CES 2009 Report: Peripheral Vision
As a rule, any single product you stumble across at CES is as likely as not to be a cheap knockoff of some other, well-made and well-known product. Such was the case with most of the gaming accessories on display at the show. But amidst the sea of plastic Wii attachments that don't actually do anything; cheap, unresponsive guitar and drum controllers; and rumbling, speaker-filled chairs, there were a few gaming accessories that stood out. These are those and those are these.
Nyko's Wii Wand
While Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners have a variety of third-party controllers to choose from, Wii owners have been stuck with Nintendo's standard Remote since the system's release. That will no longer be the case come April, when Nyko's Wand finally gives Wii owners more standard control options. The Wand's most noticeable new feature is the redesigned buttons, including more angular face buttons, a rubberized B trigger and, most importantly, a larger, easier to use d-pad. Less noticeable is the "trans-port" technology built into the expansion slot at the bottom of the Wand. This new technology allows the Remote to actually receive data from specially designed Nyko peripherals -- a gun attachment, for instance, could tell the controller to send a B button signal whenever the trigger was pressed (other Wii gun attachments use awkward mechanical means to physically press the button). No price is set yet, but we can only hope the increased competition will mean cheaper Remote options for all.
MadCatz's Street Fighter IV FightSticks
For serious fighting game fans, the controllers that come packaged with the PS3 and Xbox 360 just aren't precise enough. Heck, even casual fighting fans might have problems with the tiny digital pads. Enter MadCatz, whose line of officially licensed Street Fighter IV FightSticks bring an arcade-perfect control experience to the home. How arcade-perfect? Well, the higher-end, $149 sticks are actually made with the exact same Sanwa buttons, springs and sticks that are used in the SFIV arcade cabinets. There's also a $99 version for (slightly) budget-minded consumers that still want a high-quality joystick. Both sticks have three levels of turbo support on each button and the ability to switch between digital and analog modes. Look for them in February, alongside Street Fighter IV's release.
Saitek's Aviator Flight Sticks
It's pretty incredible that Xbox 360 and PS3 gamers have gone this long without a single flight stick designed for their systems. Still, the wait seems worth it for Saitek's Aviator line of flight sticks, available next month for $50. These incredibly springy sticks have three buttons set under the thumbrest (including one for missiles that fits under a neat flip-up plastic shield) a tiny thumbstick on the top of the main stick and an analog throttle in the back that simulates the shoulder buttons. The sticks should be compatible with most all console flight sims.
Razer Mamba Gaming Mouse
The quest for a better wireless gaming mouse has driven Razer to create the Mamba, a high-end product that they consider pretty close to perfection. With 1ms latency, five hours of battery life (with an option to plug in via USB for uninterrupted gaming), an automatic system for finding an interference-free wireless channel, and 5600dpi sensitivity (the company's highest ever), this is a serious upgrade from your standard wireless mouse. What's more, it feels nice and light under your hand, sliding easily along the pad. At $139, it's not for casual fans, but serious gamers should keep an eye out for it this April.
Industrial Gaming Peripherals' Jamstykk
On a show floor full of cheap, knock-off guitar controllers, this was the only one that actually set itself apart in design and performance. The patent-pending rectangular design makes the Jamstykk extremely light and easy on your neck and shoulders, while the telescoping design makes it easy to collapse inward and pack up to take to a friend's house. The wireless Jamstykk featured responsive buttons with little to no lag and is compatible with PS2, PS3 and Wii rhythm games through a USB dongle. The manufacturer is still looking for wide distribution, so we can only hope we'll see these unique controllers in game shops soon.
Asus' Eee Stick
It's kind of surprising that the Wii Remote hasn't had more of an effect on the world of PC interface design. That is until now, with Asus' Wii Nunchuk-shaped Eee Stick. The surprisingly responsive sticks have built-in eight-direction angle and motion sensors and an IR pointer, both of which can be used to control a mouse or any mouse-controlled game without the need for a flat surface. The myriad buttons and analog stick mean the sticks can be used as a wireless gamepad on any Windows system as well. The device will be available in March through the Asus Web site for $69, a price that includes eight specially-designed games.
GestureTek 3D Vision Camera
No, I'm not pretending to play a driving game in the above picture, I'm actually controlling it using 3-D camera technology designed by GestureTek. Unlike the EyeToy, which attempts to interpret a 2-D image to figure out what the player is doing, the GestureTek system uses a special camera that detects actual shapes in 3-D. The prototype shown on the show floor worked surprisingly well, detecting minute changes in my hand position and translating them to angles for the car. The technology is still about a year away from being a consumer product, according to a GestureTek rep, but with 3-D camera technology coming down from thousands of dollars to mere hundreds, the prospect of an EyeToy that actually works is enticingly close.
Other Hardware of Interest
Nvidia's GeForce 3D Vision System
3-D displays were all over the place at CES, but most of them were either just prototypes or only worked with special TVs, monitors or projectors. Nvidia's 3-D system stood out among these systems for 1) being available right now and 2) working with existing GeForce graphics cards and over 350 current 3-D games. The system uses specially polarized glasses that sync with your monitor to show a slightly different image to each eye, creating a particularly vivid, 60 frames-per-second-per-eye 3-D image. The system works best in games with a set viewpoint like Guitar Hero -- demos of Tomb Raider and Mirror's Edge were a little disconcerting when the camera swung around rapidly. Still, at only $199 for an add-on system, this might be the most cost-efficient method yet for most gamers to experience 3-D displays in their homes right now.
Psyko 5.1 Gaming Surround Sound Headphones
Finally, a set of surround sound headphones that actually work. Unlike other surround sound headphones that use multiple speakers in each ear or software to simulate a surround sound signal, the Psyko actually has five sound sources hidden in the headstrap and connected to the ear cups through tubes. These sources and tubes are precisely placed so that the sound gets to each ear at the perfect time and location to accurately create a sense of "positional awareness" as the company calls it. In a demo with a Call of Duty game, the headphones helped my game immensely, letting me use the sounds to intuitively locate where shots were coming from rather than relying on an on-screen damage indicator. At $299 they're a little steep, but you get what you pay for. They should be available in limited quantities in the first half of the year and should work with any PC sound card that supports surround sound.
Wireless for HDMI
It might not be apparent from the picture, but that PS3 isn't physically hooked up to that HDTV in any way. Instead, it's sending an image signal through a wireless HDMI transmitter to a receiver that could be up to 10 feet away. At $750, this is currently a rather expensive solution to a problem you probably don't have, but with wireless HDMI receivers being built in to new high end TVs from Panasonic and Samsung, this might just be the future of how you hook up your game systems.
For accessory oddities and eccentricities from the Consumer Electronics Show, check out CES 2009 Report: Special Awards Division.