For the last few months, several NAS manufacturers have entered the home router market, but only QNAP has combined a private network router with a NAS and home theater PC technology. The new trifecta device is the TBS-453A, and it's about the same size as a netbook.
The system has up to 8 GB of system DRAM, four SATA m.2 SSD slots, a local WAN and four LAN ports. Those combined features would be an excellent start to a network attached storage device that doubles as the network, but the TBS-453A goes a step further by adding dual HDMI outputs, four USB 3.0 ports, audio ports and a card reader.
The HDMI ports allow for local display support (home theater PC with KODI or other supported software) and real-time 4K H.264 video transcoding to other network attached devices. The system will remain responsive thanks to a highly optimized Intel Braswell SoC processor that consumes very little power.
Regardless of how you use the device, it's small enough to fit in any location, or you can opt to take it on the road as a traveling all-in-one device that can double as a PC.
Best New Graphics Tech
From a company known for solid but not exactly flashy mobile graphics solutions, the PowerVR Wizard from Imagination looks to be something new. It's a PCI card, built with a specialized ray tracing processor. It's a low-powered, 10 watt card with passive cooling, but in a head-to-head demo, it rendered a scene five times faster than an Nvidia GeForce 980 Ti. Now, the test was undeniably set up in Imagination's favor, but we always love to see David take a shot at Goliath.
In addition to the head-to-head, we also got to see the four PowerVR Wizards running in tandem to render a flythrough of a scene. The rendering was done in Unity, which has worked with Imagination Technologies (maker of the PowerVR) to implement ray tracing in its APIs. The scene had more than 300 million light rays being rendered simultaneously, but the four little cards kept up an admirable 30 fps at 1080p.
Best System Concept
Razer Blade Stealth Ultrabook And Razer Core GPU Dock
You could argue that Razer swiped the idea of using a laptop paired with an external GPU dock from MSI and Alienware. You could further argue that Asus' new GPU dock is actually better than Razer's Core dock, because it uses PCIe x4 to pump full 40 Gbps over its USB-C connectors, whereas Thunderbolt 3 has an overhead penalty that drops its stated 40 Gbps to something lesser.
Those are strong arguments, but even so, we chose Razer's setup as our top pick. The docks from MSI, Alienware and Asus are all proprietary in some way and are thus married to a single device. It is true that so far, the Razer Core dock works just with the Razer Blade Stealth, and Razer reps wouldn't state definitively either way whether or not the Core would work with any device that had the correct USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3. But the Core (apparently) uses no secret sauce, so connecting other devices should theoretically work.
Further, there's the fact that Razer seems to have thought through an average gamer's ideal setup. You have the slim Ultrabook (with strong specs of its own), a powerful external GPU for when you need to rock and roll in demanding games, and a place to park all your peripherals. One cable connects that laptop to the whole schmeer, and charges it. (Asus' setup requires two cables.)
Best Sign Of VR Promise
VR and 360-degree cameras made a rush at CES this year, but most of them, as impressive as they were, are consumer-grade products -- the GoPro of the VR camera world, as it were. Which is to say, they offer excellent-enough quality for you and me. But for the big boys, there's Jaunt. It's really not a product you can buy. It's a massive, professional-grade VR camera intended for movie making or broadcast recording (the company isn't going after live VR entertainment yet). The focus, if it isn't obvious, is quality. It has 24 HD camera modules, each with one-inch sensors with global shutters and HDR.
Most cameras employ rolling shutter sensors, which record moving objects from top to bottom. This scan-line effect can cause severe distortion when recording swift-moving objects. This is not ideal for immersive motion capture and makes it nearly impossible to stitch all of those images together perfectly. Global shutter records all scan lines at once. There's much more going on here, though, like the memory arrays behind the pixel cells (each pixel has a memory cell). The video gets uploaded to a cloud-based rendering system that combines all of the data and then reconstructs it as stereo output -- a virtual camera output for each eye. The company only does content partnership deals (which allows Jaunt to distribute the content on its own player in its app).
Okay, so shoot me: This is not really a product that's for you and me (although it's output is -- there's some really compelling content in the Jaunt app), but it's another sign that VR is serious business, and it's more than just gaming. Jaunt has raised $100m so far, just in case you're still not convinced.