The Sensei CES Report 2014

I'm back home from CES 2014. It was a very short two days, but I came out very hopeful for this year's new products. A couple bullet-points before we jump right into some micro-articles.
  • Unfortunately, I could not find a demo of the Asus VivoTab Note 8 on the show floor. It was the one product I wanted to try the most, but Asus's presence was primarily in keynote form.
  • Genius has dropped out of the off-screen digitizer market at the moment, focusing more on mobile solutions and other computer peripherals.
  • I didn't manage to squeeze in the time to go to PenPower's booth, but they also have a drawing tablet in the market. Not sure if their digitizer is in house or from another company.
  • Hanvon had a small presence at CES2014 and they have a different digitizer than Wacom and UC-Logic, but I didn't get to try it with any relevant programs. Curious to see how these products work in the wild.
Wacom: A Solid Line this Year
Wacom didn't release anything specific to CES2014, but as usual they had a strong presence with their lineup of tablets. Keep in mind that Wacom has changed their naming scheme to be more intuitive: products that assist tablets are under the Bamboo label, while off-screen digitizers are all under the Intuos label. Entry level products are called Intuos and professional level products are distinguished by the Intuos Pro label.

I ended up spending most of my time with an Intuos with Sketchbook installed, which is the direct successor to last year's Bamboo Create. The newer Intuos series has more of a rubberized feel, which helps with brush control despite the small size of the tablet. It is the sort of upgrade from the Bamboo tablet series that will make a difference for beginners and experts alike. Normally, I would recommend something as old as a Wacom Bamboo Create for beginners, but after using the Intuos, I'm nearly convinced that the newer line offers incentives to go with the newer models.
One thing that struck me as very strange was that the Cintiq Companion Hybrid is the only tablet that can be plugged into a bigger computer and used as a Cintiq. The Companion, however, doesn't have that capability. The rationale is that the Companion is already a robust PC and therefore plugging it into another PC is redundant. I disagree, of course, but it is what it is.
Sony: N-Trig works, but be wary of palm rejection
I haven't had a lot of time to spent with an N-Trig digitizer device previous to CES despite how long it has been in the market. The pen and the pressure felt fine, but the palm rejection still has much to be desired. I always wondered why the artist demoing Manga Studio 5 on the Sony Flip wore a glove. Now I know. In a strange stroke of luck, I eschew most touch features so turning off the touch functionality in ArtRage basically fixed the problem by avoiding it altogether.

From the little experience I had with it, if you got a N-Trig device and pressure sensitivity works on your program of choice, there's no reason to return it. The occasional fault in palm rejection breaks the flow once in a while, but it's not as if the digitizer doesn't work.
UC-Logic: A (Battery-less) Goddess Arrives

It finally has come: UC-Logic has a working battery-less version of their pen with their Athena series. At the show floor, the tablet worked as well as my current tablet, so nothing was sacrificed in bringing UC-Logic into the realm of a legitimate Intuos Pro competitor. 

However, what really got me excited about the Athena was the scroll wheel. It's not like a Wacom touch wheel or strip, which I find to be clunky and imprecise. Rather, it's like a miniature Wheel-Of-Fortune wheel with gentle tactile clicks at every point, making it much easier to use as a precise zooming tool or a brush size adjuster. It will be the first time I will seriously use something of its kind in my workflow.

Release date is unknown, but given the working state of the tablet at the show, I don't expect it to be particularly long.
Monoprice: Something Big Is Coming

While Monoprice didn't have their amazingly priced tablet on display, I got lucky and ran into Monoprice's product manager the second time I rounded the booth. He teased me with the possibility of a better on-screen UC-Logic digitizer with an IPS panel and multi-touch capabilities. Needless to say, I was about as ecstatic as he expected me to be. I'll be keeping in touch with hopes that the product will actually become a reality.
Tobii EyeX: A Visible Future

Slated to be released with the help of game-product veteran, Steel Series, the Tobii EyeX was a seriously impressive piece of hardware that made me completely second guess the impact of the Oculus Rift. While the Rift is the dream of the virtual reality headset, the EyeX is, hands down, the most intuitive new interface that can be adapted to our current computer usage.
Basically, it can track where your eyes are looking in relation to the screen and use that information based on how you program it. For example, they had a Starcraft II demo where you could press a mouse button and bring up a large overlay of the mini-map on the screen. If you look at a point on the mini-map and release the button, the camera focus will move to that point as if you clicked on that spot. It was extremely precise and surprisingly fast. I want it, period.

What does this have to do with art programs though? While I don't expect to be drawing with metaphoric laser eyes, the Tobii EyeX could easily be programmed to turn a single hotkey into an entire menu. For example, say you hold down a button and it brings up a  screen broken up into 9 boxes with an icon inside. You look at a box and release the key, which switches your tool to what you looked at. I'm seriously considering investing in a developer's kit just to experiment with the possibilities.