The tech world's focus shifts to Las Vegas today as the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show kicks off. This week you can expect a parade of shiny, tiny, and wireless gadgets from CES exhibitors--including a 3G watch-phone from LG Electronics, a wafer-thin Samsung TV that's 6.5 millimeters thick, and an emphasis on emerging fields such as environmentally friendly green technologies and Wi-Tricity, a technology that allows wire-free power charging of small devices.
Despite the slumping economy, CES is forecast to have 2700 exhibitors, the same number as last year, says Gary Shapiro, executive director of the Consumer Electronics Association. Attendance is forecast to be down 8 percent (130,000 attendees) compared with 2008, and the show floor is 5 percent smaller, with 1.7 million square feet to wander between the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo Center, according to Shapiro. That's still enough to tire our feet just as much as last year.
CES officially starts January 8 and runs through January 11, but companies have been announcing products all this week--with major announcements from Cisco, Sony, Toshiba, and other companies that held press conferences on Wednesday. Still others, such as Asus, held their press conferences on Tuesday.
Content Expected to Reign at CES
A major trend at CES this year is the merging of content delivery and hardware. LG will be showing off several LCD and plasma TVs with the built-in ability to stream Netflix online movies--no PC required. Yahoo and Intel will be showing prototype TVs with "widgets" that stream video from Hulu and YouTube, and display pictures from Flickr. Samsung will show a model with Yahoo widgets; we're still waiting to hear from Samsung on whether the TV will support Hulu and YouTube streaming.
Even Blu-ray players will get juiced with extra content. Expect to see Blu-ray players from Samsung and LG that stream not only Netflix movies but also content from CinemaNow and Hulu, as well as other Internet-based content.
Network vendors are continuing to encroach on traditional consumer electronics turf, as well: Linksys, for example, announced a digital stereo system capable of playing music all over the home (similar to Sonos systems).
Mobile Is Always Hot at CES
Mobile gear at CES will steal a lot of the limelight this year.
Palm is expected to unveil its Nova smart phone operating system on new hardware, a project three years in the making. We've also heard that some new handsets (including a smart phone) from an unnamed but up-and-coming manufacturer, as well several from Motorola and Samsung, will and already have debuted.
The growing mobile-projector category will get a bump this year with some new pico projectors. Microvision, which demoed its pico projector last year, will be showing an updated version; Nextar will show its palm-size LCOS micro projector, the Z10. You can connect these projectors to your smart phone and project your images and content. Even WowWee, a company known for its friendly robots, announced a Cinemin Swivel pico projector.
The majority of mobile announcements at CES this year will most likely come from the creators of mobile applications. Look for mobile apps that cover everything from social networking to security--you'll have plenty to choose from in 2009.
On the GPS front, look for more devices that use cellular data networks to provide map, traffic, and other updates (such as the recently announced TeleNav Shotgun). Vendors are also expected to explore new designs as GPS devices become more common in locations besides auto dashboards.
Mobile-printer maker PlanOn will debut the new 1.5-pound PrintStik 900 ($200) and 905 ($300), which will allow you to create color 200- to 600-dpi prints from any Bluetooth cell phone or via USB cable. The cigarette-pack-size printer measures 1.0 by 10.75 by 1.9 inches.
Keynote Honor Goes to Ballmer
Now that Bill Gates has bowed out of CES keynotes (and his position at Microsoft), Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, got his turn Wednesday night. Durring his keynote Ballmer announced Microsoft will release a public beta this week of its next desktop operating system, Windows 7. Ballmer also offered a tour of Windows 7, and announced updates to Windows Mobile, Xbox Live services, and introduced productivity apps for Windows Live. He also announced new partnerships with Dell, Facebook, and Verizon.
PCs Get Some CES Love
CES isn't always known for its computer gear. But this year netbooks (small, generally low-cost laptop PCs) from almost every major manufacturer will appear. Watch for models with specialized features added in an attempt to get consumers to shell out a few extra dollars.
Lenovo has already announced a slew of new laptops. The most notable model is the first-ever dual-screen laptop. The ThinkPad w700ds will have a 17-inch primary screen and a 10.6-inch secondary screen that slides out to the right. This model, expected to cost $3600, weighs 11 pounds.
Sony released a number of new notebooks. One netbook-ish model is the superslim P-series notebook that sports an Intel Atom processor and 2GB of RAM.
Chip makers AMD and Intel will be showing off new processors for powering everything from netbooks to power desktops; Via will be showing netbooks, too. AMD took the wraps off its Phenom II processor on Wednesday. Intel is expected to be promoting its Core 2 Quad Mobile Processor Q9000. Freescale Semiconductor is set to announce a 1-GHz chip, the i.MX515, that's aimed at the sub-$200 netbook market.
Not Your Father's Boob Tube
In HDTVs, several major trends have been taking shape for a while, but are now gaining momentum. We expect to see more-mainstream and less-expensive LCD TVs with a 120-Hz refresh rate, and new models with the even faster refresh rate of 240 Hz. LG's display division is showcasing 480-Hz technology. The faster refresh rates are intended to reduce motion blur.
The other trend is in size--namely skinny, flat, and big TVs. Of course, there's always the annual game of one-upmanship among TV makers that leads to things such as the monstrous 150-inch Panasonic plasma HDTV we saw last year at CES. This year the focus will be on thinness; we expect to see the battle for slimmest LCD raging among Hitachi, Samsung, Sharp, and Toshiba. Some manufacturers, such as Panisonic, are touting thin plasma TVs, as well.
Panasonic showed off what it touted as the world's thinnest plasma, with a panel 1/3 in thick. Here's a little video of that set that shows just how skinny it is:
Sony is rumored to show off a 50-inch OLED TV prototype. That's a big jump from its shipping 11-inch XEL-1 model. We also expect abuse of the phrase "You can't be too rich or too thin" when it comes to discussing HDTVs at this year's CES.
As already mentioned, a number of the new HDTVs will also offer Internet connectivity.
Our fingers are crossed that we'll be hearing a lot more from CES exhibitors PowerMat and PowerBeam. Both firms will demonstrate a technology that moves people one step closer to a world where plugging in your laptop, cell phone, iPod, or even a lamp for power is no longer required. The technology is called Wi-Tricity.
A contingent of environmentally friendly technologies will also be on display. Fuji is showing off Enviromax, green batteries that the company claims are environmentally safe and landfill safe. Energizer, best known for its pink bunny that keeps on going, plans to show off the Energizer Rechargeable Solar Charger, a portable device that powers batteries via sunlight.
LG is showing off its first line of televisions that qualify for the LCD TV Association's GreenTV logo. The logo program was designed to encourage TV makers to reduce power consumption, and to help consumers make an informed choice on what kind of TV they're going to buy.
We also expect to see some impractical and offbeat products this year--something we love dearly for our post-show coverage. We've already heard of a couple items that seem a bit too impractical. The company Angelis Labor will be unveiling its Gabriel Turntable, priced between $27,000 and $64,000. We don't know what accounts for the price range, but if you have $27,000 to burn on a turntable, what's another $37,000?
When video chats aren't enough, what do you do? Well, of course, you plug in your Minoru 3D Webcam. This odd-looking Webcam is billed as a first of its kind. The $89 Webcam requires whoever you're chatting with to wear goofy 3D glasses for the full effect. With Minoru you can also take 3D snapshots and videos.
Keep checking back for PC World's complete coverage of CES 2009. This week, whatever happens in Vegas will most definitely not stay in Vegas.
This story, "HDTV and Mobile Gear to Steal CES 2009 Spotlight" was originally published by PCWorld.