Stuff from CES you might actually use

Forget about curved TVs, 4K UHD and virtual-reality goggles - here's gear you may actually buy in 2014

Last week's International CES brought about another slew of hyped products, ranging from curved television sets (I'm still not clear on why that's supposed to be so cool) to virtual-reality goggles meant to compete with the still-in-beta Google Glass product.

While my main job was to shoot video segments for IDG Enterprise (you can see some of the results in this post, as well as in our video section), I did have some time to meet with companies in the home networking markets as well as other companies providing some cool new gadgets.

WIth much-less hype, they presented some new products that will more likely end up on your desktop or in your living room rather than a flexible TV.

The companies below are presented in no preferential order - it's more of when I met them during the week:

SeagateThe storage company had two announcements during the show - the Backup Plus Fast storage drive and a new line of Backup Plus slim-style drives. The new Backup Plus Fast portable storage drive ($300, now available) boasts a huge 4TB capacity, but more impressive is the data transfer speeds it achieves over a USB 3.0 connection (I saw demos where they reached more than 200 MBps).

The Backup Plus Slim line takes the design used in its previous Slim-branded portable hard drives, and adds additional colors and Seagate's Dashboard software, which can help users back up photos, videos and other files from social media sites as well as your smartphone. Capacities include 500GB ($100), 1TB ($120), and 2TB ($180). Desktop versions of the Backup Plus line include 2TB ($130), 3TB ($160) and 4TB ($230) models.

At CES, Seagate showed off the new drives in this video:

 LaCieAlso holding court at the Seagate suite was LaCie, which Seagate acquired in 2012. The LaCie brand focuses mainly on Mac users, so their products have both design features that appeal to Mac users, as well as some performance-based gear (for those Mac-heavy video editors). The company announced two new products as well. The LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt 2 drive, a very impressive compact unit that can produce data transfer speeds up to 1,375 MBps (in one demo I saw the drive go over 2,000), with dual Thunderbolt 2 ports for daisy-chaining purposes.

The second announcement was the LaCie Fuel, a LaCie branded version of the Seagate Wireless Plus portable hard drive. The unit has a 1TB hard drive with Wi-Fi capabilities, letting users stream video, photo and music content from the drive to up to 5 different devices (think iPads and iPhones) at the same time. The unit can also stream to Apple TV and AirPlay-enabled devices, so it can be a cool way to get stored videos and music to play on your cool TV.

PlantronicsWhile the company known for Bluetooth and other audio headsets didn't have any specific announcements (they'll have new products later this spring), I did have a good meeting with them to discuss how headsets fit into the whole wearable computing movement (as seen with things like fitness sensors and Google Glass). The company showed me a concept headset that they're working on that includes many different sensors, including head-movement, external temperature and a gyroscope that can be used in new scenarios. This video, done at the Plantronics suite at the show, explains more:

NETGEARThe home networking company was very present at the show, holding their meetings on the top floor of a nearby Marriott. The company was showcasing several products within the networking space, including these impressive systems:

The R7000 Nighthawk Smart WiFi Router came out in October 2013 (in time for holiday sales), but I hadn't yet seen it in person. The dual-band 802.11ac Gigabit Router includes advanced features such as prioritizing bandwidth for streaming videos and music - instead of using packet fairness for determining traffic between two competing clients, it uses what it calls "AirTime Fairness", which should help boost traffic speeds for newer systems.

I'm hoping to soon try out the AC750 WiFi Range Extender - the dual-band Gigabit system uses 802.11ac, but has this neat feature where light-up arrows tell you whether to move the plug-in unit closer to where your deadspot is located, or whether you need to move it closer to the router. While many people may not have the luxury of being able to move the extender to the perfect location, this can help prevent some errors that many people make when placing a range extender (NETGEAR says most people put the range extender in the dead spot, which prevents it from working).

The NETGEAR Trek is a new travel router (I also saw one from D-Link) that aims to give mobile workers more networking capabilities when they visit hotel rooms. Since most hotel Wi-Fi (and wired) bandwidth now charge customers on a per-device basis, customers who want to get Internet on their notebooks, tablets and phones can end up paying a lot of money for this access. These travel routers help ease that pain, providing Wi-Fi passthrough capabilities. For the most part I end up not using the Wi-Fi for tablets or smartphone when I travel, but I'm intrigued to see how these work for future trips. Watch this video provided by NETGEAR regarding their new Trek:

Buffalo AmericasJoining the group of storage companies providing wireless storage units, the MiniStation Air ($200, available in March) provides a 1TB portable hard drive for Wi-Fi-enabled streaming to mobile devices. The system includes up to 10 hours of battery life and can also recharge your smartphone if you need an extra boost when not using the drive for watching movies or listening to music.

On the 802.11ac front, the company announced a few new units - including the AirStation Extreme AC 1900 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router (WXR-1900DHP, $180 street price), the AirStation AC 1200 dual-band wireless router (WHR-1166D, $80 street price), and the $50 AirStation AC433 Wireless Travel Router (WMR-433)

A Buffalo spokesman says that dual-band wireless routers are really taking off with consumers, as they understand the need for using the 5GHz band for priority traffic and performance, especially as they add new gear such as $500 tablets to their existing networks (using tablets in new locations in the home and finding out that they have dead spots).

Belkin / LinksysThe folks at Linksys had an interesting 2013 - the brand formerly owned by Cisco Systems was purchased by Belkin last March. At this year's CES, the company announced it was "bringing back the heritage of the best-selling router of all time - the Linksys WRT54G." The WRT 1900AC router has the iconic blue/black form factor made famous by the WRT54G, but with updated hardware, including a dual-band 1.2GHz processor, four removable antennas, USB 2.0/3.0 support and an eSata connectivity drive (a spokeswoman says this should appeal to the do-it-yourselfers who love eSata). The new router is expected to cost $300 and will be available later this spring, Linksys says.D-LinkThe company showed off some impressive new gear, including a low-light IP camera designed to provide color images in very low light settings. For small businesses or homes looking at IP camera for security, these cameras can help determine whether an intruder is wearing a blue cap or a red cap.

The company also had an impressive array of new 802.11ac gear, including a travel router (a trend!), baby camera and new colors for its cylindrical-designed routers:

JigabotOK, this one might not be in every office or home this year, but I did have a good time talking with Donna Root at the Jigabot booth. Their new AIMe robot is a device that attaches to a video camera, including action camera GoPro or even a smaller camcorder (Root pointed out that they prefer the phrase "the GoPro connects to us"). Using a sensor attached to the subject, the AIMe (it stands for "Aim Me") automatically keeps the subject in the frame, allowing you to have a robotic cameraman for videos where the subject keeps moving around. While I can see this taking off with the action-sports community and folks like me (I'd love to be on camera but then not have to have someone shooting me), I can also see regular parents using this to film things like their kids game without constantly having to view the stuff in their camcorder viewfinder. See the video to learn more about this:

Finally, here are some other fun videos that we did at the show - while they may not be in your immediate future, they may appeal to you or others who enjoy gadgets.

Cambridge ConsultantsThe consulting company was demonstrating a system that utilized low-end webcams to help basketball players improve their free-throw shooting abilities.

LooxcieI'm always impressed by this company and its new ideas - over the past few years they've developed some interesting products in the wearable video camera space, and they now have a lanyard-worn camera that can live stream video from the camera to your smartphone to Facebook. If your in-laws can't make it to watch junior's soccer game, send them an invite and let them watch it over Facebook (as long as you have a good network connection and unlimited data plan). In this video, the CEO of the company explains their new camera:

RoccatThe German-based gaming gear company showed off a new version of its light-up mechanical keyboard, as well as new Analog and Digital versions of its Kave gaming headsets:

Finally, here's a "sizzle" video that showcases the sights of everything else we saw at CES, including a bunch of dancing robots and stuffed animals (plus Batman!)

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