Sexy times at CES

The largest nerd fest in the world, the Consumer Electronics Expo has wrapped in Vegas for 2014 and Tim Batt has chosen four key popular tech areas and the stand out product/service from each category to look out for this year. Should you give a shit about curved TVs? What’s Playstation Now? How far away are my 1980s style dreams of virtual reality gaming? Read on and learn folks.

Mobile

My_Xperia_Z1Sony’s Xperia Z1 Compact

Holy smokes, this is an awesome phone. Filling a (bizarrely) long-lingering gap in the market for a smartphone with high-end features to be small enough for normal-sized human hands to wrap around. In addition, by making the damn thing WATERPROOF, Sony may be finding a foothole to build on its increasingly strong but still unpopular line of mobiles.

What makes the Z1 Compact so special is its 4.3” screen size. Considering it has a top-of-the-line processor and graphics (Snapdragon800 with 2Gb RAM and Adreno 330, for the curious), an amazing camera (20MP with Sony’s class lending lens) and expandable memory via a MicroSD slot – this turns into quite a different beast to what is on the market. For those kind of top tier features, up until now, you had to buy a 4.7” or 5” phone – the Samsung Galaxy S4, Nexus 5 or HTC One. I have the smallest of these three and I can tell you, for someone with normal or smallish hands, it’s a juggling act to use them with one hand.

Any down sides? Well, it has a 720p resolution screen which is lower than the top-tier 1080p res on the aforementioned S4 and One but in all real world applications, you will not notice this difference. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar and you should tell them that to their stupid face. Loudly. The Z1 Compact is expected to sell for somewhere around $750 in New Zealand but no carriers have announced when they will sell it.

Gaming Software

Playstation Now

Playstation Now is a very compelling service that’s going to allow selected Playstation 1, 2 and 3 games to be played on mobiles, tablets and 2014 model Sony TVs (plus PS3s, PS4s and PS Vitas). The magic behind this idea is that all the computing and graphics work is done on servers operated by Sony and that is channeled to your device by the internet. That allows devices with relatively low-computing power (such as TVs and mobiles) to act as a ‘portal’ to play your games on with a Playstation controller. It’s the coolest use of cloud computing in gaming yet but there are a couple of caveats. First, although the service is going to launch sometime this year (the beta starts at the end of this month) the price for the service is unknown. More concerningly, the service will be very dependent on your internet speed and in New Zealand, that spells trouble. Sony are recommending a connection of at least 5 Mbps but nobody has seen the service work in the real world, only showcased under optimal conditions at CES. Then there’s the fact that New Zealand is often among the last in the western world to have access to these kinds of services. The idea is fantastic, however there is a lot that could hinder Playstation Now in New Zealand, so I’m going to chalk my expectations up to cautious optimism for right now.

­Gaming Hardware

The goggles! They do nuzzink!

The goggles! They do nuzzink!

Oculus Rift

A name you may have heard and not known what the heck the product was. Oculus VR are a company dedicated to making the dreams of futuristic virtual reality gaming by wearing a silly thing on your face come to life in the 2010s (as predicted in movies of the 1980s). Launched in 2011, they managed to raise US$2.4m from Kickstarter, topped up to $91m by investors. Their CTO/co-founder John Carmack was responsible for DOOM, Quake and Wolfenstein which bodes very well indeed. However, many thought the product would be vapourware (a piece of tech that gets developed to a stage but doesn’t make it to market) but CES 2014 has made a lot of people converts.

The latest Oculus Rift unit was coupled with a demo game called Crystal Cove and by some accounts, it’s actually getting good enough to start tricking your brain into thinking you are inside a game. A decision to switch the screen tech by Oculus means motion blurring has been significantly reduced from the last version which is good if you like not puking while you game. The introduction of a new motion tracking device means the movement of your head will be captured by a separate camera and be able to display what you see as you turn your head with almost zero lag. The tech media have marveled at the current abilities of Oculus and it seems the potential for its use in console and PC gaming is enormous. To quell this excitement a little, however, Rift isn’t expected to market until the end of this year at the very earliest.

TVs

4K and curved screens

1080p (or ‘Full HD’) is no longer the current gen. Welcome to the Ultra High Definition age. The new standard of hi-def is here and it’s called 4K because there’s approximately 4,000 pixels horizontally in the image, instead of the old 1080 pixels of ‘Full HD’. Every TV manufacturer worth their weight in liquid crystal had an offering of 4K telly and some are already on the market in New Zealand. Why you would want one yet is beyond me because there really aren’t any TV shows or movies in 4K resolution yet. Blu-ray are only just finalising their technology this week for delivering 4K movies on discs so it’s going to be a year or two for the format to mature enough to deliver content worth getting the TV for.

Netflix, the popular American TV streaming service are starting to offer 4K content this year (namely, the second season of the greatest show ever – House of Cards will be delivered in 4K) but great German millionaires Batman – you’re gonna need a lot of internet bandwidth and speed to support that much video coming down the pipes. And NZ’s internet simply ain’t up to the task. I’ll bet it won’t be for a good while yet either.

Curved tellies also seem to be all the rage with manufacturers this year. LG and Samsung both had offerings where at the touch of a button you can alter the curvature of the screen, showcasing the new flexible screen technology that now exists. The point is supposed to be a surrounding, immersible feel for the viewer. In reality, I don’t think it’s anything beyond a gimmick to release new models at higher profit margins for the companies making the sets. I predict, like 3D, it will be pushed and marketed by manufacturers for years before they become cheap enough to ‘may as well’ get for consumers.

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