The best of CES 2016
Every year CES has more to offer than any one human being could possibly digest in one week. We waded through the torrent of tech gear to bring you our picks for the most interesting, innovative and just plain fun tech in fields like transportation, VR and wearables. This is Gizmag's Best of CES 2016.
Digital technology gets on the road
In recent years CES has expanded in scope to provide a showcase for digital innovation in the transport arena, and in 2016 the array of road-going (and air-going) tech hit an all-time high.
The Auto Eye-Candy award for 2016 goes to the FFZERO1 Concept vehicle (above), a radical test-bed for electric-vehicle technology that includes four motors punching out over 1,000 bhp wrapped in a radically designed carbon fiber shell.
A new and long-awaited Volkswagen Microbus concept also surfaced in the form of the Budd-e. This (perhaps overly) optimistic look at the future of people moving includes sophisticated voice, touch and gesture control centered around a massive "multi-display hub," as well as outlining new architecture VW says could deliver long range and super fast charging times by the end of the decade.
Perhaps the biggest transport story of CES 2016 wasn't a car at all, it was Ehang's 184 AAV (Autonomous Aerial Vehicle) – a 440 lb (200 kg) drone designed to autonomously carry a single passenger from one location to another. Move over Uber?
Speaking of drones, they again commanded a sizeable chunk of floorspace at CES, but most were things we'd seen before. The same could be said for Intelligent Energy's fuel cell range extender, which was not dissimilar to Horizon Energy Systems' fuel cell-powered Hycopter. But being targeted at third party drones, Intelligent Energy's system could see more drones staying in the air longer and taking less time to refuel.
Virtual reality gets ready for its closeup
We've been covering virtual reality for several years now, but with the big three VR headsets finally set for retail launches, 2016 is going to be the year it moves from something we just preview at meetings and tech conventions to something gamers and consumers start to use at home.
Our Best VR award goes to the Oculus Rift. The combination of the headset itself, spatial audio, Oculus Touch controllers (which "give you hands" inside virtual worlds) and – most importantly – its market-leading lineup of launch games currently put the Rift at the top of our list.
The Rift's US$599 price, which was announced during CES, certainly ain't cheap (especially when you add it onto the $900 and up you'll need to invest in the gaming PC that powers it). But we can also appreciate Oculus going the premium route – delivering what feels like the most complete and uncompromised VR experience yet, ready to capture imaginations and blow minds.
Not too far behind is the HTC Vive, which the company is marketing for room-scale VR right out of the gates. HTC even added a clever forward-facing camera system, which alerts you to obstacles in your room (hopefully) before you smack into them.
As much as we enjoy the Vive demos, though, it may be unrealistic to expect many people to devote rooms in their house to VR from the get-go. Plus the Rift will be just as capable of room-scale VR – Oculus just isn't making it an early marketing focus.
Though its quality is at least a notch or two down, Sony's PlayStation VR could serve as a more affordable and accessible option for console owners. No matter what the headset costs, PS VR will be riding on the shoulders of the roughly 36 million PS4s which are already in gamers' homes all over the world – a nice bonus for early adoption.
If you're already investing in one of the big VR headsets, one company wants you to use them to get into shape. VirZoom is a $200-300 exercise bike that syncs up with the Rift, Vive or PS VR. The games are very basic, but they succeed at gamifying your workout and making you forget about your elevated heart rate and sweaty pits. Best of all, the games (present and future) are all included with the purchase of the bike.
Wearable tech moves beyond the smartwatch
For a while there, wearable tech didn't get much more diverse than a bunch of big, clunky smartwatches and Google Glass, but a few years into this game we're starting to see a wider variety of creative gear show up in this space.
Our award for Top Wearable Tech Product goes to Doppler Labs' Here Active Listening earbuds (above), which can change your perception of the world around you. Insert the two wireless buds in your ears, and use a paired smartphone to remix the sounds you hear in your environment. This means you can do things like shut up that noisy guy in your aisle on the flight, bring the vocals out above the pounding bass at a live concert or even give your dinner date a psychedelic, tripping on acid type of voice.
There's plenty of room for both fun and practicality, the manual EQ and preset effects work as advertised (maybe even better than you'd imagine) and, best of all, Here looks fairly subtle in your ears.
Not so subtle is the Avegant Glyph personal theater, which we've been following for several CES visits now. Finally ready for its consumer launch, the $599 (soon to be $699) gizmo looks like an innocent enough pair of headphones, until you want to tune out the world around you, at which point you slide them over your eyes for a private movie, game or ... well, anything else you can play on an HDMI-compatible phone, tablet, PC or console.
Our only hesitation is that, while you're using the Glyph to enjoy a flick in public, you may be setting yourself up as the dweeby feature presentation for the maybe genuinely curious, quite possibly snickering people around you.
Picking up where Google Glass left off (and perhaps running along some similar lines to Microsoft's Hololens and Magic Leap), Osterhout Design Group's standalone smartglasses continued to impress us this year. ODG gave us a glimpse of a wider field of view model (above) alongside the $2,750 R-7 model that's currently shipping to partners and developers.
Right now the glasses are being used primarily in enterprise and government agencies, but, with help from developers, this could eventually spawn some interesting consumer gear, letting you both watch traditional content and enjoy Hololens-like augmented reality experiences – all coming from the glasses themselves, without any need for paired devices.
Entertainment hits home ... and other random gear
This probably isn't one we'll see in the immediate future, or perhaps even the distant future, but Samsung's Future TV Zone at CES, with its modular displays moving around a wall to take on different screen shapes, was easily one of the cooler items on show.
Also in Samsung's booth was a device that could split the difference between the Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro: the Windows 10-running Galaxy TabPro S. Crazy light and thin like a mobile tablet, but running desktop software in the 2-in-1 form factor, we'll be keeping an eye on the TabPro S for its sometime in 2016 release.
In other areas, 3D printing went (more) mainstream with a household name getting in on the action, and smartphone photography went high-end with Zeiss announcing three high-performance iPhone lenses. And everything old is new again, with updated retro devices like Kodak's Super 8 movie camera, and not one but two high-res turntables – one from Sony and another from Panasonic/Technics.
For more from Vegas, check out our full CES 2016 coverage.