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CES 2013 preview: Home theater

Home theater has a big presence at the Consumer Electronics Show, but don't expect too much innovation at CES 2013.

Simple.TV's eventual launch didn't quite live up to the hype it generated at CES 2012. Will there be a new model at CES 2013? Sarah Tew/CNET

Given its cinematic namesake, it's fitting that home theater electronics seem to move in slow motion. Smartphones and tablets make huge leaps every six months, yet home theater fans are stuck with virtually the same crusty AV receivers and Blu-ray players that haven't changed that much over the last few years.

So it's not surprising that when I started looking ahead to CES 2013, my expectations haven't changed much from my CES 2012 preview. As predicted, progress in the home theater space has been remarkably incremental, with just a few bright spots along the way. I'm hoping for some surprises, but here's what I expect at CES 2013:

Is this finally the year of the cord-cutter?

Boxee TV
Cord-cutters are hoping for more solutions in the same vein as Boxee TV.

Cord-cutters have been begging for more options, and they finally got some in 2012, with the introduction of Simple.TV, Boxee TV, and Aereo. Still, none of those products has been the breakthrough success that catapults over-the-air TV out of its niche market status.

But companies are finally realizing that over-the-air TV is an important part of any cord-cutter's DIY TV package, and I think there's a good chance there will be at least one new over-the-air TV product at the show. There will also likely be a slew of new me-too streaming-media boxes, but they'll have to be better than the Roku boxes or Apple TV to pique my interest.

Slow evolution of Google TV

Sony's NSZ-GS7 with built-in Google TV was shown at CES 2012. Will there be an update?

Google TV has some ardent supporters, but the platform just hasn't connected with buyers or many professional reviewers yet. It will be telling to see how many Google TV boxes are announced this year; if it's just a handful, Google may need to make some major changes to reignite interest.

Discs are (nearly) dead

Home theater enthusiasts won't be giving up their Blu-rays (or even SACD/DVD-Audio discs) anytime soon, but optical media as a whole is increasingly losing mainstream appeal. Expect even less focus on Blu-ray players from major manufacturers, aside from the superslim designs that have been at the show before.

Sound bars take over

Zvox Z-Base 420
Pedestal sound bars are the sleekest evolution of the booming sound-bar market.

Audiophiles may turn their up their noses at the sight of a sound bar, but the reality is that sound bars are generally the best option for most home-audio buyers. They've exploded in popularity, and I'm expecting that will continue. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing more pedestal-style sound bars, like the Zvox Z-Base 420 and Bose Solo; a pedestal sound bar with a wireless subwoofer could be a killer combination.

Will AirPlay finally get cheaper?

AirPlay may be the home-theater holy grail for Apple fans, but it continues to be costly to integrate into third-party devices. And with the Apple TV available for just $100, it's a hard sell to get buyers to spend much extra for integrated AirPlay. I'd guess that built-in AirPlay will see only a modest increase in adoption, with many companies continuing to favor Bluetooth.

Wish list No. 1: A Logitech Harmony challenger

The Harmony Touch needs some competition.

Logitech owns the universal remote market and for good reason: the company's Harmony line of remotes are best-in-class. But Harmony's remotes have had very little competition over the last few years, and it's beginning to feel like the products are stagnating. Look no further than the lukewarm reception the Harmony Touch got from both the press and Harmony fans. A new, innovative universal remote company not only would provide a much needed universal remote challenger, it would probably make Harmony remotes better, too.

Wish list No. 2: Stereo makes a comeback

Sound bars and surround sound systems are great, but a two-channel sound system is an all-too-often overlooked option. Pair up some great tower speakers with an inexpensive AV receiver and you'll get a relatively clutter-free home audio system that sounds way better with music than the alternatives, and is surprisingly capable with movies, too. A company with the right all-in-one package and marketing could make this work, especially with a decor-friendly design.

Wish list No. 3: 3D fades away

3D glasses
We've all had enough, 3D TV.

Not much more to say about this, but I think nearly everyone will be happy to stop talking about 3D home theater. And that's speaking as someone who enjoys 3D movies in theaters, but has been consistently let down by the 3D experience at home. Look for 3D to follow the ignominious path of SACD/DVD-Audio, becoming an infrequently mentioned feature that fades into the sunset.