The recession is liable to tone down the flashiness of this week's International Consumer Electronics Show, but the lineup of innovative products probably will measure up to those of past years.
Competition is still fierce, and innovation counts. Name-brand manufacturers still need to differentiate themselves by introducing features that keep them ahead of value-price brands.
For instance, Sony Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. will introduce new flat-panel TV sets that provide smoother-looking action scenes, 3-D capabilities and Internet connections that can download movies, weather data and screen savers.
Other the things to expect:
Mind games: Mattel Inc.'s Mind Flex toy comes with a brain-scanning head set. Concentrate, and a fan spins up to levitate a ball. Relax your thoughts, and the ball descends. For a challenge, guide the ball through an obstacle course of hoops. It hits stores in the fall for $80.
TVs: Companies have promised for the better part of the decade to rid us of the cables snaking around the entertainment center. At last year's CES, there were a few TVs, mostly prototypes, that could receive wireless high-definition video signals from a transmitter in the same room. There will be more this year, but only on the most expensive sets.
Printers: An Australian startup made a splash in 2007 when it announced a technology called Memjet that would allow a home printer to spit out a color page every second. Nothing much has been heard of it since then, but the company will be showing printers that it says will be available this year.
Computers: Small, cheap laptops known as "netbooks" are the hot new category. Last year, Asustek Computer Inc., the pioneer in the field, was nearly alone in showing netbooks, but this year it will have company from practically every other computer maker.
Computer games: Nvidia Corp., a leading maker of graphics chips for computers, will be touting $199 eyeglasses that turn compatible monitors into three-dimensional displays, spicing up games. The wireless glasses come with an adapter that plugs into a regular USB slot. Gaming in 3-D, with and without glasses, has been possible for years, yet has never caught on. The support of a big name like Nvidia might make a difference.
Smart phones: Palm Inc., the maker of smart phones that has been overshadowed by BlackBerrys and iPhones, has promised a big announcement. It's widely expected to reveal a replacement for the dated software that drives Palm's Centros and most of its Treos.
Music: Stereo maker Blaupunkt will show what it says is "the first Internet car radio." It's a potential competitor to satellite radio, but needs to be connected to an Internet-enabled phone to receive audio streams.
Mobile TV: TV stations will be at the show to present details of their plans to broadcast signals for cell phones, in-car sets and other portable gadgets. Transmissions could start this year, but it's unclear whether there will be any compatible receiving products.