CES Preview: 4K TVs, Virtual Reality Return to Spotlight

Everything old is new again at International CES in Las Vegas this week. If 4K televisions, virtual reality and the Internet of Things sound familiar, that's because many of the biggest trends at the annual show, which is expected to host more than 150,000 attendees, were also the hot topics at last year’s event.

The key difference in 2015 is an update to the technology and, in many cases, commercial availability of products that were just pipe dreams for consumers last year. Here’s a closer look at what to expect from the show, which runs Jan. 6 - 9. 

Although 4K televisions have been commonplace at CES for a few years, 2015 should mark a shift in consumer availability for the Ultra HD sets, which have four times the resolution of HDTVs. Prices on the new technology have been steadily dropping, and the TVs on display this year should be more budget-friendly. 

With so many sets expected on the show floor, some manufacturers are adding new features to help them stand out. LG, for example, will debut sets with Quantum Dot displays, which are said to improve color accuracy and overall brightness. Samsung, meanwhile, is expected to release a giant curved Ultra HD TV that marketing materials call "the most seductive TV of all time." 

Also expected on the show floor are TVs that support high dynamic range imagery. Hollywood has been keen to begin producing HDR content, which allows viewers to see a wider range from bright whites to dark blacks, and commercial availability of TVs and other mobile devices is a big step in aiding global adoption of the technology.

Oculus was the talk of last year’s CES, and that was before the Irvine-based company's virtual reality hardware was buoyed by a $2 billion sale to Facebook. In announcing the purchase, Facebook CEO called virtual reality "once the dream of science fiction" but noted that "the future is coming." That future is certainly closer at this year's show with products like Samsung's Oculus-powered Gear VR device, now on the market.

The commercial availability of the Gear VR also signals that virtual reality is expanding beyond its gaming roots into entertainment. Among the VR-related events during the show, Fox is hosting invite-only demos of a three-minute experience based on Fox Searchlight’s Wild, and Palo Alto startup Jaunt will showcase its suite of hardware and software for creating VR experiences. There's a chance Sony could also reveal more about its Project Morpheus virtual reality headset when it hosts its annual press conference on Monday.

Improved sensor technology has made it possible to make just about any item a "smart" device, and CES is expected to display a wide variety of connected fitness devices, appliances, clothes and toys. Categorized as the "Internet of Things," this growing technology category has become so significant that Samsung Electronics CEO is slated to speak about the topic during his keynote address on Monday. 

Businesses traditionally known for consumer products will now also attend the show to tout technology products. For example, L'Oreal and Adidas, both of which joined the Consumer Electronics Association in 2014, will have representatives speaking on panels about wearables and fitness-tracking technology. 

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