CES preview: Spotlight on current trends, not tech breakthroughs

This year marks the Consumer Electronics Show's 40th year

This year's International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will focus more on technologies that support current trends than on those that promise to break new ground for consumers.

User adoption of the "connected" digital home and high-definition video didn't take off the way some predicted at last year's CES, but the technology will continue to be the focus at this year's show in Las Vegas. CES, which is expected to draw about 150,000 attendees, begins on Monday.

2007 International CES

2007 International CES: January 8-11, Las Vegas

CES will feature exhibits by the usual industry heavyweights, including Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., as well as about 2,700 other companies hoping to showcase the next killer app or device for consumers in 2007. And, for the first time in a decade, IBM will have a large presence at the show.

Companies from Australia will for the first time attend CES, which draws participants from more than 135 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the U.K. CES also is celebrating its 40th anniversary and will mark the occasion with a special event on the first day of the show.

Microsoft Chairman and co-founder Bill Gates will make his ninth annual appearance to kick off the show in a keynote speech Sunday night. Among other things, Gates is expected to promote Windows Vista, the latest version of Microsoft's operating system that will be released to consumers on Jan. 30.

Other technology executives set to deliver keynote speeches include Ed Zander, Motorola Inc.'s chairman and CEO; Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia Corp. president and CEO; Michael Dell, founder and chairman of Dell Inc.; and John Chambers, Cisco Systems Inc.'s president and CEO.

But large technology vendors aren't the only companies represented in keynote addresses this year. As the latest digital technology is beginning to merge with entertainment, media conglomerates are becoming key figures -- and partners -- for companies promoting consumer electronics. As a result, look for appearances by Robert Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Co., on Monday, and Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp., on Tuesday.

Among technology trends, storage will once again be a big topic. A year ago, the companies behind HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc announced plans for big launches -- saying new players and movies would redefine the way people watch movies. A year later, the two formats are indeed on the market, but because of the format battle, buyers have been moving cautiously. Look for cheaper players and recorders to be announced at the show along with pronouncements that 2007 will be the breakthrough year for the systems.

On the desktop, the upcoming launch of Vista means several new technologies aimed at speeding up reading and writing of data are on the horizon. Drive makers should be coming out with products within the first quarter that support the ReadyDrive system, and Microsoft will likely demonstrate it as a major reason to upgrade to Vista. Also look for higher-capacity drives and the continuing march of digital storage into consumer electronics products.

As for the connected home, it also promises to get tongues wagging. While the idea of connecting televisions, computers, stereos and mobile phones has been promised as the next big thing for several years, so far, the only consumers who have been able to achieve this unified communications system at home are true technology enthusiasts.

Among industry heavyweights, Microsoft and Intel will likely continue to promote previously introduced technologies to enable this trend. Microsoft built features previously available in its Windows Media Center operating system directly into Vista, which the company has said makes the operating system a platform for marrying the television and the PC in the home. Intel will promote its Viiv package -- technology on a PC designed to make it a hub for a digital entertainment system -- as a way to make connecting various digital devices in the home less painful.

A number of new technologies and initiatives also promise to help consumers create a connected home, and many of them will have a presence at CES.

For example, UWB (ultrawideband) is the short-range broadband wireless standard that can link devices, including televisions, computers, modems, stereos, set-top boxes and even cell phones. However, even though the past few CES conferences have included announcements about impending products, no UWB offerings are commercially available. This year, following the maturing of the standard, leaders in the UWB market, including Alereon Inc., Tzero Technologies Inc. and Belkin International Inc., may make announcements about products likely to hit shelves soon.

UWB isn’t the only networking technology fighting to take root in the home. It will compete in some cases against Wi-Fi and fiber as well as other emerging technologies such as power-line networking. Expect companies from each camp to tout the benefits of their technologies in the connected home.

This year, Cisco Systems Inc., best known for its enterprise networking gear, may make a significant mark on CES. During Chambers' keynote on Tuesday, he's likely to describe the company’s newest forays into the consumer market. Cisco’s recent acquisition of Scientific-Atlanta Inc., combined with its Cisco-Linksys LLC division, means the vendor now offers products to service providers that deliver content to homes -- as well as to the consumer who wants to receive and shift that content around at home.

Some of the alliances that aim to unify all the developments in the connected home space also plan to have a presence at CES. The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), whose members include IBM, Intel, HP, Nokia, Sony Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co., offers a set of guidelines so that hardware and software developers can make sure that their offerings interoperate in the connected home. The DLNA will be showcasing its work at CES.

Ben Ames, Nancy Gohring and Martyn Williams of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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