CES isn't what it used to be. That's a mantra we've heard year after year. With major players like Google, Apple and Microsoft choosing to throw their own lavish product launches and specialized events like Mobile World Congress vying for our attention, it's hard to argue that things haven't changed. However, come Monday, that mantra will fade to a quiet whisper as the onslaught of new releases and product demos flood the pages of Engadget. The formula may have shifted, but there is still plenty to see. In an attempt to prepare you for the next seven days, here's a primer on what we're likely to see at CES 2014.

Audio

When it comes to audio at CES, it's truly a broad-reaching category. Bluetooth speakers, headphones, soundbars, home entertainment systems and personal audio devices all seek to tickle our ears. What can we expect this year? We already know that synth-maker Korg is releasing a USB DAC, taking a step into the consumer audio side of things and hoping to make your digital music sound better at the same time. We're also hearing word of exciting new products and collaborations coming from 50 Cent's SMS headphone brand. Based on previous CES form, and the fact it's throwing a rock-heavy party for the show, we can divine that Harman Kardon (which also means JBL and AKG) will likely be releasing a bevy of new products, too. Brands like LG, Samsung and Sony are also fond of releasing new home/personal audio gear at CES, so don't be surprised if there's a new valve amp, soundbar or a slew of Bluetooth accessories from the big boys. Other audio players to watch include Sennheiser, Blue Microphones, IK Multimedia and Skullcandy -- all of which have existing product lines currently ripe for a refresh.

If there are going to be any trends, we're guessing the onward march toward everything wireless will continue to gain momentum.

If there are going to be any trends, we're guessing the onward march toward everything wireless will continue to gain momentum. In real terms, this could mean more networked home audio, plus Bluetooth 4.0 and aptX (a codec that delivers better audio over Bluetooth) support finding their way into an ever-increasing number of products. There's another wireless-audio technology that we'll hopefully see more of as well. WiSA broke commercial cover recently with Bang & Olufsen, and thanks to its high resolution (24-bit, 96kHz) will be a favorite with audiophiles. Lastly, 2014 could also be the year that bone conduction finally crosses over into the mainstream. It's been around for a while, and isn't a stranger to CES, but with Google Glass using the technology, it's increasingly likely to trickle down into even more mainstream devices over the next 12 months. -- James Trew

Auto

As the concept of a connected car has quickly morphed from exception to the norm in the last few years, so too has their presence at CES. Last year saw QNX showing off a seriously tricked-out Bentley with some of the best uses of displays and audio gear we've ever seen anywhere near a car. Audi's self-parking and piloted-driving demos were equally amazing, and for eager development houses, both GM and Ford showed off platforms for app creation.

CES 2014 is being touted as a record year for automotive tech demonstrations with nine manufacturers grabbing a combined 140,000 square feet of floor space -- up 25 percent from last year.

CES 2014 is being touted as a record year for automotive tech demonstrations with nine manufacturers grabbing a combined 140,000 square feet of floor space -- up 25 percent from last year. The CEA estimates that factory-installed extras alone will amount to $11 billion getting stuffed into the pockets of the auto industry in 2014. This year's show will undoubtedly feature piles of the traditional auto-entertainment kit from notables like Pioneer and JVC Kenwood, but what we're more excited about is the next wave of auto infotainment. For example, Audi and Google are expected to announce an in-car partnership spun around a built-in Android platform rather than your existing phone. We'll also be on the lookout for in-car connectivity enhancements and, of course, as much autonomous stuff as we can get our cameras behind. -- Sean Cooper

Cameras

Trade shows like CP+ in Japan, Photokina in Germany and even NAB in Las Vegas have a heavier digital imaging focus than the electronics smorgasbord that is CES, but if you're after a new point-and-shoot or a refreshed mid-range camcorder, you're going to want to tune in next week. CES 2014 is sure to bring a bounty of new pocket cameras -- from $99 kid-friendly shooters to video cams with top-notch image stabilization, there's going to be a lot of fresh gear on the floor. As always, some manufacturers will boast about megapixel counts while others will focus on advanced optics, WiFi, portable designs and other perks like built-in apps and an Android OS, so be on the lookout for the features that matter most to you. Keep in mind that image quality can vary dramatically, even between two cameras with the same size sensors and identical pixel counts, so you'll want to dive beyond the camera's resolution and really get a feel for what's under the hood before you pull the trigger.

Don't be surprised if camcorders and action cams steal the spotlight at this year's show.

Don't be surprised if camcorders and action cams steal the spotlight at this year's show. With a bigger-than-ever push for 4K TVs, electronics makers that dabble in multiple product categories -- Panasonic, Samsung, Sony -- will likely peddle a new generation of 4K-capable video cameras. We expect to see dozens, if not hundreds of new ruggedized models this month, too, from industry leaders like GoPro and smaller Chinese manufacturers alike. It's important to keep in mind that CES is very much a consumer-focused event, so don't be discouraged if you don't see a full suite of high-end mirrorless cameras and DSLRs -- those will likely debut at imaging events later in the year. And, with the Winter Olympics just around the corner, you may even catch photographers using 2014 flagships before they're formally introduced. -- Zach Honig

Gaming

Let's not kid ourselves: CES -- at this point, anyway -- is basically a trade show for new televisions. New phones are unveiled at their own events or at Mobile World Congress, as are tablets; and gaming waits for E3. One of last year's biggest stories was -- no joke -- a smart fork. Yes, the thing you eat food with. That kind of fork.

Amazingly, another one of the biggest stories from last year came from a long-established player in the gaming industry that hadn't shown up at CES in years past: Valve. The Half-Life maker's new project, "Steam Machines," still didn't have a name at CES 2013, but we did get to see some prototypes of Valve's vision for PC gaming in the living room. If you were into that, you'll be glad to hear that Valve's returning to CES in 2014. The company has big plans to show off the first wave of third-party Steam Machines arriving in the coming year. We've already had a taste of what's in store, and the future looks delightfully subdued. No neon underglow! Hooray!

Color us unsurprised if something PlayStation-related is announced next week.

Another recent entrant to CES (and to gaming in general) is the Oculus Rift, and 2014's CES has the folks from Oculus showing off the latest iteration of their completely insane virtual reality headset. We're told that what's being shown isn't quite the final model, but it'll have a heckuva lot more bells and whistles than the current dev kit (depth tracking, anyone?). It's likely that the latest iteration of the dev kit will also sport the HD resolution we tried at E3.

You'll notice we haven't mentioned Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft just yet, and that's because all three regularly skip CES in terms of gaming announcements. This year may be different, with Sony CEO (and former PlayStation head) Kaz Hirai giving the big keynote. And hey, wouldn't you know it; the PlayStation 4 just came out a few months ago. Color us unsurprised if something PlayStation-related is announced next week. The other two major console players, though? It looks like they're both saving up for GDC in March and E3 in June.

And of course, companies like NVIDIA, Mad Catz and Razer will have new wares to show off. Of those three -- from what we're hearing -- it sounds like Razer has the most surprises up its sleeve. We'll all know much, much more come Monday. -- Ben Gilbert

Home Theater

CES 2014 for home theater and HDTV can likely be summed up in just two characters: 4K. Any manufacturer that wasn't pushing Ultra HD televisions will be, and the ones that were will have many new models to show. Samsung, LG and Sony have led the way with high-res TV displays over the last year, and we're anticipating that this year, many considering a mid-range or high-end HDTV will have to seriously consider Ultra HD options as their prices continue to fall. Second to price, the biggest remaining question for the Ultra HD push is content, and so far, we haven't heard much from the Blu-ray camp, broadcasters and many streamers. Netflix is expected to launch streaming in 4K via embedded apps -- who else is on board, and when, is something we hope to have answered next week.

Any manufacturer that wasn't pushing Ultra HD televisions will be, and the ones that were will have many new models to show.

Of course, HDTV tech favorites of the past, like 3D and smart TV, will also be around, with the former possibly boosted by new high-res TVs, and the latter at a crossroads. Despite Apple's traditional CES absence, rumors it will make a full assault on the living room cast a large shadow, while industry players like Amazon are also reportedly prepping entries, and new versions of the Xbox and PlayStation have already arrived. The Google TV platform is dead as a brand, meaning we'll find out if "Android with Google Services" can thrive, or if the smart TV vision will be reshaped around mobile-first tech like Chromecast and AirPlay.

The other display technology with something to prove is OLED. The first large OLED TVs arrived last year, promising better image quality than LCD or plasma could provide, but we still haven't seen them on sale in sizes other than 55-inches or at a reasonable price. Now that OLED is here, can/will it become a mainstream option? If 2014 is the year, we'll know very soon. -- Richard Lawler

Household

Last year's CES was a relatively quiet one for household upgrades, but a new alliance announced in the run-up to CES might blow open the world of connected white goods, ambient lights and... that router over there in the corner. The AllSeen Alliance includes LG, Panasonic and Qualcomm, all companies that are attending this year's Vegas show. There will also be a lot of smaller outfits showing off chipsets and systems that hope to build a bridge between your wireless network, TV and smart devices. Smart security hub maker (and recent crowdfunding success story) Canary will be showing off its very latest model -- and we could well see other companies looking to offer cheaper security and smart home hubs, up against pricier systems from multinational corporations. Things could get interesting... and hopefully cheaper.
Both Samsung and LG continue to forge ahead with their smart appliances, even if most customers aren't biting just yet.

Both Samsung and LG continue to forge ahead with their smart appliances, even if most customers aren't biting just yet. In a recent briefing, Samsung cited the rise in smart appliances and smart homes as another factor in its push for a unified "Samsung sound." So, perhaps it will have something to surprise us with again. We saw the surprisingly well-envisioned Evernote fridge last time around -- what could the next team-up be? Well, rival LG has already announced that it's teamed up with Line for its incoming 2014 range of home appliances. In HomeChat, you'll even be able to use Siri-esque natural language within the messaging app to schedule and adjust settings, for example, ordering your fridge into power-saving mode when you're on vacation. Or attending a weeklong trade show. -- Mat Smith

Laptops and Hybrids

It's only so often that laptops have their moment at CES. Back in 2009, we saw a glut of netbooks, and then, in 2012, Ultrabooks stole the show. By all accounts, it looks like 2014 will be another in-between year, with many existing machines receiving modest design tweaks and fresh processors (that's right, some models still haven't been updated with Haswell). And of the laptops that are coming out, many of them don't even look like laptops! Expect to see even more notebook/tablet hybrids, some with low-power Atom processors that would be more at home inside a tablet than a proper PC. In some cases, the term "PC" isn't even appropriate: One manufacturer is releasing just a single Chromebook, and nothing else.

By all accounts, it looks like 2014 will be another in-between year, with many existing machines receiving modest design tweaks and fresh processors.

Strangest of all, many of the laptops being announced at CES aren't even for consumers, but rather, business users. One major player is announcing all enterprise products, while another is planning to unveil a new business Ultrabook. To the extent that we now get to bring our own devices to the IT guys, this stuff matters. We can't guarantee a business notebook will ever win our Best in Show award, but we'll be reporting live nonetheless, getting hands-on as soon as we can. -- Dana Wollman

Smartphones and Wearables

With Mobile World Congress around the corner, several manufacturers choose not to release their latest flagships in the midst of the CES chaos. We don't plan on seeing much (if anything) from big companies like Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, BlackBerry, Apple (obviously) and HTC. Samsung will probably be more focused on tablets than phones, but we wouldn't be shocked if it shows a mid-range (or low-end) Galaxy or two in its booth. Sony usually brings a decent showing to CES, and we've heard rumors that we'll see the international Z1 mini (Amani) and a special version of the Z1 on T-Mobile. LG's reportedly brewing up a 4.7-inch G2 mini, but we're not clear if we should expect it in Vegas next week or at MWC next month. However, we're pretty confident that LG's curved device, the G Flex, will be announced for at least three US carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint) at CES.

Speaking of which, AT&T's annual Developer Summit happens to begin two days before CES in Las Vegas, so we can expect to see some new handsets there. T-Mobile will also show up in a big way by unveiling its newest UnCarrier initiative. We haven't heard any whispers coming out of Verizon's or Sprint's camps, although we wouldn't be overly surprised to see the latter introduce more phones (in addition to the G Flex) compatible with the network's tri-band LTE service, Spark. You'll also see Meizu's intro into the US market, which hopefully means we'll be able to purchase a 128GB MX3 flagship device with US-friendly frequencies. Lastly, we're hoping to gaze upon some new smartphones with 2K resolution and prototype devices with bendable or foldable displays.

In contrast to smartphones, wearables will likely make a huge showing at CES.

On the processor front, be on the lookout for more chipset manufacturers (such as Qualcomm and Broadcom) introducing products with 64-bit support. Qualcomm's already taken the initiative with the Snapdragon 410, an SoC destined for low-cost Android and Windows Phone devices, but this is likely just foreshadowing of higher-end chips with 64-bit support. We're hoping Samsung will show off next-gen Exynos SoCs that are more efficient than the current Octa-core models, as well as its recently announced DDR4 chip. Sources have also told Engadget that we should expect to see Tegra 5/Project Logan next week.

In contrast to smartphones, wearables will likely make a huge showing at CES. Pebble teased that it has something exciting planned for the show, although it didn't offer up any specifics. Epson's expected to unveil new products in the wearables space, Archos has confirmed that it'll be showing off a series of "Pebble-like" watches and ZTE just announced the "BlueWatch," which will offer fitness features as well as standard phone controls. These are just the big names, but countless other exhibitors are expected to show off their latest wearables at the show: Neptune, Cookoo, Burg, Dennco and Kronoz are just a few examples of newer players hoping to make a big splash next week. It's not all just watches though -- be on the lookout for the latest from Oculus and similar virtual reality gaming wearables like the Avegant Glyph. -- Brad Molen

Tablets

Not everyone needs a 4K tablet. And by that, we mean pretty much only graphic designers and architects have probable use cases for it. As shocking and welcome a surprise as Panasonic's 20-inch stunner was last year, it's not really a mass-market product -- the Toughpad's size alone makes that point all too evident. That doesn't mean we won't see a few more of these pricey, Ultra High-Definition tablets crop up at CES 2014. With 4K growing ever closer to becoming a commercial reality and not just a trade show buzzword, compatible devices are becoming more and more prevalent. So, it's entirely possible manufacturers will want to get their own 4K tablets out there just to say "me too." But that's not where you should be realistically focusing your attention or dollars for now.
If any company's poised to dazzle us with an unexpected whizz-bang tablet announcement, our money's on Samsung.

As past shows have proven, CES isn't much of a showcase for groundbreaking tablet tech, thus our expectations for any big reveals from major players on the Android and Windows fronts are meager at best. That said, you're likely to see manufacturers experimenting more with hybridized tablet designs and detachables. The bulk of that will probably come from the Windows 8.1 portfolio, seeing as how manufacturers don't seem to take as many risks with Android slates, screen size excepted. And what of Android? Well, with Google's latest version of Android focused on scaling down for lesser-specced devices, there could be a cavalcade of actually usable, no-name slates running the OS that redefines our perception of low-cost tablets.

Of course, there's always the element of surprise. If any company's poised to dazzle us with an unexpected whizz-bang tablet announcement, our money's on Samsung. How that could "play" out, we're not entirely sure, but we direct you to accessories like Samsung's GamePad as a possible wink and nod to the company's future direction. Galaxy Game, anyone? Or, we could simply be in store for more iterations of its Galaxy Tab and Note lines. With Samsung's shotgun spray approach to gadgets, you never know. -- Joseph Volpe

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