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CES 2009: Everything connected and mobile

The annual gadget confab delivers wireless TVs, Web-connected cameras, watches, and set-top boxes--and, of course, the newest, most-buzzed-about smartphone.

LAS VEGAS--The undeniable winner coming out of CES 2009 is Palm. The smartphone maker took a giant step toward a much-needed comeback by announcing the Pre and accompanying mobile operating system, WebOS.

The Pre announcement garnered a ton of pre-show buzz, and dominated news coverage on the opening day of the event. But the Pre wasn't the only thing noteworthy about this year's gadget extravaganza here. High-definition televisions got Internet access and lost their wires, Netbooks and notebooks became harder to tell apart, and wireless products came in some surprising packages.

As the show comes to a close Saturday, here's a look back at some of the most important themes that emerged.

HP Sony Netbook
Blurring the line: Sony's "not a Netbook" Lifestyle PC is dwarfed by HP Mini Netbook. CNET

High-definition television makers are getting real
CES is usually a competition among TV makers to see who can make the largest screen or thinnest set. While there was still an element of that here, the top-tier television manufacturers also competed another way: to find who could make the new HDTV most accessible to the mainstream consumer in a down economy.

Toshiba's Scott Ramirez put it best: Sure we could make a 150-inch TV. "But nobody buys those."

Well, not nobody. But not nearly as many as buy, say, a 37- or 42-inch TV. And TV makers, who are expecting their revenues to drop considerably over the next year to $64 billion in 2009, down from $76 billion last year, according to DisplaySearch.

In other words, it makes business sense to be kind of boring right now. For example, the Sharp E67U LCD introduced here isn't super exciting, and neither is Toshiba's new, plain-old Toshiba LCD brand--a step down from its flagship Regza line of LCDs--but they get the job done.

TV with bells and whistles
That doesn't mean HDTV makers aren't adding new gee-whiz features to some of their sets. Wireless TV was everywhere: LG, Panasonic, Toshiba, Geffen. After several years of teasing, manufacturers are finally integrating wireless chipsets into their sets that allow TV signals to be sent without HD cables between TVs, disc players, set-top boxes, and notebooks.

Internet TV also became widespread. Yahoo and Intel partnered on the Yahoo Widget Channel, which allows Samsung and Toshiba TVs, among others, to get content feeds directly on the TV screen. Panasonic added Amazon Video on Demand to its VieraCast service, and LG, which already has Blu-ray players that stream Netflix, added the same service to some of its high-end panels.

LG Watch Phone 3G wireless
LG watch makes phone calls. Nicole Lee/CNET Networks

Internet on your camera, phone calls on your wrist
CES also saw more nifty tech allowing wireless access in some unlikely places. LG led off the event's press day by sending its CEO up to the stage sporting a 3G-enabled touch-screen wristwatch that makes phone calls and plays music. Whether it's practical or gimmicky is open to interpretation, since no one has really tried it yet. Europeans will be able to buy one by the end of the year.

Sony introduced a Wi-Fi point-and-shoot digital camera, the first of its kind, at the company's keynote address on the opening day of the show. Users will be able to use the phone's touch screen to access the Web and upload photos wirelessly.

And EyeFi is now doing for wireless video uploads what it already does wireless photo uploads. The new EyeFi Card is an SD card that will upload HD video right to YouTube without wires or docking stations.

Blurring the line between Netbook and notebook
Dell announced its third Netbook in four months, the Inspiron Mini 10. It's just one of the tiny clamshell-shape computers that seem stuck between Netbook and notebook, as its 10-inch screen seems to hover closely to a subnotebook. But it's got an Atom processor and it's priced below $500, traditional specs of a Netbook.

Sony came out on the other side, showing off its flashy new Vaio P Series Lifestyle PC, an impossibly small notebook, with tiny keys, no touch pad, an Atom processor, and an 8-inch widescreen. But it retails for $900, making it pricier than some of Sony's traditional notebooks.

Lenovo A600 IdeaCentre desktop
Lenovo IdeaCentre A600 all-in-one desktop Lenovo

Everyone is doing an all-in-one
Lenovo introduced its sleek A600 all-in-one desktop at the show. That means all the top-tier PC makers--Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer/Gateway, Lenovo, Sony, and not Toshiba--offer this format now, and at prices much lower than when the all-in-one style first gained popularity.

Lenovo's also hits at a symbolic price point: the A600 starts at $999.

"All-in-ones have always been the form factor everyone wants but can't necessarily afford," noted Richard Shim, PC industry analyst for research firm IDC.

And as the desktop market has shrunk considerably over the past several years with the rise of cheaper and more powerful notebooks, manufacturers are looking for ways to keep the revenue for the desktop market from falling off. The new, lowered price threshold will be "really significant" for the entire desktop PC market, said Shim, because, "Once you start moving (the average price) down, you start boosting demand."