With the Christmas holiday now in our rear-view mirror, and the new year nearly upon us, it is time to focus on the next big event on the calendar: the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which officially kicks off on Jan. 10. That's when somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 attendees will descend on Las Vegas to see the latest and the greatest -- and, yes, plenty of the not-so-great as well -- in electronics for the home and on the go. Though much of what's to be unveiled remains a closely guarded secret, some rumors and official announcements have snuck out. Here's just a taste of what to expect.
Ultrabooks to debut, Microsoft to depart, and Ivy Bridge to be a no-show
In the realm of computing, there's lots of news and even more speculation. Microsoft's announcement that this would be its last CES as a booth holder and keynote presenter set tongues wagging, with reaction ranging from the Consumer Electronics Association's shrug and no-big-deal pronouncement (naturally, since it's the trade group that owns and promotes the show) to pundits speculating that it could mark the first steps toward the end of CES as we know it. As with all such things, the truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle: It is certain to hurt the CEA's bottom line, but as to the show itself, probably not so much. In fact, some say that the break up is a good thing for both as CES and Microsoft have never been that great a fit to begin with.
While the first ultrabooks (lightweight Windows laptops designed to be an alternative to the MacBook Air) are already on the market, and covered in our report on laptops, CES is expected to be the platform's coming out party. Speculation from the CEA and other sources predict that just about every computer maker exhibiting will bring along at least one model, and that as many as 50 new ultrabooks could see the light of day at the show. Sounds like a lot, right? And it is, until you stop and realize that more than 100 tablets were shown at last year's CES -- and we'll probably see just as many this year.
Calling Ivy Bridge a no-show is probably a little unfair as Intel is expected to make the details of the successor to its current Sandy Bridge processors official during CES. However, CNET speculates that you are unlikely to see many -- if any -- ultrabooks or other devices actually running on the new CPUs on the show floor. Originally planned for late 2011, Intel has pushed the ship date on Ivy Bridge back to the second quarter of 2012.
Whither 3D, OLED to get real, and real big
On the TV front, there's no sugar-coating the fact that 2011 wasn't a good year for set makers -- though some, such as Sony, have fared worse than others. Among the disappointments is that 3D has yet to become the TV industry's hoped-for must-have feature, accounting for only around 8 percent of the sets sold in 2011 according to NPD DisplaySearch. Whether or not 3D will ever really catch on remains an open question, but that hasn't stopped manufacturers from continuing to give it the good old college try. We expect to see just as much 3D on the show floor at CES as before, but we also expect to see more of those sets using much-cheaper and more family-friendly passive technology rather than active-shutter technology, albeit at the trade off of a 3D picture that's not as technically perfect (see our report on LCD TVs for more on passive versus active 3D).
There will also be a host of prototype and proof-of-concept products on display, but the belle of the ball will likely be large screen OLED TVs. LG has confirmed that it will have a prototype 55-inch TV at CES, and reports say that Samsung will as well. OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology has lots of advantages over LCD/LED TVs and plasma TVs, including great energy efficiency, thinner cases and deep, rich blacks, but makers have struggled to produce sets with bigger screen sizes or at prices that were remotely palatable. While LG and Samsung might have solved the screen-size issue, affordability is likely to be another matter; but stay tuned as rumors say that both company's will have 55-inch OLED sets on sale by this summer, possibly in time for the 2012 Olympics.
Stay tuned as well for more news on the goings-on at CES as ConsumerSearch will be on the show floor again this year.