TechnoFile's most interesting gadgets of 2014
By Jim Bray
What are the most interesting tech gadgets of 2014? It depends where you surf and who you ask, of course, but in the case of TechnoFile, it was a year, technologically, that had its charms.
Hence this year ender, where I take a look back and focus on the devices, gadgets or whatever that turned my crank the most this year, for whatever reason. This, like my look back at cars that you can find here, isn't meant as the be-all and end-all of things technological in The Year of Our Lord 2014, just the stuff that I found most interesting of the stuff with which I was lucky enough to play. It definitely doesn't cover everything that was introduced this year, just the stuff I tried - which is still a pretty interesting list.
(click here or on the image above to open a slideshow in a new window)
Favorite video product of 2014: Hands down, it has to be Darbee processing, as I experienced via the standalone Darblet DVP-5000 and built into OPPO Digital's great BDP-103D (D="Darbee edition") network 3D Blu-ray player. It was via the OPPO I got my first taste of the technology and that led me to contacting the folks at Darbeevision to see how their wizardry translated to my 106 inch front projection screen-based system.
The reason I find Darbee's stuff so interesting is that it's sort of the opposite to everything I've experienced in the home video world: it's a processing technology that actually improves the picture instead of making it deteriorate like most processing technology - whether it be high frame rates, noise reduction, whatever. I normally shut all this stuff off, but with the Darbee - on my 50 inch plasma via the OPPO (set to about 35) and on my projection system ("Darbee-less" OPPO BDP-105 feeding the front projector, with the Darblet set to about 70) it is simply breathtaking, adding a sense of depth and realism I never knew existed. It's subtle, but once you get used to it you won't want to live without it.
Honorable mention to the OPPO BDP-103D, a fantastic player that not only plays just about any type of disc-based media short of games, but interacts with your network, plays just about any kind of audio file, and offers stuff like Netflix, YouTube and other popular apps - all while offering fantastic sound and video (and Darbee, though you can buy the player without it for $100 less). I'm a big fan of OPPO and this player is merely the latest in a long line that has impressed me.
Honorable mention, too, to Panasonic and LG, who gave me the opportunity to check out 4K Ultra High Definition television, which will probably be the type of TV you and I both buy next. I had quibbles with both TV's, about their functionality, their remote controls, their "smartness," but I sure couldn't whine about the picture quality. Both TV's were superb and even though there's a distinct lack of real 4K content right now (which will undoubtedly change over time), they both looked fantastic with material up converted from 1080p or even with lower resolutions. I wouldn't run out and buy a 4K TV right now if I weren't looking for a new TV anyway, but you can bet my next TV will be 4K if the format survives (and it probably will).
Most interesting gadget for the car: This has to be Lemur's BlueDriver, a $99 handy device you can use to scan your car for problems should your check engine light come on unexpectedly. You can also use it to ensure your vehicle will pass an emissions test (well, it won't fix the car but it'll tell you what needs to be done) and you can send reports to yourself via email or social media, so you have a printout you can take with you to the dealership or your favorite technician. The BlueDriver diagnosed misfires in my Audi's V6 engine correctly and gave me the recommended fix (replace the damn coil packs) as well as some alternatives (such as "replace the engine," the last thing I wanted to see!).
Second most interesting gadget for the car: This has to be the BACtrack, a Bluetooth-connecting portable breathalyzer you can take to the pub (or wherever you'll be quaffing) and use to gauge not only how fece-faced you are, but how long it'll take for your facedness to wear off to legal limits again. This could not only be a life saver, especially other people's lives, it could save your driver's license (and perhaps your job?) and your wallet by preventing you from driving over the legal limit.
Most interesting computer: Okay, I didn't play with many separate computer systems this year, but Acer's Aspire R7 really turned my crank. It's a laptop PC and tablet all in one, with an innovative mount that lets you fold the screen nearly completely flat to use it as a tablet, use it normally, or swing it around to use as a demo screen (if you're showing off a PowerPoint or video, for example) that keeps the keyboard away from the grubby fingers of the audience.
Acer calls it a "four way design" meant specifically to create "the best touch and type experience." I also liked how Acer moved the trackpad back out of the way, behind the keyboard instead of in front of it like most notebooks. This was particularly nice for me, because I hate trackpads (I plugged a wireless mouse in instead, being an old dog who doesn't like that particular new trick) and they're usually placed right where I want my hands to rest, which causes all sorts of cursor control problems. And as I noted in my review back in June, "when I wasn't using the R7 as a tablet, I'd position the screen over where the trackpad sits, where it could sit at a nice reading angle as well as being close enough that I could use the touch screen conveniently if I so choose."
Which means you not only don't have to use the darn trackpad, you don't really need a mouse, either because the big, 15.6 inch LCD is also touch-enabled.
Favorite game: I reviewed Call of Duty: Ghosts in January, saying that this latest entry into the COD franchise was "an interesting and believable scenario in which to off bad guys" that also offers "some interesting new wrinkles on the multiplayer side of things." COD: Ghosts is set in a not-too-distant future where you fight for the remnants of the U.S. after a federation of South American nations has attacked it and left a good part of it in ruins - places like Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area. You also get to fight in space, under water, on marine platforms, and more. I had a ball!
I also had a great time playing with, er honing my driving skills with, Gran Turismo 6. Alas, there are still no Porsches available other than the odd, old RUF model, but there's enough other stuff here - including many new and/or prototype cars (Toyota's FT-1 being a great example) that you can drive on more actual and virtual courses than in previous Gran Turismo versions.
It's more evolutionary compared with GT5 than revolutionary, and I missed some of the GT5 things that have been changed in GT6, but overall this is a terrific driving sim - especially if you have a racing wheel and pedals to use with it. I was disappointed that you can't bring your GT5 stats, cars and history forward with you, which means you have to start from scratch again, with a cheap little car and little lucre with which to change that until you've earned it on the track. Still, it doesn't take long to build a stable of vehicles and a nest egg with which you can expand it; I just wish I could have just dived in where I left off in GT5. Oh well.
Favorite gadget: Kenwood - not the audio maker - and its model HB724 hand blender was so cool we threw out our old one, which would splash stuff all over the place if you weren't careful (or lacked coordination!). I called the Kenwood a "formidable machine" when I reviewed it back in April, noting that it also comes with "oodles of attachments to make it even more flexible." The 724 comes with a 380 watt motor and patented three blade system and has what the company calls a "unique foot design to chop and blend ingredients as efficiently as possible." My wife uses the hand blender most, but I've become a virtuoso at making mashed potatoes that are second to none - and that doesn't mean it's better to have none!
Speaking of none, none of these devices will make the world a better place or cure cancer, but in their own way they're all very good at doing what their makers have mandated. And isn't that how it should be?
Copyright 2014 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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