CES 2014 opens, with news expected from Sony, Yahoo and mobile execs

International CES officially starts Tuesday, and this year’s event is expected to be the largest in CES history.

Looking ahead, Sony and its chief executive, Kazuo Hirai, will have more to say about the company’s vision as the technology giant looks to better integrate hardware and software to adapt to a fast-moving industry. Last night, Sony showed off new wedge-shaped televisions, new camcorders, a fitness tracker called the “Core,” a compact version of its Z1 smartphone and other products that it hopes will help it compete in old and new markets this year.

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Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer is also slated to give a keynote speech Tuesday, where she will talk about the next stage of innovation at Yahoo. Few details have been released on the content of Mayer’s speech, but she should have plenty to talk about, given Yahoo’s run of acquisitions and major structural changes as she works to turn the company around.

Several executives will also speak on the future of mobile on a panel that includes AT&T senior executive vice president John Donovan, Qualcomm chief executive Paul Jacobs, and Ericsson Group president and chief executive Hans Vestberg. It will be hosted by TechCrunch TV’s Andrew Keen.

Even before the show’s official open, however, several companies made big announcements to kick off the year with a bang. Audi, Valve, Intel and Sony all had major reveals Monday night.

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich touted his company’s vision for the wearable market, showing off a voice-recognition headset and unveiling the capabilities for the company’s new super-small “Edison” chip, which the executive noted could be easily embedded into clothing. An on-stage demo showed how the chip could be put in a baby’s shirt to monitor things such as heart rate and temperature and beam it back to the coffee cup of a weary parent on the couch in the other room.

Krzanich, who became Intel’s chief executive last year, also emphasized that Intel is putting its weight behind the wearables movement by running a $1.3 million “make it wearable” contest. The winner gets $500,000 and the top 10 contenders will be able to meet with partners to make their products a reality. Krzanich said that the only way to realize the full potential of smart devices is, simply, to “make everything smart.” Intel also announced that its chips will no longer be made with conflict minerals, and encouraged others in the industry to do the same.

Adding to CES’s increasing impact as an auto show, Audi chairman Rupert Stadler debuted a new prototype vehicle, the Audi Quattro Laserlight, in a keynote hosted by “Big Bang Theory” actor and Audi driver Kunal Nayyar. The aptly named car has laser headlights that the company said can extend for the length of five football fields -- though there are measures on the car to keep it from blinding passersby. The hybrid concept car can also go 90 miles on a single gallon of gas, the company said, drawing a gasp from the crowd.

Audi also made a lot of noise about the future of piloted driving, or cars that you can drive without actually being in them. And though it didn’t have any major announcements to make on that front, Stadler said that he believes the auto industry is entering a new phase.

“We are moving from refining the automobile to redefining mobility,” he said.

In the gaming world, Valve unveiled 13 new consoles made with its SteamOS, which vary a lot in price and form, from Maingear’s 4-inch-by-4-inch Spark to larger, more console-sized offerings from Materiel.net and Alternate. Prices. Some companies, such as Alienware, say that they’ll keep the price competitive with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and some of the boxes are in the $499 to $599 range. Others are more competitive with high-end gaming PCs; Falcon Northwest says that its line of Steamboxes tops out at $6,000. The consoles bring all of the games on Valve’s Steam platform to the living room, and carry elements of that system’s navigation and user interface. They also work with Valve’s controller, which has two thumb trackpads and allows players to customize each button’s function to their own preference.

Valve chief executive Gabe Newell was on hand to give a quick rundown of Valve’s vision for the Steambox -- to give PC gamers an easy way to play in the living room -- and to drop a couple of impressive statistics about the company’s growth. Newell said that he’s not too worried about Valve’s ability to compete with major consoles from Sony and Microsoft, which recently announced that it has sold 3 million Xbox One consoles.

“It’d take a while for them to catch up,” he said. “I mean, we’re at 65 million.” Newell also told press members that one of Valve’s biggest titles, “Defense of the Ancients 2,” is now more popular than “Monday Night Football.”

While there was a lot of top tech news coming out of CES on Monday night, all was sadly not well on the social scene -- T-Mobile’s outspoken chief executive John Legere was apparently escorted out of an AT&T party for developers at the Palms Casino Resort. T-Mobile and AT&T have been in fierce competition since their proposed merger deal broke up two years ago. AT&T even launched a program to pay consumers to switch from T-Mobile last week. (T-Mobile is expected to launch a similar program at its conference Wednesday.)

Legere re-tweeted a handful of tweets reporting the news and said that his aim in crashing the party was just to hear the musical guest, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

Said Legere, via Twitter: “I just love Macklemore! Very bad move by @ATT and #PalmCasino. Have a great night! I am very angry!”

 
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