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Oh My Tech!: New gadgets for 2014

Published January 9, 2014 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's not like 2013 was a tepid year for consumer technology. We did get some of the best Android phones ever with the HTC One and Samsung's Galaxy series of smartphones, and Apple's Macbook Pro got a much faster processor that lasts a lot longer on a single battery charge. And don't forget that we were introduced to the privacy-invading gadget known as Google Glass.

But I'm excited for what 2014 holds for consumer electronics. We'll see some big trends in the coming year in televisions, mobile devices and more. Here are three I'm looking forward to most.

4K televisions • I so desperately wanted to buy a new HDTV last month, but had to hold back in part because our dog ate my wife's holiday chocolate treats as well as the carpet in my computer room. Those two crises cost me more than $600 dollars in a pet ER visit (fortunately, the dog's OK) and in new carpeting, which is probably more than I would be willing to pay to fix my kids. But I digress.

In the end, I'm glad I held off getting the new TV because this year the prices on the new ultra high-definition televisions should drop dramatically.

Ultra HDTVs — also known as 4K TVs — are four times higher in resolution than normal HDTVs, and they look spectacular. Up close, the image is so fine, you can barely make out the individual pixels. They were introduced to the marketplace en masse last year, but there were two major problems: They were expensive, and there was next to no ultra high-definition video being broadcast.

That should change this year. The prices for the new sets already started to drop to the sub-$3,000 range by the time the holidays hit, and they should more affordable by fall of this year. One company, Polaroid, announced it was going to ship later this year a sub-$1,000 4K TV. These super high-definition televisions were all the rage at last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Meawhile, we should hopefully see more 4K content from services like Netflix and YouTube by year's end. Since 3D television did not take off the way manufacturers hoped it would, they're looking for a new feature to lure fresh buyers. They believe ultra high definition will be it, and it's a much more worthy technology than 3D.

iWatch • I think this is the year that Apple will finally release the iWatch. What is it? It's the much-talked-about smartwatch that Apple is supposedly working on that will display text messages, emails and more, supposedly from your iPhone.

"Wearable technology," such as Samsung's Galaxy Gear watch and the soon-bo-be-available Google Glass, has been the buzz word for the last year. It may seem like Apple will be late to the game with its iWatch while other companies have already introduced smartwatches, but Apple tends to be late with new technology. Instead, what Apple does well is take that new technology trend and perfect it for consumers. That's what it did with the iPhone and with computer tablets and the iPad.

I don't know what the iWatch will do, but I suspect it will be well designed and fit an unseen need.

Oculus Rift • Virtual reality helmets have been around for a long time. It was something like 20 years ago that someone had started a virtual reality arcade in the old Crossroads Mall in downtown Salt Lake City that allowed you to play a first-person game by slipping on a helmet with tiny screens over the eyes. Wherever your head moved so did your point of view in the game. The problem was the game had crude graphics and there was a lot of lag between moving your head and seeing it on the game screen.

Oculus VR is a new Irvine, Calif.-based company that has created a virtual reality helmet that apparently solves all of those problems. Developers who have used one say it's lightning fast and works with a host of existing games. The prototype was so successful, the company received $91 million in funding from a variety of investors, including a Kickstarter campaign.

I haven't personally used one, but those who have claim the effect is spectacular, as if you're really inside the game. The consumer version should hit stores as early as the end of this year.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/Topics/ohmytech.