You don’t need a crystal ball to see what the future of technology holds. Every Consumer Electronics Show lays it out for you. You’ve just got to know where to look.
So judging by CES 2014, we can expect a future where 8K is the new 4K, consumer-friendly Steam Machines battle the PS4 and Xbox One for living room shelf-space, and everybody wears a fitness tracker. Heck, even the idea of the digital home is making a comeback, while VR continues to enjoy the coolest of reboots.
So here is our list of gadgets, gizmos and concepts that have the potential to disrupt and improve our digital world…
1. Nvidia Tegra K1
Yes, Nvidia’s newest quad-core chip isn’t a gadget per se. But imagine the next-gen gadgets that it could power with its 192 CUDA cores, desktop-class Kepler architecture, DirectX 11 and Unreal Engine 4 support. Nvidia claims that the K1 can outperform the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, delivering new levels of graphical realism in slate-style playthings that you can hold in the palm of your hand. No TV required. Nvidia plans to set the K1 free later this year in 32-bit 2.3GHz and 64-bit 2.5GHz versions. We’re excited to see the devices it will power.
2. An improved Oculus Rift
With VR headsets, digital watches and Yahoo launching new products, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d stepped back in time to CES 1995. But back then, when teenagers stood agog at the Lawnmower Man in cinemas and tuned into the X-Files on TV, Virtual Reality promised a digital escapism that the technology couldn’t deliver. Nineteen years later, the Oculus Rift is amazing people all over again and the updated ‘Crystal Cove’ hardware, with its 1080p OLED display, adds positional tracking, reduces latency and eliminates motion blur for a more nausea-free, immersive experience.
3. Steam Machines
No. This list isn’t ALL about gaming. It’s just that most of the exciting technological advances at this year’s CES seem to be gaming-related. Take gaming out of CES and what are you left with? Curved Ultra HD TVs, slimmer smartphones, slightly better tablets, more refined Ultrabooks, and concept cars with laser headlights.
Why are Steam Machines such a big deal? Because the concept of an easy-to-use, Windows-free living room PC has the potential to turn home entertainment on its head, to challenge the Xbox One and PS4, and to attract an audience who might once have balked at the cost and complexity of owning a gaming rig. Valve announced 13 Steam Machine partners at CES 2014; its Steam service already has 65 million members. The only question worth asking is: which Steam Machine should you buy?
4. Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro
As TechRadar’s very own Gareth Beavis succinctly put it: why has Samsung decided to hide its best iPad competitor under such a rubbish name? We have no idea but we do know that the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro is a brilliant piece of kit. The new screen, redesigned UI and the power behind it all mean that this is a real contender for tablet of the year. Bearing in mind it’s January, that’s pretty impressive.
5. Eyelock Myris
Considering how far technology has developed over the past few years, it’s astounding to think that we still protect our smartphones with a basic 4-digit code and safeguard our most important data with a password that we’re allowed to choose ourselves. There are safer, higher-tech solutions available. Apple introduced fingerprint recognition to mobiles with the iPhone 5. Eyelock aims to replace insecure passwords with Myris – a device that scans your eye for uncrackable authentication instead.
6. Project Christine
Back to gaming again, and the annual technology head-turner from Razer is its modular Project Christine PC. Just as Valve’s Steam Machines are designed to appeal to non-PC gamers who cower at the prospect of upgrading a graphics card, this unusual tower encases a system’s core components (hard drive/SSD, RAM, power supply, graphics card, etc) in non-threatening, pluggable boxes. The modular design is a neat approach (although pluggable upgrades would obviously be more expensive). Motorola has been playing around with the same idea for smartphones, and we should see its intriguing Project Ara hardware later this year.
7. Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
It may be small but this doesn’t stop it being any less impressive. The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact was the standout phone at CES 2014 with its 20.7MP G Lens sensor, a Snapdragon 800 quad-core chipset and the same metallic surround and waterproofing found on the full-fat Z1. Deciding to announce the Z1 Compact now and not at MWC 2014 was a shrewd move by Sony, given the lack of phones shown off at CES. But, even if it was released in February’s handset glut, it would still standout.
8. Flexible OLED
While LG’s flexible OLED technology appeared in a TV at CES, it’s not the TV that’s important. Once manufacturers have cracked flexible display technology and reduced the cost of producing it in volume, there’s the potential for wraparound displays, foldable displays, rollable displays and all of the futuristic devices that these screens will enable.
If bendable TVs are your thing, though, then the non-OLED Samsung 105-inch curved Ultra HD 4K is definitely one to look out for – it’s so good, it made Michael Bay lost for words.
9. Sony Bravia X9
Gimmick? We don’t need no stinking gimmick! That is what we imagined Sony told itself when it outed the Sony Bravia X9. While Samsung and LG (see above) were bending televisions like some sort of Uri Geller tribute act, Sony eschewed class and sophistication (as well as a whiff of cheese) with its wedge-shaped 4K television. 4K is the future of TV and what the wedge styling does is allow for a better sound system in the television.
10. LG Lifeband Touch
Wearables are surely the undisputed stars of this year’s show, with wrist-friendly technology that ranges from from the Pebble Steel smartwatch (more on this below) to the Garmin Vivofit and the Sony Core. The LG Lifeband Touch is one of the more advanced examples of wearable tech at CES 2014, featuring a full-touch OLED display on the outside, a three-axis accelerometer and an altimeter on the inside. Use it to track your fitness (steps walked, stairs climbed, cream cakes scoffed…) and to receive phone/text message alerts via Bluetooth.
11. Pebble Steel
The Pebble smartwatch has been the darling of the wearable tech game for some time now but its plastic looks have put some people off buying it. Pebble knew this and the Pebble Steel was born: a smartwatch that looks, well, like a watch. The Steel is a Pebble for grown-ups, offering both leather and metal straps. It still has the same E-ink screen but the control system has improved, making it one of TechRadar’s favorite gadgets at CES.
12. AMD Project Discovery
One of the most annoying aspects of any CES is seeing a gadget that you’re wildly excited by, only to find out that you’ll never have a chance to buy it (no matter how much you harangue the PR lady). In this case, the conceptual tech in question is AMD’s Project Discovery Tablet – a smart, 11-inch slate nestled in a gaming controller cradle (much like the Razer Edge Pro), and powered by the company’s new Mullins mobile processor.
13. Intel Edison
Intel might be a CES veteran, but its previous concepts have been hit (Ultrabooks) and miss (Ultra Mobile PCs). Yet, its new Edison product looks genuinely exciting – a full Pentium class PC the size of an SD card, built using the company’s 22nm tri-gate transistor tech. No doubt inspired by the runaway success of Raspberry Pi, Edison will run Linux and Intel hopes that the technology will be incorporated into all sorts of devices, each one a step on the long road to the ‘Internet of all things’, where every gadget and appliance is smart and net-connected.
14. PlayStation Now
We knew game streaming from Sony was coming – buying up Gaikai was a brilliant move by the gaming giant – but its announcement of PlayStation Now was still very impressive. The idea that you can stream PSOne, PS2 and PS3 games from any Sony infused smartphone, tablet of TV, without the need of a console, is great. But the whole announcement points to the future of gaming, beyond the PS4 and on to the PlayStation 5. If the streaming tech takes off, and we are in no doubt that it won’t, expect Sony’s next next-gen console to be one of the cheapest ever.
15. Toyota FCV
Toyota has a history of changing the car game. It brought hybrid cars to the mainstream with the Prius and now it is doing the same with the first mass-produced (but not the first) hydrogen powered car. How does it work? Well, a fuel-cell is used to blend stored hydrogen with oxygen from the atmosphere to generate electricity. When the magic happens, the only other product of the reaction is water, so the car only emits water and not lung-crippling carcinogenics. The first Toyota FCV’s should be on the production line in 2015.
So what can we take away from this year’s show?
- 8K is the new 4K
- Bendy is the new flat
- Computing is coming to cars (as are laser beam headlights)
- Screw the Xbox One and PS4 – we want a Tegra K1 gaming tablet
- Choosing a Steam Machine won’t be as straightforward as we thought
- You’ll soon be wearing a smart wristband
- You’ll soon be cursing the poor battery life of your smart wristband
- In tablet terms, ‘pro’ simply means ‘bigger’
- Despite what he says, Michael Bay can’t wing it in a press conference