The hottest tech of 2016 revealed
As 2016 draws to a close we take a look at the gadgets and tech that defined the year…
2016 has been a big year in tech. We’ve seen virtual reality go from the tech show to the home and the next stage of 4K TVs land in our living rooms. We’ve seen tablets that are more powerful than laptops and a host of other stuff. So we’ve pulled together our favourite tech highlights…
4K HDR TVs
In a nutshell: The latest 4K TVs were even sharper with an advanced new video technology called HDR.
We’ve been big fans of 4K TVs since we saw the first, super-sized models way back in 2013. Back then the TVs were mega expensive and there was very little to actually watch on them. But in 2016 4K TVs became much more budget friendly, with many models available for less than £500.
4K TVs offer 4 times the sharpness of a Full HD telly when combined with the right content. Loads more content became available in 2016 – with Netflix and Amazon adding their offerings and Sky launching a 4K service. But this year’s crop of 4K TVs boasted another feature that made them capable of producing even sharper pictures – HDR, or high dynamic range. These TVs offer 4K resolution but with improved contrast and colour range. Expect to see greater detail in shades between deepest black and brightest white – such as richly detailed shadowy scenes, or reflections of sunlight on surfaces on bright scenes.
The new generation of Blu-ray
In a nutshell: Movie buffs finally get the Blu-ray their 4Ks deserve
Blu-ray has always been a byword for the best when it comes to watching movies at home. But the original Blu-ray players were designed to work on Full HD TVs.
Now we’ve got 4K TVs, which are 4 times sharper than Full HD. Until this year Blu-ray fans were limited to discs that up-scaled Full HD Blu-ray, but 2016 saw the launch of proper Ultra HD Blu-ray.You can enjoy Blu-ray movies in pure 4K resolution (rather than just up-scaled) with HDR improving contrast. You need both an Ultra HD Blu-ray player and proper 4K Blu-ray discs (not to mention a 4K TV) but the results are pretty mesmerising.
See movies like never before with Ultra HD Blu-ray
Virtual reality headsets
In a nutshell: 2016 will be remembered as the year that virtual reality arrived in our living rooms
PlayStation, Google, Samsung and Oculus were among those to launch virtual reality headsets this year as we entered a new era of VR video content and gaming. The biggest headsets capable of the most immersive gaming experiences were the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. These sophisticated headsets are ‘tethered’ or connected to a powerful PC packed with high-end specs.
Around 30 built-in sensors like the accelerometer and gyroscope to track your movement and replicate in the virtual world, while games are streamed to better-than-HD screens. Online gaming platform Steam is among those developing VR games.
Console fans should look to PlayStation VR. This headset can run from your PlayStation 4 console and it doesn’t need a powerful PC. Plus, it’s still capable of sensational gaming experiences. For casual app gamers and YouTube fans, the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Daydream are a much more affordable way to get into VR. And YouTube has designed a special virtual reality app, YouTube VR that’s built into the Google headset.
In a nutshell: Speakers that do much more than play music arrive to make life at home easier
Can a wireless speaker be more than a wireless speaker? In the case of Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, yes. These are hands-free speakers you control with your voice. They connect to the Alexa Voice Service to help you do all manner of stuff.
From getting the latest football scores to asking who plays Han Solo in Star Wars. They can also help you keep on top of your diary, and write shopping and to-do lists. Of course they play music too – and are designed to work with the new streaming service Amazon Music Unlimited, and can be easily hooked up to Spotify.
You can even control other gadgets such as smart thermostats and lightbulbs through Echo, using your voice. Fitted with 7 microphones, beam forming technology and noise cancellation, Amazon Echo hears you from across the room. When you want something, all you have to do is ask: say ‘Alexa’ then your query, and Echo responds.
Make your home smarter with Echo or Echo Dot
More powerful PlayStation and Xbox
In a nutshell: New versions of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to take advantage of latest TV tech
The Xbox One S and the PlayStation 4 Pro are designed to get the best from latest TV technology like 4K and HDR. The PS4 Pro has more than double the graphics processing power of the original PlayStation 4. The Xbox One S is similar in power to the original Xbox One.
Both consoles will work with 4K TVs. The Xbox One S can upscale HD games to 4K resolution and can also play HDR-ready games – but you can’t play native 4K games. The PlayStation 4 Pro can upscale HD but can also output games at proper ‘native’ 4K when combined with a 4K-ready game.
The Xbox One S has a 4K Blu-ray player built-in, whereas the PS4 Pro doesn’t. This, as well as the Xbox One S having a lower price, may make Xbox One S more attractive to casual gamers. PS4 Pro, however, is likely to appeal to serious gamers wanting the best possible console experience.
Windows laptops get smarter and sleeker
In a nutshell: Windows laptops have been getting sleeker for some time, but 2016 was a breakthrough year – with Microsoft announcing the Windows Premium Collection.
These high-end laptops were hand-picked by Microsoft for their performance and quality – they’re slim and strong with premium metal casings and fast and powerful with Intel Core processors and SSD storage.
Take the Surface Pro 4, aimed at creatives and designers. It’s a tablet that’s more powerful than many laptops. It can also be used as a laptop when you add the keyboard accessory, while it comes with a free pen for drawing and writing directly on screen.
Then there’s the HP Spectre 13 – the world’s thinnest laptop at 10.4mm thick. It’s fashioned from tough aluminium and carbon fibre for stylish but sturdy commuting.