If there's one unifying theme at CES 2010, it's as follows: Innovation is everywhere. From 3-D high-definition televisions to slick e-readers, powerful smartphones and a bevy of streaming media devices, the big watchwords this year are versatility, interconnectivity and value. Just a few items that already seem to be emerging as running themes this year based on early preview events, press conferences and, of course, buzz among critics and everyday gadget enthusiasts alike:
1. 3-D, LED and Connected Television
LG, Samsung, Panasonic: You can barely turn around without bumping into a manufacturer pushing an LED (or, even scarier, 3-D) HDTV line as the next big thing. Thankfully, support for wireless internet is also creeping into more sets, letting you access widgets (bite-sized programs that run right on your TV) straight from your living room or stream over content from your PC. While the jury's still out on 3-D, and the need to wear goofy glasses to enjoy it, newswires are abuzz with stories of broadcasters like ESPN and Discovery launching compatible networks. Truthfully, we're more excited about Skype making its debut on sets, possibly bringing casual videoconferencing to mainstream prominence, and turning your couch into a communications hub after years of unfulfilled promise. Companies like Toshiba, with its Cell TV sets, are also planning to offer models with 1080p broadcast and Internet content upscaling, plus built-in hard drives and wireless 802.11n support, as well as the ability to convert 2D content from movies to video games into full 3-D.
2. Tablet PCs and Netbooks
From Asus to Lenovo, everyone's pushing the low-cost, portable systems in slicker, even more transportable formats, albeit many now with touchscreens and beefier processors and graphics cards. More PC for less money, plus you can easily take notes on it and whiz through airport security? That's one trend we can get behind.
3. Portable Projectors
Aimed at business users with presentations to give, a number of companies are pushing portable projector models for BlackBerry and iPhone handsets. Surprisingly capable, these gizmos should be suitable for everyday use, if not pitching million-dollar ad buys, given their decent, if not overwhelming, brightness levels and picture quality. Still, what do you expect from a device that fits in your pocket?
4. E-Readers and E-Book Players
While still expensive and hard to justify as a purchase in the face of software platforms like Blio, which bring rich media content (books, magazines, comics, newspapers, etc.) to all platforms, not just dedicated single-function devices, there's no getting around it: e-readers are everywhere at CES this year in color, touchscreen and other exciting new forms, and genuinely threating to upend the publishing industry within three years, if not completely reduce the newsstand to irrelevance in the next 12-18 months.
5. Streaming Media Extenders
We've still yet to see a single killer app in this category capable of supporting most major multimedia formats and convincing even the staunchest technophobe from buying in with its idiot-proof setup and interface. But it's inevitable that one will arrive at some point, and make streaming audio and video more common than not in the near future, given the preponderance of companies looking to connect your TV, Blu-ray player, receiver, etc. to your home network or the internet.