The tech-world's epicenter shifts to Las Vegas this week as the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show kicks off. Over the next week expect a parade of shiny, tiny, and wireless gadgets from CES exhibitors - including a 3G watch-phone from LG Electronics, a wafer-thin TV from Samsung that's 6.5-millimeters thick, and an emphasis on emerging technology 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, that's the same number as last year, according to Gary Shapiro, executive director of the Consumer Electronics Association. Attendance is forecast to be down 8 percent (130,000 attendees) compared to 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 gets started Jan. 8 and runs through the Jan. 11. But companies will be announcing products all this week and with major announcements expected from Cisco, Toshiba, Sony and other which are holding press conferences Wednesday. Still others, such as Asus, are holding its press conferences on Tuesday.
Content Expected to Reign King at CES
A major trend at CES this year is the merging of content delivery and hardware. LG will be showing off Audio 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 YouTube, Hulu, and display pictures from Flickr. Samsung will show one with Yahoo widgets - we're still waiting to hear from Samsung on whether it will support YouTube and Hulu 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 Hulu, CinemaNow and other Internet-based content.
Network vendors also continue to encroach on traditional consumer electronics turf: Linksys, for example, will be announcing a digital stereo system capable of playing music all over the home a la Sonos.
Mobile is Always Hot at CES
Mobile gear at CES will steal a lot of limelight this year.
It's expected Palm will be unveiling its Nova smartphone operating system on new hardware, a project three years in the works. We've also heard there will be some new handsets (including a smartphone) from an unnamed but up-and-coming manufacturer, as well some from Motorola and Samsung.
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 of its pico projector; will also be showing a pico projector, the palm-sized LCOS micro projector, the Z10. You can connect these projectors to your smartphone and project content. .
The majority of mobile announcements this year at CES will most likely come from firms that make mobile applications. Look for mobile apps from social networking to security - there will be 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 form factors as GPS devices become more common in locations besides auto dashboards.
Mobile printer maker PlanOn will debut a new 1.5lbs PrintStik 900 ($200) and 905 ($300) that allows you to create color 200-600 DPI prints from any Bluetooth cellphone or via USB cable. The cigarette-pack sized printer is 1-inch by 10.75-inch by 1.9 inches.
Keynote Honor Goes To Ballmer
Now that Bill Gates has bowed out of CES keynotes (and Microsoft), Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, gets his turn. Ballmer will deliver his first CES keynote on Jan. 7; he's sure to proselytize Microsoft's "unifying" consumer vision of phones, TVs, and PCs all connected via the Internet and helped along by Microsoft technology. We also expect to hear more about Windows 7 from Ballmer and from Microsoft in general at CES. We predict Microsoft's message will be Windows 7 is much more zippier and less resource hungry compared to Windows Vista.
PCs Gets Some CES Love
CES isn't always known for its computer gear. But this year netbooks (small, generally low-cost laptop PCs) will be shown from almost every major manufacturer. Watch for models to debut at CES with specialized features that attempt to get consumers to shell out a few extra dollars.
Lenovo, in advance of the official CES kick off, has already announced a slew of new laptops. The most notable model: A 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 is expected to cost $3600, and weighs in at 11 pounds.
Chip makers AMD and Intel will be showing off new processors for powering everything from netbooks to power desktops; Via will also be showing netbooks. We expect to hear more from AMD about its Phenom II processor. Intel is expected to be promoting its Core 2 Quad Mobile Processor Q9000. Freescale Semiconductor is expected to announce a 1GHz chip, i.MX515, at CES that's aimed at the sub-$200 netbook market.
Not Your Father's Boob Tube
In HDTVs, there are several major trends that have been taking shape for a while now, but are gaining more momentum. We expect to see more mainstream and less expensive LCD TVs with a 120Hz refresh rate; and new introductions with the even faster refresh rate of 240Hz. LG's display division will be showcasing 480Hz technology. The faster refresh rates are aimed to reduce motion blur.
The other big trend is skinny, flat, and big TVs. Of course there is the annual one-ups man-ship between TV makers that lead to monstrously huge 150-inch Panasonic plasma HDTV we saw last year at CES. This year the focus will be on thin. We expect to see the battle for thinnest LCD to rage between Sharp, Samsung, Hitachi, and Toshiba. Some will even be touting thin plasma TVs as well.
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. Along the thin lines, we also expect the abuse of the phrase "You can't be too rich or too thin" when it comes to discussing HDTVs this year at CES.
As we've already mentioned, a number of these new HDTVs will also offer Internet connectivity.
Our fingers are crossed we'll be hearing a lot more from CES exhibitors PowerMat and PowerBeam. Both of these firms will demonstrating a technology that moves us one step closer to a world where plugging in your laptop, cell phone, iPod, and even a lamp for power is no longer required. The technology is called Wi-Tricity.
PowerBeam will show off a wireless power system that uses a form of Wi-Tricity to power a set of small wireless speakers. PowerMat is expected to show off digital picture frames powered by 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 and landfill safe. Energizer, best known by its pink bunny that keeps on going, plans to show off the Energizer Rechargeable Solar Charger, a portable solar-powered recharger that powers batteries via sunlight.
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 just 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 delta, but if you've got $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, plug in your Minoru 3D Webcam. This odd looking Webcam bills itself as a first of its kind. The $89 Webcam requires whoever you're chatting with to where those goofy 3-D glasses for the full affect. With Minoru you can also take 3-D snapshots and videos.