Peripheral Vision at This Year’s CES
Since the Electronic Entertainment Expo split off from the Consumer Electronics Show in 1995, CES hasn't exactly been the primary showcase for videogame publishers and developers.
But while the software makers may have moved to a different show, many gaming hardware makers have stuck with CES, showing off their new wares in Vegas each year. Here are the most noteworthy of the selection shown at the show earlier this month.
Razer Onza Xbox 360 Controller
The best console controller at the show, for me, came from a company better known for high-performance PC gaming accessories. The Onza's biggest improvement over the standard Xbox 360 pad is a pair of dials just underneath the lip of each thumbstick. Twisting these dials lets you adjust the tension in the stick's underlying springs, giving you looser, faster aim in a first-person shooter or tighter, tougher resistance for more precise steering in a racing game, for instance. Two additional, programmable shoulder buttons also let you move functions away from your thumbs and to your index fingers, meaning your fingers don't have to leave the thumbstick just to make your character jump. A nonstick rubber grip and what Razer calls "hyper-response" buttons are nice additions, too, but it's those adjustable thumbsticks that have me eager to put down $49.99 for this one.
Razer/SixSense PC Motion Controller
Razer and new partner SixSense were also showing off a new kind of motion-sensitive controller for the PC at CES. While obviously inspired by the Wii Remote, the SixSense controller works in a fundamentally different way from Nintendo's magic wand, using a small magnetic field to sense the controller's angle and position in three-dimensional space to within one degree and one millimeter (or so I'm told). The CES demo had the controller hooked up to a special, Valve-created version of "Left 4 Dead 2" that allowed for real-world axe-swinging to decapitate hordes of zombies. The unit was plenty responsive and felt like a natural fit for first-person shooters, but the price point and general developer support will be crucial if this is going to bring Wii-style motion control to the PC.
Mad Catz Cyborg R.A.T. mouse line
What this gaming mouse lacks in looks, it makes up for in sheer customization options. The "Transformers of mice," as Mad Catz calls them, allow you to adjust the weight (with metallic inserts), the length (with an adjustable palm rest), the texture (with swappable covers) and even the shape (with an optional pinky rest on the side). Add in on-the-fly DPI adjustment up to 5,600 DPI (including a sniper-ific precision-aim button) and up to 15 programmable macros, and you've got a mouse that can be whatever you need it to be. Be ready to pay, though: At $50 to $120 (depending on the number of included accessories and customization options) these run a little high for wired mice. Look for them in spring.
Saitek PRO Flight X65F Combat Control System
Mad Catz's Saitek line continues to cater to professional flight simulation enthusiasts with more money than good sense. The first "pressure-sensitive" flight stick on the market doesn't actually move about like normal flight joysticks. Instead, this rigid, erect unit (dirty!) senses the amount and direction of pressure you're putting on it, mimicking real-world flight sticks that need to withstand extreme g-forces. And even if your computer desk just has the normal g-forces, the joystick makes for some excellent, sensitive flight sim controls, with minimal arm fatigue. That said, the $400 means this one is only for the truly devoted flight simulator fan.
Peregrine Game Glove
By far the most innovative controller on display at the show, the Game Glove is sure to draw mocking comparisons to the old NES PowerGlove. This isn't some lame attempt at virtual reality, though. Instead, it's designed as a simpler, quicker way to execute common keyboard actions on PC games. By touching metallic sensors on the glove's fingertips to similar sensors on the thumb or palm, the Peregrine registers one of 30 programmable button presses, so you can simply tap a couple of fingers together instead of hunting for the F7 key in the middle of an intense online match. The demo unit I tried was very comfortable, but I definitely needed much more than the five minutes of practice I got to get used to controlling games in this new way. I'm not sure I'll ever get the chance, though -- $149.99 (or $20 less if you pre-order) is a lot to ask for the novelty.
Nyko Wand Plus
Nyko was one of the first to try to improve on the Wii Remote's standard design last year with its excellent Wand controller. The Wand Plus improves on the design slightly, adding Wii MotionPlus support as well as a new fully rubberized (and very comfortable) backside. The unit is smaller and substantially lighter than a standard Remote with Wii MotionPlus attached, and it seems to work just fine with games like Wii Sports Resort. But the real improvement here is the cost: $40, instead of $60 for a Wii Remote/MotionPlus combo. If you don't already have four Wii Remotes, this might be the way to upgrade, assuming you can hold out until it hits stores in March.
GamBridge/Starr Labs MIDI/guitar controllers
Controllers that bridge the gap between "Guitar Hero" and real guitar playing were all the rage at this year's CES. The You Rock Guitar controller was the more interesting of the two on display. A full-sized MIDI guitar when plugged into an amp or headphones, the unit converts to a wireless "Guitar Hero" controller when you plug in a small wireless transmitter. The rubberized, string-shaped indents on the frets didn't exactly feel like real guitar strings, but they're much more realistic than the fret buttons on a standard "Guitar Hero" controller, and plucking real strings instead of a plastic strummer was a revelation. Starr Labs' GamBridge system was less impressive, using a series of string-thin buttons to try and simulate the look and feel of a real guitar without much luck.
Charge Base Quad IC
The coolest Wii Remote charger I didn't know existed, Nyko's original Charge Base IC held up to two Wii Remotes magnetically in a stylish clear stand, charging them even through the rubber controller sleeve thanks to inductive charge technology. At CES, Nyko showed off a new version of the innovative charger that can charge up to four controllers at once and even be turned off when the controllers are fully charged. At $50, the Quad isn't prohibitively expensive for a four-controller charging solution, and with versions in white and black, it's definitely the best-looking Wii Remote charger I've yet seen.
DiscGear Selector 100 Auto
Not strictly a videogame accessory, the DiscGear lineup nonetheless attracted my attention in the CES Gaming Showcase. At first, the Selector looks like just another CD box, holding 80 to 100 discs upright with a relatively small footprint. What sets the DiscGear Selector apart is the sliding selector on the front. Pick a number (based on a printed chart you make yourself with DiscGear software), press the button, and your game lifts out as the unit opens up. Seems like a great way to simplify your gaming clutter without sacrificing the easy ability to find what you want. The $29.99 80-disc version sacrifices a little style, but seems much more economical than the $59.99 100-disc version.
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