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4 tech trends we’re going to see blow up at CES 2015

For geeks around the world, the annual Consumer Electronics Show is like Christmas wrapped up in a present and given to you a few weeks after Christmas. Miles and miles of gadgets, an early look at stuff that won’t be available for months, a taste of tech to come.

It’s awesome.

It’s also astonishingly overwhelming, with tens of thousands of visitors, miles of exhibitors, and thousands upon thousands of things. But there are common threads. Here are the big ones I expect to make headlines at the show.

4K Ultra High Definition

CES is always dominated by televisions, with enormous displays from Panasonic and Sony and Samsung and LG and Vizio and on, and on. Walls of TVs. Stacks of TVs. Entire rooms built from TVs. Expect to see more of the same this year, although all manufacturers will be pushing 4K, a new spec for sets that have 8.2 million pixels, versus the 2 million or so in ordinary HDTVs.

That’s just a ton of pixels.

So what do all those extra pixels mean for picture quality? They make sharper lines, smoother curves and lots more detail. But it also means that you can sit closer to your TV without seeing the little pixels, and you can get a really large TV that looks just as sharp as a smaller one.

LG’s 2015 LCD TVs with quantum-dots

Beyond the sets themselves, expect to see a slew of announcements from content providers and distributors about their plans to support this new format. Can you get 4K from Time Warner now? Or from NBC? Or from Dish? I’m expecting a slew of announcements from all of these companies, if not an actual way to get those streams. Remember, extra pixels means dramatically more data, and some serious technical challenges.

Still, if HBO doesn’t find a way to stream me ultra-high definition in time for Game of Thrones Season 5, there will be hell to pay. I want to really see the blood spatter. I’m weird that way.

Doorbells, lightbulbs, smoke detectors

By far the biggest transformation at CES 2015 will be the sheer number of ordinary household items that will be smartened (and hopefully improved, not just digitized). The Internet of Things has exploded over the past year, and CES promises to showcase even more.

From coffee pots you can check remotely, to smart sprinkler systems that won’t water your lawn after a rainfall, your entire house will be online before you know it.

Bruvelo smart, WiFi connected coffee brew system

But which will you choose from the dizzying array? And how will these things communicate? A variety of companies are spearheading programs to get your lightbulbs talking to that garage-door opener, but none has yet proven to be the leader. Lowes and Belkin and Zigbee and Nest and Alljoyn … each pushing more than just a product, but a platform.

If I were these companies, I’d plan on shouting from the rooftops about compatibility. After all, buy one smart device and you’ll probably want to stay within the same ecosystem, no?

Wearables for your wrist, your feet, your chest, your butt…

“Yeah, yeah,” you’re saying. I’m right there with you. The barrage of stories about wearable this and smartwatch that is enough to put anyone to sleep. I’m expecting this category of product to become 100 percent more useful over the course of the upcoming year — and we’ll hear all about it at CES.

For one thing, expect to see dramatically smarter devices. The Microsoft Band is the first of a next-generation class of wrist-worn wearables, with more sensors than it knows what to with. Frankly, this device has more sensors than it can hold; the Band is fat, and uncomfortable to wear. But it’s smart. It’s so smart. And competitors will smarten up to join it, with full-time heart-rate monitors joining step counters to make these things infinitely better.

Athos wearable sensor gear
Athos wearable sensor gear

Fitbit showed us the Charge and Surge back in October, two new versions of the company’s popular wearables that include heart-rate monitors, but that maintain a premium design. I’m guessing we’ll learn more about these at the show. Now that’s a smartband.

Beyond the wrist stuff, look for wearables in a host of other categories, devices I find far more interesting. Think about it: When you talk about things you wear, does a watch come to mind first? Or a shirt, or a hat, or shoes? All of those are smartening, notably attire for athletes. Companies like Athos and Hexoskin are at the forefront of huge transformation here. Like it or not, I bet you’re wearing some piece of tech next summer.

Tech for your ride

CES has gadgets galore, but a huge portion of the show is always dedicated to cars, notably the tech that turns our ordinary rides into awesome ones. What’s on the docket this year?

Apple and Google are jockeying to own the center console, with the CarPlay system and Android Auto. We won’t hear from Apple at CES of course (the company thinks different when it comes to events like that) but I’d be surprised if Google didn’t say something about its platform.

BMW Remote Valet Parking Assistant
BMW Remote Valet Parking Assistant

But it’s the news from the car manufacturers themselves that offers a tantalizing glimpse of where the technology is really going. They call it “automation” or “driver-assist” technology; you and I call it “self-driving cars.” And this technology isn’t down the road, but available now. Watch for news about cars that park themselves, warn you about other drivers, and more.

The North American International Auto Show comes smack after CES, so many big automakers save their news for Detroit (we’ll be there to bring you all the excitement, of course!). But there will definitely be news at CES, including integrated smartphones and wearable tech to accompany that new-car buy.

The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show runs January 6 to 9 in Las Vegas – and Digital Trends will be there in force. We’ll highlight the best of the best for you in our annual Top Tech awards. Stay tuned – it’s going to kick ass.

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