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CES 2012 – Hardware Roundup

General Article By Carolyn Koh on January 18, 2012

The latest, the greatest, and the drool-worthy in hardware. The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is a showcase of the latest and the upcoming greatest in consumer electronics.  Some years, there’s not so much great stuff for PC gamers, some years there is.  This year, mobile gaming accessories remain big but the usual suspects like Razer had some interesting offerings.

In the realm of virtual reality, Sensics had a concept product Natalia - a VR helmet on “show and tell.” It has an on-board processor, cameras, headphones and a virtual reality engine. As the product was a prototype, it wasn’t a one-size fits all but the members of the press that got to demo it were pretty impressed with it. It is a “computer on your head” which utilizes cameras and gyros to capture your motion and gestures to interact with the game you are playing and will run in conjunction with your PC or console, etc.

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Aiken Labs which showed concept products the previous year, was showing the product they are shipping, their Immersive Motion multi-axes motion capture system. The starter kit is two units that you strap on your hands/wrists plus the sensor/server which connects to the gaming hardware and the game. An interesting product at a price point of $199 for the starter kit. Additional motion units can be added, but at show time, the kits are only on pre-order status and a list of games supporting the technology had yet to be released. 

Razer’s motion sensing controllers in collaboration with Six Sense was launched in 2011 and named Hydra. Not new, but definitely in the smack bang in the cool category of a launched product which is compatible with over 150 games out of the box. At a price point of $99.99 – is it a gimmick or a better way to play your games? The guys were demonstrating the Hydra with League of Legends and cleaning up.

MICE, MOUSE-PADS, AND KEYBOARDS

Next up, mice, mouse-pads and keyboards. For a long time in MMO pre-history, the only gamer-quality mice and keyboards were Logitech, then Razer encroached on their territory with not just gamer-peripherals, they launched MMO specific products. These days, we begin to be spoiled for choice and companies are showing products with unique features to stand-out from the crowd.

ROCCAT brings a great line-up of products that will be available in February with the tag-line of bringing some good German engineering to your game. The Kone[+] mouse had the usual high DPI, changing DPI on the fly, ultra-smooth feet, and macro manager (game profiles), but features as well, an on-the-mouse dual-level button set –i.e. you can assign two different set of functions to the 8 mouse buttons – and can change this particular profile without having to access the software menu. It also has extra set of 4 weights for gamers to customize the weight of the mouse and weighs in nicely at a price point of $79.99.

Their Isku keyboard again has the usual back lighting, large wrist rest for comfort, but features three additional thumb macro buttons under the space bar, making use of the least used digit on a gamers’ hands. On-the-fly macro recording, five profiles that can be set to auto-load with the game and built-in communication with the Kone mouse completes this keyboard that ships in February for $89.99.

ROCCAT’s headset offering is the 5.1 surround Kave. Dedicated, not emulated, with 4 audio plugs (front, back, center & sub) and a USB power plug. It folds up into a small package and yet is a super-aural headset with good padding around the ears, a vibration unit which can be turned on or off, a game mode which turns off the sub so that voices (the mid-range) comes through better and the movie mode which turns the sub back on. Of note is the LED indictor which lets you know when the mic is muted. How many of us have heard conversations we’d rather not hear over our headsets? Or yelled at group mates whom we thought weren’t paying attention? It’s the little things that often really make a good product great, and the designers even have vent grills on the top of each ear piece for comfort. Shipping in February for $119.99, I might have to review this to see how it really measures up.

Mionix from Sweden also brings us a suite of gamer peripherals.  Their Zibal 60 keyboard is a mechanical keyboard with a feel reminiscent of the almost indestructible “clicky” keyboards of old – with an added twist. It’s “rage proof” having a thin steel under layer with the reps happily slamming their fists into it to show that off. Of course it comes with the usual slew of common features, lighted, keys, nice wide wrist rest, six-key rollover – i.e. it registers up to six keys depressed at once. No macro keys though: it’s old school at $139.99

The Mionix Naos mouse (say that 3 times fast), apart from the usual 6 – 8 programmable buttons, high sensitivity, speed and on-the-fly DPI changing of all gamer mice boasts a software feature that analyses the mousing surface, checks the data loss and adjusts the sensitivity automatically. At $89.99, it is available at the usual suspects.

Razer’s latest offering in gaming mice is the Naga Hex – named for the six thumb buttons in a ring – that’s tailored for MOBAs and action RPGs.  Why? Because that’s about the number of actions that is used in League of Legends, Star Craft or Defense of the Ancients. 

In other Razer news, they announced the Synapse 2.0 cloud based driver server system which allows you to register and manage all your Razer devices from anywhere you have an internet connection. Project Fiona – a tablet based gaming system was also announced and a concept was shown behind glass. It looks awfully awkward right now, but it’s early days yet and not even a prototype yet. The expected price point is under $1,000.

While on the floor, I came across the Zalman booth and their FPSGun mouse – a picture paints a thousand words. What else can I say? Unfortunately though, this baby isn’t available here in the US as yet. The model on display fit my hand which means it’s probably small for 80% of gamers.

Gunnar Optiks was showing off their latest models and I was told that they are covered by VSP – a large eye-care provider here in the US, as prescription glasses can be made with Gunnar lens. For gamers, the models feature flat ear pieces so headsets can be worn over them in comfort but for those of us who spend all day in front of a computer then game all night – in front of a computer (mea culpa), this might be the year I explore this.

Vibration seemed to be the thing this year for headsets, but Snakebyte goes one better through their adoption of artificial muscle technology. Sound is the translation of electrical impulses through a speaker driver. In the Ear: Drum – the code name for their yet to come headset, these electrical impulses are also translated into movement in a film that’s build into the speaker driver. What happens then is that the headset vibrates – very subtly but unmistakably. I got the pulse of the bass in music like I was in a club and the proximity of an explosion was magnified by the vibration. It is a technology that isn’t in your face so you couldn’t mistake it, but definitely something that you’d miss if taken away.

Moving on, there was the portable console-in-a-case system by GAEMS - a brief case that holds a screen and your gaming console which meets airline carry-on guidelines. Instead of tying up the family TV, you can now game in the privacy of your room. As long as your connection from console to screen is via HDMI cable – which means the Xbox 360 / PS3 generation on up.

Ever wanted to clone your hard drives with a single click? Coming soon is Cirago’s solution, the CDD3000 which is a HDD docking station which docks both 2.5” as well as 3.5” SATA drives and clones with a single click. They also have the HydraDisplay which connects up to three monitors, for $179.99 as well as a whole slew of other useful gadgets and adapters like the blue-tooth & wi-fi USB dongle for your older PCs and laptops.

DISPLAYS

Gaming mice, keyboards, headsets we’ve seen plenty of, what about displays? Are there actually monitors that are developed specifically for gamers? There are now. Ben-Q showed their XL and RL series of professional gaming monitors. Co-designed with Counter-Strike Legends, the XL is tailored to the needs of the FPS gamer with their Black eQualizer color engine technology to spot that NPC (or opponent) in that dark corner. The top of the line model at $499 also features a remote control with three display settings you can save for three different situations. Whether it is gaming, work or entertainment, or just three different game maps!  For the RL series Ben-Q collaborated with Star Craft pro-gamers to create a monitor for contrast and speed. 

iSafebags isn’t about sexy or drool-worthy, but safety seldom is. It’s nothing new to pair flashing lights with a noise maker, but this one is built into backpacks and messenger bags. How often do we as gamers, carry our most precious items with us? Quite a bit, I would say. Hidden away under a flap on the strap of the bags, at chest level is the trigger which is attached to the bag with a cord. Pull the cord and the trigger releases, tripping off flashing red lights and two 125dB sirens that broadcasts in two directions, away from the user. Personal safety alarm as well as a siren if your backpack gets ripped off. Neat idea.

MOBILE DEVICES

We game on far more than just PCs, and iPad accessories were everywhere this year. There seems to be a price point for cases that most companies are adhering to, and it’s $39.99. For cases that range from cheap plastic stuff you wouldn’t trust to hold your precious to sturdy plastic cases that look really good. Here’s a shout-out then to M-Edge which has a sturdy canvas, customizable case for the princely sum of $35. I created one for myself over Christmas and can attest to the quality. Generation 1 has the four corner holders and holds both the iPad1 and the iPad2, but a new case with an dedicated holder and camera hole is also available.

Last but not least, check out the Emperor 1510 workstation. When I hit the lottery, this will be the first $6,200 goodie I buy for myself. It’s not a gaming chair like the flight simulator chair I reported last CES, it’s a workstation. A steel structure with hydraulic lifts for tilt and fit to your ergonomic needs, it has LED lights, Bose Audio (with a sub under the seat), adjustable keyboard tray, side trays, foot rest and versatile monitor configuration. I sat in it, adjusted the entire thing to my short stature and didn’t want to leave it. Of course, if I hit the lottery big time, there’s its big brother, the Emperor 200 – bespoke, with leather seat, air filters and touch screen control center. 

Finally… booth babes are hardware, right? Or are they software? You tell me.

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