What mattered on CES Press Day

On what was without question the biggest news day of CES this year, companies here unleashed a flood of news. We sort through it all to bring you the important stuff.

LAS VEGAS--Ultrabooks, ultrabooks, ultrabooks. That was the word of the day at the Consumer Electronics Show Press Day.

Lenovo IdeaPad U310, U410
Lenovo's new IdeaPads come in many colors. Lenovo

The ultrabook format has been described as a MacBook Air running the Windows OS. These devices are thin and sleek, and they don't cost a million dollars, so they do have a lot going for them.

Several companies are pushing this super-thin laptop style hard. Samsung on Monday introduced its Series 5 and Series 9 ultrabooks. Lenovo a day earlier had already announced two new colorful IdeaPads . Acer showed off the Aspire S5 and Timeline Ultra . HP really stood out with its Envy 14 Spectre , a beauty of an ultrabook covered in more Gorilla Glass than we've seen in one device. And Intel said that as many as 60 ultrabooks will be available this year based on its latest mobile processors.

Here's the thing. As CNET editor Scott Stein points out , the ultrabooks we're seeing at CES aren't necessarily a smart buy for prudent consumers who are willing to wait a bit. This is because of two key pieces of technology on the horizon.

For one thing, Intel's next-generation processor for laptops, called Ivy Bridge, is due out soon. It will be faster (naturally), but also have native support for the high-speed and versatile Thunderbolt port, and better integrated graphics. But it won't arrive until April or May.

Likewise, when it arrives, Windows 8 should offer better touch-based functionality and a whole new design. But it won't show up on any laptops until later this year, either.

So if you're the type to covet your neighbor's laptop the moment something comes out that's newer and shinier than yours, you might want to hold off. On the other side of the coin, prices on current ultrabooks will likely drop the moment those newer devices launch, so as long as you're OK with not having the latest and greatest, you can probably save yourself a bit of money by waiting.

The HP Envy 14 Spectre
The HP Envy 14 Spectre Sarah Tew/CNET

TV time
New TVs can be hard to get excited about. Improvements tend to happen incrementally. The basic design rarely varies. And let's face it: in photos, they all look more or less the same. But on the just-ended Press Day, we saw a few TVs that made us take notice.

The best TV Sony showed off Monday was the HX850, which the company called its flagship TV. The HX850 is a non-full-array model that, despite relying on edge-lit LEDs to produce its picture, manages to eke out some stunning black levels. Sony also teased a true LED TV it's calling the Crystal LED Display . It's a 55-inch prototype TV that actually uses miniature light-emitting diodes in place of pixels. Up until now, the LED displays we've seen really just use LEDs as a light source.

LG showed off a stunner in the 55EM9600, a 55-inch OLED TV with an almost nonexistent 1-mm bezel. It's a smart TV with streaming and social media, the new Magic Motion remote with "four modes," including a built-in mic, and passive 3D. Let this go down in history as the day the world was introduced to two such beauties. Samsung had a 55-incher to match it.

LG's beautiful OLED TV has a bevel 1mm thick.
LG's beautiful OLED TV has a bevel 1mm thick. LG

Not to be outdone by those puny 55-inch TVs, Sharp unveiled an 80-inch 3D TV (yes, 3D is still the darling of CES--at least as far as TV makers are concerned). It also came out on top in the resolution game, showing off a prototype 8K-resolution TV . Of course, there isn't any content available for such high resolution, so at this point, it's little more than one-upmanship among competitors.

We didn't just see hardware Monday. Dish stepped up the satellite TV game with its kangaroo-theme DVR, called Hopper , which lets users watch recorded shows via "Joey" units throughout the house. The Hopper can store up to 2,000 hours of programming and take advantage of Dish's new high-speed satellite broadband service, which it says will be a boon to rural America.

All the small things
Nvidia juiced up the tablet market a bit, announcing that the Transformer Prime by Asus would be available, running the Ice Cream Sandwich version of the Android OS, beginning today. It also teased a quad-core, 7-inch tablet, the MeMo 370T, which it says is similar to the Prime and runs a Tegra 3 chip. It's a cute little thing--and we got to touch it .

Asus' $249 quad-core MeMo 370T tablet.
Asus' $249 quad-core MeMo 370T tablet. Eric Franklin/CNET

AT&T's 4G LTE network got a healthy boost Monday with a slew of phones being announced for it. Nokia showed off the kind of phone a photographer might actually love: its Lumia 900 . The Lumia is based on the Windows Phone platform, will use AT&T's 4G LTE network, and boasts a 4.3-inch AMOLED screen that's designed for rich-media experiences, the company said at a launch event here Monday. (By comparison, the Apple iPhone's screen size is 3.5 inches.)

Samsung Galaxy Note
Samsung Galaxy Note Lynn La/CNET

Samsung brought its behemoth of a smartphone, the Galaxy Note , stateside. It will also support AT&T's 4G LTE network, and it boasts a faster 1.5GHz processor than the one in the Note's European and Asian counterparts. During our hands-on of the Note, its HD Super AMOLED screen looked clear, colorful, and gorgeous. But that screen is 5.3 inches big, so it's not exactly one for slipping into a teensy jeans pocket. And did we mention that it's trying to bring back the stylus? Yeah. We'll see how that goes.

The original Motorola Droid will finally have a worthy successor in the Droid 4 , which boasts dual-core power, LTE 4G, and a full QWERTY keyboard.

Fun
We saw not one, but two 3D printers on display. The MakerBot Replicator will cost you a cool $1,799, which sounds pricey. BUT it can print in two colors. So you know, totally worth it. The Cube printer from 3D Systems is a little less expensive. It will sell for $1,299 when it goes on sale this quarter. But it has a decidedly consumer-friendly design. It also offers printer services on the Cubify site, where people can place orders for 3D Systems to print and ship out objects too large to print on the Cube.

Play

Sony finally gave us details about when people in the United States will get their hands on its PlayStation Vita gaming handheld (it ships on February 22)--and how much they can expect to pay for it ($299).

One of Samsung's new Wi-Fi-enabled cameras.
One of Samsung's new Wi-Fi-enabled cameras. Samsung

We love the promise of point-and-shoot cameras with Wi-Fi connectivity for truly simple uploading and saving of photos. Today Sony and Samsung both made strides in that arena. Samsung integrated Wi-Fi into four new point-and-shoots , including one with GPS for geotagging. Meanwhile, Sony introduced the Bloggie Live, a full HD minicamcorder with a 3-inch touch screen and built-in Wi-Fi. Connect to a hot spot or other wireless network, and you can stream live to Qik.com. (Watch our hands-on video with the Bloggie Live .)

An extremely packed Microsoft keynote address with Steve Ballmer was notable more for what wasn't said--and for what won't be said. The company had already announced that this would be its last appearance at CES, so people wondered if they'd go out with a bang. But Ballmer primarily rehashed details of a few previously announced projects, such as Windows Phone and Windows 8, and never made any big reveals. One interesting tidbit was the news that Microsoft would be hooking up Kinect and Windows in February. Exactly how that plays out, and what it means for consumers, will be news to look for in the coming months.

 

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