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The Best of CES
The annual International Consumer Electronics Show isn't just the largest trade show in the United States by every measure; CES also sets the bar for exhibiting trends at the onset of each calendar year. This year's event featured 3,800 exhibits, and EXHIBITOR magazine editor Travis Stanton saw every last one of them (and has the blistered feet to prove it). After four days, 40 miles of aisles, and nearly 4,000 booths to consider, he arrived at this list of the 20 best exhibits at CES 2016.
1. The undeniable star of the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show was Intel Corp. Designed and fabricated by The Taylor Group, this spectacular stand was nearly bursting with activities and presentations, yet the floor plan remained open, inviting, and easy to navigate. The four monolithic sculptures, which watched over the space like divine sentries, represented the four components of Intel CEO's keynote speech: sports, gaming, health and wellness, and creativity. Visitors were invited to challenge professional gamers, try on luxury watches, have their face projection-mapped onto one of the colossal 20-foot-tall statues, take a three-minute power nap, and more. On top of that, Intel booth staffers were approachable, knowledgeable, and professional. Dripping with engagement, this attendee-centric space raised the bar for CES exhibiting and was the heart and soul of the Las Vegas Convention Center's Central Hall.
2. Designed by Tisch13 GmbH and fabricated by Expotechnik America Ltd., the Audi exhibit looked like the divine love child of Star Wars' Death Star and an M. C. Escher sketch. Meant to convey "Audi intelligence," the exhibit was crowned with a metallic latticework representing the human brain. Dramatic color-shifting illumination bounced off the reflective aluminum beams representing synapses. While the casual observer likely didn't decipher the representational nature of the structure, the Audi exhibit will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest architectural icons of this year's CES.
3. This charismatic space for the Samsung Galaxy brand, situated in the main concourse between the Las Vegas Convention Center's North and Central Halls, was an attendee magnet. Mirrored surfaces, internally lit elements, disco balls, and stadium seating set the scene for the featured presentation: an augmented-reality experience. The brilliant design allowed both the AR users and aisle-side onlookers to enjoy the show: While those who waited their turn to don AR headsets virtually explored haunted houses and roller coasters, other attendees watched as motion seats tossed and turned participants, eliciting smiles, laughter, and the stuff of exhibit-marketing legend.
4. At first glance, it would be easy to assume Sony Corp. of America was trotting out the same exhibit it has the past few years. But looks can be deceiving. While the exterior structure, with its dramatic lighting and wrap-around projection, was extraordinarily similar to past CES booths, the interior obviously received a remarkable overhaul. The new design featured more approachable, even whimsical, product displays with artful touches. The immersive wonderland captured and held attendees' attention, marinating their minds in Sony messaging.
5. A simple organic form and semitransparent tensioned fabric combined to create this entrancing, cave-like exhibit for Select Comfort Corp.'s Sleep Number brand at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. Color-shifting lighting created a calming oasis, while a massive projection screen made Sleep Number's "It Bed" the star of its own one-man show. An interactive experience inside the exhibit (which was designed by Southfield, MI-based JGA and New York-based The Science Project) allowed visitors to place their hands on a touchscreen, which measured their heart rate, breathing, and movement, and created an individualized light and audio show that painted the exhibit's exterior walls with light and filled the booth with mood-appropriate beats.
6. Like something out of the movie "Avatar," this glowing cerulean space for Linksys (a division of Belkin International Inc.) drew attendees like moths to a beautiful blue flame. Massive string-art-like overhead elements combined with interactive kiosks and an ethereal arboreal touch, resulting in a space that felt more like an enchanted forest than a trade show booth.
7. LG Electronics' exhibit incorporated glossy-white finishes with metallic accents, subtly hinting at the kitchens and laundry rooms for which many of its products are designed. A futuristic ceiling element hung over attendees' heads like a spacey halo, while meticulously crafted demo areas and vignettes put the company's myriad products in appropriate contexts. But the crown jewel of the exhibit was the domed OLED theater, where guests were immersed in a number of different environs courtesy of more than 100 curved OLED screens, nearly 70 of which were mounted to the ceiling, enveloping attendees in the magic of LG.
8. Samsung Electronics Co.'s exhibits have always been crowd favorites at CES, and this exhibit designed by Munich-based MDLab and fabricated by MC2 was no different. An impressive entrance featuring dozens of Samsung TVs led visitors to an expansive space that felt like an ultra-futuristic retail store. On-trend reflective finishes, a healthy dose of projection technology, and the novelty of transparent screens added energy to the expansive 50-by-50-foot exhibit.
9. The ZTE Corp. exhibit (designed by Pico Exhibition Services Co.) had all attendees' eyes looking toward the skies in the Las Vegas Convention Center's South Hall. This monumental ceiling structure, which measured roughly 40-by-100 feet, seemed to pulse and glow with a mind of its own. Four LED screens and 8,850 LED lights combined to form the impressive 8-ton eye-catcher. Below, a number of interactive product displays and a miniature basketball court gave visitors a chance to explore, experience, and enjoy everything ZTE had to offer.
10. To celebrate the company's 70th anniversary, Klipsch Group Inc. created an artful yet authentic exhibit that felt like a mashup between an approachable museum and your parents' basement (if your parents were super cool and had great taste). Earthy, rustic furnishings and finishes lent the space an abundance of warmth and personality, while handwritten lyrics and sketches of early Klipsch patents adorned the interior sides of exterior walls, cocooning visitors in a celebration of what one graphic referred to as "70 Years of Pissing Off the Neighbors."
11. Chevrolet's exhibit was a successful study in large-scale multimedia. While the interior of the space lacked a noteworthy sense of engagement or approachability, the structure itself was eye-catching and even mesmerizing, capturing the interest of passersby, many of whom stopped to gawk – and whip out their cellphones to snap pics.
12. This clean, almost sterile exhibit for Krush Technologies LLC (designed by Real Art and Czarnowski Display Services Inc.) put every ounce of focus on Moveo, the first free-rotation virtual-reality simulator, presenting it like an enormous jewel inside a super-sized display case. Meanwhile, an activity just outside the confines of the pristine, stark-white space allowed visitors to step right up and try their hand at an updated version the hammer game. An electronic sensor and flip-board display brought the carnival attraction into the modern era, and tongue-in-cheek graphics and phrases kept CES attendees smiling (and talking trash) as they waited their turn to play.
13. Most companies exhibiting drones at CES simply erect a netted enclosure, fly some quadcopters, and call it a day. But this exhibit from Shenzhen Hubsan Intelligent Co. Ltd. went a step further. Organic curves and embedded lighting lent a techy, futuristic vibe to this space that helped it stand head and shoulders above competitors in the LVCC's South Hall.
14. The Panasonic Corp. of North America exhibit, designed and fabricated by Czarnowski Display Services Inc., showcased a variety of environments in which the company's products are most at home. Including a metro station, retail stores, in-flight seating, and even a sports stadium, the exhibit lured visitors into the world of Panasonic, and kept them delighted as they perused the various vignettes.
15. While arguably risky, enclosed exhibits can pay big dividends, and this one for Leshi Internet Information & Technology (aka Letv) was among my favorites at this year's show. The tensioned-fabric exterior walls acted as massive projection screens, where slowly moving imagery of skylines and outer space created a transfixing display for both attendees inside the booth as well as those standing in the aisles surrounding it. An angular entry and waist-high peephole-like opening teased attendees' curiosity and practically begged them to stop and explore.
16. This quaint little booth for Askey Corp.'s QBee brand was a lovely example of a thematic space that subtly referenced the company's logo without being gimmicky or sacrificing sophistication. The industrial light fixtures with exposed, red cords became an overhead art installation, while the hexagonal frame-like construction of the exterior walls kept the booth open, airy, and inviting.
17. This exhibit for Volkswagen Group proves that you don't need a lot of structure to make a big impact. Glossy white flooring played second fiddle to the booth's focal point: exterior walls comprising little more than black framing and royal-blue seatbelts strung in angled patterns like a piece of string art suitable for a giant.
18. Sophisticated finishes and the company's signature "silver flow" ceiling element earned the Mercedes-Benz exhibit a spot on the top-20 list. The individual lamellas that make up the wave-like canopy seemed to defy gravity, and the dimensional, cursive letters spelling "me" added a bit of personality to an otherwise austere exhibit.
19. The Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. exhibit, designed by George P. Johnson Co., incorporated 15-by-4-foot LED pillars and a 65-inch monitor to tell a series of six distinctive brand stories. Meanwhile, the Kikai concept car held court over one side of the space, while the other was dominated by the AI Robot Table, on which six mini Prius models demonstrated "Deep Learning," which is a core component of Toyota's automated driving developments.
20. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) once again enchanted CES attendees with an exhibit that appeared to have been built by boxed shipments en route to a behemoth's kingdom. The brand-appropriate booth (designed and fabricated by Czarnowski Display Services Inc.) segued nicely into a head-to-head interactive challenge in which booth visitors attempted to "pack" colored boxes in a Tetris-like arcade game.