LAS VEGAS—Earlybirds to the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show will face a Monday night choice: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's traditional keynote peek into his company's next products at the Venetian Hotel versus ESPN's live 3D big-screen telecast of the Bowl Championship Series college football game at the Hilton Hotel Theater.
More than 140,000 attended the 2011 International CES. And the choices of what to see and do get even more complicated during the next four days, Jan. 10–13, as 2,700 vendors and hundreds of conference sessions vie for attention from the expected 140,000 visitors. Internet-connected TV will be omnipresent as will wireless tablets. Sony is mum about whether it will preview "the new kind of TV set" that its CEO Sir Howard Stringer teased in the Wall Street Journal last month.
But even without such breakthroughs, CES will be packed with new product and distribution developments, such as the timetable for 21:9 display formats, new 3D TV configurations, and services from members of the Open Mobile Video Coalition (and the programmers/station groups supporting Mobile DTV).
Deals such as LG's pact with Google TV and iterative revelations from Dolby, Intel, Motorola and countless more are on the agenda. There will be plenty of "cloud" products and discussions, including a look at real UltraViolet video distribution. The Consumer Electronics Association, which produces CES, expects 20,000 new products will debut during the 2012 show.
Harangues about spectrum allocation policies will surface, too, as the battle between broadcasting and wireless mobile proponents accelerates. Julius Genachowski will spend an hour onstage Wednesday afternoon for what has become an annual one-on-one conversation between the sitting FCC chairman and CEA President/CEO Gary Shapiro. While the session is officially entitled "The FCC's Regulatory Agenda for 2012," much of those 60 minutes will focus on the plan—backed by CEA—to auction airwaves for wireless broadband services. The spectrum debate will carry into the "Innovations Policy Summit," a conference at which "public and private sector experts" will examine issues encompassing digital copyright, economic growth and environmental regulation.
Frequent keynotes dot the CES agenda, including presentations by Intel Corp. President/CEO Paul Otellini, Ericsson Group President/CEO Hans Vestberg and Qualcomm Chairman/CEO Dr. Paul E. Jacobs. John Donahoe, president/CEO of eBay Inc., will speak at the invitation-only Leaders in Technology banquet on Wednesday night. Daimler AG (Mercedes-Benz) Chairman Dieter Zetsche will also present a keynote speech, part of CES's growing embrace of in-vehicle entertainment and telematics. The automotive focus includes several conference sessions and expanded automotive exhibits—a CES boost for expanding wireless and mobile capacity (including airwaves access).
CES has also become the vehicle for video-related Awards events. The Technical and Engineering Emmy Awards will be handed out at a Thursday, Jan. 12 banquet. Also that night, the new International Academy of Web Television will present its inaugural awards.
One harbinger of the level of innovation: nearly 1,000 entries in the annual CES "Innovations" Design and Engineering Awards completion, 10 percent more than last year. Winners, including a number of tablets and multimedia devices, will be on display at the Venetian Hotel throughout the show.
3DTV was all the buzz at the 2011 CES. Will it be again this year? WHAT ATTENDEES WANT TO SEE
For the first time, the CEA surveyed buyers about what they want to see at CES and 3DTV was near the top of their choices, with about 48 percent citing it, according to Karen Chupka, CEA's senior vice president, Events and Conferences. "There's still a lot of interest" and dealers are "deciding when and what will be right for the consumer market," she said.
Autostereoscopic 3DTVs are coming from several vendors, including LG. Overall, the 3D frenzy will be toned down from the past couple years, although there will still be plenty of 3D options.
"4Kx2K" is also on the CES video menu, delivering images at double the resolution of 1080p displays. Since 4K is not a broadcast standard, the first products may show up in the form of packaged videos and games.
Several exhibitors will show 21:9 format screens, mostly in "future product" showcases. A few, including Vizio and Philips demonstrated the extra-widescreen sets at the 2011 CES, and more are expected next month, although a retail timetable is uncertain since standards are still under review for broadcast and cable TV compatibility. CEA is working on specific issues related to signaling 21:9 format over CEA-861/HDMI, CEA Technology Vice President Brian Markwalter told TV Technology.
LG's support of Google TV comes on the heels of Google's overhaul of the system's software. The revamped version showcases the capabilities of Google subsidiary YouTube, which will host deal-making discussions in meeting rooms near the show floor.
SIZE MATTERS; DISTANCE TOO
As always, CES is about size. The anticipated 140,000 attendees (about equal to last shows's crowd) will include nearly 25 percent who come from outside the U.S., slightly higher than in 2011, according to Chupka. Exhibits will occupy 1.7 million square feet of floor space, up from 1.68 million square feet at the last show.
The expansion means that CES will revert to its two-venue structure, which had been consolidated about a decade ago when the Las Vegas Convention Center added a sprawling South Hall. For 2012, many keynotes and featured presentations—including Genachowski's—will take place at the Venetian Hotel (part of the Sands Exhibition conclave), about two miles from the LVCC. That's a bus or cab ride of undeterminable length in the hectic CES traffic.
Among the dozens of "pavilions" and special focus areas is "Eureka Park" at the Venetian Hotel, where about 70 start-up companies will show off their wares. The National Science Foundation and CNET are sponsoring the section, and CEA offered a "price break" to attract entrepreneurial exhibitors.
"We're very excited about it… to push innovation," Chupka explained. Accompanying the exhibits are sessions about what venture capitalists look for and an "intensive bootcamp on how to prep biz plans."
Another showcase is "Access on the Go," featuring wireless broadband ventures.
"Tablets will be a big play again this year," Chupka said. "It's all about how people can move content around to different devices. There's been talk about it in the past; now we're going to see a lot about how people are creating new business opportunities using content and technology."