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The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is an annual electronics industry trade show held in Las Vegas. Thousands converge to test and report on the latest gadgetry. A bellwether for the pace of technological innovation, CES attendees are hungry to see what’s hot and new.

CES show floor
A busy CES show floor.
CES is not exactly a hotbed for electronic gaming as that industry has its own event in E3. However, gaming software is only made possible by hardware: it’s worth looking at what technology is breaking through the noise and enhancing our gaming experiences.

Virtual Reality

The future of gaming is on our face and bringing us closer to the action: virtual reality devices stormed CES 2015. Every major visualization hardware producer seems to be jumping into the personal virtual reality headset market–thanks to the door that Oculus Rift has been opening.

Samsung, better known for their TVs and mobile phones, has created a viable and affordable virtual reality contender in its Gear VR. Those who have demoed it are impressed with its responsiveness.

Samsung Galaxy VR being demoed
Samsung Galaxy VR, in partnership with Oculus Rift.
Though the hardware was produced in partnership with Oculus Rift, the brains of the device are in the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. (Great if you’re already a Galaxy Note 4 owner, not so great otherwise as the phone is known to be pricey.) In fact, the screen is the Galaxy Note 4. The lack of compatible software might turn away casual buyers but Oculus and Samsung are hoping developers get on board with their mobile VR development kit.

Samsung Galaxy Gear VR uses the phone as a screen
Yup, you’re gonna need a phone for that.
Gaming hardware developer Razer is on a mission to standardize virtual reality hardware and software. Its OSVR (Open Source Virtual Reality) Hacker Development Kit is being touted as “Android for virtual reality”. If it succeeds, it could unite a very disparate market of VR developers and producers. The kit comes with the head-mounted display and adjustable lenses to minimize distortion. In addition to the software development kit, it also comes with specs on how to 3D print additional head-mounted displays.

Razer OSVR Headset
Razer OSVR Headset
Here’s a VR device that’s not “yet another head-mounted display”: the Virtuix Omni is a treadmill that gives virtual reality another dimension. Gamers can run in any direction thanks to the 360-degree pad and protective harness.

Virtuix Omni Treadmill
One fearless individual reported that it felt like running on a waxed floor in socks, and a little like the Scooby-Doo gang trying to escape a baddie. It’s another degree of immersion once you get used to the unusual sensation.

Biometrics for Self-Improvement

Biometrics–your personal health data–has been being tracked by wearable technology since the early twentieth century. What makes it different going forward is how accurately we’re tracking the data and how its applied to improving health.

FitBit, Nike FuelBand, JawBone, and other technologies are no strangers to the consumer electronics market. But they have been criticized for not accurately tracking data accurately, being too complicated, or breaking too easily.

The Mio Alpha2 Optical Heart Rate Watch had biometrics fans buzzing at CES 2015. Historically, optical heart rate technology has been reserved for healthcare settings, a testament to its accuracy. The Mio Alpha2 is a dedicated workout watch–for now. Capabilities include workout storage mode, timers, workout metrics tracking, and more.

Mio Alpha2
Image via dcrainmaker.com
However, the Alpha2′s most notable takeaway for gamers is its third-party app syncing capability. Sending GPS and heart rate data to other apps is not a capability competitors like Fitbit currently support. Just imagine: hyper-accurate heart rate data being able to affect health games synced to other mobile devices. It might not happen as soon as 2015, but it’s coming.

Consider the rise in casual gaming and those focused on mental health, developed using brain research. Games that can be played in minutes a day and improve focus, mental dexterity, memory, and how we move are often reaching the top of the App Store rankings.

Muse Brain Sensing Headband
Muse Brain Sensing Headband
The Muse Brain Sensing Headband’s aspiration is to “reduce stress, improve focus, and increase concentration in as little as 3 minutes per day”. The product claims to measure your brainwaves as you play games the same way as a heart rate monitor measures your pulse.

A few game previews show a “brain activity” graph and points earned. One milestone reward is an accurate model of your brain that will unlock advanced app features. Early reviews on Amazon are mostly positive with an average score of 4.5 out of 5. Most users state that they feel rested, calm, and it has helped improve their meditation routine. Negative reviews universally criticize the inconsistent connectivity to third-party devices such as the iPad. Perhaps the next release will fix those pesky connectivity bugs. With the Muse Brain Sensing Headband costing $300, you might want to hold out a little longer.

Multidevice Gameplay

Smartphones are getting smarter. TVs are getting smarter. All of our gaming devices are getting smarter. So isn’t it finally time they’re all talking to each other?

Razer thinks so. The gaming hardware producer announced at CES 2015 its Forge TV, an entertainment hub targeting hardcore Android TV gamers. Pundits believe it will trounce Google Nexus Player, a competing device that will be more built for streaming media than gaming. Some are anticipating it to be the perfect way to enjoy PC games on your big-screen television.

The Forge TV will contain more internal storage and pack a stronger punch than the Nexus Player. Gamers will even be able to play monster-big games like Titanfall with ease. If Forge TV is paired with the Razer Cortex: Stream, gamers will be able to stream directly from their PC to the TV for a more enjoyable experience.

Razer Forge TV
Razer Forge TV is one little sleek gaming setup.
The Forge TV will be able to stream media such as Netflix, though most have their eye on the powerful little set-top box for its gaming capabilities.

No more huddled over your laptop or sitting at a table. Grab the comfortable corner of the couch and enjoy the big screen.

Geolocation

Why stop at measuring your body’s internal data? Thanks to GPS technology, keeping track of our physical location has become a critical component of our everyday life. Over half of smartphone users access directions through their GPS.

Mobile GPS-based games have been growing in popularity for over a decade. Geocaching was among the earliest, using dedicated geolocation devices to share landmarks and plant clues that lead to a stashed surprise. Google’s Ingress even built an alternate-reality game around geographical exploration: join a force and use your phone to capture “energy” at key landmarks. It’s like a tech-driven game of Capture the Flag.

Google Ingress
A creative visualization of Google Ingress.
Famed game hardware producer Razer has announced the Nabu X, a “social wearable smartband”. The profile looks similar to a Fitbit with a sleek, low-profile design. Biometrics come standard, of course: it pairs with third-party fitness apps to measure steps walked, distance traveled, hours slept, and so on.

But why is Razer, a game hardware company, competing in the wearables market? They’re hoping to tap into another dimension of social gaming. To start, they’re offering the ability to be paired with other nearby Nabu wearers who may have similar interests such as a compatible library of Valve Steam games. Gamers will be able to exchange their gaming stats. But Razer is banking on the hope that third-party developers will create multiplayer games that will take the device to another dimension of usability.

Razer Nabu X
Razer Nabu X has a simple interface with three lights for different notifications.
The Razer Nabu X launched late 2014 to very little fanfare. In its current condition it’s another fitness band with notification capabilities. However, the gaming angle could launch this into a whole different product category on its own. I don’t envision gamers using it for its current data-sharing connectivity but perhaps with an innovative game that is pure GPS.

The lack of a screen could be a plus for location-based gaming. As an Ingress player, I find the screen to be distracting from the in-world experience. If physical location and our surroundings are a critical part of a GPS-based game, I do not want to be lost in my mobile device. The vibrational notifications could alert players to key locations. Variables such as time and distance might come into play when visual indicators are limited.

It’s clear that gaming hardware and software companies are taking notice of the ubiquity of GPS and finding creative ways to create new alternate-reality gaming experiences, even if hardware companies are slow on the uptake.

These are just a few of the major gaming themes to emerge from CES 2015. Dozens of other gaming hardware gems made their debut, from collapsable pocket controllers to interactive SIMON-style kids’ shoes. PC Magazine has a nice roundup of their favorite gaming gear from the show (and some of it is far from the expected).

Which gaming trends are you excited for?

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