One of the largest trade shows of the year, CES (Consumer Electronics Show) was held between the 8th and the 11th of January this year and saw a large amount of vendors and manufacturers showing off their hardware and hard work during the expo. While I wasn’t there I was following the events and reveals and rather than barrage you, dear reader, with everything that went on, there’s a few highlights that I’d like to point out that might grab your interest.
OCULUS RIFT MAKES SOME NOISE ONCE AGAIN
We’ve had many manufacturers try to offer Virtual Reality peripherals and truth be told, none of them have changed the game in any significant way. Nintendo jumped the gun with the Virtual Boy in 1995 and we’ve had other companies in the past who came thick and fast with the same kind of idea… and then disappeared into the darkness just as rapidly. Oculus Rift, however, has other aspirations.
As we’ve seen so far, its compatible with a wide range of games, all with a focus on first-person views: Skyrim, Mirror’s Edge, Portal 2, Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead, Unreal Tournament 3, Dear Esther, DiRT 2 and AaAaAA!!!. But despite the hardware drawbacks that commonly dog these kinds of head units, Oculus Rift works pretty much the way you’d expect it to. Demo models on the CES floor were without fault and impressed show-goers to no end, with Tom’s Hardware’s Dom Woligroski remarking that, “it could be as big a deal as 3D hardware acceleration was!” and Anandtech’s Brian Klug pointing out that, “its better than any other VR kit out in the market.”
While I don’t doubt that Oculus Rift will be a great piece of hardware, already I’m wondering if it has any application outside of first-person games. For example, could you use it to play something like The Witcher 2, or Command and Conquer? Head tracking in a game that’s not first-person orientated will be a bit of a hurdle and that’s before you get into how it integrates into games themselves – it’ll be almost completely PC-targeted because support for the Oculus Rift starts with the device’s drivers, currently supported by CyberReality, as Miklós pointed out last week Friday.
For those of you who don’t already know, Oculus Rift uses a screen with a resolution of 1280 x 800 and splits it into a 640 x 800 3D image. The strange aspect ratio (8:10) can be worked in but as you’ve no doubt already mused, most game support panders to 16:9 resolutions like 1280 x 720p and 1920 x 1080p – support for Oculus Rift, then, must be handled by either the drivers for the device or the game’s engine. Tracking motion is pretty fast at 250Hz, however there will have to be some developments as to how the unit handles V-Sync issues as well as 120Hz support. Most of the units that have been on display are prototypes, so everything’s still a little bit murky at the moment.
The Price? Probably $300.
AMD’s NEW MOBILE CHIPS DESERVE SOME ATTENTION
While I will cover the new members of AMD’s APU and GPU family later this week, I’d like to point out that the entire CES reveal that AMD had was pretty much chock-full of performance improvements. The company seems to be well on their way with their new product families this year and they finally settled on the names: Solar System and Sea Islands are their mobile and desktop GPUs, Richland and Kaveria are their mobile APUs, Kabini is the Ultrathin-targeted APU family and Temash is AMD’s first complete SOC for tablets.
First things first, though – Temash. Because its a SOC with a TDP lower than 5 Watts, its principle target market is tablets. It comes in dual and quad-core variants and its a full x86 package (suck it, ARM and Tegra 3/4). Its GPU puts in a better performance than Intel’s Clover Trail and plays DiRT Showdown at 1080p with low-to-medium details (pictured above, video of proof here). That’s AMD’s strength for this year as well – their graphics subsystem is just miles ahead when it comes to the x86 tablet market. Compared to AMD’s Hondo Z60 APU with a TDP of 4.5W and debuted last year, Temash is at least twice as powerful.
Put in perspective, last year Intel launched its Cedar Trail Atom platform for tablets with a Intel HD GPU. Hondo is said to be six times more powerful than Cedar Trail when it comes to graphics-heavy applications (movies, games, light photo editing, etc.). Neither Cedar nor Clover Trail-based Atoms can play DiRT Showdown. We’ve got a very, very long lead between AMD and Intel in the tablet space. I just hope they can keep that distance and continue to draw ahead even further.
Temash-based products will likely pop up mid-way through 2013. The Z60 will still be sold alongside it, but will be targeted for tablets that won’t see much gaming action.
The other important reveal I’d like to point out is their Kabini APU family. If you’ve been looking around lately, most of the low-cost AMD-based notebooks use the company’s E2-1800 dual-core chip from the Zacate family. While specifics haven’t been mentioned yet, Kabini is said to have a 50% performance improvement with a lower TDP. It’ll find a home in AMD-based Ultrathins and low-cost notebooks, the first examples of which will come from ASUS and HP. AMD is marketing Kabini against Ivy Bridge-based Ultrabooks running the Core i3-3217U, which is what most cost-conscious buyers end up with.
I’d like to take this chance to also point out something else vitally important. Temash and Kabini are manufactured on the 28nm node process. Richland is based off current 32nm Trinity APUs and improves performance by 20-40%, while Kaveria is a 28nm, GCN-toting beatstick for products introduced later into Q4-2013 with even more performance improvements promised. That means that AMD is well on track with their Steamroller architecture and the drop to the 28nm process node for their desktop products. Their progress in catching up to Intel is really impressive – by 2015, they should be on equal footing once more.
INTEL’S MOBILE HASWELL CAN KEEP UP WITH NVIDIA DISCRETE GRAPHICS
Intel pulled a fast one at CES this year and kept its booth rather small, but was pretty important in termsl of what they’re hoping to achieve in the mobile space. They had two mobile products on their stand – an unidentified Haswell mobile setup housed inside a desktop chassis and an ASUS UX15, an Ivy Bridge-based quad-core notebook with discrete Nvidia GT650M graphics. Both were running DiRT 3 at 1080p with the High detail setting on identical screens. The result is while the GT650M is visibly quicker and smoother, you can see for yourself that the Haswell mobile rig keeps up very well.
That’s pretty impressive. Its obvious that the GT650M is capable of dialing up the details because there’s a bit more going on that side, but the two systems are very close. In a blind test, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two systems unless you knew which graphical details to look out for.
But then again, we’ve seen some tomfoolery by Intel before at CES 2012, ironically also with a graphics demontration of Ivy Bridge. If you don’t know, here’s the video of the video they played that was supposed to be a live demo of Formula One 2011 running on their Ivy Bridge prototype. This year’s one looks slightly more legit, though.
ANDROID CAMERAS ARE GOING TO MAKE INROADS FOR AVID PHOTOGRAPHERS
Take the new Galaxy S III. Its practially a phablet and integrates a lot of other technologies into a thin device that’s practically the best of both worlds – a phone and a camera. But what if you switched your priorities around and went in the opposite direction? That’s how the Galaxy Camera came to be.
We’ve had camera-phones before and to a large extent they weren’t the successes everyone was hoping (Nikon S800C, Polaroid’s various attempts over the years). If you take pseudo camera-phones like Nokia’s 808, it tries to do the same thing but doesn’t have the same abilities as something like this. But CES 2013 pretty much puts this as the year of the Android Camera. I’ve seen a lot of people using the Galaxy Camera while I was browsing through CES-related videos on Youtube and there’s a lot of praise heaped on it on Twitter. The practicality of a point-and-shoot with a Xenon flash and proper zoom lens, as well as the ability to ruin your photos with Instagram or load them up immediately to Facebook or your blog on WordPress is understated. It can also upload the images to Dropbox or a service like Google Drive and there’s even some Geo-location action going on.
Of course you can argue that a cameraphone like the Galaxy S III or the Pureview 808 or even the Lumia 920 will do the same job, but its a different design philosophy – its a phone with a whole lot of others things including a camera. The Galaxy Camera is a camera with connected capabilities. Its limited, but in such a way that gives you no reason to expect it to be a do-it-all device. Its not meant to replace cameraphones, its there to augment their abilities. Samsung is going to be on a roll this year.
PANASONIC JUMPS THE GUN WITH A 4K WINDOWS 8 TABLET
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, you did just read that someone is already making, prototyping and putting out a 4K resolution tablet within this year. Panasonic, Samsung and Sony were the three companies punting the new high-end resolution for monitors and Panasonic’s 20-inch tablet took center stage.
Apart from the screen size and resolution there’s not much else that Panasonic divulged. Obviously its going to be hideously expensive as it is a first-generation product and Panasonic has said that its aiming the tablet more at business use for now.
SOME KICKSTARTER PROJECTS WERE AT CES AS WELL, INCLUDING PEBBLE
I heard about Pebble when the Kickstarter program started and the premise was nothing new: a digital smart watch that could draw on notifications from your phone and also sported various digital faces to choose from. The difference? Pebble’s watch is actually designed with some sensibility in mind and uses an e-Paper display (not to be confused with e-Ink). Its not the smartest or the most capable smartwatch we’ve seen in recent years, but the ingenuity of the entire thing boils down to the amount of customisation that the watch allows. I’m particularly taken with the different faces it displays.
I love the binary one at the end. The watch connects to iOS and Android devices (Windows Phone possibly sometime in the near future) and uses Bluetooth to pull notifications, updates from Twitter or Facebook and can even control device functions like music playback. Its also waterproof, has a built-in pedometer and accelerometer and can last for a week on its rechargeable battery. So you can read your e-mails while skipping to the next song on your phone while in the shower.