Jan. 5, 2010 -- What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?
Not this week.
As tech players big and small gear up for the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, they all hope that what happens in Sin City starting Wednesday, ends up in your living room.
This week, the world's biggest gadget extravaganza kicks off, and thousands of technology companies are expected to show off their best, brightest and (sometimes) most bizarre.
The Consumer Electronics Association, which sponsors the industry tradeshow, expects it to draw about 2,500 exhibitors and 110,000 attendees from around the world. While that attendance level is consistent with last year's, it's still below the 141,000-plus tally from 2007 and previous years.
But analysts, industry watchers and all-around technophiles say that though the event may be more intimate, it will still be full of hot new gadgets and big announcements.
"It's always an opportunity to take the pulse of the industry – to see what technologies and marketplace dynamics are driving new products," said Ross Rubin, a consumer technology analyst for NPD Group and ABCNews.com columnist.
Entertainment, Sports Celebs Lend Star Power
Celebrities from entertainment and sports have signed on to lend their star power.
Drew Carey, host of the CBS game show, "The Price is Right," is expected to appear in support his corporate cousin CNET. Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller and Milwaukee Brewer's baseball player Prince Fielder will make appearances. And rock musician Tommy Lee, actor LeVar Burton and others will also roam the showroom floor this week.
But, as always, the most buzz-worthy stars will be the ones with LCD screens, touch screen displays, multi megapixel sensors and other digital designs.
While analysts think it's unlikely that a single product will grab the lion's share of headlines, they say a single class of products will definitely be an area of focus.
"I don't think you'll be able to turn a corner without running into an ereader, tablet or something of that form factor," said Lance Ulanoff, editor in chief of PC Magazine.
Tablet Computers All the Rage
For the past few months, tech blogs and columnists have been trading rumors about hotly anticipated tablet-like computers that would let users watch video, surf the Web, comfortably read text and more.
Though a "mythical tablet" from Apple has garnered the most attention, analysts say a number of manufacturers are getting ready to enter the market.
Earlier this month, tech blog Slash Gear leaked specs for a multimedia tablet it expects product development firm Notion Ink to launch at CES. According to Slash Gear, the device (rumored to be named Adam) measures 6.3 x 9.8 x 0.6 inches and weighs in at 1.7 lbs.
The screen can be viewed indoors like a color LCD, or brought outside (like Amazon's Kindle e-book reader) with a grayscale mode. Other manufacturers, such as Dell and Lenovo, are also rumored to have tablets up their sleeves.
This week, Freescale Semiconductors announced a $199 7-inch touch screen tablet computer will debut at CES.
Ulanoff said he expects to see ereaders and tablets boasting a range of features, from traditional grayscale e-readers (like Amazon's Kindle) to computer-like tablets with richer functionalities.
Mobile Technology to Be Major Area of Focus
But he also said that mobile technology will be another major area of focus this year.
"Keep in mind for this year's CES how critical the mobile space has become and how central it has become to everything related to technology," he said.
From the success of the iPhone and its thousands of apps for everything to the emerging growth of Google's Android-based mobile phones, consumers are increasingly looking to their phones to provide them with much more than the ability to make a phone call.
While Ulanoff expects innovation from phone manufacturers and potentially some new players in the mobile space, he said he didn't expect any industry-rocking news.
"I don't expect any game-changing phones to emerge," he wrote in a piece for PCMagazine, adding that he expects to see variations on touch phones, new form factors and more mobile applications.
3-D Technology Back and Better Than Ever
And while 3-D technology was a major theme of last year's CES, most industry watchers say that, especially after the success of James Cameron's blockbuster "Avatar," it will attract even more attention this year.
"Last year, it was more of a technology demonstration, this year it's a product plan," NPD Group's Rubin told ABCNews.com.
Last year, he said there were more questions about the source and content. This year, major manufacturers, such as Sony and Panasonic, have lined up behind the idea and industry groups have made strides in standardizing the technology, he said.
In addition to new TVs, analysts expect to see different approaches to 3-D eyewear and even content.
Hunting for Unusual and Innovative at CES
But as much as the Consumer Electronics Show is about trends, it's about surprises.
Though the biggest names in technology will be there – your Microsofts, Motorolas, Sonys and Samsungs – a number of small names will be hoping to make a splash.
The Consumer Electronics Association said a record 330 new exhibitors will showcase their innovations this year and for the first time all exhibitors will be in one hall.
Ulanoff said finding things off the beaten path, like cameras built into underwater goggles, is always one of the week's most entertaining experiences. And, this year's more intimate event might make that easier.
"They used to put the innovators in another convention hall. Now, they're all in one place, it raises the profile for some of those really unusual and innovative products," he said.