Posted: 01.21.08
Behold the Consumer Electronics Show, an almost legendary annual occurrence which draws well over a hundred thousand people to Las Vegas. Being a gaming analyst the acronym CES would be more aptly defined as the Computer Entertainment Show, at least that's what I was looking for. My CES experience started before I even left the ground of San Francisco International Airport. I was flying Richard Branson's new airline Virgin America, and Virgin has recognized that consumer electronics have become an important element in attracting airline customers. Their new entertainment, information, and communication system, which they call Red, allows passengers to watch, play, surf, buy, and message - all from the comfort of their airline seat. It is way more than a novelty and kept me enchanted for the majority of the flight. The system uses a traditional armrest control, with a removable "remote". However this is more than just a remote, on the flipside is a full function video game controller as well as a decent sized QWERTY keyboard. (see figures 1 and 2). Airline passengers are able to text message / chat and play games with and against passengers in other seats. Figures 1 and 2: Virgin"s Red In-Flight Entertainment, Communication, Information, Shopping and Food/Drink ordering system. (Source: JPR) My first impression of the actual show was "Uh - oh, two days will not be enough time to do what I want to do". Having attended big game industry shows such as E3 and graphics shows like Siggraph, I thought this couldn't be much different. Boy was I wrong. My goal was to walk the ENTIRE show, spending quality time at any booth or display that I encountered and attracted my interest. This was simply impossible and when I told people what I wanted to do in the time frame that I had, they gave me the same look that tourists get in Paris when they announce that they planning to go through the Louvre Museum in a day or two. There was an air of happiness in the environment, attendees seemed genuinely excited and optimistic about their products and the prospect of successful business in 2008, shrugging off predictions of doom and gloom yet letting the economists sometimes dire warnings sharpen their business acumen and perhaps temper unnecessary spending by their companies. On the gaming front CES had almost no representative by the software companies. CES was the ruled on the gaming front by hardware and peripherals and it was a refreshing and educational change from the normal troupe of attendees. There was a huge presence of companies selling various designs of "gaming furniture". (see figures 3-5) On the low end this represented beanbag simple floor chairs made for pulling up in front of the television for use with the various gaming consoles. In the mid priced area there were full size chairs in various designs ranging from rockers to office like chairs. Many incorporated speaker and rumblers - devices built into the furniture that shake and simulate the rumble of deep bass induced sensations such as a cars powerful engine. Repose, Boomchair, Pyramint, and ACE Bayou were among the companies displaying their wares. Also at the show was Buttkicker Corp - they make a rumbler made to attach to your existing office chair and other types of furniture. Figures 3-5: Competitive Comfort: Gaming and Media Furniture were well represented at CES (Source: JPR) In the high end for gamers there were companies selling entire frames (such as HotSeat - see figure 6) with built in chair to simulate a cockpit environment and allow mounting of steering wheels, flight sticks, and various other simulation paraphernalia. As well as full packages that include everything for driving fans. Figures 6-7: Hotseat simulator frame, seat, and mounting system and Virtual GT Driving Sim Cockpit (Source: JPR) At the extreme high end, some companies had cockpit systems that included hydraulic actuators (DBox - Figure 8) to create motion and in one case a cockpit specifically designed for flight sims which could tilt the monitors and simulate tilt when the aircraft is banked. (Dreamflyer - Figure 9). DBox representatives claim their hydraulic actuators have a 5000 hour lifespan which is fairly robust. Figures 8 - 9 It doesn't get much better than this: Hydraulic Actuators and Tilting Cockpits (Source: JPR) The next thing I noticed at CES was the amazing number of companies "hopping on the Wii bandwagon". There were at least 15 companies displaying Wii accessories and customization. As soon as I saw the Wii Zapper last year (their gun controller) I predicted someone would soon be making more realistic looking Wii controller holders and this turned out to be correct. A few companies actually departed from the innocent white coloring and had more realistic looking black ones but the most impressive display of Wii accessories came from CTA Corporation. Not only do they have a full line of gun Wii remote holders (Figure 10), they have Wii steering wheels, airplane yokes, fishing rods, ping pong paddles, baseball bat, pool stick, tennis racket, golf club, boxing gloves, cooking items and swords and shields. All these accessories actually hold the Nintendo Wii controllers. Additionally they have Wii cooling stands, grips and myriad other accessories. Not a Nintendo exclusive accessory company CTA has items for PS3, PSP, PC and IPod. They have a battery and charger division, digital photo frames, and well – too much stuff to list. Check them out they have a great portfolio of products. Figure 10: Wii Mote Guns from CTA (Source: JPR) My personal favorite at the show, which is actually financially attainable for most PC gamers (versus $10,000 cockpits), were the AIB water cooling kits from Cool-It systems. These things look awesome and I look forward to tesing it out. Though Cool-It makes various styles of water coolers for both AMD and Nvidia cards, the key elements are the fact that they can be ordered factory sealed which takes a lot of the fear out of converting your system. Many models cool the entire card (figure 11), not just the GPU. Witnessing the evil that heat does to gaming performance on a daily basis, I really think water cooling is the way to go, unless your air cooling is perfectly planned out which is very difficult. Figure 11: Cool-It Full Card Cooling - notice the tubes going all over the place (Source: JPR) Geoff Lyon, CEO of Cool-It (Figure 12) was there to take me though their products which consisted primarily of card coolers but his current pride and joy is his sever rack automated cooling systems which he is pictured with. The rack system detects hotspots and applies increased airflow to specific areas versus the entire rack or room, saving on energy expense. Figure 12: Geoff Lyon and the automated rack cooling system. So CES will definitely be a regular pilgrimage for me now that I know about the large representation for the gaming industry. This side (chairs, sim pods, coolers, speakers, etc) of the products line is not well represented at typical gaming conventions yet are multi billion dollar businesses. Next year I will plan on at least three – four days.