Hey Keith, what's cool at CES? (Part 2)

Virtual reality hits the mainstream at this year's gadget show (and other cool stuff)

HP Zvr Virtual Reality Display
Credit: HP

Continuing my roundup of cool stuff seen this week at International CES (click here for Part 1 on the off chance you are late to the party…)

Virtual Reality: Sure, the term has been around for a long time, and we’ve all seen different versions of the tech for many years (remember Second Life?), but the wow factor of the Oculus Rift (and subsequent purchase by Facebook) has a bunch of new VR and augmented reality (AR) on display. Three specific products I saw and tried out included the Samsung Gear VR (the product was out last year but at CES they were demonstrating their new Milk VR content service), the HP Zvr Virtual Reality Display (top photo) and Sulon Technologies’ Cortex VR headset.

The Milk VR service from Samsung aims to provide regular 360-degree content (new content five days per week) for owners of the Gear VR headset, which uses a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 phablet to provide the processing power for the virtual environment. Samsung has lined up several major content producers/brands in the world of Hollywood and sports, including the NBA, Skybound Entertainment (The Walking Dead), Red Bull and Mountain Dew, so the content won’t just be small flybys or other quick demos (so far, that’s all we’ve seen), but more consistent entertainment.

“Not everyone wants to play games” on a virtual-reality headset, says Jim Wilson, the director of Immersive Products & Virtual Reality for Samsung. “A device like this lives or dies by the amount of content it has” available for consumers.

Content via Milk VR can be streamed to the device, or downloaded for offline viewing (including 4K and 2K options). Users will see new content in the “Fresh” category, as well as a “Trending” category that identifies what’s popular within the app.

HP’s Zvr Virtual Reality Desktop was also fun to try out – the display includes four cameras that help capture head movements and arm movements for the end user, and creates a virtual desktop above the display’s screen. The user wears a pair of 3D glasses to create the VR environment and can manipulate objects with a stylus. The really cool part is how the system can integrate with a second display (with a regular webcam attachment) to project a non-3D version of what’s going on, which seems perfect for using this in training or education purposes (in our demo, we could rotate around a virtual heart. See this video for more details:

The Sulon Cortex VR headset was also impressive. Available later this year for developers, the headset doesn’t require attachment to a smartphone (Gear VR) or a computer (Oculus Rift), but rather is its own self-contained unit. Taking this one step further, the Cortex VR maps the user’s physical environment to create the virtual space – in a sense, it combines augmented reality (virtual objects in a physical space) with gesture control and VR-type views (which is what the Oculus does).

Sulon Cortex VR headset Keith Shaw

In a demo (which we couldn’t film, unfortunately), we were in a blank room physically, but we could see the insides of an engine (as if we were in a warehouse) and then move around the environment. The company obviously has gaming aspirations (play a virtual shoot-em-up game with aliens/bugs attacking you in your own home, for example), but this has a lot of potential for business users as well.

Dell: A quick visit to the Dell Lounge at CES showed me some impressive new gear that I want to try out – the Venue 8 7000 Series tablet ($399 at Best Buy and Dell.com) is super-thin (6mm) with a fantastic display (2560 by 1600 OLED).

Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet Dell

It also includes Intel’s RealSense Snapshot Depth Camera, which adds depth information via three cameras for photos that you shoot. This gives users the chance to change the focal area for their photos to help create more impressive images.

I also can’t wait to try out the Alienware Alpha gaming console, which combines the power of a Windows 8.1 computer with a video game console. The system lets users connect to their TV and access their Steam library of PC games, providing a console-like experience, but with the power of a PC.

 Lightning Round (startups and other quick-hits): OK, running out of time/space/energy, so here’s a quick bullet-list of other companies/products that you should check out:

  • Blast Motion: Sensor that you place on a golf club, baseball bat or the small of your back (for basketball games) that provides additional analytics that can layer on top of a GoPro-shot video (for training and just showing off).
  • Smart Kayak paddle – at the Texas Instruments booth, we got a quick demo of a sensor attached to a kayak paddle (from Motionize) that can provide assistance with proper rowing/kayaking techniques (demo included a cool video that showed me paddling towards a bridge).
  • At the XYZprinting booth, I got a whirlwind tour of their latest 3D printers, including a $349 unit aimed at schools (the Da Vinci Junior), as well as a grow-your-own-lettuce hydroponics box.
  • Captureproof: This startup has an app that lets you take a photo of a hand, foot or skin injury to send to a doctor for a virtual consultation instead of having to go into the office (not for emergencies, but rather to show things like “Is this growth/scar/thing not healing?”). Aimed at podiatrists and dermatologists more likely than general practitioners.
  • Immersis by Catopsys: Another startup that wants to add a projector-type device that displays the entire environment around your living room, not just the action going on the screen of your TV. It’s virtual reality without needing to strap on a helmet - this would require some changes to your man cave (like all blank walls), but the demo was cool to watch. The Kickstarter project is now live.
  • Mycestro: A wearable mouse that you strap onto your finger for better control over your computer, especially if you hate touchpads or external mice for your notebook. The device uses gestures and your thumb for control over Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and even Android devices.
  • Glagla Connected Shoes’ Trek-Connect, a waterproof heating shoe that warms your feet, but also connects to an app that can track how much you walk, checks your current altitude and how many calories you’re burning.
  • BlissLights Spright: Another projector-like device that provides “A thousand points of light” for indoor or outdoor displays – I can’t wait to try this next Christmas. 

More stuff to come in the next few weeks as I unpack the bags and discover other fun goodies (or if things come into the labs for testing). Ciao!

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