The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 may have been the most-wanted presents this Christmas, but PC gaming is hogging the headlines at CES.
The world’s most popular PC gaming service, Steam, has over 65 million active users and its parent company, Valve, has just announced partnerships with 14 companies to make Steam Machines – games consoles that bring PC gaming into the living room.
The big attraction of Steam Machines is that they’re open, upgradeable and flexible like a PC, but they have the plug-in-and-go convenience of a console. This could signify a major shift in the way games are played in the future.
Alongside the new Steam Machines are a group of new peripherals that make even Xbox’s Kinect look old. The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset that fits over the eyes and allows gamers to look around inside a game, and its latest prototype offers a visual experience no TV or monitor will ever match. People have been talking about Virtual Reality since the 1980s, but in the latest Oculus Rift we’re finally seeing it emerging as a consumer product.
Wearable technology in general is a huge trend. It’s become a lot more bankable with the success of fitness gadgets like the sports bands and GPS watches we’ve seen in the last couple of years, but the vision shared by a lot of large tech firms is that in the near future we’ll have an ‘Internet of Things’.
This meanse everything from your coffee machine to your shoes to your baby’s bottle will have a sensor or two and a low-power wireless connection, allowing you to monitor and control everything from your houseplants to your kettle to your front door lock with your PC or smartphone.
To help people build new portable or wearable devices for this new world, Intel has developed a tiny computer called the Edison. It’s as powerful as one of the old Pentium PCs that used to be a staple of every office, but it fits inside one of the SD cards you’d put in your camera.
Of course, any technology journalist will tell you that CES is also the event at which all the new TVs are announced, and in the last couple of years companies have quietly shelved 3D and raced to produce 4K screens, which have four times as many pixels as a Full HD set.
This year’s most impressive sets from LG and Samsung are not only 4K but curved, like the screen in a cinema, and solve a conundrum that’s plagued 4K since its consumer inception - where’s the 4K content? - by incorporating 4K streaming services from the likes of Netflix. They’re dizzyingly expensive, but at the lower end of the scale 4K TVs are becoming just about affordable – if you’ve been waiting to replace your old telly, this could be the year to do it.
CES 2014: The best gadgets from Las Vegas so far
CES 2014: The best gadgets from Las Vegas so far
With a pair of robotic toys named Bo and Yana (that's Bo playing the xylophone on the left) Play-i are hoping they can teach children how to code. Whilst there's plenty of similiar initiatives, Play-i are hoping they can reach young children, offering the mobile bots alongside a visual programming language that can be used by kids as young as 5. They fit together simple instructions (such as 'when blocked, turn right', or 'when shaken, play sound X') to teach Bo and Yana to respond to their environments, learning the blocks and mechanics of coding along the way.
The Pebble is one of the most venerable smartwatches out there but consumers have often complained that the device feels somewhat cheap and flimsy. The answer is the new Pebble Steel, an up-market model made from quality materials that comes with either a leather or steel-link strap. The e-ink interface remains identical but has now been covered with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. Expect increasingly attractive devices like the Steel as wearables become less of an oddity and more of a fashion statement.
Continuing to prove that drones can be fun for all as well as weapons of war, French company Parrot have released the MiniDrone - a compact version of their popular AR Drone quadrocopter. Portable enough to fit into a backpack with ease (the wheels on the side are detachable), the MiniDrone is controlled by a paired smartphone app over Bluetooth and has internal gyroscopes to keep it stable even when your hands are off the controls. Prices aren't yet known but it could be a perfect gift for the budding drone-pilot in your family.
Panasonic made its name with its high-quality TVs, but at CES it has also showed off a high-tech blowdryer with a flashy name to match. The "Nanoe" will actually wet your hair as it dries it. Pansonic claim that the device takes "mositure from your hair and in the air, and uses it to create tiny, moisture-rich particles that are small enough to penetrate the shafts of your hair".
The theme of 'everyday household object + smartphone app' is becoming an overly-familiar formula, especially when the the app in question can chivvy you into healthier habits. The Kolibree toothbrush (left) does exactly this for your dental hygiene, monitoring how long your brush and even where in the mouth you've covered. A connected app will time your daily routine and provide you with charts and data to compare with friends and family.
Whether you think the gadget in this picture looks creepy or caring will probably be a good prediction of how you'd feel about it tracking you round the house. It's the disturbingly named Mother from Sen.se, a company that specializes in connected devices. Each Mother comes with a number of senors the size of coin that can detect temperature, location and movement. They all feed info back to the Mother (which then reports to your smartphone) and can be used to record anything from how much you walk in a day to whether your plants need watering. Sen.se claims that Mother "offers the knowledge and comfort you want, when and how you want it, all while remaining discreet."
Typing on smartphones and other mobile devices is never convenient but a company named TrewGrip think they have a solution: 'rear typing'. Their eponymous gadget (left) wraps around your phone or tablet, repositioning a traditional qwerty keyboard into a vaugely steering wheel-like grip. A built in accelerometer lets you control an on-screen mouse by tiling the device around and the company promises a learning curve of 8-10 hours.
The little wheeled cylinder at the bottom of this picture might not look like much, but its makers - Orbotix - promise that the Sphero 2B is the best smartphone-connected toy on the market. Controlled by both iOS and Android handsets, the $99 device is rugged and programmable, with the makers hoping that users will learn how to think like a coder whilst they use it. Augmented reality games where the graphics pop up on mobile devices are available or you can simply engage in some traditional bumper car style fun with a pair of Spheros.
The new Aura from Withings (left) wants to help you wake up and fall asleep as gently as possible. Consisting of a soft pillow-sized pad that you slip under your sheet and a bedside lamp and speaker, the Aura monitors your sleeping patterns (including breathing and heart rates) before waking you at the right point in your sleep cycle with a gentle combination of light and sound. Coming to the UK in spring from £200, the Aura will connect to your smartphone, log your sleeping patterns and give you the best advice to catch 40 winks every night.
Curved screen displays for smartphones looks set to continue as a trend into 2014, with the LG G Flex (left) attracting plenty of attention. LG claim that the hand set (which curves from top to bottom) will better fit the contours of your face and offer users a more 'immersive' viewing experience. Whether or not it fits in your pocket quite so easily remains to be seen.
There's nothing that gets geeks more excited than the prospect of a smart oven (this wasn't even the only example from CES this year). With the new Discovery IQ Dual-Fuel (left) you get 10 different cooking modes that can be controlled remotely from your smartphone; you get cooking tutorials that you can download straight to the Android touchscreen on the hob itself; and - the clincher on the whole thing - you even get slow-closing doors.
The PrioVR (left) wants to take the idea of gamers using their body as a controller (as seem with the likes of the Kinect and the Nintendo Wii) and make it as accurate as possible with a full-body motion-capturing suit. Currently only the upper-body portion is available but the makers, Yei Technology, promise that the legs are on the way. Gamers use a pair of nunchuck controllers to move about, whilst the arm and head trackers capture where you're looking and aiming.
Will Dunn is the Associate Editor of Stuff magazine
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