The big picture: When organizers started pulling the plug on tech events in early 2020, many likely assumed it was simply out of an abundance of caution. By the middle of the year, however, it was clear that we had entered uncharted territory and things might not ever go back to normal (or at least, not anytime soon).

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the organization that hosts the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), announced in July that its next event would be an all-digital affair. For the first time in more than two decades, CES wouldn't be taking over Las Vegas in early January.

CES 2020, the most recent in-person show, attracted more than 170,000 attendees to the famous Las Vegas Strip last January. According to estimates by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, last year's event had an overall economic impact of more than $290 million.

Today is the first official day of CES 2021 and things are vastly different. Last year, the CTA said 4,419 companies officially exhibited at CES. That figure doesn't include the multitude of smaller companies that set up shop outside the confines of the convention center (usually in lavish hotel suites) and meet with clients to show off their latest wares.

In 2021, the CTA is expecting just 1,900 exhibitors to participate in its digital CES. Per The Wall Street Journal, most companies are paying just $1,200 to take part in the virtual show although pricier tiers with additional perks are available. That may sound like a lot but in the grand scheme of things, it's extremely affordable compared to what it would normally cost a company to attend (paying to put employees up in a hotel for a week, food, transportation, entertainment, etc.).

Another key question has to do with just how effective the online presentation will be. Simply put, walking around and exploring the vast convention show floor on your own accord is vastly different than clicking around on a website. You're going to stumble upon some rare gems in real life that you simply won't find online.

Mark-Hans Richer, chief marketing officer of Fortune Brands Home & Security, agrees. "This year will be a very poor substitution. And that's not a reflection on the organizers. It's very difficult to replicate something that's so experiential."

Image credit James Mattil, Kobby Dagan