While video games and personal computers have captured most of the attention, telephones are fast becoming the talk of this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago.

"Everybody in the distribution and retail side has nicknamed this 'the Year of the Phone,' " said Vincent W. Dixon, division manager of national sales for American Bell, American Telephone & Telegraph Co.'s new subsidiary. "We are really looking forward to the second half of this year."

Industry sources estimate that roughly 7 million phones were sold in 1982. By the end of this year, says an Electronic Industry Association report, more than 15 million phones will be sold. The figure could climb to 21 million in 1984.

A 1978 court decision allowing consumers to own their own phones, rather than having to lease them from telephone companies, launched the home telephone business. But, says Lou Gervolino, vice president of sales for IT&T's personal communications division, "the business only grew 15 percent or 20 percent per year till 1982." This year, however, says Gervolino, "our business has opened to the point that our 1983 sales will be four times bigger than last year's."

He wouldn't reveal specific figures.

"The market is ready to ignite," says Viston Smith, director of marketing for Phone-Mate, a California-based company making telephones and telephone answering equipment. Phone-Mate did $30 million in business in 1982. This year, said Smith, revenues will double to $60 million.

To underscore that, convention officials state that telephone companies exhibiting this year occupy 35 percent more space than they did last year. Exhibitors, which range from American Bell to IT&T to companies with names like Mura and Dynascan, feature phones that can tell time, store dozens of numbers, automatically redial, detect unauthorized listeners, as well as transmit a conversation. Prices start as low as $10 and skyrocket to $600 and $700 to phones that are versatile and programmable as computers.