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10 trends to watch at CES 2016, from real VR to smart gizmos you actually want

December always fills me with dread. Sure, I love the holidays and spending time with friends and family – who doesn’t? But I know that my worst fears are slowly taking shape in the deserts of Nevada, where an enormous, lumbering beast with 140,000 heads is growing: CES — the consumer electronics event we all love to hate.

The vitriol has grown in recent years, with sites like Quartz calling it “a dud” and “increasingly irrelevant.” Ignore these ignoramuses. Last year’s show was anything but, with records set for attendance and event space. It also featured some truly game-changing gear: We were wowed by the industry-changing Sling TV app, Dell’s impossibly sleek XPS 13, and OLED televisions from LG and others that left our tech-hungry team sitting in puddles of drool.

Related: Digital Trends Top Tech of CES 2015 award winners

CES 2016 promises a  fresh collection of mind-melting gadgets, gizmos of all sorts. It’s likely the year we see a consumer version of the Oculus Rift. It’s likely the year you buy a 4K television. In 2016 your house will get smarter — and I bet your clothing does too. And all of that stuff? We’ll see it in early January in Vegas.

Sorting through it all is the real challenge. With 176,000 attendees and close to 3,700 companies showing their wares, including nearly 400 start-ups, making sense of it all is a challenge. Here’s what I think you should keep an eye out for as the beast lumbers into town.

Drones

rinspeed

Rinspeed Etos

People love these things, and 2016 will be the year they go from interesting novelty to useful gadget. The Unmanned Systems Marketplace in the South Hall will cover more than 25,000 square feet, a 200 percent increase over the 2015 CES, the CTA said. Exhibitors including DJI, Yuneec, Hobbico, and Squadrone System will show smart drones that track where you are to shoot better videos — think a drone that tracks you on a snowboard flying down a hill — and scary drones with face tracking that help you spy on your neighbor. There’s even a luxury car that comes with its own personalized drone and launch pad. Expect controversy.

3D printers

xyzprinting-food-printer_0113b-1500x1000

Food printer from XYZprinting

Geeks find these gizmos fascinating – and personally I’m still not sure why. It’s hard to understand how 3D printers work and vastly more complicated to actually try to use them. Most 3D printers are still far from ideal for most ordinary consumers. Nonetheless, we’ll see dozens of upstarts that want one on every kitchen table. Last year saw a food printer from XYZprinting — what will this year bring?

Wireless everything (No, for real this time)

PearBuds-5

PearBuds

Sure, you’ve got a wireless network at home. Sure, you’ve got a Bluetooth headset. Get ready for some truly amazing stuff. This year we’re likely to see legit wireless earbuds, such as the Pearbuds and Earin wireless buds. Then there’s wireless charging, a technology that broadcasts waves of power through your house to charge your stuff when you walk in the door. Companies like Cota and Technovator are honing the tech. This is crazy stuff.

Smart(er) homes

Samsung WA8700J

Samsung WA8700J

At CES 2015, jaws dropped not because of a new cell phone or a pocket-sized miracle gadget but because of a washing machine. LG and Samsung both showed off white-box appliances that turned traditional on its ear: Samsung had a washing machine with a sink on top of it. LG had a washing machine on top of a washing machine. Both had onlookers gawking. Expect even bigger changes this year, as appliances get surprisingly cool.

The Internet of really-we-swear everything

Blossom Smart Watering Controller

Blossom Smart Watering Controller

Last year was all about smartening your home. This year will see manufacturers doubling down on efforts to pack brains into your ordinary light switches, thermostats, and other controls. Expect more smart sprinklers, smart hoses, smart water faucets, and smart chairs than ever before. This trend shows no sign of stopping … and every sign of getting more complex as time passes.

Crazy cool cars…

Faraday Future Concept

Faraday Future Concept

It’s no wonder last quarter saw more sales than at any time in the last 15 years. Cars are hot again. Tesla is reshaping the sales experience, and a mysterious competitor named Faraday Future will unveil a really sleek competitor. Meanwhile, tech companies will highlight the brains they’re building into cars — look for big displays from companies like Harman and Nvidia, whose chips and software could power the self-driving cars of tomorrow.

…and driving gadgets galore

Exploride

Exploride

With Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto finally working their way into dashboards, car tech is finally getting the attention it deserves. It’s just the tip of a very cool iceberg, however. The constellation of companies making stuff to improve your current wheels continues to amaze me – from head-up displays like the Exploride to diagnostics to safety devices, gadgets can make an ordinary car extraordinary.

Virtual reality

oculus-rift-ces-2015

Oculus Rift at CES 2015

Some technologies will always remain by geeks, for geeks (see the 3D printer). VR will break out of the geek realm in 2016, however, thanks to smart devices like the Samsung Gear VR and finally, hopefully, maybe, the launch of the granddaddy of them all, the Oculus Rift. With a PlayStation VR headset in the works, this tech is going mainstream fast. Look for VR and augmented reality to be simply everywhere.

Clever healthcare gizmos

Connected stethoscopes and thermometers sound dull. They’re not. Getting medical-grade information has been an incredible challenge in lawsuit-friendly America. Finally seeing the arrival of these gizmos warms the heart (and yes, there’s a device to monitor that). So forget ordinary step-trackers: Today’s tech-fueled fitness devices go well beyond simply counting your paces. A smarter class of device monitors your heart rate, studies how and precisely when your muscles fire, and can even detect how quickly you’re burning fat simply by smelling your breath.

4K TVs (of course)

TVs always take center stage at CES, and 2016 will be no exception. Bigger, crisper, and with higher resolution, 4K UHD models will be everywhere. Watch for service providers to be showing off their products as well; Chinese company Hisense said it plans to disrupt the U.S. market, and Dish changed everything last year. And then there’s Netflix, the hottest little company in town. What will 2016 bring? I bet it’s going to be amazing.