The Consumer Electronics Show’s Four-Ring Circus

The International Consumer Electronics Show officially opens its doors on Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, but as tends to happen with major trade expos, the entertainment kicks off well before the starting gun fires. Companies have been teasing their big products for the show for weeks, often strategically leaking details to keep themselves in the news. Meanwhile, industry analysts and Wall Street commentators alike have made predictions about who will debut what new device and how it will perform in the market.

At CES 2011, the big story was tablet PCs. Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad had been on the market for just over eight months, during which time it had set the PC industry on fire. It seemed like every player in electronics showed off its own tablet at CES last year, and that trend foreshadowed how the year would play out. Once-mighty companies were brought low as they spent big on poorly received tablet PCs. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), and Motorola (NYSE:MMI), just to name a few, were among the casualties.

So who’s rolling out what at CES this year? Here are four devices, trends, and companies to keep an eye on at this week’s show.

Nokia, Microsoft, and the Next Smartphone Battle

Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced their surprising partnership in February 2011, after much of the CES hype had already died down. The world has been waiting to see what their union will bear and whether those products will save both the Finnish phone maker from dissolution as well as make Windows a competitor in the race against Apple and Android. While the first Windows-powered Nokia Lumia phones were released in select countries last fall, a press conference scheduled for Monday will lay out the Lumia’s future in the U.S. market. Rumors say the 4G Lumia will release on Mar. 18 on AT&T‘s (NYSE:T) network backed by a $100 million marketing push. Microsoft claims this will be its last CES, so expect its smartphone plans (as well as its Windows 8 and tablet plans) to be an ongoing topic of discussion.

Google, Apple, and the Connected TV Race

Consumers made it clear in 2011 that they weren’t interested in spending on high-end 3D TVs. If they were going to spend anything on television, it was going to be on content. Connected TV–Internet-enabled television sets, set-top boxes, and new web-based streaming services–is the new focus for a number of companies. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is using CES as a second coming out party for its Google TV, with a host of new manufacturing partners. Marvell (NASDAQ:MRVL) is showing off a new set-top box, LG and Samsung (PINK:SSNLF) are showing off new Google TV-powered HDTVs, as are Sony (NYSE:SNE) and Vizio. These companies are all hoping to provide a Connected TV experience compelling enough to hook consumers before Apple delivers its much-rumored HDTV later this year.

Lenovo and the New Portable-PC Market

The PC market is on shaky ground. Research firm Gartner reported that PC shipments–not including tablets like Apple’s wunderkind–grew only 3% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2011, significantly less than expected. While numbers haven’t hit the press yet, it’s suspected the industry didn’t fare better in the fourth quarter. The No. 2 leading PC manufacturer, Lenovo (PINK:LNVGY), isn’t taking it lying down. The company is rolling out a fleet of new PCs at CES to try and cater to every possible consumer. This includes new tablets like the IdeaTab K2 and the IdeaPad S2, which can be docked in a keyboard attachment to make it more like a laptop, as well as new IdeaPad ultrabook laptops that will retail for around $700, looking to undercut Apple’s popular ultra-thin MacBook Air line.

Tobii Gaze and Other Oddities

While it’s phones, PCs, and televisions that are carrying the weight of investor hopes for CES, it’s easy to overlook some of the more forward-thinking small projects that will be presented there. There are plenty of quirky items that could offer a glimpse of future market trends. Eye-tracking technology maker Tobii is showing off the Gaze, an interface that lets you control Windows computers by simply moving your peepers over the screen. Then there’s Xpal Power’s SpareOne, an emergency cellphone that can run for 15 years on a single AA battery. For anyone looking to spot the trends that will dominate CES 2013 and beyond, don’t forget to pay attention to the weird small stuff.

As of this writing, Anthony John Agnello did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Follow him on Twitter at @ajohnagnello and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.

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