Huge TVs. Steam Machine. A solar-powered car. CES 2014 will have it all.

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Image: Michael Homnick

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To set the stage for this year’s International CES—the annual consumer electronics trade show that invades Las Vegas at the beginning of January and devours all in its path—let me tell you a little story about last year’s event.

At one point early on in that show—my first-ever CES—I was trying to get from an appointment at one end of the Las Vegas Convention Center to another meeting far, far away. I hadn’t counted on time, distance, and the crush of slow-moving humanity. In an effort to get from Point A to Point B, I put my head down and started zigzagging my way down aisles, across booths, and through doors. I wound up getting completely turned around, no closer to my final destination than before, and having to flag down passersby for some clue—any clue—as to where I was (other than quite possibly still within the city limits of Las Vegas). I was horrifically late for my meeting.

it’s easy to lose your way on the massive show floor at CES.

My point here is not to give you an opportunity to point at me and laugh—though if you’ve already started, by all means, continue. Rather, it’s to emphasize just how easy it is to get lost during CES—even if you never set foot on the show floor.

Depending on who’s doing the counting, more than 3200 exhibitors will clamor for visitors’ attention when CES opens its doors on Tuesday, January 7. In the days prior, companies will host a series of press conferences or show off their wares at a string of well-attended product showcases. All of this promotional effort will aim to convince people that the hardware, software, or service being touted is destined to become the Next Big Thing.

And you know what? It probably won’t be.

Some products that look good at a CES demo in January may lose their luster in the clear, sobering light of the rest of the year. Maybe the finished version won’t live up to the promise of the prototype. Maybe it'll fail to resonate with consumers. In more than a few cases, a hyped-up belle of the CES ball may never make it to market. These things happen more often than the breathless press releases coming out of Las Vegas every January would suggest.

Lest this come across as some sort of blanket dismissal of everything CES, a number of worthwhile things will come out of the show. You’ll just need to know what to listen for and remember not to get distracted by the shiny baubles and credulity-straining claims being tossed around Las Vegas next week.

My TechHive and PCWorld colleagues are en route to Las Vegas. With the caveat that surprise developments are always possible, here’s what we expect to see—assuming none of us gets lost at the convention center again.

You’ll have a new gaming console to try

For major gaming pronouncements, you’ll likely have to wait until the E3 trade show in June. But gamers can look forward to at least one big news item at CES: Valve’s Steam Machine console, which promises to bring PC gaming to your living room.

Hardware manufacturers like iBuyPower have already given us a glimpse of what a Steam Machine gaming console could look like, but we expect Valve to reveal more details at CES 2014.

The Linux-based SteamOS debuted last month in beta form, and Valve has already shown off a prototype. (A select cadre of beta testers have prototypes in hand to put SteamOS through its paces.) Though a few tantalizing details about the Steam Machine prototypes have trickled out, Valve is saving the big news—including which PC makers will build the shipping versions—for next week.

Why you should care: Valve’s developmental work with its SteamOS and with the hardware it runs on is part of an ambitious effort to open a new venue for PC gaming. We’re ready to see how that effort takes shape in 2014.

You’ll have a new wireless plan to consider

LG G Flex

We may find out during CES when the curved LG G Flex will reach the United States, but big smartphone announcements tend to happen elsewhere.

Smartphones were little more than a sideshow at CES 2013, a trend likely to continue now that February’s Mobile World Congress, and company-hosted events by heavyweights like Samsung, Google, and Apple, have become more-popular methods for rolling out new hardware. That said, phones won’t be entirely MIA—after all, Sony’s Xperia Z smartphone arrived at last year’s CES. This year could throw us a curve—curved screens, specifically. Samsung and LG both ended 2013 by introducing curved smartphones, though only in South Korea. CES could be where the companies reveal their U.S. launch plans for the Round and G Flex, respectively—unless they decide to wait until Mobile World Congress next month.

Why is this man smiling? Because T-Mobile CEO John Legere likely has big news to share at CES.

Right now, the biggest smartphone news out of CES may have nothing to do with your power-packed gadget, but rather the wireless service you use with it. T-Mobile has a press event slated for Wednesday, January 8, that figures to introduce the latest iteration of the company’s “uncarrier” efforts, which have already seen T-Mobile introduce subsidy-free pricing plans, among other changes. T-Mobile’s next step, if widely circulating rumors are to be believed, could be to pick up the cost of rivals’ early termination fees in order to lure new customers.

Why you should care: New phone designs and features are always fun to debate, but revamped wireless plans from a carrier like T-Mobile directly impact your bottom line.

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