On Location - CES 2014

With the Christmas and New Years Eve festivities all but forgotten, I am once again back in the Las Vegas limelight covering the geek mecca known as the Consumer Electronics Show. As in years past, it was an awesome opportunity to do some great networking, check out all the newest hot gadgets of 2014, and get a serious dose of fun.

I was pleased this time around to see some very impressive notebooks from more than one manufacturer, among a slew of other great products and accessories. This year definitely holds a lot of interesting stuff to hit consumers hands, some of which I know I'll be taking a closer look at.


With the exception of this article going up considerably later than I anticipated due to spotty wifi at my hotel, not having a mobile hotspot with me and my notebook needing teardown maintenance, I have to admit this year's CES was the best out of any I have yet to attend. Given the somewhat sombre experience I had at the show last year, that's definitely a welcome change.


Slates have (thankfully) come and gone. The big theme at CES 2014 is 4K, and among the plethora of oversized 4K curved and 3D televisions being shown off, panel manufacturers are finally getting off the 1080P bandwagon and providing notebook users with some serious high-resolution options.

The biggest entrant in the 4K notebook race being none other than Toshiba. The company had it's refresh Tecra W50 workstation on display sporting a 15.6" 3840 x 2160 LCD. Despite an eye-watering 282 PPI, image clarity and text under Windows remains both surprisingly clear and easy to discern. Due out around the middle of 2014, the W50 will be one of the scarce few notebooks available to purchase with Windows 7 - that's good news for enthusiasts and serious users such as myself.

While the Tecra W50 is designed specifically for work use courtesy of a Quadro GPU, the company is also pushing a consumer version in the form of the Satellite P50. Specs were absent given the unit being displayed was a prototype sample, albeit for a quite visible parts sticker plastered on the bottom which revealed a Core i7-47000 on a HM87 chipset, 8GB RAM, AMD Radeon HD8900 series GPU with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM and a Panasonic UJ272 BD burner. We also know that those 15.6" 4K panels are being manufactured by Sharp (no surprise). Perhaps the only downer is that 4-cell 3020mAh 43WH battery Toshiba is offering - good luck getting 2 hours unplugged with it.

Of course, Toshiba hasn't forgotten about gamers, and had a brand-new Qosmio X75 running as well, with a 4K display nonetheless. The 17.3" notebook still runs the same GTX 770M graphics card as the Qosmio X70 I looked at recently. Is it valid to assume the unit still comes with the same heat extraction problems and lousy unplugged run time as the X70? Toshiba has a lot of homework to do if it's to show off a true 4K gaming notebook considering that even a desktop GTX 780 Ti on its own will struggle with modern 3D titles at that resolution.

Over at the Sony booth, the company was also showing off it's newest 11.6" devices, in contrast to no longer manufacturing any 17" models. Sony's notebook lineup now tops out at 15.6". To be honest, that's no surprise given that the perks associated with 17" notebooks in the past (keyboard with number pad and higher resolution screens) can now be had at the smaller size.

Chief among Sony's 2014 lineup is the 11.6" Vaio Fit 11A Flip PC. Using a unique mid-mounted dual-hinge design, the device can work as either a notebook with a fully adjustable display angle or fold flat to form a slate with the keyboard concealed beneath. Notable as well is the use of a quad-core Pentium N3520 as opposed to the more popular Core varieties. Finally, and perhaps it's major selling point, will be the inclusion of an active digitizer. This goes beyond aiding with handwritten notes, but allow artist types the chance to let their creative side loose in lieu of the expense associated with a traditional Wacom solution.

Finally, performance die-hards should be happy with the Raptor 7 notebook courtesy of Ace Computers. The ODM continues to refresh the platform for 2014 now offering the latest Xeon E5 v2 12C/24T processors as well as support for parity memory. Paired with dual kepler or quadro graphics cards in SLI, four 1TB SSD's in RAID 0 and a maximum of 64GB of RAM, the 17.3" 12 lb monster will easily chew through whatever you throw at it. Perhaps out of all the notebooks seen yet, this would be the one that truly deserves a 4K display.


Android and Windows slates continued to make a splash at the show, although with much less fanfare than years past. Either the novelty is beginning to wear off, or we're seeing the start of the mobile bubble finally bursting. That's not to say there weren't any interesting or new handhelds to show off. Toshiba had its new Encore 8" Windows 8 slate being displayed, but the most interesting small tablet came from Panasonic.

The Toughpad FZ-M1 is a 7" Windows 8.1 Pro slate ruggedized to military specifications. The sunlight readable 1280 x 800 touch screen, Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and 128GB or 256GB SSD are only the tip of the iceberg of an extensive spec list. It's most notable feature is a built-in bridge battery, allowing you to hot swap the main battery with a spare and not have to power down. Options include GPS/LTE built-in, an extended-capacity battery with 16 hour run time, docking station, capacitive stylus and a keyboard accessory very similar to the Type Cover used on the Microsoft Surface. Perhaps the best news of all, however, is that Panasonic will have it available to ship with Windows 7 installed if Windows 8 is not to your liking. This may just be the holy grail of productivity slates folks like me have been dreaming about.


Headsets seemed to be a very popular accessory at the show with more than one company exhibiting their lineup. Turtle Beach had several models on show that caught my eye, especially because of their white color.

The Ear Force XP Seven is a console headset that also works for PC use. The control unit provides a myriad of controls along with auxiliary connectivity, and combined with the included software, provides detailed sound shaping controls. The detachable microphone allows you to use it for headphone listening exclusively, or you can daisy chain your smartphone to the control unit and still answer calls while gaming or mix in your own music in-game. Massive 50mm drivers should let these cans perform very well.

Audio-Technica also showed off their new ATH-ADG1 and ATH-AG1 gaming headsets. The former (pictured) is finished in silver with an open-ear design while the latter comes in a gold color with closed backs. Both units feature oversized 53mm drivers, are rated at 38 ohms impedance, deliver frequency response of 5-30kHz, and ship with a detachable USB DAC that contains its own built-in headphone amplifier. Considering the company's extensive expertise in hifi audio equipment, it's safe to assume these gaming headsets will become sought-after quickly by many FPS enthusiasts.

Finally, one very notable accessory for notebook users may just be the new mSata SSD shown off by Samsung. The 840 EVO mSata now brings renowned Samsung reliability and performance to users looking to fill in those mSata slots on newer notebooks. It was interesting to note the absence of any m.2 products from the company given the XP941 is also a Samsung product, however, that has not officially been released in the consumer channel. The company rep did hint, however, of an upcoming 850 series to replace their current 840 lineup sometime in 2014. Fingers crossed that announcement will also include an 850 m.2.


It's easy to mistake CES for being only about computers, wearables and living room entertainment. Stern had their booth crammed with a row of pinball machines, and the lines of people waiting to play them were never short. I guess you're never too old to feel like a kid, and smashing away at an authentic pinball machine really does take you back to a time when fun meant being teased by mechanics, sounds and lights. Needless to say, I went back to this booth every day for my pinball fix, and enjoyed every single game.

At the other end of the scale, Panasonic was more than ready to showcase what a modern 4K 60P gaming experience is like. Their racing simulator included their branded home theater speaker system flanking a massive 85" 4K LCD canvas. The visual experience was almost surreal, near mimicking a true-to-life view from an actual camera, such was the detail and image quality. It's technology demos like these that really show how far PC gaming has come, being able to recreate a view no different than what many would mistake for actual video footage.

Last but not least, the audiophile in me could not resist taking this imposing wall of sound hammers for a "volume check". Sony's high power audio system comes in three flavors. The large SHAKE-99 are the pair of giant 4-way speakers and bottom unit pushing 4800W (RMS). The SHAKE-33 are the top two smaller units and four smaller 3-way speakers doing 2200W (RMS) per pair. Completing the visual setup are a pair of stand-alone MHC-V5's adding 1440W (RMS) each. The units can be linked, so one of the 33's pictured was acting as a slave controlled by the 99's volume dial.

With special permission from the Sony official in charge, and my USB demo drive plugged in, I was allowed to crank this beast to maximum volume. Let me tell you, it could be heard from outside the convention center on the street. Yet despite the over 7000 watts of power and over 70 dB volume, the sound quality remained excellent and bass was clean and powerful. Forget about annoying the neighbors, this thing will wake the dead... in the adjacent town.


I've thoroughly enjoyed covering CES 2014. The images shown here were just a small portion of what I took a look at. I also must say that my experience was extremely positive, receiving a lot of good feedback from manufacturers and vendors, along with much encouragement. While it has taken a lot of time for me to get to where I am now, I am happy to see that my efforts are being rewarded.

I am definitely looking forward to CES 2015, that's for sure.


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