CES 2016 round-up

The year virtual reality 'goes live'

A video wall at LG's booth was one of many technological attractions that wowed the crowds at last week's CES 2016, held at the Las Vegas Convention Centre.
A video wall at LG's booth was one of many technological attractions that wowed the crowds at last week's CES 2016, held at the Las Vegas Convention Centre.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

VR shares the limelight with drones and wearables at world's largest annual consumer electronics trade event

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week shone the spotlight on the burgeoning fields of virtual reality (VR), drones and wearables.

Many of these gadgets were making their debut, although the traditional ultra-high-definition 4K television set also accompanied the world's largest consumer electronics trade event.

For starters, Facebook-owned Oculus announced that its long-awaited Rift VR headset would cost US$599 (S$860).

The first batch will ship in March to customers in 20 markets, excluding Singapore. Those who place an order now will receive the product only in June.

Taiwanese firm HTC showed an upgraded version of its Vive VR headset - out in April - that comes with a front camera to help users avoid bumping into objects.

Mr Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of CES organiser Consumer Technology Association, said 2016 would be the year VR "goes live".

"The category, which is still nascent, is gaining a level of maturity and a broadening of the ecosystem," he said, estimating that more than 1.2 million VR headsets would be sold this year.

Naughty America from the US stole some of the limelight at the show with its VR porn showcase.

"Porn and gaming are likely to be the first few VR applications to be available to consumers," said Mr Kenneth Liew, the Asia-Pacific senior research manager of client devices at market research firm IDC.

The next bleeding-edge showcase was in the field of drones.

PC chipmaker Intel demonstrated the Yuneec Typhoon H drone, which uses an Intel 3-D camera sensor to avoid collisions. Intel owns a stake in Yuneec, which will launch the drone within six months.

Market leader DJI showed the more affordable Phantom 3 4K model, giving aerial photographers a cheaper alternative (US$999) to its US$1,259 Professional model.

After last year's deluge of Android Wear smartwatches, this year's wearables focused on fitness gadgets. These are packed with sensors to collect data like heart rate and paces. Traditionally, they must be connected to the smartphone over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to make sense of the data collected.

But this year, wearable maker Fitbit launched the Fitbit Blaze fitness watch, which eliminates the need to connect to a separate smartwatch. While it may look like a smartwatch, the Blaze is more of a high-end fitness tracker.

Other health devices unveiled included the Withings Thermo, a sleek thermometer that records temperature when pressed to one's forehead and displays the reading instantly on its LED screen. Readings for multiple users can be synced with a smartphone app and shared with a doctor for telemedicine applications.

Unlike past years, the major TV-related announcements last week did not come from the hardware manufacturers. Instead, the limelight was on United States video streaming service Netflix, which announced its expansion in 130 new markets, including Singapore.

Major TV makers LG, Samsung and Sony continued to push the envelope in the area of richer displays, notably in High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology that allows for better tonal contrast and more realistic-looking images.

HDR got an extra boost from YouTube's announcement last week that it would join Amazon and Netflix in producing HDR content.

This year's CES also saw some companies playing catch-up. Notably, camera maker Nikon announced its KeyMission 360, an action camera capable of snapping all-round photos.

Other firms made a U-turn of sorts. Samsung, which retreated from the PC segment in Singapore and several other markets in 2014, announced a Windows tablet-laptop hybrid akin to the Microsoft Surface Pro.

ST brings you some key highlights of the tech extravaganza.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2016, with the headline 'The year virtual reality 'goes live''. Print Edition | Subscribe