Each year begins for technologists and geeks with the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for CES. It's easy to write off this massive technology trade show as an outdated, overrated, and overhyped gizmo-fest. But I think it's incredibly valuable, and often results in real marketplace knowledge ahead of the curve.
That said, I go into CES each year with some insights and some crystal ball gazing that often helps me focus on what I'm expecting to see. This year, 2012 CES has a handful of trends that will impact media, content creators, and devices.
Here are FIVE CES PREDICTIONS you can expect to see come true in Las Vegas this year.
TVs get sexy. Expect Samsung, Vizio, Panasonic, Sony, and more to come out with sleeker, brighter, more awesome screens. A related new technology called 4K is expected to greatly improve image resolutions. While it's still early on, there will be some new voice control gizmos trying to get a jump on the Siri TV product that Apple is rumored to have on its way to market. However, as always, no Apple at CES. Last year the big buzz was 3-D on the heels of Avatar. But the glasses were expensive and proprietary to the set manufacturer, which kept customers away. Expect a new batch of passive 3-D glasses that are cheap (like the ones in the movie theaters) and interchangeable from set to set. LG is planning to offer 4K HDTVs that include passive 3-D technology. TVs with 4K resolution will be able to deliver full HD resolution with the passive 3-D. Maybe 3-D will break out this year? Could be.
Game platforms vie for dominance. Nintendo and Xbox both promise new home-media friendly devices that will put them even deeper into the battle for living room dominance. Expect more improvements with Microsoft Kinect as a device-control interface for your home TV.
The year of the app. There's huge jump in the number of web-connected TVs shipping this year, from 60 million last year up to 80 million this year. And Adobe has come out swinging, saying it wants to be the dominant provider of technology in the new world of app-centric viewing.
The cable-cutting dilemma. While the buzz on cable cutting has been huge, the reality of life without cable TV has proven to be a bit of a programming minefield. This CES will see a series of shifts in the space, with Boxee shifting from a computer-centric model to a hardware+software solution. Roku will continue to build a base, with content deals and its new "Streaming Stick" looking to grow its 2.5 million customer user-base. Tivo's offerings or new gizmos are under wraps (or nonexistent) this year. But the dark-horse candidate for most disruptive new technology may come from a small company, Syncbak. Syncbak founder Jack Perry is no stranger to Web TV, having launched TitanTV.com at CES back in 2000. Perry says the big guys have it all wrong, and that web video isn't about search. Instead, he says, "content should search for consumers."
"We're taking broadcasters OTT in less than 5 minutes at no cost," Perry told me. He claims 50 TV stations reaching 22 million households have been testing the technology over the past year. Syncbak says Spokane, Wash., will launch in January with several TV stations. They'll use Syncbak to distribute live broadcasts to viewers' mobile devices. The app will also include two national broadcast channels (but Syncbak won't reveal who they are).
Laptops will make way for Ultrabooks. Mobile computing will get lighter and thinner as Ultrabook manufactures like Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, HP, and others hustle to catch up with Apple's popular Macbook Air product line. Intel is driving the Ultrabook push, but it won't be till Windows 8 shows up that you'll see really snappy performance. So, Apple still has a running head start. Oh, did I mention that there's no Apple booth at CES? Yet their impact is everywhere.
Expect CES 2012 to be a hotbed of disruptive technologies, changing screens and devices, and programmers looking to protect their existing revenues while getting a piece of the future.
Good times in Vegas, if you're willing to place a bet or two.