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5 questions about the future of tech that CES 2014 will answer

By the time you read this sentence, thousands of technology companies, analysts, and journalists from around the world will be descending upon Las Vegas for the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, which will consume most of the week to come. Intense, grotesque, engulfing, and utterly unlike any other trade show in consumer technology, CES provides the world its first glance at what’s to come during the 12 months ahead and beyond. 

CES 2014 promises its share of big product reveals. But more important than that, it gives us a look at the industry as a whole, a chance to see whether the fleet that make the various categories of gadgets, sensors, systems, and gizmos is headed in the right direction or off into Lala Land. Here are the five big questions I hope to have answered at CES 2014.

Will wearable tech be something people want to wear?

The elephant in the room, wearable tech is set to dominate CES 2014. Smartwatches, fitness bands, smartglasses, and even pet health and activity trackers are waiting on deck, ready to grab a piece of the estimated $19 billion we’re expected to spend on wearable gadgets over the next four years.

Pebble CESFitness bands have already proven themselves useful, attractive tools for those of us trying to get in shape. But smartwatches and smartglasses? Not so much. And yet, they hold the most potential. We want smartwatches and smartglasses to be as awesome as we know they should be. And CES 2014 should, at the very least, clue us into whether they can deliver on that promise.

Pebble has a head start in the smartwatch niche, and we expect some big announcements from the company at this year’s CES. Also keep an eye out for Sony, Archos, and China’s ZTE. 

Will 4K break out of its luxury niche?

Call it 4K, call it Ultra HD, call it whatever you like – the next generation of high-definition video will steal its share of the spotlight at CES 2014. Problem? This super-resolution technology – we’re talking four times the resolution of 1080p displays – remains both expensive and far less useful than standard HD devices. For example, Samsung’s 110-inch Ultra HD TV, which debuted at CES 2013, costs as much as a house. And so far, there is relatively little content available at a 4K resolution … meaning there’s no need to plunk down $150,000 on a first-generation Ultra HD television unless you want to show off your bank account.

Samsung 110 Ultra HDThat said, the 4K/Ultra HD horizon is broadening. Sony and Panasonic are both expected to show off 4K televisions at CES 2014, and we can count on Samsung and LG to up their Ultra HD games as well. And on the content side, none other than YouTube will show off its 4K video streaming powers (using Google’s royalty-free VP9 codec, which could send the content-side offerings into high gear). Oh, and Netflix.

Word on the street is that 4K television shipments are set to jump from the 1.9 million units sold in 2013 to more than 12 million this year. We’ll look to see if the prices and content ecosystems are there to support that speculation.

Does 3D printing have what it takes to go mainstream?

This won’t be the first year 3D printing companies made themselves known at CES. But it will be the first year that this burgeoning DIY industry takes the show by storm. According to Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (the trade group that puts on CES), we should expect a flood of 3D printing companies at CES 2014. The category even has its own area on the show floor, the 3D Printing TechZone.

MakerBotBig players include MakerBot, the most mainstream of the bunch, which is holding a major press conference on Monday, alongside major names like Sony and Samsung. And 3D Systems, one of the industry’s most well-established players, will debut a dozen new products that expand into new areas of 3D printing, including edibles and ceramics.

All of this sounds awesome, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what 3D printing has to offer. Still, we have yet to see this so-called revolutionary technology take off among everyday consumers. But something tells us 2014 will be a big year for this category – and we’ll get the best sense of whether our gut reaction is right in on the show floor at CES.

Can the dream of a connected home become a reality?

Since the 1960s, Americans have dreamed of a home that handles all the arduous chores of life for us – or at least makes them a bit easier through technology. And for years, CES attendees have told us that the “connected home” (one piece of the so-called Internet of Things – microwaves, dishwashers, thermostats, and anything else that can be outfitted with an Internet connection) will take over modern life … any day now.

nest learning thermostatSo far, it hasn’t. But it’s started to. Along with an array Smart TVs, companies like Nest, which recently debuted a “smart” smoke detector, and Philips’ Hue lightbulbs have edged the connected home dream further into the realm of reality. And others are swooping in, attempting to tap into the $10 billion pool of money consumers are expected to pump into this niche in 2014.

But the dream of a connected home isn’t just about new products – it’s about creating technological standards that will allow all of these Internet-connected devices to talk to one another and to us. A group calling itself AllSeen Alliance is trying to do just that, and we’ll be looking to see whether its influence is enough to bring the connected home future out of the realm of 60s science fiction.

Can CES remain the center of the consumer tech universe?

This question has popped up during every CES for the past few years. Thanks to a growing number of big brands holding their own Apple-style press conferences to unveil flagship products throughout the year, and the ease of sending out a buzzy press blast via blogs and PR emails, many companies have decided in the recent past to simply use CES as a place to showcase already unveiled products.

What this means, effectively, is that enthusiasm for CES has waned. We – meaning those of us in the tech press who make the trek to Las Vegas each year for the sole purpose of reporting on the next big things – want to be blown away. We want to tell you about all the amazing things 21st century consumer technology has to offer.

Something in my gut tells me this year will be different. The Big Boys of tech – Samsung, LG, Google, Apple, Sony, etc – may choose to save the best for their own shindigs. But a new batch of technology companies, smaller brands like Pebble and MakerBot, have begun to fill in the gap. The tech they are creating is something new. And that adds a cup of gas to the fire.

If I had to make one prediction for CES 2014, I’d say this is the year we start to get excited about our yearly journey to the desert once again.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.