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What is CES anyway?

By Doug Gross and Brandon Griggs, CNN
Technology that has debuted at CES includes high-definition TV, compact disc players and Blu-ray.
Technology that has debuted at CES includes high-definition TV, compact disc players and Blu-ray.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • About 110,000 people attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
  • The show, started in '67, has seen rollout of compact disc players, high-definition TVs and "Pong"
  • Observers say real action at CES is among tech players making deals behind the scenes
  • There are elements of flash: Seen the wrist-cell phone that was so hot last year?
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Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) -- Anyone who's even peeked at the Internet over the past few days has likely noticed the flood of technology news out of Las Vegas.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show is geek heaven on Earth -- a Super Bowl, Disney World and New York Fashion Week all rolled into one for the techies who flock to Vegas to eyeball the newest gadgets from the world's leading manufacturers.

But, if you're not one of the 110,000 or so on the floor at the conference, why should you care?

Well, have you ever listened to a CD player or watched high-definition television or Blu-ray? All of those products were new once -- and they were launched at CES.

Sponsored by trade group the Consumer Electronics Association, the show was started in 1967 in New York.

In that time, everything from the Atari game "Pong," which debuted in 1975, to the Camcorder, in 1981, has been rolled out at the show.

This year, more than 2,500 exhibitors are showing off 20,000 new products -- all hoping to become the icons whose products will be remembered for years to come.

Recently, some observers have questioned the show's relevance at a time when tech giants such as Google and Apple -- witness Tuesday's Nexus One launch -- can get massive media coverage for product announcements whenever they want.

But many tech journalists say the show remains as important as ever.

"It is still an important launching pad for new stuff," says Glenn Chapman, who covers tech news for Agence France Presse. "Some of its significance has been diminished because of today's rhythm [of product debuts]. Companies launch whenever they're ready now."

Scott Steinberg, publisher of DigitalTrends.com, agreed.

"CES is still a figurehead for the industry," said Steinberg. "When you attend CES you get a good overview of where tech is headed as a whole."

Skype, Flip, Cisco on CES, the future of technology

Other observers note that while it's the flashy product roll-outs that get the attention -- pop stars Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga already have made appearances this week -- it's the deal-brokering among tech players behind the scenes that truly matters.

"CES has never been primarily a press event. It's an industry event, a deal-making event," says Dylan Tweney, senior editor at Wired magazine. "The real action of CES is not on the show floor or at the press events -- it's behind closed doors, where the deals are made."

There is a certain element of the show that mirrors fancy fashion shows, with manufacturers, like designers, rolling out flashy, experimental products that they know they'll never sell on the mass market.

Despite the mainstream consumer gadgets that have emerged, people do love a cool-looking gadget, even if it never catches on.

Remember last year's CES darling, the Dick Tracy-like wristwatch cell phone? Didn't think so.

"People love to hear about that 70-inch OLED screen that's an inch thick," said Chapman of Agence France Presse. "But who's going to pay 10 grand for that?

The show officially kicked off Thursday, although pre-CES events heated up days before, and lasts through Sunday.