The Consumer Electronics Show--a trade event that promises to showcase the latest and best gadgets that many prominent tech purveyors have to offer--kicks off next week. What can you expect? Joshua Topolsky writes:

For starters, the two worlds of tablets and super-thin laptops (ultrabooks, as we’ve taken to calling them in the industry) are getting dangerously close. Products boasting all-day battery life, speedy processors, and solid state hard drives (SSDs) that are faster to boot and more stable are just about becoming the norm. Though Apple — the company that kickstarted both trends with the iPad and MacBook Air — won’t be at the show, the company’s presence will definitely be felt.

It’s likely we’ll see a slew of new products that aren’t just one or the other, but hybrid devices that aim to take on more than just lean-back experiences such as movie watching or game playing and do double-duty as a laptop.

Microsoft has already shown off its latest version of Windows (Windows 8), which has been adapted for both laptops and tablets, but what I think the company really wants to do is make one device that can do both things. Though this will be the company’s final year of a big showing at CES (that news was just announced two weeks ago), there will be plenty of talk about Windows, the Xbox, and phones. Especially since the company’s phone-making partner Nokia will be holding a press event at CES — a rarity for the Finnish manufacturer.

Nokia is rumored to be introducing a new version of its Windows Phone handsets — probably a larger model targeted at North America. We do like things big here.

And, yes, we’ll see plenty of new Android phones and tablets in just about every shape and size you can think of. There will also be an array of new HDTVs — a selection so vast that even seasoned reporters’ heads will spin. Seriously, you don’t know what over-exposure to a single product feels like until you’ve wandered the North, South, and Central Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center surrounded on all sides by row after row of vaguely iterative — yet always staggeringly large — high-def TVs.

But expect to be surprised by the interesting new things being cooked up around home-automation and entertainment devices that actually play nice together. As our houses and gadgets get more and more connected, companies all over the globe are dreaming up ways to make everything talk to one another. I expect 2012 will be the year that jumpstarts the wired (or rather, wireless) home revolution.

Some companies, including HP, have gotten a jumpstart on the CES action. Hayley Tsukayama reports:

Hewlett-Packard is making a big push to keep PCs in the mix as buzz for ultrabooks and tablets dominate the conversation ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show.

Sure, the company is also prepping the release of what appears to be its own new ultrabook, the Spectre, but it’s also showing off some great desktop hardware ahead of the big show next week. On Wednesday the company unveiled two desktops, the 27-inch Omni All-in-One and the Pavilion Phoenix h9 desktop.

The all-in-one computer appears to be aimed at the family office. It’s expansive screen is good for watching video and its “one cord” setup is clearly aimed at people who want a computer that can move around the house, easy to get going and want to share movies, pictures or other media with a crowd.

The Pavilion Phoenix, on the other hand, is clearly aimed at power gamers, at least the ones who don’t want to build their own machines. The computer has nearly all of the bells and whistles you could want, from 2 TB of storage to a highly effective (but scary to DIY) liquid cooling system. It even has room for up to three hard drives.

One offbeat item that could debut at CES? A waterproof tablet, writes Nathan Ingraham:

We're expecting to see a wide variety of Android tablets next week at CES, but the Pantech Element is one of only a few we've heard of that claims to be waterproof.According to BGR, the Element will be "waterproofed for real life," which translates to splash-resistance as long as all the ports are closed. The waterproof rating is reportedly IP57, which means that you can't submerge it like other ruggedized devices on the market like the Motorola Defy; it sounds similar to the splash-resistant coating Motorola's Xoom 2 / Xyboard. 

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