Every year, Razer comes up with a crazy product to wow the crowds at the Consumer Electronics Show. A tablet with a built-in controller! A Lego-like desktop PC! But this year's surprise is actually four products that work together: an Android TV microconsole, a Bluetooth gamepad, a streaming service, and a wireless lapboard. The best lapboard ever.
You see, Razer thinks you don't want to buy another gaming computer specifically for the living room, or lug your existing gaming rig. You might, however, like to play some Android games with your friends. So what if you had a cheap microconsole that could play those games some of the time, but also stream titles from your PC like the Nvidia Shield?
You just described Razer's Forge TV.
It's a tiny $US100 set-top box with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, with 2x2 802.11ac, Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth 4.1. It runs stock Android TV -- which makes me a little worried considering how terrible the original Nexus Player is when it comes to a good selection of games. But starting in the spring, it will also exclusively play host to the beta of Razer's new Cortex: Stream service, which at first blush sounds like a pretty fantastic thing.
Nvidia's Shield can stream games, but only from a recent Nvidia graphics card. (You also need an ethernet dongle.) And Steam In-Home Streaming only streams games from Steam. But Razer says Cortex, by contrast, will work with both recent AMD and Nvidia graphics on any recent game. I played a little bit of Titanfall, an Origin game, streaming to the machine.
How are you going to play Titanfall, though? Razer has two options here. The $US80 Razer Serval gamepad, from my brief time with it, looks like as solid an Xbox 360 controller clone as can be. It nestles comfortably into my hands, has beautifully easy-to-press face buttons, and can connect over Bluetooth or microUSB. The Forge TV can support up to four of them at once -- and the Serval has Android's Back and Home buttons built right in -- but the Serval isn't bound to the Forge TV. It can also pair with four different Bluetooth devices and swap between them at will.
In fact, it comes with a MOGA-style stretchy clip to pop your smartphone right in and (assuming your game uses cloud saves) pick up right where you left off on the Forge TV.
But as a diehard keyboard and mouse fan -- and a gadget lover -- I'd probably go for the $US130 Razer Turret instead. It's wireless keyboard and mouse combination designed to sit on your lap while playing from your couch, and it serves that need with panache: the mousepad has magnets strong enough to keep the mouse from sliding off the surface even at a fairly steep angle, yet light enough that you can sweep it around with a fair amount of ease.
Plus, the peripherals look super cool folded up in their charging cradle.
The mouse is a modified Orochi, one of the best tiny gaming mice Razer has ever made, but with an upgraded 3500dpi sensor and up to 40 hours of battery life. (The keyboard lasts up to four months on a charge.) There's even a tiny 2.4GHz dongle inside the mouse so you can hook up both peripherals to a laptop even if it doesn't have Bluetooth. Switches on the back of each device let you swap between Bluetooth and 2.4.
Theoretically, the really killer thing about all this is that since Razer creates all the hardware and software itself, it can make sure to reduce latency every step of the way so games play their very best. Latency is a killer when it comes to streaming games -- you don't want any perceptible delay between the time you press a button and something happens on screen.
Unfortunately, as this is CES -- where demoes go to die -- I didn't exactly have a lag-free experience in my test. I'm hoping it was a fluke. Razer says that right now, the latency compares quite favourably to the Nvidia Shield and Steam's In-Home Streaming. I'm looking forward to trying it out under more favourable conditions soon.