facebook’s brand new Oculus Quest is set to release this Spring.

On top of the big players, there’s no lack of smaller Chinese startups vying for attention. Pico, who released an under-US$300 double display VR headset last year, is revealing a pair of 4K goggles. Rokid, which specializes in AR glasses, says it will demonstrate a new prototype.

A cheaper laser TV?

You can’t talk about CES without mentioning TVs. Each year, companies manage to come up with outlandish ideas for what they think we need our living rooms. (LG, for instance, thinks we want a TV that rolls up like paper. Why?)

8K is the buzzword this year, but Chinese TV giant Hisense has something else in mind: It’s expected to introduce a 70-inch laser TV. No words on the resolution and price yet, but an 80-inch 4K laser TV it rolled out in China last year costs around US$2,900 -- around three times cheaper than the 100-inch version currently available in the US.

A laser TV isn’t a TV in the most traditional sense: It’s more like a projector that comes with a giant screen. (Picture: Hisense)

More gaming products

The Xbox One will finally have an official mouse and keyboard, courtesy Razer. From what we can see from the teaser video, the keyboard comes with the company’s multicolor Chroma light effects. The system update that enables mouse and keyboard support came to a handful of games back in November, including Warframe and Fortnite.

Besides the Xbox One accessories, Razer is also introducing a 27-inch gaming monitor called the Raptor. It’s got Chroma lighting beneath the aluminium base and five bright green cables at the back -- an unforgettable look for sure.

The Razer Raptor is expected to ship later this year at US$700. (Picture: Razer)

While Razer only unveiled an upgraded version to its Razer Blade 15 laptop, Asus has two additions to the budget line TUF and a series of new ROG notebooks running on Nvidia’s latest GeForce RTX 20 series GPUs.

But wait, where are the smartphone giants?

Perhaps more important than who’s at CES is who isn’t there.

Last year Vivo showed off a prototype handset with an in-screen fingerprint sensor. The feature is now available in several Vivo models, as well as phones from Xiaomi, Huawei and OnePlus. This year though, Vivo isn’t going to Las Vegas.

Another Chinese smartphone maker, Huawei, has scaled down significantly compared to last year, when it was still drumming up enthusiasm for a US market entry -- only to see its deal with AT&T break down right before a scheduled announcement at CES 2018. The world’s second biggest smartphone seller is focusing efforts on next month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona instead, according to the South China Morning Post.

With the ongoing tension between China and the US, it looks like we’ll have to wait a few more weeks to see more exciting phone prototypes.