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The big picture: What truly stood out at CES 2012

As we pack up our edit trailer and tear down our booth, we look back at the most memorable technologies, and those products that will actually affect our lives. And most of it isn't what was pushed hardest by manufacturers.

Jennifer Guevin Managing Editor / Reviews
Jennifer Guevin is managing editor at CNET, overseeing the ever-helpful How To section, special packages, and front-page programming. As a writer, she gravitates toward science, quirky geek culture stories, robots, and food. In real life, she mostly just gravitates toward food.
Jennifer Guevin
5 min read

LAS VEGAS--Sure, there were a lot of ultrabooks at the Consumer Electronics Show. PC manufacturers are clearly pushing their new slim, lightweight laptops.

But the real story of this year's show turned out to be some incredible advances in television technology, a few truly innovative if quirky ideas, and a lot of products that were expected but did not make much of an appearance.

Note: In this post, I'm rounding up the highlights of the show. Our reviews editors have taken a deeper dive into each product category, so for a more in-depth look at what we saw in phones, laptops, cameras, and more, just follow the links included below.

LG's new 55-inch OLED TV.
LG's new 55-inch OLED TV. Click to enlarge. James Martin/CNET

This is the year beautiful OLED television technology got stretched into a TV that's large enough for real-world use. LG showed off a stunner in the 55EM9600, a 55-inch OLED TV with an almost nonexistent 1mm bezel. The TV itself is a mere 4mm thick. 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. Samsung had a 55-incher to match it, though it will likely take a little while longer for that product to actually be released.

Don't expect either of these TVs to be cheap when they hit the market. But make no mistake, OLED is in your future.

This year we saw some real diversity in an increasingly crowded tablet market. As tablet reviewer Donald Bell notes, many of the devices that littered the show were off-brands or products that will never even make it to the U.S. market. But a few great new tablets stood out. Asus' Memo 370T features an Nvidia quad-core Tegra 3 processor and 1GB of RAM for just $250. The Toshiba Excite X10 is light and thin, but at $529, it isn't cheap. And with the iPad 3 expecting to come out this spring, we'll find out this year whether there's an audience for high-end tablets like this that aren't the iPad. Find Donald's analysis of just how different the tablet scene was at this year's show here.

The Simple.TV over-the-air DVR could be an excellent choice for those looking to cut their cable subscription. (Click to enlarge.) Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

Simple.TV is a next-generation DVR for the cord-cutting crowd. It has no video output, but instead records over-the-air HDTV content, then streams it to supported devices like Roku, Google TV, Boxee, and the iPad. Read our hands-on with the Simple.TV here.

Google TV got more interesting with a few new devices and the announcement that the OnLive gaming service will work with it. But overall there wasn't as much innovation in the home video space as enthusiasts may have liked to have seen. For more, check out Matthew Moskovciak's summary of home video at CES here.

One of the new product categories to emerge this year was 3D printers. We saw two great examples in the Makerbot Replicator and 3D Systems' Cube, both of which can print out 3D objects designed by you. Are we about to see these 3D printers in every garage? Probably not. But this is a fun technology you'll start to see locally soon.

MakerBot 3D object tour (photos)

See all photos

Nokia Lumia 900
Nokia Lumia 900 (click to enlarge)

Some of the most notable things about this year's show were the products we didn't see. Phones bearing Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of the Android operating system, were expected to dominate CES this year but were largely missing in action. Instead, 4G LTE, Windows Phone, and AT&T were the real stars of the mobile show. Highlights included the Nokia Lumia 900, the HTC Titan II, the Motorola Droid 4, the Droid Razr Maxx, and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Get a full breakdown of the mobile scene at CES from the CNET mobile reviews team here.

We were also surprised at the small number of new laptops. Many PC makers--including Dell, Alienware, HP, Sony, Toshiba, and Asus--all brought either a single new laptop to show off here, or even none at all. But that doesn't mean there was nothing worth seeing.

The Dell XPS 13 and HP Envy 14 Spectre ultrabooks look good and really resonated with our readers. HP set the Spectre, shown below, apart from the crowd by encasing it in durable Gorilla Glass.

HP Envy 14 Spectre
The HP Envy 14 Spectre's front, back, and touch pad are all covered in Gorilla Glass. Sarah Tew/CNET

Gorilla Glass, a material made by Corning for protecting screens on electronics, proved to be one of the unlikely stars of the show. The newest version of the coating, Gorilla Glass 2, is stronger and allows screens to be 20 percent thinner. So while the component itself isn't exactly the sexiest product around, it's a key factor in making our electronics sexier--and for that we can all be grateful.

Canon PowerShot G1 X
Canon PowerShot G1 X. Click to enlarge. Lori Grunin/CNET

We noticed a distinct lack of new point-and-shoot cameras at this year's show. That's not because there will be fewer models released in 2012. So what gives? CNET editors Lori Grunin and Joshua Goldman wonder if the U.S. market has become less important to camera manufacturers. Despite the relative dearth of those announcements, we did see three exceptional new point-and-shoots: the Fujifilm X-Pro1, the Nikon D4, and the Canon PowerShot G1 X--all of which were nominated for our Best of CES Awards.

Most of the focus of CES is about new hardware. But we're seeing more and more new types of software and apps being introduced at the show, and this year had quite a few interesting standouts. BlueStacks for Windows 8, our Best of CES Award winner in the Software and Apps category, brings you the entire Android app catalog in Windows 8. Several new apps are helping those who want to drop cable TV do so with ease. Aurasma is a cool app that brings augmented reality to both Android and iOS devices. Here's a breakdown of the software scene at CES by Seth Rosenblatt and Jaymar Cabebe.

CES Video
Watch this: Run Android apps in Windows with BlueStacks

The DIR-605L comes with four LAN ports and one WAN port. Even with the external antennae, it's still super compact and light.
D-Link's DIR-605L comes with four LAN ports and one WAN port but still manages to be supercompact and light. Dong Ngo/CNET

Networking and storage: OK, so it's not the sexiest of topics. But it is technology we all rely on every single day, and the most frustrating computing moments usually happen when these things don't work the way they should. So if you think you don't care, you should. Thunderbolt, the high-speed port technology from Intel that up till now has appeared only on Apple computers, started to make inroads with other manufacturers. And, importantly, one can get Thunderbolt performance for less money--largely thanks to adapters that allow existing (and affordable) storage products like external hard drives to be used with the Thunderbolt standard, as well as new products coming to market.

As one would expect, cloud-based storage services were huge. And though there were no working 802.11ac (or 5G Wi-Fi as the technology is called by BroadCom) devices at the show, every networking vendor CNET's Dong Ngo talked to committed to offering 802.11ac devices this year. Read Dong's full breakdown of the networking and storage advances shown at CES here.

The trend of connecting cars to the Internet continues to charge forth. Carmakers, not known for quick turnarounds with new innovation, are moving surprisingly quickly with new in-car navigation, audio, phone, and app dashboards. Our favorite was QNX's HTML5-based CAR 2 application platform, which is designed so automakers can quickly and easily make customized apps and services for their cars' navigation, phone, and infotainment systems. It didn't hurt that the QNX system was on demo in a Porsche Carrera, which I got to sit in and which (if I do say so myself) I looked very good in. Read more on the car tech of CES 2012 <="" a="" rel="follow">.

You can find a list of all the Best of CES Award winners here.

Best of CES wrap-up
Watch this: Best of CES wrap-up