According to the organiser CEA (The Consumer Electronics Association), this week's 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Jan 5-8) will host 2,500 exhibitors from around the world and attract a huge number of visitors from home and abroad – some 130,000 attendees is the prediction, 5,000 more than last year.
Confirming the massive shift towards the digital home and online media, the keynote speeches at this trade-only show look set to be dominated by the giants of the computer and internet worlds, so watch out for the reports from our correspondents in Vegas, HEXUS supremo David Ross and Gaming editor Nick Haywood.
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is giving a pre-show keynote address on Wednesday (Jan 4) at 6.30pm and will be followed on Thursday - the first day of the show proper - by Intel's CEO Paul Otellini (4.30pm).
Perhaps more significant still are the promised keynotes on Friday (Jan 6) by a couple of the internet's biggest players. Yahoo's chairman and CEO Terry Semel speaks in the morning (9am) and Google co-founder Larry Page in the afternoon (4pm). Strong rumours suggest that Page may announce the introduction of a low-cost, Google-branded Linux PC or the Google Cube, a portable network media player. Or possibly both.
Sony may be best known as a consumer electronics firm with a finger in every A/V pie but it also has powerful PC and games-console credentials – as well as owning record labels and film studios. The corporation could hardly be better placed to take advantage of all the good digital convergence that's going on, so the keynote by its chairman and CEO Sir Howard Stringer scheduled for Thursday 9am should be worth waiting for.
Sony-knockers will be hoping that the Welshman gives them further cause to gloat by ignoring the corporation's recent humiliating cock-ups with CD-based digital rights management but, with so much potentially on his agenda – including Sony's backing for the Blu-ray Disc high-def optical format – it might be unwise to read too much into such an omission.
As the prominence given to Gates and Otellini demonstrates, CES is becoming ever-more WinTel-centric – accurately reflecting the current state of the overall home computer market - so Apple's high-profile boss Steve Jobs isn't among the big-name speechmakers. He'll have to wait for his day. But only until next week. A big Apple show - MacWorld, San Francisco - runs from next Monday to Friday (Jan 9-13) and Jobs' keynote is on Tuesday at 9am.
Jobs is likely to provide an update on the introduction of Intel-based Mac computers. If the Apple rumour-mill is to be believed, that might include the early launch of an Intel-inside version of the tichy small Mac Mini but transformed into an ultra-quiet and ultra-easy-to-use media-centre PC thanks to its running the Apple Front Row media interface on top of Mac OS X. And, coming the week after CES, that might be a cunningly-timed poke in the eye for Microsoft and Windows Media Center Edition.