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The biggest takeaways in gaming tech from CES 2020

CES isn't a huge show for gaming, but we still saw some new and notable things. Here are the highlights.

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My favorite gaming irony of CES 2020: Everyone's declaring that consoles are dying -- gaming belongs to the cloud now! -- but some of the biggest gaming news of the show was Sony's unveiling of the new PlayStation 5 logo with confirmation that the PS5 would ship by the end of the year. Plus, AMD used a photo of Microsoft's upcoming Xbox Series X that turned out to be incorrect renders someone pulled from a rumor site. Oops.

In fact, the Razer Sila 5G combo router and hotspot for use with (what else?) 5G wireless seems to be the only gaming device from a high-profile company specifically aimed at cloud gamers -- and it's not leaving Singapore, at least for a while.

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Everybody wants to be Nintendo

It's not a surprise or a secret that companies creating new mobile gaming hardware are trying to replicate the design of the Nintendo Switch -- specifically its central screen and detachable paddlelike controllers. Xiaomi's $600 Black Shark 2 Pro phone sorta-kinda falls into this category thanks to liquid cooling and a clip-on controller accessory.

Alienware's Concept UFO prototype, which is essentially a Switch based around a small Windows tablet, is one of the most literal translations of that idea we've seen thus far. You can also dock it and use it as computer.   

Razer's been working on turning your phone into a Switch with its Junglecat controller. But the Junglecat only works with Android phones, uses a nonstandard control layout, connects via laggy Bluetooth and requires a custom case -- that limits it to only a few models. 

That could change with Razer's new Kishi, which is slated to ship by the end of March and works on both iOS and Android. It consists of connected left and right Xbox-layout controllers with a center section in which you park your phone. The center expands to fit a variety of phone sizes, clamping over the top and bottom edges, and connects via USB-C or Lightning. Overall, it's a smarter, more flexible design. We don't have pricing, but it's expected to be in the $100 ballpark (about £100 or AU$170).  


The Razer Kishi.

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Going mobile

Intel spent most of its CES event promoting its ultraportable Project Athena laptops; they are lovely, but not for gaming. Of more interest to gamers is Intel's 10nm++ process Tiger Lake-generation with Gen 12/DG1 integrated graphics (based on its Xe discrete processor development). Why? Because Intel's pushed its current graphics engine about as far as it can, which isn't far. Basically, Intel said DG1 is fast and it's still coming. (The company trotted out Adobe to show off how wunnerful Tiger Lake is, but the whizzy Photoshop Select Subject demo was more about showing off Intel's deep-learning acceleration DL Boost than any graphics chops.)

Stretching the definition of a gaming laptop to the breaking point, Lenovo debuted its 15-inch Legion Y740S, a 0.6-inch (14.9mm, so relatively thin) model that weighs only 4.2 pounds (1.9 kg). In order to shrink it, Lenovo removed the discrete GPU and put it in a new Thunderbolt 3-connected external graphics box (aka eGPU), the BoostStation. Which means you can game, just not while you're mobile.  

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AMD blasted through several major introductions, including its new Ryzen 4000-series mobile processors, notably its H series. In addition to updated versions of the integrated graphics based on AMD's Vega architecture, with the H line the company rolled out SmartShift, an automated algorithm for dynamically allocating power between the CPU, the integrated graphics and a discrete GPU based on their workloads. In other words, if you hit a more graphics-intensive section in a game, it tosses more power to the discrete GPU. In theory, this should improve both power management and graphics performance. It sounds similar to the Dynamic Power feature recently introduced in HP's gaming laptops, such as the Omen X 2S.

The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 incorporates a custom variation of the new Ryzen 7 4800H, the 4800HS. Asus worked with AMD to fit the chip into a lower-power 14-inch system than it was designed for, especially since it has to draw less power and generate less head in order to coexist with optional RTX 2060 discrete graphics and a 2,560x1,440-pixel-resolution screen. In order to use the discrete GPU, though, you've got to use the 180-watt AC adapter. If you're using USB-C power, it's integrated graphics only. But the G14 debuted with a cool optional lid that displays animations using an array of Mini LEDs.  

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AMD also announced its new mobile discrete GPUs, the RX 5600M and RX 5700M. Based on AMD's most recent generation of graphics, its 7nm Navi, they join the already announced RX 5500M. They're the mobile analogs of the desktop RX 5600 XT and RX  5700 XT cards.

An upcoming all-AMD Dell G5 Special Edition will be available when the mobile GPUs are ready -- by the end of June -- equipped with a RX 5600M and Ryzen 7 4700H.

Monitors hit new heights

As if to drive home that cloud gaming really, really hasn't driven off any alternatives, monitor and TV refresh rates (how fast the screen updates) keep rising, as does TV support for variable refresh rates via HDMI 2.1 and adaptive refresh standards. That's an indicator because cloud gaming can't use any of it -- at the moment the services use a fixed frame rate of 60 frames per second, and even if they could go higher, none of the frame processing takes place locally. Of course, esports use is driving a lot of the climbing refresh rates.


The Asus ROG Swift 360Hz monitor.


Asus' ROG Swift 360Hz monitor took the "fastest" crown of the show with its 25-inch, 1080p esports monitor that, obviously, has a 360Hz refresh rate. It also supports Nvidia G-Sync. This follows up its "fastest" win for a laptop display in October.  

The adaptive refresh wars continue, and AMD's FreeSync news just made me laugh: It split its FreeSync adaptive-refresh technology branding into three variants, FreeSync, FreeSync Premium (for displays with 120Hz refresh or higher and low frame rate compensation) and FreeSync Premium Pro (which adds HDR). It used to be FreeSync and FreeSync 2. That's clearly a direct shot at Nvidia, which last year split its competing G-Sync into three versions -- G-Sync Compatible, G-Sync and G-Sync Ultimate -- in order to have an inexpensive G-Sync-branded option to compete with AMD's cheaper FreeSync.

Furthermore, Vizio explicitly targets console gamers with its 2020 lineup's ProGaming Engine, ostensibly with better response time and automatic lag decrease when the TV detects a connected gaming console.

We also saw a spate of gaming monitors with other features that cloud gaming can't take advantage of, like 1,000-plus-nit brightness and HDR as well as deeply curved monitors with odd aspect ratios and sizes that would make streamed games look awful.


Samsung's Odyssey monitors get more conspicuous lighting.

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Samsung's new G9 and G7 QLED monitors now bear its "Odyssey" gaming brand, and incorporate newly deeper 1000R curves as well as 240Hz refresh rates. You'll see other monitors incorporating the 1000R QLED panels, such as MSI's Optix MAG342CQR.


The Acer Predator X32.

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As for high-brightness HDR, the 4K Acer Predator X32 hits DisplayHDR 1400 heights of 1,440 nits. It covers almost 90% of the Rec. 2020 color gamut -- that's a lot -- thanks to its QLED panel and 1,152-zone Mini LED backlight. It has a 144Hz refresh rate and supports G-Sync Ultimate. Its claim of serious color accuracy (albeit with no specifics) is just the icing. Acer isn't the only company using this panel in a gaming monitor, though. Asus also has a Display1400 monitor with the ROG Swift PG32UQX

And despite the blurred line between small TVs and big monitors for gaming, more companies have followed Alienware's lead and debuted 55-inch OLED gaming monitors that are similar to whichever LG TV they're based on. For example, there's the $3,000 Acer Predator CG552K and ViewSonic Elite XG550.

The desktop isn't dead, either

Intel quietly announced its NUC 9 Extreme Kit, based on its Next Unit of Computing platform, a gaming-friendly roll-your-own micro desktop. The NUC part consists of a ninth-gen H-series (mobile) processor on a mini motherboard and a 500-watt power supply. You add your own components in the single dual-width PCIe slot for a graphics card, two memory slots and two NVMe M.2 slots for solid-state drives. Because it uses a mobile chipset, it's got Thunderbolt 3 connections.


The Razer Tomahawk.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Razer built its new Tomahawk systems around the NUC 9 Extreme in its singular black monolith aesthetic. It's similar in size and layout to Razer's Core eGPUs. One's a full build, the Razer Tomahawk gaming deskop. The other, the Tomahawk N1, is basically the Intel in the better-designed chassis. Look for it sometime before June.


The Origin PC Big O.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Origin PC used a single chassis to prove neither the desktop nor the console has become obsolete. Its Big O systems combine a powerful gaming PC on one side with a console -- either an Xbox One S All Digital or a PlayStation 4 Pro -- on the other.

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AMD also gave us a new graphics card for "ultimate" 1080p gaming. The 6GB RX 5600 XT is priced at $279 to compete with the Nvidia 1660 Ti. It's shipping later in January.

There you have it. Because you've made it this far, I'll leave you with this warrior-head robot concept desktop, the MSI MEG Aegis Ti5


And now for something completely different in a gaming desktop.


Originally published Jan. 10.