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The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) begins this Thursday in Las Vegas. More than 130,000 attendees will be there to witness the unveiling of the hottest technology, gadgets and products slated to hit the public later this year. Everyone is anxious to see what companies like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Sprint (NYSE:S) and even Ford (NYSE:F) have lined up for the new year ahead. This year our preview comes from Shira Lazar, who will be covering the event live. Here are 5 key trends to watch and the companies associated with the unveiling of hot product catalysts:

Tablets Galore

While the iPad still dominates the tablet market, expect to see other players trying to squeeze in. For instance, Motorola (MOT) is expected to show its 10-inch Android-based (GOOG) tablet. Microsoft’s (MSFT) chief executive Steve Ballmer, who typically gives the opening keynote might talk about the launch of a WebOS-based tablet too.

Smart Phones

More smart phones to be announced. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) will also be announcing an update to its 4G (next-generation cellular) network, which could hint to a launch of a Verizon Apple iPad and iPhone. Besides the hardware, expect a lot of talk around new/updated apps and content for your smart phone.

3-D TVs

Last year, 3-D TVs were all the buzz. We’ve seen it’s popularity in theaters, with 19 films released in 3D in 2010 – some like Alice in Wonderland (NYSE:DIS), Jackass 3D and Toy Story 3 were huge box office successes as well. Consumer 3-D TVs, on the other hand, didn’t fare as well. By December 2010, manufacturers were offering sales slashing prices by nearly 50 percent. Expect to see more affordable 3-D TVs showcased at CES without the annoying glasses. There will even be some more fashionably 3-D glasses released. For instance, Oakley (OO) will be showcasing their new 3-D eyewear.

Connected TVs

More relevant than 3-D TVs, we’ll be seeing more chatter and announcements around connected TVs, which already have 21% of the market. These are TVs that allow you to get TV, movies and internet on demand. Just like your smartphone, these TV’s will have a ton of apps for consumers to experience- from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, Accuweather.com among many others. Imagine while watching a TV show, your Facebook chat popping up, or your stocks scrolling in a box on the lower part of your TV screen. Connected TVs will create a more lean forward rather than lean back experience.

Connected Cars

With both Ford and Audi (OTCPK:AUDVF) keynoting, there will be a ton of announcements around connected cars- internet connected devices on wheels. Your dashboard will soon become just another one of your many computer screens.

Disclosure: None

Source: 2011 Consumer Electronics Show Preview: 5 Key Trends to Watch