So, another CES has come and gone with many awesome new things on show as well as some not so awesome things and some which to my eyes at least are just over the fine line between genius and stupid. Something I’ve been seeing large portions of the tech press swoon over of late, to me at least falls into this last group, The Razer Project Ariana. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen it in person or maybe it’s something else, but honestly… I don’t get this device in the slightest.
From what I’ve seen the device basically emulates work that companies like Microsoft have done in the past with Illumiroom, while adding some new twists using Razers Chroma platform and working with partners like Philips to link to their Hue light platform which I admit does make their implementation quite novel but honestly, as novel as it is it just seems to be a device that exists for the sake of existing. To quote Jurassic Park, they were so busy asking if they could that no one stopped to ask if they should.
Let’s look at what the demos show of the device:
OK, so at a glance, we see the Hue/Chroma interaction on the mouse and keyboard and via the two Hue devices behind the person on the PC… So far not too bad, bit gaudy, doesn’t really bring anything compelling to the table, but a cool idea all the same. Next up, we get an idea of what Ariana can do – the image on the screen spreads to fill the wall, surrounding the screen with , well, stuff that’s normally off the screen – essentially providing a higher FOV, but the image is fish-eyed meaning that its far from what you would normally see in your peripheral vision, it also seems impossibly hard to tell what’s going on half the time with blurry images of the game flashing by, various Chroma and Hue lights flashing away constantly and oh god the rendering of the players arms.. Last time I held anything that closely resembled a sword my arms looked nothing like that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I was entirely unaware of my arms beyond them being a vague shape that was barely in my peripheral vision and certainly not the outstretched, warped monstrosities shown here – granted, games developers simply need to change how they represent the players form to account for this, which on paper at least is trivial, but then how many are likely to do this for what will likely be a niche device?
Marketing over function
I think this sums up one of my problems with Razer as a company, something which can be expressed by something someone once said of them to me – Razer is a good marketing company, but a terrible product company. You can see this in how they approach the market, almost every streamer of significance has something from Razer, is this because Razer kit is the best on the market, or is it because they are providing them for free to visible representatives of the crowd they are focusing on? I suspect many share my own view that it’s the latter rather than the former – their products are ‘good enough’ and they are willing to donate them to high-profile influencers in the hopes of free marketing. We have seen the same approach from Beats – they are almost universally accepted as being sub par headsets, but their marketing campaign ensures their popularity with the public at large, via the use of high-profile musicians in their marketing materials sporting their distinctive headsets. This is essentially the same approach Razer take and its one that works well for them, but it doesn’t change the fact that many of their products are often seen as average at best.
Granted, I am being a little harsh here, the underlying tech, while not too dissimilar to Microsoft’s Illumiroom concept is pretty awesome, using lasers and cameras to map the shape of the room to ensure the image is projected in a way to not distort the overall shape of what’s being projected – meaning that you can do away with the need for a dedicated screen, combined with Razers own ideas for using Chrome and Hue, but ultimately while its all very cool and impressive tech, it just leaves me feeling a little flat. Personally, I think the tech would be better used for them to release a good, standalone 4K projector, drop the need for the separate monitor and focus on providing the best damned experience possible for gamers who want that full wall display. I mean ultimately the fact it uses a projector means you are already liable to need significant space to make the most of it, particularly when you add in the fact that its acting as an extension of your existing panel – essentially pushing this into the realm of multi foot viewing distances, akin to the experience console gamers are used to. So why bother with the need for the dedicated panel at all? I’d kill for a good quality, cheap 4K projector that was capable of good, high refresh rates and suitable for gaming on, the addition of the Hue/Chroma integration would just be some nice icing on the cake that I’d use once or twice for the novelty before just falling back on having a massive display in front of my face.
Thankfully, there was something else Razer revealed which more than makes up for Project Ariana.
Project Valerie, a triple monitor monster of an almost batshit crazy idea of a laptop. I know many gamers who like to run three displays, I know many gamers who like run at 4K and I know many gamers who like to game on laptops. Project Valerie fills the very special niche where all three of these groups collide. But, it also has the potential to offer much more than this. My day job sees me working on a laptop to allow for disaster scenarios, meaning I can simply relocate my workplace at the drop of a hat, however the reality of my role means I need access to multiple displays to help with being able to see our network monitoring platforms and other systems – this does create a bit of a limitation on just how many locations I can work from, since docking stations are required, as are multi head display setups (I can’t see me jumping on a train with my laptop back and three monitors under my arm to shift to one of our disaster recovery locations for a shift or two.) So as batshit crazy as this may seem on the first glance, it does offer a compelling, if very niche product that a small subset of users have a big reason to get very excited about.
Of course, from a gaming standpoint as awesome as things look at first blush, it does start to fall down pretty quickly, 4K displays are still in the minority for gaming set ups for a reason – the shear levels of GPU horsepower needed to drive that many pixels keeps it in the minority, since currently the only currently available graphics card on the market that I would really class as a true 4K gaming card has a 4 figure price tag, and even then it’s only capable of driving a single 4K display while providing 60+ FPS, three of them is another matter entirely. Sure, you can lower graphics settings, or play older games, but then this just starts to become a case of aiming low to make the most of the hardware you have.
Why don’t you come on over, Valerie?
In the workplace however, this thing could be king. It’s considered common knowledge that adding screen real estate in the form of higher resolutions and increased monitor counts can have a positive impact on productivity levels, but this does mean that workers tend to be tied to using either desktops, which kills their ability to work from where ever they can sit and hooked up a laptop, or limits them to static setups with docking stations and multiple monitors – negating some of the advantages of providing laptops, granted to use my own example the main reason my department have them isn’t so much to allow us to rock up to the office and just work wherever we find a seat, so much as the need for a dedicated disaster recovery set up, but this means that our office environment has to be replicated in another part of the country. Project Valerie would not only simplify this, but also, on paper at least, allow any member of my team to sit down and work without compromise wherever we can in an emergency situation.
If Razer do launch either of these products, I suspect Project Ariana is likely to outsell Project Valerie, but honestly, even if only from a perspective born out of not seeing either of the devices first hand I’m of the opinion that Project Valerie is the more genuinely interesting and compelling of the two.
In terms of the hardware in use in Project Valerie, Razer are being pretty tight lipped and considering that if they do release it, its liable to be towards the end of 2017, who can blame them? An awful lot can change in terms of available hardware in the course of twelve months, heck its entirely possible they have some stuff on the inside of the demo units they had at CES that the public aren’t actually supposed to know about yet too, indeed their Project Valerie webpage only calls out the fact it has a GeForce GTX 1080 for its GPU, nothing else gets a mention. So, ignoring the internals the laptop itself seems to be going against the current trend towards slimming everything down to a knifes edge for what I would hope are fairly obvious reasons. It clocks in at a still impressive considering what little we know, 1.5 inches thick, 12 pounds in weight and sports three 17.3 inch G-sync 4K panels, providing an unprecedented 11520 x 2160 screen resolution . The diagonal size of the panels used means the overall diagonal size of the laptop is liable to be around 19 inches or so, when adding in room for the bezel shown on the display unit and in all the press images. What is interesting is the fact that the extra displays deploy at the touch of a button, meaning no user adjustment should be needed to get them into the right position for use, though this does mean, that in the current implementation at least, you are unable to rotate those displays to suit your working setup, if using this laptop in a productivity environment as it appears the deployment mechanism uses arms at the top and bottom of the display in order to securely hold them while they are fully deployed.
Due to the appeal of the device for productivity, you can bet this is something I’ll be keeping a close eye on in the coming months as we hopefully get increased information from Razer regarding the device.