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CES 2012: 10 Burning Questions
By Swanni

Washington, D.C. (January 8, 2012) -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will give the pre-show keynote address Monday night kicking off the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. With Microsoft saying it will be its last appearance at the gadgetfest, the Ballmer keynote likely will be more symbolic than one of substance.

Like Microsoft at CES, the CE industry is changing, reassessing past projects and future goals. Consequently, companies are getting more creative and entering fields they once feared. For instance, tablet/mobile king Apple is now facing stiff competition from a host of companies, even low-cost TV maker Vizio. And Apple itself is reportedly preparing to launch a company-branded HDTV. What was once black is now black and white.

And speaking of the TV category, manufacturers are desperately trying to morph the traditional TV by adding features like 3D and Internet capability to compel cost-conscious consumers to buy. While the new products have been met with mixed success at best, CE companies hope that better marketing and (perhaps) better versions of the devices will ultimately change consumer attitudes.

But always looking to plan B, TV makers are also rolling out new sets (OLED and 4K) featuring possibly revolutionary picture technologies. Although they will initially carry hefty price tags, TV makers believe they could boost consumer interest in televisions as a category, which could lead to greater sales of all sets.

What the CES attendees -- and the tech media -- say about these sets could go a long way to whether they succeed. Which is why, by Wednesday, you might see a few TV company executives walking around the show floor looking as if they've had a few restless nights.

Add it all up and it should be a fascinating 2012 Consumer Electronics Show.

So, as you make your way to the City of Lost Wages, here are 10 big TV questions that could be answered during the conference.

1. Will No-Glasses 3D TVs Be a Hit?
Toshiba this week will showcase a new 55-inch 3D TV that does not require glasses to experience the 3D effect. Surveys -- and sales numbers -- have sent a strong message that consumers are not enamored with home 3D, particularly if they have to wear the specs. Toshiba is hoping that the glasses-free set might persuade folks to give the concept a second try. But if the tech media walks away from Toshiba's booth unimpressed, it could be another nail in 3D TV's coffin.

2. Will 4K HDTV Really Look 4 Times Better?
Several TV makers, including LG, are expected to display new 4K HDTVs which purport to offer a picture resolution four times better than current HDTVs. But will that claim stand up on the show floor? Will attendees say "Wow" when they see a 4K HDTV? Or, just "Oh." With price tags likely to start at $10,000, 4K makers better hope for a lot of Wow.

3. Dish Network Unveils a New DVR; But What About DIRECTV?
The two satellite TV services often engage in competitive sword play at CES, trying to out-top each other with new announcements. However, DIRECTV has been a bit quieter here in the last few years while Dish apparently still sees CES as a great forum to bring attention to new products. With that in mind, Dish reportedly will unveil here a new Broadband service and a DVR that can automatically record all major network programming in primetime. Will DIRECTV surprise us by offering something as interesting?

4. Will Apple Finally Introduce An Actual TV?
No, not this week anyway. Apple skips CES every year. While there have been rumors that Apple will partner with a TV maker to introduce a set that comes with everything but the kitchen sink, it's likely that it will not launch until 2013.

5. Will TV Makers Introduce Lower-Cost TVs
No. While consumers are clearly voting with their wallets and buying lower-cost sets over new feature-laden, expensive TVs, CE companies (and retail partners) make their profits from higher-margin products. At CES, TV makers will want to give the biggest spotlight to the biggest, most expensive sets they have a chance to sell.

6. Will the OLED TV Capture Everyone's Fancy?
LG (again; busy folks these days) will showcase a 55-inch OLED TV. That may not seem like an exceptionally large set, but to date, the biggest OLED set has been Sony's 11-inch model.

set, which is based on the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology, is just one-eight of an inch thick, compared to today's Plasma and LCD flat-screen sets which measure up to four inches thick. The set promises to offer a better picture than today's Plasmas and LCD/LEDs as well. But because of its thin panel, TV manufacturers have had difficulty developing an OLED set at a size that would appeal to consumers.

The LG 55-inch set has been getting great media buzz prior to the show. If it emerges as a CES top attraction, it could set the stage for OLED to overtake LCD, LED and Plasma for the top spot in TV sales by 2014, or earlier.

7. Can Google TV Make a Comeback?
Google TV, designed to make it easier to search for programming, has been a bust, largely because it hasn't made it easier to do almost anything. Users have complained loudly that Google TV's navigation feature is hard to master. But Google TV is back at CES with a slew of new TV partners and a promise that it has worked out the kinks. We'll see.

8. Will Microsoft Hand Out a Parting Gift?
As we noted at the top, this will be Microsoft's last appearance at CES, at least in a formal way. So will the software titan surprise everyone by introducing a sensational new gadget of some kind? Hard to see the company just walking quietly into the sunset without doing something that will make people remember it. Right?

9. How Many Apps?
With Smart TVs and other smart devices exploding onto the scene, app makers will be everywhere here, proclaiming to have the Next Big Thing. But will there will be a new app that indeed could revolutionize the Smart TV concept? That could compel consumers to overcome their technological fears and connect their sets to a home network?

10. Will There Be a Next Big Thing?
Yes, will there be a new 'Next Big Thing' -- of any kind? In past shows, whether it was tablets, 3D, HDTV, some product always emerged with the tag, 'The Next Big Thing.' Pundits said the device would revolutionize the industry, if not the culture itself.

But this year, the early buzz has been that that product doesn't exist, at least
not here. There is no 'Next Big Thing' on the horizon.

Somehow, I find that hard to believe. Something tells me that by week's end, the media will be talking about...yes, the Next Big Thing.

Swanni will be attending this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Come to TVPredictions.com often for his reports -- and check out his comments on Twitter at http://twitter.com/swannionhd

What do you think? Offer your comments below!

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