The tech that will matter at CES 2017

Surface Studio
MIcrosoft's Surface Studio. Image: Microsoft

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3 January 2017 | 0

Going to CES is like going into a wild, overgrown jungle: You need a machete and a good guide to hack your way out. Read on for what we expect to see at CES that actually matters, from smarter homes to faster PCs to self-driving cars.

AMD Ryzen, rising
The hype is building to almost unmanageable levels, but the most exciting CPU that’s likely to be seen at CES is AMD’s Ryzen, which looks like a return to greatness for the company. AMD has already showed off the processor’s chops in public three times now, which is why it’s expected to come out in force this week.

AMD may also drop additional Ryzen news at CES, just to keep us wanting more. Will it be a launch date? Pricing details? Confirmation of rumours of cheap quad-core parts? No one knows.

Intel’s long-awaited Kaby Lake
Intel’s dual-core Kaby Lake launched last year, which means the quad-core versions are imminent. That should be of no surprise, as no fewer than five unauthorised reviews of the unreleased desktop CPU have already been published across the Web.

Those unauthorised reviews look mostly lukewarm for performance freaks, and none of them answer the biggest question: How much will the quad-core chips cost? Will Intel follow the trend set by the slightly costly sixth-generation Skylake processors, or prepare for what could be a bloody price war with AMD’s first Ryzen-based chips? CES may provide answers to at least some of those questions.

Clash of the GPU titans
Forget about simple gadgets and gear. What I’m most excited to see at CES 2017 is a renewed clash among the titans of the PC hardware industry, spurred by a couple of long bets by AMD that are finally ready to be cashed in.

The spectre of AMD’s recent Ryzen processor reveal – which looks to be AMD’s most competitive chip in a decade – hovers over the rumoured CES launch of Intel’s desktop Kaby Lake CPUs. How will Chipzilla react? Likewise, with AMD’s enthusiast-grade “Vega” Radeon graphics cards on tap for the first half of 2017, you have to think the company would take advantage of the CES spotlight to tease out more details.

Meanwhile, Nvidia will be hosting one of the event’s keynotes, where it promises “the industry’s most exciting tech unveilings in… gaming,” among other segments. Will the long-rumoured GeForce GTX 1080 Ti make an appearance?

We’ll all know the answers soon. But one thing’s already certain: Competition is a wonderful thing and 2017 is shaping up to be a thrilling time for PC enthusiasts.

HDR PC monitors
The vivid colours and deep blacks of a high dynamic range panel impress far, far more than the raw pixels pushed by 4K displays. Unfortunately, gorgeous HDR screens have been limited to televisions alone up to this points, with nary an HDR-compatible consumer PC monitor to be found.

That shoulid change at CES.

Nvidia and AMD baked HDR support into their latest-generation graphics cards, and AMD’s recent massive Radeon Crimson ReLive update activated that dormant feature. Monitors with crucial HDMI 2.0 support have had time to proliferate. Shadow Warrior 2 recently became the first game to support HDR. Everything’s finally ready for HDR to hit PCs – and wouldn’t you know it, LG’s already teased an HDR display it plans to unveil more formally at CES.

The smart money says LG won’t be the only one.

PCs that think outside the box
After years of being boring boxes, PCs are busting out, not just with new operating systems and new chips, but new shapes and new capabilities.

Microsoft’s Surface Studio (pictured) has made the biggest splash, with its powerful all-in-one that tilts way, way down for direct, hands-on interaction with what’s onscreen. Whether you use the included stylus or the extra-cost Surface Dial, which brings the menus to life anywhere onscreen, you’re no longer tied to a keyboard and mouse. Along with HP’s Sprout, the pioneering PC-that-does-more that debuted in 2015. Will it be Dell’s Smart Desk, or another?

HP started another movement we might see more of at CES: Stylish PC models meant to blend into the decor. The Pavilion Wave has a cunning triangular design, almost like a speaker or a vase, and a soft fabric covering that’s worlds away from hard steel. Soon afterward, Samsung came out with a similar ArtPC (sans fabric), so ‘pretty’ might become the new ‘functional’.

Cheap VR content creation
We’re all driving forward, fast, toward a future increasingly dominated by virtual reality. But one element remains a problem: VR content creation, and especially content that can be generated at a price the masses can afford.

At last year’s CES HumanEyes’ Vuze, a 360-degree, 4K VR camera priced at $799 made its debut. It’s worth noting the Vuze still hasn’t shipped; the pre-order page lists a Q1 2017 date to send out the first products. The point, however, is that a $799 camera is still out of reach for most consumers.

Enter the LucidCam, a new sub-$400 4K VR camera that will debut at CES 2017 and streams 180-degrees of viewable video. Lucid will compete against 360-degree cameras like the Ricoh Theta S or the Kodak PixPro SP360, but you can bet a decent chunk of the livestreaming audience will gravitate to cameras that direct viewers toward the action. LucidCam may not be the product that wins VR streaming, but it could be a step in the right direction.

Waiting for the smart home to get some real intelligence
The smart home is yesterday’s news. Many people been living in one for years but with electronics and sensors and voice recognition and cameras and smart appliances and connections to the cloud, but it’s too often up to the user to schedule things, to link one thing to the other, to tell everything what to do and when. People want to live in a smart home, not program one.

CES, hopefully, will show off the next step in the smart home: devices that work together to create an intelligent home where every device talks to every other, regardless of who manufactured it or which protocol it uses to communicate. A system that anticipates user needs, that learns a family’s routines and adapts to them, so they don’t need to program or write if/then scripts for every eventuality. Voice recognition will be part of the solution but so will lighting control, energy management, security, climate control and, still, entertainment systems.

The solution won’t come from a single vendor. Every manufacturer and all the standards bodies will need to come together to make it happen. Will 2017 be the year it does?

Sensor-y overload
CES is an unlikely place to see cutting-edge medical technology, but tech companies are figuring out new and ingenious ways to put life-saving sensors in their wearable devices. Catching a glimpse of these products, some of which are prototypes fresh from the lab, is what makes CES so exciting.

From smart shoes for fitness buffs to a concussion-detecting mouthguard for athletes to sensor-packed gadgets that track all your vital signs, the health and fitness devices you expect to see at CES will truly change the game. And the best part? Most of these products won’t be smartwatches that have to be attached to your wrist all day and all night to be useful.

I can’t wait to scope out the craziest wearables that will make fitness-tracking bands look positively retro.

Self-driving cars move forward on a long road
As the hype intensifies around self-driving cars, traditional automakers and their suppliers jockey with high-tech upstarts to claim their technology is better or coming sooner. It’s a race no one company can win, which makes the competition all the more interesting.

At CES, attendees will be looking both ways before crossing the roads around the convention centre, if only to spot one of the many self-driving prototypes that will be tooling around to prove their viability. Now that Honda’s partnering with Waymo (the Alphabet company formerly known as Google X’s self-driving car project), we expect to hear about similar collaborations among other big players.

The question remains, when is this all really going to happen? The oft-cited “2020 or 2021” still hangs out there, far enough into the future to make speculation pointless.

What we do know is that the technologies needed to replace (and improve upon) a human driver include a broad array of sensors and cameras, incredibly sophisticated mapping technology, and computers that can learn on the fly. None of this is cheap, making the affordability of self-driving cars another big question. Whatever we see from any vendor at CES will just be parts of a puzzle they’re all still figuring out.

IDG News Service

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