Way back in the Mesozoic era when I was a kid, I would crack wise during old sci-fi movies I watched with my dad, marveling at the "futuristic" technology on display in many of them. He would patiently explain to me that when many of these movies were made, the gadgets really were futuristic. I laughed it off, but as I grew up (or at least as I got older), I watched as things that I thought were futuristic in movies became mundane and even obsolete technology. Even in the otherwise future-tech-laden "Back to the Future Part II," my son asked why they were still using faxes instead of e-mail, and my daughter asked about those mysterious bundles of "giant DVDs" seen in an alleyway. Lest anyone think my 6-year-old is a 21st century digital girl, the one tech item she asks me for the most: a rotary telephone. Not even joking.
I went through the tons of products we've reviewed recently at CNET and grabbed a handful that were in the realm of science fiction movies not that long ago, starting with the Leap Motion, which CNET's Scott Stein (the lucky guy) got to get his hands on. Or above. As much as it pained me, that meant excluding things we've had stories about on CNET News, such as bionic eye implants, what is essentially a medical tricorder from "Star Trek," and our possible future robot overlords.
Disclosure: "Star Trek," which gets mentioned frequently in this gallery (I'm a longtime "Trek" geek), shares the same parent company with CNET.
That was the reaction a time-traveling Marty McFly got from pair of kids in 2015 when showing off his skills at the video game Wild Gunman in "Back to the Future Part II." It was a funny joke when the movie came out in 1989, but to my kids, who have flailed around with their dad playing games with the Kinect sensor for the Xbox 360, it seems like a semivalid criticism.
Whereas just having computers smaller than a small office was once considered futuristic, you can't get away with any plain old input system anymore. In "Minority Report" and the "Iron Man" movies, among others, things as quaint as keyboards and mice have given way to virtual control systems.
The Leap Motion Controller is a step in that direction. The small sensor device creates a small area above your keyboard where you can use your hands to control things on your computer, skipping the touch-screen concept entirely. And while it may not replace your input devices of choice right now, I'm old enough to remember a time when I thought there was no way in hell I'd be using a mouse to control programs on my computer, so I'm curious to see how this technology evolves.
You know, a lot of people were cracking wise about Google Glass making people look like members of the Borg Collective from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" when we got the first look at it. To me, it's more reminiscent of a weird, addictive gaming device in a different "Next Gen" episode -- called "The Game," cleverly enough. I don't know how believable it is that people would just play a game on a device all day long, but
(Editors' note: When asked why this sentence was incomplete, Sparkman was found huddled over his Nexus 7 trying to beat level 124 of Candy Crush Saga.)
Sure, the replicators on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" were often used to materialize a cup of tea (Earl Grey. Hot.), but they were also used to make replacement parts, cups, and wearable addictive gaming devices, among other things. The MakerBot Replicator is a full-featured consumer 3D printer that lets you create your own physical objects, which are made by extruding layer by layer of plastic. Scalewise, you're not going to replicate yourself a car -- at least, not yet. MakerBot showed off the follow-up model, the Replicator 2X, earlier this year at CES.
I work with people who were infants when the 1990 movie adaptation of "Dick Tracy" hit theaters, which got me thinking that if the average young folks know anything about Dick Tracy, odds are it's because people my age and older make reference to him any time wristwatches with more technology than just a calculator and multiple time zone capability come up. The police detective first got his 2-Way Wrist Radio in the newspaper comic strip back in the 1940s and has been the go-to reference point since. That said, current devices like the Sony SmartWatch and the Pebble Watch (among others) are still not quite there as full-fledged independent smartwatches, according to CNET's expert evaluators. Me, I'm lucky if I know what day of the week it is, so watches, smart or dumb, are lost on me.
Yes, handheld computers you could use to chat with friends were once only to be found as sci-fi TV and movie staples, from the wedge-shaped clipboards toted primarily by Yeoman Rand aboard the USS Enterprise on the original "Star Trek," to the eerily prescient-looking tablet computers (just ask Samsung) seen in "2001: A Space Odyssey," not to mention the updated PADDs in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The iPad wasn't the first tablet computer, but I'm told that it is somewhat popular. Popular enough that there's an official Star Trek PADD app for it. Android tablet owners like me are left to look on in envy for the time being.
When I first saw "Tron" as a kid, I was intrigued by the notion of being inside a video game. And when I saw the holodeck on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," I saw that as a way to visit a video game rather than being trapped in it and having to find a way to escape. With the Virtuix Omni, we're a little closer to being able to get really immersed in a game. My one thought is that you might want to have some extra protection on the rig's surface for playing horror-survival games. Just saying.
Looking a bit reminiscent of the goggles Marty McFly's kids wore in "Back to the Future Part II," the Oculus Rift is a VR headset that makes gaming a far more immersive experience. In fact, the aforementioned Virtuix Omni interfaces with an Oculus Rift as part of its setup. The headset also makes me think of the VR glasses that beam the online world directly onto players' retinas in Ernest Cline's novel "Ready Player One" (a movie adaptation of which is in development). Being severely myopic as well as only a few years away from needing bifocals, I'm always curious how these would work for those of us with crappy eyesight. I'll just have to look into it, I suppose.