CES 2014: Gaming roundup

Gaming is once again a thing at CES! Since splitting from the Consumer Electronics Show in 1995 and creating E3, the game industry has sat out much of the past 20 years. Between last year's big news from Valve and this year's reappearance of Sony's PlayStation, it's never been a better time to be a journalist covering gaming at CES.

In case the resurgence of gaming news wasn't enough to solidify our belief, the first ever Engadget-hosted Official CES Awards Best of Show trophy went to Oculus VR's Crystal Cove Rift prototype. Gaming, as it turns out, is more innovative and exciting than the curved TVs and psuedo-fashionable vitality monitors of the world -- not exactly a surprise, but validating our years-long assertion feels so, so right.

CES 2014 saw Steam Machines third-party support go official -- we even told you about all 14 partners a full 24 hours before Valve loosed the info -- a new, crazy/ambitious project from Razer and Oculus VR's latest prototype. And that's to say nothing of Sony's PlayStation Now and Huawei's China-exclusive Android game console, or the dozens of interviews we did.

Steam Machines

The ongoing saga of Valve's PC gaming living room initiative continued at CES 2014, with company head/beloved game industry leader Gabe Newell introducing just over one dozen third-party Steam Machines at a press conference. This is Valve's second consecutive year attending CES, and the company behind Steam (not to mention gaming classics like Half-Life and Left 4 Dead) made another big splash in 2014. Pricing, specs and rough launch windows were given to the various Steam Machines, which brings us all one step closer to the much-ballyhooed "Steambox" reality we've been hearing about for years now. Heck, iBuyPower's is named "SBX" -- take a wild guess what that's short for.

Oculus VR's Crystal Cove prototype

Depth-tracking? Check. Motion blur vastly reduced? Check check. A fancy new OLED screen? Yup, that's in there too. The latest virtual reality headset from Oculus VR is nicknamed the "Crystal Cove" prototype -- for reasons the company isn't saying -- and it offers a massive step up from even the HD prototype we tried back at E3 2013. The first of the trio of new features is accomplished by adding IR trackers to the front of the Rift headset, combined with a camera facing the player (in-tandem with other data collected via internal sensors).

After trying the latest Rift, I spent the rest of CES evangelizing the device to my colleagues. From mobile phone geeks to in-house photog Zach "Honey" Honig (Hi Zach!), no staffer came away unimpressed. Two evenings of heated arguments later, and we chose Crystal Cove for our Best of CES award.

Razer's Nabu and Project Christine

A wearable from a gaming company? You'll forgive my confusion, but Nabu is pretty far from normal for Razer. If anything, perhaps we shouldn't expect Razer to be pedestrian -- this is the company, after all, that created the Razer Edge and routinely names its devices stuff like "Kraken." Between the unbelievably low price ($50 for the dev model), the two OLED screens and the sophisticated abilities Nabu offers, though, we're convinced it's a great, if bizarre, idea.

Where Nabu is ambitious, Project Christine is insane. The crazy-looking modular gaming PC isn't the same iterative, bland exercise so much of the PC world continues to produce: It's exactly the kind of bold experiment we're excited to share with you. Beyond the fact that it's a modular PC -- which, unto itself, is relatively unknown territory -- it's got a custom motherboard, mineral oil cooling and a design that dramatically stands out from the pack. Christine isn't necessarily destined for retail (Razer's still waiting to hear how consumers respond post-CES), but we sure hope it does become widely available at some point.

The Rest

Microsoft and Xbox weren't really at CES 2014, but I did spend some time speaking with Xbox head Marc Whitten about the Xbox One's first big post-launch update and getting his thoughts on the evolving world of gaming. Beyond hands-on time with the new Rift prototype, company CEO Brendan Iribe talked to us about Oculus VR's internal game development aspirations. Company founder Palmer Luckey joined us on the show floor stage once again to talk Crystal Cove, as did the always gregarious Razer head Min-Liang Tan. Sony head Kaz Hirai sat down with managing editor Christopher Trout to talk PlayStation 4, "one Sony" and the just-announced PlayStation Now game-streaming service. In case it wasn't already clear, there's a ton of great, original gaming coverage to pore over as the weekend rambles on. And that's just gaming!