Technology

[In-Depth Analysis of CES 2021] Semiconductor Grows from an “Unsung Hero” to the “Biggest Trend”

By January 27, 2021 February 4th, 2021 No Comments

Image source: Official website of CES 2021 (https://ces.tech)

Image Download

The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the world’s largest home appliance and IT trade show, was held online for the first time in its 54-year history this year. CES 2021, which was held for four days, ended on January 14th (Eastern Standard Time). This year, due to the impact of COVID-19, the number of participating companies has dramatically decreased to 1,961, which is less than half of last year’s 4,400. Big IT players such as Google and global automobile manufacturers including Hyundai Motor Company, Toyota, and Honda Motor Company were not seen this year.

Nonetheless, this year’s show succeeded to some degree in performing the CES’s unique role of showing a big trend in the IT industry at the beginning of each year. In particular, CES 2021 supported the confidence that COVID-19 will explosively increase the demand for semiconductors.

Contactless environments now became our daily life. In addition to existing IT devices such as laptops, TVs, and smartphones, new products or services including video streaming, future automobiles, and even digital health are flooding into the industry. At the center of it, semiconductors are expected to go beyond their well-established status as “an essential of industry” and naturally join us in all our daily lives like air.

Semiconductor Now Becomes the Center as the Key of Smart Technologies

At CES in the past, semiconductor companies such as Intel had been focusing on presenting future solutions such as smart cities and autonomous vehicles, rather than products themselves. As this year’s show was held online, however, the main focus moved to semiconductor products.

Image source: Official website of CES 2021 (https://ces.tech)

Image Download

In particular, at CES this year, a large number of new semiconductor products related to laptops and mobile devices, which have been showing a rapid increase in demand recently, attracted a lot of attention. On January 12th (Korean Standard Time), Intel unveiled four next-generation processor products for PCs and laptops through its online press conference held in line with CES 2021. Intel focused on introducing product lineups optimized for remote work, remote education, and gaming, taking into account the recent increase in demand for PCs since the contactless environment has become a big trend due to COVID-19.

Likewise, AMD also unveiled H-Series mobile processors specialized in gaming and content creation, as well as new Ryzen 5000 Series mobile processors that can be mounted on devices such as portable laptops.

Samsung Electronics did not directly participate in CES this year, but it unveiled a new application processor (AP) “Exynos 2100” for the Galaxy S21 Series and a new image sensor product of 100 million pixels during this period. Samsung Electronics enhanced product performance and efficiency through its 5-nano extreme ultraviolet (EUV)1 process. Especially, it emphasized energy efficiency, highlighting that they are low-carbon products. Along with this, Samsung Electronics focused on promoting its strength in the video environment, introducing a high-performance image signal processor (ISP) equipped with ARM’s GPU “Mali-G78” which makes it capable of processing images of up to 200 million pixels.

At CES this year, semiconductors for automobiles also attracted attention. NXP, a Dutch semiconductor design company with the largest market share in the automotive semiconductor industry, unveiled BlueBox 3.0, a new extended version of the automotive high-performance computing development platform at CES 2021.

Texas Instruments (TI), a semiconductor design and manufacturing company, and Iris, a company specializing in vision artificial intelligence (AI) solutions2 for interior space detection in automobiles, introduced an internal detection monitoring solution using image sensors for autonomous vehicles.

The introduction of these new system semiconductor products is expected to have a positive effect on the supply and demand of memory semiconductors. This is because the amount of data and processing speed can dramatically increase as performance enhances more and more.

The reinforcement of the smart home functions based on the Internet of Things (IoT) installed in major home appliances is also a positive factor. In the past, services were often provided through a central server in most devices. Recently, however, there have been increasing the number of semiconductor chips mounted in devices using an embedding method in order to provide fast and various services regardless of the communication status.

The increased number of 8K TVs and the expansion of 5G-based content services are also expected to play a positive role in increasing demand for server memory. As the lifestyle of “stay-at-home” is becoming more common, the content market is continuing its rapid growth.

“Smart Health” Which Emerged as a Focus of Attention due to COVID-19 and “Future Automobiles” Which Proved the Solid Position

COVID-19, which changed the world, has also changed the main focus of CES, the world’s largest IT trade show. As products with the theme of digital health poured out, some even named CES this year as “COVID-19 Electronics Show”.

Many digital health products and technologies at CES this year have shown their great potential. These include a device that sounds an alarm when another person approaches within a certain distance, a device that allows users to hike around the world like in virtual reality (VR) game, and technology that can detect an infant’s body temperature in real-time with a smartphone by simply attaching a small wearable patch.

Something in common among these products is that they actively used semiconductors to prevent infectious diseases. In this respect, it is noteworthy that many startups in Taiwan, which is considered as semiconductor powerhouses together with South Korea and the United States, are growing rapidly in the smart health sector.

According to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), a total of 130 Taiwanese companies participated in CES 2021, which is the fifth largest after the US (570), South Korea (345), China (203), and France (135). In the case of most countries, the number of participating companies has decreased compared to the previous year, while the number of Taiwanese companies participating in CES this year has increased, showing an active movement to gain the indirect benefits from the US-China trade war.

This trend in semiconductors is well explained by some situations where foundry companies are unable to handle incoming orders, resulting in a waiting period of around one year for some system semiconductors. Also, since the production of some automotive products such as power semiconductors has been delayed, some automobile manufacturers are experiencing delays in production.

Image source: Official website of CES 2021 (https://ces.tech)

Image Download

Nevertheless, automobile and parts manufacturing companies are continuing their efforts to innovate future mobility, despite the new normal3 of COVID-19.

General Motors (GM) announced that it will initiate the electric van service business for delivery in earnest, delivering 500 commercial electric vans named “EV600” to FedEx by the end of this year. It also unveiled an autonomous car called “Halo” with an interior space decorated like a living room and a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drone, both under the Cadillac brand.

Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz unveiled “MBUX Hyperscreen”, an AI-based display with the width of 141 cm extending from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat. BMW introduced a new version of “iDrive” equipped with a next-generation display and operating system.

Among the Korean domestic parts manufacturers, Mando participated in CES this year for the first time and introduced the next-generation free-fitted Steer-by-Wire (SbW) steering system, a technology that connects the chassis and steering wheel of automobiles with electric signals.

CES 2021 made it clear that the boundaries between different industries, which had been obscured by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, have completely disappeared now due to COVID-19, an unexpected variable, and that all companies are focusing on creating “better daily lives”. This is why it is important to pay attention to the destruction of lines between industries and the acceleration of merge, acquisition, or collaboration between companies in different industries, in order to promptly respond to these changes.

 ※ This article is based on the subjective view of the contributor and may differ from the official stance of SK hynix.


ByJung Il Park

DigitalTimes journalist

 

1 Extreme ultraviolet; a manufacturing process using extreme ultraviolet lithography technology that uses a light source of extreme ultraviolet wavelength in the photolithography process. The wavelength of extreme ultraviolet is less than a tenth of that of the argon fluoride (ArF) light source in the conventional process technology. For this reason, if the lithography work is performed with a light source having an ultraviolet ray wavelength, more detailed semiconductor circuit patterns can be produced.
2 Technology to implement a human visual system through AI algorithm
3 Standards or norms that have newly emerged along with the changes after the spread of COVID-19