What to watch for at CES 2014

CES 2014 will have it all, including huge TVs, a steam machine, and a solar-powered car

Depending on who's counting, more than 3,200 exhibitors will clamor for visitors' attention when CES opens Tuesday, Jan. 7. And in the days prior, companies will heavily promote their wares to convince people that the hardware, software, or service being touted is the Next Big Thing. And you know what? It probably won't be.

But a number of worthwhile things will come out of the show. You'll just need to know what to listen for and remember not to get distracted by the shiny baubles and credulity-straining claims being tossed around. With the caveat that surprise developments are always possible, here's what we expect to see.

[ Full article: CES 2014 will have it all ]

You'll have a new gaming console to try

Gamers can look forward to news of Valve's Steam Machine console, which promises to bring PC gaming to your living room. The Linux-based SteamOS debuted last month in beta, and Valve has already shown off a prototype. Though a few tantalizing details about the Steam Machine prototypes have trickled out, Valve is saving the big news, including which PC makers will build the shipping versions, for next week.

Why you should care: Valve's developmental work with its SteamOS and with the hardware it runs on is part of an ambitious effort to open a new venue for PC gaming.

(Pictured: Hardware manufacturers like iBuyPower have given a glimpse of what a Steam Machine gaming console could look like.)

You'll have a new wireless plan to consider

This year could throw a smartphone curve -- curved screens, specifically. Samsung and LG ended 2013 by introducing the Round and the G Flex (pictured) in South Korea; CES could be where they reveal U.S. launch plans. But the biggest news may be in wireless services. T-Mobile has a press event on Wednesday that figures to introduce the latest in its "uncarrier" efforts, which include changes like subsidy-free pricing plans. If rumors are true, the next step could be to lure new customers by picking up the cost of rivals' early termination fees.

Why you should care: New phone features are fun to debate, but revamped wireless plans from a carrier like T-Mobile directly impact your bottom line.

You'll see new 4K TVs and programs

TV makers have already hinted at what they'll be touting: Sony has the 4K TV, and LG will push a 105-inch curved Ultra HD set (pictured). But there's not enough 4K content out there. Expect to hear about Netflix, which has been testing UltraHD streaming. TV makers are likely to unveil UltraHD Smart TVs that feature a built-in Netflix app that streams the next season of House of Cards in 4K. (Amazon's also promised original shows in the 4K format.)

Why you should care: As nice as these sets look, it's been hard to get excited about 4K TV. But now prices are falling from astronomical to merely steep, and 4K content is becoming easier to find.

You'll be riding shotgun with Google

Expect to hear about alternative energy in car tech. Toyota will show off its fuel-cell concept car (pictured) for the first time in North America, and Ford will exhibit the C-Max Solar Energi Concept, which tracks the sun's path to maximize energy collection. But the most significant news could come from Silicon Valley. Hyundai's 2015 Genesis may incorporate Google's search capabilities to find destinations via the car's navigation system. And reports say that Google and Audi may team up to build Android into the Audi's infotainment systems.

Why you should care: Between Google's efforts and Apple's iOS in the Car standard, the Android-iOS rivalry may soon extend beyond mobile devices and onto the open road.

You'll be awash in wearables

Expect to see wearable gadgets galore. For Google Glass challengers, Vuzik will have the M100 Smart Glasses it previewed at last year's Mobile World Congress, and GlassUp is promising a prototype of its take on smart eyewear. For fitness, it'll be about gadgets that successfully blend analyzing the data and boasting about accomplishments on social networks. For smart watches, anything that avoids the high cost and limited functionality of current options like Sony's SmartWatch 2 and Samsung's Galaxy Gear will be promising.

Why you should care: There will be more misses than hits, but someone will eventually come up with a breakthrough product -- even if it's not this year.

(Pictured: Archos's activity-tracking wristband costs less than $100.)

You'll see smart appliances and power trips

CES has become a hotbed for smart appliances and home automation -- things like washers and refrigerators you can control from your mobile device, and high-tech security products and locks. The buzz around products like the Nest Smart Thermostat (pictured) shows that some people can't wait to talk to their toaster. I look forward to seeing products like smart lightbulbs that can encourage better sleeping habits and attentiveness.

You know what else I could use? A device that could sustain a tired journalist after three or four days at CES. For now, I'll be on the lookout for anything that promises to keep my essential devices powered up, whether it be a battery-equipped case or wireless charging technology.