Latest and greatest gadgets head for Vegas

It's big, bustling and brings together more than 100,000 people and 300 companies for four days in the middle of the desert. The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicks off in Las Vegas on Jan. 5 and this time it's all about high-definition, portable video, home networking and fun.

Among the most awaited news from the show will be updates on the launch plans for the both the HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc optical disc formats. At CES 2005 the HD-DVD side promised players and movies within the year, but that's now been pushed back to the first quarter of 2006. The Blu-ray Disc side hasn't yet committed to a launch schedule yet? However, with Sony's PlayStation 3 due to appear on the market using the format in the first half of the year, the time to launch is getting shorter.

CES attendees can expect to see lots of prototype players and Pioneer has confirmed it will be showing its first commercial Blu-ray Disc drive, a model for desktop personal computers, at CES.

The two optical disc formats serve as a good example of what's happening in the HDTV (high-definition television) sector. While companies spent 2004 and 2005 talking about TV sets that would bring digital HDTV into living rooms, the focus is now shifting to HD on other platforms.

Intel will use CES to launch it's Viiv entertainment PC brand, a new Centrino-like combination of chips that is expected to be quickly adopted by all the usual players. Viiv brings together a dual-core chip, Windows XP Media Center Edition, and other high-end parts and is the latest in a string of attempts to make the personal computer the center of the home entertainment system.

The show is also likely to be thick with portable media players. The ability to watch video on the move is nothing new but it wasn't until Apple Computer launched its iPod with video in 2005 that people began to sit up and take notice. Several companies have already been promoting upcoming video players but all of these devices will be useless without content.

With Hollywood pulling one way and trying to lock down content and devices makers pulling the other way and trying to free it, the show will likely expose some contrasting views on the future of personal entertainment.

In between these sectors will be a rich variety of gadgetry, some destined the become the next big thing and some likely to become technology trash. Among products promised for the show: a book scanner that automatically turns pages after it scans them; a fuel cell charger that can provide hours of additional use to dead gadgets when you're away from a wall socket; a Bluetooth telephone handset compatible with Skype, and a 3D video technology that can also be viewed as a normal image by people without special glasses.

Like the buzz surrounding the industry it serves, International CES is also getting bigger. This year for the first time the show occupies both its usual home at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) and has expanded into the nearby Sands Exhibition Center. The expansion may prove a logistical hassle for attendees, who will have to navigate between the two centers, but organizers are surely hoping it hasn't put CES on the same path as the now defunct Comdex.

After running for years in the LVCC, Comdex expanded to the Sands and added companies despite the complaints of visitors about the size of the show and problems related to just getting in, out and around the city. Comdex held its last show in 2003 and was cancelled in 2004 due to lack of interest.

(Tom Krazit in contributed to this report.)

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