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Green tech, robots to take over Tokyo

It's that time again: Ceatec, Japan's version of CES, starts this week. Here's what to expect from this year's gadget extravaganza.

TVs Ceatec 2008
Erica Ogg/CNET

In Japan, for one week a year the spotlight of this gadget-obsessed country is shifted from the urban neon oasis of Tokyo's Akihabara neighborhood and trained on an expansive convention hall an hour's commute outside of the city.

On Tuesday the purveyors of TVs thinner than a credit card, cell phones pressed with 3D screens, humanoid robots, and the latest in electric car technology descend, along with media, analysts, retail buyers, and industry executives for the opening of the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies, known by the acronym Ceatec.

It's the Japanese equivalent of Las Vegas' CES and Berlin's IFA, and like those two shows earlier this year, attendance is expected to be good, if slightly contracted as companies have cut back on expenses in light of the current economy.

At Ceatec 2008, 804 exhibitors and 196,630 attendees flooded the floor of the Makuhari Messe, a dip from the 895 exhibitors and 206,000 attendees in 2007. The tenor of this year's show should be a bit less gloomy than last year's--which took place the same week banks were failing right and leftand Wall Street seemed on the brink of collapse. We'll keep our fingers crossed for less economic drama during this year's show.

Robots Ceatec 2008
Murata Girl shows off her unicycling talents at Ceatec 2008. Erica Ogg/CNET

Things we are hoping for: more cute robots! Ceatec is unlikely to disappoint in this respect. Last year's expo saw the debut of automatons that did everything from perform front-office reception tasks to helping the elderly. But based on the crowds she drew, the star was undoubtedly Murata Girl, a unicycle-riding robot. This year, we hear she'll be back with even more tricks up her sleeve.

Like those robots, there's also an amazing array of stuff shown at Ceatecwe'll never see in stores on this side of the Pacific--see our gallery of cool concept cell phones. But while Ceatec offers a glimpse into the future of gadgetry, the convention hall is also packed to the skylights with practical products.

Last year was the first time Ceatec established a separate pavilion for green technology, and it's back this year. Nissan, which takes its electric cars very seriously, will be there, as will Toshiba. Though not thought of traditionally as a car company, it believes its Supercharge ion battery (SCiB) is perfectly suited for electric cars and scooters. Besides green car technology, we'll also see electronic parts that make ordinary gadgets like TVs and digital signs greener.

concept cell phone
A concept cell phone at last year's show. Erica Ogg/CNET

"I'm definitely expecting to see more green components, enabling more manufacturers to make energy efficient devices," said analyst Auri Rahimzadeh, who attends Ceatec every year. "We will also likely see more LED-backlit televisions (and) displays."

The reason? "California will likely impose more stringent power controls on television sets starting in 2011, and as California goes, so goes the rest of the world in this matter," says Greentech Media Editor in Chief Michael Kanellos. Because of that, we'll see companies like JVC and Sharp that will be showing prototype TVs that consume less light than a single light bulb.

If green doesn't get you excited, there will be plenty of other kinds of TVs--including 3D prototypes from Panasonic, Sony, and others, most of which we've already seen at CES and IFA. At Ceatec 2008 we saw prototypes of small 3D displays that didn't require wearing plastic 3D glasses, so it will be interesting to see if that technology has advanced in the past year.

In the ultrathin category, we can expect to see the increasingly popular LED-based category well-represented. OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs, much discussed in the past at Ceatec and CES, have taken a bit of a backseat of late. Though LG will likely show its 15-inch prototype, we probably won't see anything bigger at this year's Ceatec.