CES 2014 Extravaganza
For the second year in a row I was fortunate (lucky?) enough to attend the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas! Brimming with the latest technology, gadgets, innovations, and plenty of robots, CES was great every way you look at it. Though certainly not the biggest draw to the event but easily the biggest reason I was excited to attend were video games. While nothing mind blowing was shown (unless you want to count Sony’s PlayStation Now feature), there were some cool toys to play around with.
Though not really all that “new”, NVIDIA’s Shield Android based gaming controller is sweet tech. Last year I remember seeing it behind glass, but this year it was on full display at NVIDIA’s booth. I always though of Android based games as simple iPhone apps, but this demo unit was running a few titles, of which I choose to play Rochard, all at impressive rates. The Shield itself is somewhat hefty, weighing in a bit heavier than a standard Xbox 360 controller, which is likely thanks to the screen being attached to the controller. The buttons were responsive, the gameplay was fluid, and overall it was a fun device.
I guess my big question with the Shield is why? Why do you need to have this? Running Android games shouldn’t be that exciting unless we start to get a boatload of quality Android titles. Streaming PC games is cool, but now you’re looking at a smaller screen rather than your (hopefully) larger monitor. Convenience is likely what it comes down to, but aside from being a cool device I don’t think it’s a huge game changer.
Valve has given the PC world what it wants and introduced the Steam Machine to gamers. At CES several companies had displays of their boxes available for viewing, though I didn’t run into any that were actually demoing the unit. Each Steam Machine will stream your Steam library of PC games to the TV, allowing you to play many once-exclusive PC titles on the big screen. The above image is NVIDIA’s Steam Machine they had at the show. There were others hidden around as well. Seeing as they were largely just, “Look! It’s a Steam Machine!” displays, there’s really nothing else to talk about.
The Steam Controller
The biggest gaming draw to me for this year’s CES was the Steam Controller. With Valve’s new Steam Machines making a smaller splash in the gaming pool, it was the Steam Controller that really had gamers excited at CES. The line to just look at the controller (because it was only the controller, not games to play it on, and no live demo at the time I was there) was at least 15 people deep, all clamoring to see the strange device.
Perhaps because it wasn’t plugged in or maybe the insides weren’t there in this display unit, but the Steam Controller feels incredibly light. I’m talking Sixaxis light. Aside from the weight, the controller fits comfortably in your hand, and the buttons are easy to reach and feel responsive to the touch. Now, those two touch pad controllers are the real elephant in the room here, and sadly without a game to demo it with it’s hard to say how they work. I can say that the pads are wide enough to accommodate your thumb easily, and they appear to be able to be pressed or clicked as well. It’ll be interesting to see just how the controller holds up when used with more complicated PC games.
Sony PlayStation Now & 3D Headset
Sony announced at the show the sweet PlayStation Now feature. Essentially it is Sony finally using the Gaikai service it swiped up some years back. With PlayStation Now, you can stream video games from the cloud, kind of like how you watch movies and TV shows with Netflix. It is a brilliant service that should make every Sony device (it’s starting out with the PS3 and PS4 then being added to the VITA and Sony’s TVs) much more enticing to just about everyone. They had a few units running games through the service. God of War III was being streamed through a PS4 onto the television and it looked excellent. But of higher note was a smooth version of The Last of Us being played on the VITA. Oh man, that was awesome to see. I really hope Sony takes advantage of this and gives gamers something truly wonderful.
What was making more of a splash at Sony however was the HMZ-T3Q 3D Headset. Sony’s answer to the Oculus Rift, the HMZ-T3Q Headset is a HD 3D gaming experience. And just like the Oculus, it is early in development, although Sony is apparently already taking pre-orders on the device. The demo unit for the machine was packed, but the big differences between this and the Oculus are seemingly only style. Sony’s Headest is much more compact than the Oculus and looks a lot prettier (and not to mention less dorky) when worn. It’ll be interesting to see how these two stack up against one another when they fully release, but as far as cool future tech goes, this was one of the best gaming pieces in the show.
The counterpart to Sony’s new device is the old Oculus Rift. Several booths had the Oculus on demo, but we decided to play with it at the Xi3 (another possible Steam Machine) booth. I’ll get this mini-review out of the way right now: the Oculus Rift is pretty cool.
The headset itself looks really bulky but it isn’t heavy when you’re wearing it. Of course you can look around and the game moves to accommodate, which is a cool feature, but you can also control the camera using the controller as well. This is necessary because you’re not going to be turning in circles to play the game: that would likely make you tired, dizzy, and possible lose your balance. Speaking of which, I actually did lose my balance a bit once while playing. Having the camera move with your slightest head twitch as well as with the controller input can take some getting used too.
Assuming you can stay on your feet the Oculus is sweet tech. The game I demoed was Half-Life 2 which is a great game to just look around in, but one that doesn’t truly take advantage of what the Oculus has to offer. I’m sure those games will be on the distant horizon when the device releases. Overall it was a good interaction with the unit, and one that felt natural.
There were thousands of other booths to peruse, including some other gaming based ones. A few independent tablet based game companies, some interesting controller designs, and plenty of unique accessories, but nothing extraordinary or particularly noteworthy. The above items were the best in show in terms of gaming. Speaking of which, if I had to pick something that was the best from what I saw I would honestly have to go with PlayStation Now. The streaming feature can (and hopefully will be) huge for Sony if done right, and it should get every gamer excited to utilize.
Who knows what brand new tech next year’s CES will bring. Should I be fortunate enough to be able to attend again I’ll be sure to give you the details on all the latest games, gadgets, and other geeky goodies.