Cool gadgets and hot tech that will shine at CES 2013

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Your future home

Of course, apps don’t simply monitor your health; they can also keep tabs on your home. And those figure to be in abundance at CES, too.

The concept of a smart home that responds to the occupant's every whim has long been the stuff of science fiction; but at recent CES gatherings, the world’s largest consumer electronics manufacturers have demoed connected appliances that move us closer to that future. And now many of those appliances can be controlled with a swipe on your smartphone: Look for dozens of examples at next week's show.

Belkin WeMo Baby audio baby monitor

From Bluetooth refrigerator magnets to smart stovetops, home technology is getting more sophisticated—and more affordable. Samsung and LG are expected to showcase advanced appliances, and other companies (including Belkin) plan to display smaller gadgets for the home. Belkin has already picked up a 2013 CES Innovations award for home appliances for its WeMo Baby, an audio baby monitor that uses a smartphone as a receiver.

“You can go back to the ’70s and see magazine covers that talk about the future home and home automation and how our lives will change. For us regular people, it really hasn’t materialized,” says Ohad Zeira, Belkin’s director of product management. “Home automation should be bite-size pieces of very approachable technology that are affordable and easy for everyday consumers to adopt and get them on the first steps on the road to that automation.”

LG Hom-Bot Square robotic vacuum cleaner

Most consumers still can’t afford smart refrigerators, but smaller home devices are now well within reach of many prospective buyers. Both LG and Samsung are exhibiting Roomba-style robotic vacuum cleaners during CES.

Samsung’s Smart Tango Corner Clean features a pop-out brush and the ability to get into hard-to-reach corners. LG’s Hom-Bot Square features improved sensors and longer brushes, plus two cameras that can scan and map the rooms in your house.

Auto innovations

Most trends in car technology have been years in the making. But a few are finally coming to fruition at this year’s CES.

Car makers and third-party manufacturers alike are working on fully integrating technology into vehicles. The automotive portion of CES figures to be heavy on high-resolution displays, touchscreens, voice activation and dictation, and Internet connectivity. Updating your Facebook status from the road will no longer be exclusively a Mercedes Mbrace2 feature.

And processors are not just for PCs anymore. Chips figure prominently in cars these days, and chip makers will showcase electric vehicles that have processors powering their infotainment system, digital instrument clusters, rear-seat entertainment, and driver assistance tech.

Plenty of automakers and third-party manufacturers are focusing on safety. From self-driving car technology to driver assistance tech—including “third eye” cameras and a seat-back driver fatigue monitor—companies are making a serious effort to keep drivers safe (and awake) behind the wheel.

We probably won’t see a new car at CES 2013, however. Audi has been teasing a high-tech interface for its A3 since last year’s CES, but the company will likely postpone the debut for the Detroit Auto Show. Of course, we’ll be at that event later this month, so we’ll keep you updated.

Connected cameras

Wi-Fi cameras will become the norm in 2013; in fact, we may see more connected cameras than non-Wi-Fi cameras in the next 12 months. The tipping point for Wi-Fi-enabled models will mean that many more (if not most) DSLRs, mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, and compact cameras will be able to upload photos and video to social media sites, offload images wirelessly to phones and tablets, and stream high-definition video as you record it.

Nikon Coolpix S800c
Nikon Coolpix S800c

We’ll also see more and more devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Camera and Nikon's Coolpix S800c, two cameras that run the Android operating system and come loaded with mobile apps such as Instagram.

After introducing the SC1630 Smart Camera last January, Polaroid plans to roll out its next Android-based camera during CES 2013, according to Imaging Resource. The new device will feature interchangeable lenses, but little else is known about the upcoming camera—including which version of Android it will run. Current rumors suggest that the camera will have an 18.5-inch megapixel sensor and a 3.5-inch touchscreen. Allegedly leaked images of the camera dubbed it the IM1386.

TV time

This year’s highest-end television sets are likely to offer amazing image quality, but will you be able to afford the best of the best? Ultra HD (or “4K,” as it’s also known) and OLED sets will be more readily available in stores this year—and from what we’ve seen out of both technologies, they’ll put your average 1080p LED or plasma set to shame.

But even though you will theoretically be able to buy these future-of-TV sets in the coming year, they’ll be far too expensive for most consumers to afford, on the order of $8000 to $10,000 a pop.

OLED displays were a major attraction at last year’s CES; and the first OLED sets were supposed to be in stores by the end of 2012. That didn't happen, though, as the 55-inch LG and Samsung OLED prototype displays that we saw on the show floor last year were delayed. Now the first OLED wave is set to hit U.S. shores this year. LG’s first-generation OLED TV is available for preordering, and next week’s CES will surely provide plentiful details about Samsung’s first OLED offering.

LG has announced an 84-inch 4K set that it will display at CES, and in late 2012 Sony announced its first 4K set—another 84-incher with a hard drive preloaded with a few 4K movies. We’re likely to witness big-screen 4K HDTV announcements from Sharp and Samsung at the show.

At those steep prices, most show attendees will limit themselves to window shopping when it comes to top-of-the-line televisions. However, the rise of 4K and OLED may make excellent plasmas, edge-lit LED sets, and even full-array LED HDTVs more affordable, too.

Sounding off

Thanks to their compatibility with computers, smartphones, and tablets, Bluetooth speakers continue to gain popularity despite their indifferent quality when compared to Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and direct-connect speakers. We expect to see many Bluetooth speakers at CES, and indeed some new models have appeared in advance of the show.

In home theater, look for more soundbars and fewer surround-sound A/V receivers to appear at CES. In addition, simple improvements to the built-in speakers on HDTVs seem to be gaining steam. Definitive Technology, GoldenEar Technology, and Philips have all received CES Innovation awards this year for soundbar-type home theater audio systems, and we’ve seen previews of similar products that will debut in Vegas.

Amber Bouman, Loyd Case, Sarah Jacobsson Purewal, Caitlin McGarry, Tim Moynihan, Ian Paul, Melissa Perenson, Armando Rodriguez, Jonathan Seff, and Leah Yamshon of the CES 2013 team contributed to this report.

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