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Originally published January 2, 2011 at 9:42 PM | Page modified January 3, 2011 at 6:33 AM

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Brier Dudley

Consumer Electronics Show comes to Las Vegas this week

At CES, more than 2,500 companies are presenting new electronics and tech products. At least 120,000 attendees from 130 countries are expected to peruse the show floor.

Seattle Times staff columnist

You'd think people would have enough gadgets, after spending billions on TVs, computers, Web tablets and other gizmos this past holiday season.

But there's more to come in 2011.

The cycle starts all over this week at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the nexus of a $165 billion a year industry.

More than 2,500 companies are presenting new electronics and tech products that will appear in stores, shopping carts and credit-card bills later this year.

It's a global event. At least 120,000 attendees from 130 countries are expected to peruse the show floor, then haggle with suppliers and retailers in meeting rooms and hotel suites.

Following tradition, Microsoft will give the opening keynote, with a Wednesday night presentation by Chief Executive Steve Ballmer.

The actual show begins Thursday and runs through Sunday, but most of the major announcements come earlier in the week before the rush.

Here's an overview of what I'm expecting to see this year.

Tablets

A year ago, the hot tablets at CES were new electronic books challenging the Kindle. There was the Plastic Logic Que, Samsung E6 and others that never caught on.

This year there will be dozens of tablet computers chasing the market cracked open by Apple's iPad. They'll give consumers looking for touch-screen Web devices all sorts of new options, from cheap iPad knockoffs running Google's Android software to slatelike Windows 7 systems running full power Intel hardware.

It remains to be seen how much of a bite tablets will take out of the PC market, but PC makers are hedging their bets. One intriguing entry is from ASUS, which started the netbook phenomenon with the Eee PC it launched in 2007. At CES it's launching the Eee Pad, a tablet-like Windows 7 device with an auxiliary keyboard.

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There will also be more e-books, including demonstrations of a color version of the flicker-free e-Ink display technology used in Kindles.

Connected TV

Tablets may get the most attention, but far more TVs will be sold in 2011 and they'll increasingly connect to the Web and run software applications. Maybe we should think of them as huge iPads hanging on the wall.

All the big TV makers will present new sets that connect directly to home networks or to the Web through disc players and set-top boxes. Sales of "connected TVs" will more than double over the next two years, with more than 100 million sets sold in 2013, according to DisplaySearch.

Microsoft's going to make a splash in this market with a stripped-down version of Windows tailored for set-top boxes and connected TVs. The software is a version of its embedded device software, overlaid with the Windows Media Center interface, with media streaming and remote-control capabilities.

These new Windows TV boxes have been glimpsed online since Microsoft unveiled its new embedded software lineup in April, and then again at an Intel conference in September.

The boxes are expected to cost around $200 and go on sale later this year. They'll pose a serious challenge to the new Apple and Google TV devices, largely because the Windows boxes have a polished and familiar TV-program guide that makes it easy to blend and navigate both online and broadcast content.

Google, meanwhile, has reportedly asked its consumer-electronics partners to withhold GoogleTV products from CES while the system is improved.

3-D

Despite a huge push last year by Sony and others, not many people were ready to upgrade to 3-D TVs. But the electronics giants will keep trying with new 3-D sets and technologies at CES.

LG is introducing TVs that use a new 3-D film that's brighter, has a wider viewing angle and uses passive glasses — the kind that don't have batteries and electrically controlled shutters. Mitsubishi's showstopper will be a 1080p 3-D projector that fills screens larger than 100 inches diagonally.

Computer makers will unveil new desktops and laptops with 3-D displays for playing movies and games, and accessory makers will have all sorts of aftermarket 3-D glasses to show.

Samsung is bringing the world's thinnest 3-D Blu-ray Disc player — just 23 millimeters thick. The device can simulate 3-D effects when a 2-D disc is played, and connect to Web services.

But the biggest boost for 3-D will probably come from Nintendo, which is staging a launch event Saturday in Tokyo for its 3DS handheld game player. The $300 gadget, with an adjustable screen that doesn't require glasses, goes on sale in Japan on Feb. 26 and in the U.S. in March.

ABI Research predicts 3-D displays will be in 11 percent of mobile devices — phones, laptops, browsing devices and game players — by 2015.

Chips

Some of the biggest innovations are under the covers, in new processors powering all the tablets, laptops and other gadgets.

A number of PCs debuting this week use a new version of Intel's Core processor. They'll be identified as "second generation" i3, i5 and i7 systems. Enthusiasts may call them by Intel's code name for the series, "Sandy Bridge." Nonenthusiasts may just hope to finally get deals on first-generation Core systems.

Intel's also expected to make a splash with "Oak Trail," a new platform for tablets and other mobile devices coming out in a few months. It's based on the tiny Atom processor that was originally designed for phones but took off as the foundation of netbook minicomputers. Intel has said Oak Trail systems will use 50 percent less power, have 1080p graphics and run Windows 7.

AMD's response to Atom, its new Brazos platform, will appear at CES in new netbooks, laptops and all-in-one desktops.

Tablets based on ARM processors will be unveiled, including a 10-inch model from MSI based on the Android operating system.

Nvidia's latest Tegra processor will reportedly surface in a new LG tablet, although high hopes for Tegra tablets emerging from the last CES didn't pan out.

Apple

Apple isn't expected to exhibit at CES, as usual, but it will still loom large.

Every tablet will be compared to the iPad, and every smartphone will be scrutinized for its potential to challenge the iPhone.

Many analysts and investors are counting on Verizon Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg to confirm plans for a Verizon iPhone during his keynote speech Thursday morning. If that happens, I wouldn't be surprised to see Steve Jobs appear on stage.

It would really shake things up is if Jobs used the occasion to show off the next iPad. Rumorish stories have the device appearing by April with a more smudge-resistant screen.

With or without Apple, Seidenberg will have goodies to show. Verizon's going to present the first handsets for its 4G LTE network that launched last month, including Motorola phones and perhaps a tablet.

Energy

Several companies will introduce systems for monitoring and managing electricity usage. Toshiba is introducing a system that connects devices around the house through a network "to maintain optimal-energy consumption."

Verizon is presenting a similar system that gives users remote control over thermostats and other home systems, via phones and other Web-linked devices.

General Electric may have the most timely product of all. It's unveiling a color-display panel that continuously shows how much energy is being used in the home.

It also shows a real-time estimate of your energy bill, so you can tell at a glance how much you're paying to run all of your new electronic gadgets.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com

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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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