The Consumer Electronics Show - or CES as it's known - kicks off today and buzz is already building about the hot new devices and services that will grab the attention of consumers and investors. Some clear themes have already emerged and it's all about new mobile devices, seamless integration of streaming and traditional content, more powerful chips, and persistent 3D.
Tablets are *the* hot device of the conference. Smartphones will continue to proliferate, and we can expect a move into 4G networks.
But the real news this year will come from larger format tablets that do everything from stream video to replace e-readers and hand-held video game consoles.
Expect a slew of devices based on Google's Android operating system from the likes of Motorola, Samsung, Sony and Microsoft. The big question — can any of them really make a tent in Apple's dominant marketshare?
Streaming video over the Internet will play a more dominant role than ever. We can expect the vast majority of TVs displayed and debuted at CES to be connected to the Internet. And this year instead of just giving the option of connecting to the Internet, the goal is to make that connectivity valuable through streaming Internet content. A range of companies — from Sony and AT&T to Yahoo want to make it easier to access web content from your TV. Even Motorola Mobility plans to show off a product to allow consumers to stream video to a mobile device in their homes. And that means that cable giants are carefully calculating how to make their set top boxes more competitive.
Google TV failed to gain traction and will *not* have a significant role at CES, which means everyone else is hustling to figure out the multi-billion dollar question: how to give consumers easy access to all the traditional and web content in one place, and how to turn that into advertising and subscription dollars on the scale of the TV business.
3D TV will try (again) to be relevant. Last year Panasonic, Sony, LG and all the other TV makers unveiled giant 3D TVs that required expensive, sophisticated 3D glasses. They simply failed to take off. They were too expensive and there wasn't enough content. This year the technology has improved so the glasses themselves are less complicated and expensive, as are the TVs themselves.
Nintendo's handheld 3D player, will take 3-D in a whole new direction — it doesn't require glasses. The folks at CES will surely be entranced by the potential of this new technology. But it comes with some major caveats. Nintendo is telling parents NOT to let kids six and under play with the devices. Since kids are the real audience for dedicated handheld video game players — teens have moved on to smartphones — this doesn't bode well.
MORE POWERFUL CHIPS
And every year at CES it's all about better, faster, stronger chips. This year the gadgets (laptops and the like) might not look all that different, but they will be fueled by more powerful underlying technology.
It's not just electronics makers and tech companies headed to the Las Vegas Convention Center meetings and demos on the crowded convention floor.
Netflix will be there, basking in the seemingly limitless platforms for streaming its content at the show. Netflix's ever-growing reach is putting pressure on the cable giants, who will also be there — Time Warner Cable and Comcast will be talking about how they'll make their content experience more high tech.
Media giants including Disney and Time Warner will be touring the floor, strategizing how to monetize their content on new devices. Venture Capitalists and Private Equity investors will check out the new technology and how it could disrupt their holdings. Analysts will be trolling the floor, issuing notes — and upgrades or downgrades — based on the wow factor of announcements. And many investment bankers won't even make it to the convention — they'll be meeting over steaks at restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip, discussing potential deal activity for the new year.
Jason Hirschhorn, the former CEO of MySpace and a digital media guru says this about returning from the holidays to launch right into CES: "Ah.... CES again, the time of year where I regret everything I just bought," that's what This is the week where I regret all the gadgets last year." We'll see which of the gadgets are impressive enough to elicit that kind of regret.
Look for CNBC's in-depth coverage of CES 2011 online and on-air. Julia Boorstin will report from the show beginning today and Maria Bartiromo will anchor "Closing Bell" from CES on Thursday and Friday, January 6 and 7, 3-5pm ET.
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