​Razer's $100 Forge TV microconsole might not be vaporware anymore (hands-on)


At last year's Consumer Electronics Show, Razer revealed its own new game console -- a tiny, $100 Android TV set-top box that promised not only to play Android games, but also to stream games from desktop gaming computers. It was called the Forge TV. It was supposed to be launched alongside the Razer Turret, an innovative keyboard and mouse designed to be used on your lap, with a special magnetic mouse surface to keep the mouse from sliding. (You can read our original impressions further down this page.)

Instead, the Forge TV launched in June with no lapboard, no PC game streaming, no Netflix support, and a product that the "most helpful" of a mostly negative set of Amazon reviews described as a "buggy pain." Google stopped offering the Forge TV on its store shortly after launch, and it garnered plenty of poor reviews on Amazon before disappearing entirely.

But Razer isn't done with the idea. In December, Razer started selling the Forge TV on Amazon again, and is issuing an over-the-air software update to the Forge TV on December 21 that adds a brand-new game store called Cortex -- which will feature games from the Ouya game system that Razer purchased in July. Razer plans to port over as many of the 1,100 games on Ouya as possible, and says it already has more than 150 new games available, including hits like Mercenary Kings and Towerfall: Ascension.

Sling, HBO Go and Starz Play are also coming to the Forge TV as new streaming video options, and Razer says the Turret lapboard and mouse will actually go on sale in January for $150 (£100 or AU$209, converted). You won't find official support for streaming your games from a PC, though: Razer says it stopped working on the Cortex Stream software to do that when it realized that other third-party apps like Remotr could do the same thing. Razer will be promoting Remotr and other apps in a new suggestion bar it's adding to the Forge TV homescreen.

Also still missing in action: Netflix support. "There's no hard date set for Netflix," says a Razer product manager. "We've been working with them to develop that solution, and just wanted to reaffirm that we're still working on that."

Existing Ouya owners will be able to get a $50 discount on the Forge TV and gamepad bundle (bringing the cost down from $150 to $100), and use their existing Ouya controllers for multiplayer games on the Forge TV.

Original story, January 6, 2015:

We knew Razer was making an Android TV microconsole back at Google I/O last year, but the Forge TV is finally real and playable. It does what you think it does: much like Google's own Nexus Player, it's a tiny puck you connect to your TV.

Forge TV supports Android 5.0 devices, so your phone or tablet can Google Cast with Forge TV the same way you can with Nexus Player. It also works with iOS, Android, Chromebooks or Windows to control Forge TV remotely. It'll cost $100, with UK and Australian prices still to come, but it converts to £65 or AU£125.

Scott Stein/CNET

Videos and games can be played using a Bluetooth controller, including Razer's own, the Razer Serval, which will cost $80 in the US (roughly £55 or AU$100). The dual-stick full-on controller is one that Razer says is specially tuned for Android gaming, but the controller doesn't have rumble or a microphone: to use gesture and voice commands on Forge TV, you'll need to download a separate Razer app.

A bundle will include one controller with the Forge TV for $150 (£100 or AU$185, converted).

Scott Stein/CNET

The Serval comes with a clip that will allow you to attach a phone and play games on the go, too, like many Android gaming accessories.

Scott Stein/CNET

The Forge TV is really small: Amazon Fire TV-size. It fit in my back pocket. It's more powerful than some small streaming boxes, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor and Adreno 420 graphics, 16GB of onboard storage, and a standard HDMI output plus USB 3.0 on the back.

It supports four simultaneous controllers, if you can find Android games that even allow that. I played Asphalt 8 and Bombsquad, which does have multiplayer gaming. Android games played fine, but performance wasn't quite jaw-dropping.

Scott Stein/CNET

The cooler part of Forge TV is its support of streaming PC games: Nvidia's Shield handheld and Shield Tablet do the same thing, but via compatible Nvidia graphics gaming PCs and a selected library of games. Forge TV promises to work with any DirectX 9-ready PC with either AMD or Nvidia graphics via Razer Cortex Stream, a new feature to Razer's game-launcher software.

It'll stream any game you have: via Steam, Origin, Battle.net, or anything else. I played a bit of Titanfall streaming in a Razer demo suite, and it appeared in playable form at 1080p (Razer claims it'll work at 60fps). My demo had a fair amount of start-and-stop hiccups, and streaming game performance, even locally, is often a mixed bag.

Razer's Turret lapboard. Scott Stein/CNET

Razer's also making an unfolding lap keyboard and mouse that'll work with Forge TV streamed PC games, or with your PC itself: the $130 (£85, AU$160) Turret lapboard works via Bluetooth or 2.4GHz wireless technology, much like other gaming accessories. The mouse feels like the Razer Orochi: it's a high-end product, and magnetically clings to the mousepad surface underneath for greater traction.

How Forge TV handles streaming PC games versus Nvidia's Shield hardware remains to be seen, but it's the killer app lurking in Forge TV. If a $100 box could help you turn your everyday PC into a TV-connected console, it could be great.

But no Android gaming box has emerged that's been any good yet: Amazon Fire TV, Google's Nexus Player, Ouya and others have fallen short and been underwhelming. The PC angle is Razer's best bet, but at least the price on the Forge TV is pretty reasonable. Forge TV will be available in the first quarter of this year, so we'll know soon enough.

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