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From next-gen powerhouses to VR headsets, this year’s E3 is all about hardware

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Toys! Most of the attention each year at E3 is on the latest games and hardware, but new technology is always there, lurking in the shadowy corners of the Los Angeles Convention Center, waiting to snatch up some unsuspecting reporter. New consoles promise to steal much of the excitement at this year’s show, but those who overlook lightning rods like Oculus Rift do so at their folly. Mobile devices and experimentally immersive tech are evolving rapidly and gathering a lot of interest in the process, so let’s take a look at what you can expect to be hearing about next week.

Trojan Horse into your living room

E3-Tech-Preview-Xbox-OneThe big hardware guns of E3 2013 are, of course, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The competing consoles from Sony and Microsoft aren’t really all that different when you look closely. Both are essentially extremely specialized gaming PCs fitted with custom operating systems and security protocols that create gaming’s equivalent of a gated community. Both are also tricked out as self-contained media machines, capable of spitting out everything from Netflix to Blu-ray video to streaming music.

Expect E3 to bring new insights not just on the launch libraries for the two consoles, but also on the way each of them works. We’ll hear more about their systems and functions, see the front-end interfaces in action, and get a sense of how multimedia and gaming tie together with all-important social features. With the PlayStation 4 specifically, you’ll also get to see the console itself for the first time.

Spoiler alert: it’s a black box.

Lawnmower Man isn’t just a beautiful fantasy anymore

Oculus-Rift-EVR-playRemember when Sony called rumble a “last generation feature” in the pre-PlayStation 3 release run-up? Lesson learned there: gamers want more immersiveness, not less. The runaway success of the not-technically-released Oculus Rift is a testament to that. Oculus VR will be on hand at E3 2013 with its unique gaming headpiece that looks like something out of a science fiction movie. There’s still no word on when consumer models will be available, but could we get our first look at the final design at E3? It’s certainly possible.

Elsewhere in the VR-o-sphere, ViviTouch brings its haptic technology to the E3 show floor. Haptic feedback is nothing in game controllers. You think of it as rumble. The Xbox One controller takes things a step further with independent motors in each trigger, allowing developers to code discrete rumble moments for each finger. ViviTouch will have its stacked actuators on the show floor at E3. We’re not sure yet what they’ll be fitted into, but there’s always that newly announced partnership with Mad Catz….

E3-Tech-Preview-Omni-KickstarterThen there’s what’s not on the show floor: the Omni. This treadmill-like apparatus is designed to work with existing gaming peripherals and VR technologies like Oculus as an additive component that gives you a new degree of control over your game. The device reached its Kickstarter goal of $150,000 in record time on its first day, and the funding total continues to rise even now, with more than 40 days remaining. We’ll be sitting down to chat with the Omni folks and get a sense of how they intend to carve their way into the gaming market with this large and elaborate mega-peripheral.

Androids and upstarts

ouya console explodedOuya. Where the heck did that come from? The little console doesn’t really fit into any one category, though its runaway success on Kickstarter kinda sorta led to the creation of an entirely new beast: the mini-console. Ouya will be at E3, sort of. The booth location is actually outside in the convention center parking lot. It isn’t the only Android toy, however.

Nvidia will have its handheld Shield in attendance as well. In addition to offering portable Android gaming, the Shield also accepts streaming gameplay locally from Kepler GPU-equipped PCs. Both devices hit retail in late-June.

Android-powered anything is hardly a threat to the big-ticket console player, even something like the Shield with its game streaming. Microsoft and Sony should have plenty to watch for in the PC realm, however. Alienware continues to horn in on living room space with its console-sized (and freshly upgraded) X51 gaming PC. Razer’s Edge tablet is also noteworthy, aiming to straddle the line between high-end gaming and extreme portability.

pistonThe real unknown, however, is Valve’s Steam Box, a gaming PC that at once threatens to challenge both the living room and the industry titan that is Microsoft Windows. Little is known of Valve’s gaming PC plans and much of the information we do have has been pieced together and nurtured by speculation.

The Steam Box is expected to be a dedicated Steam machine that ships with a pre-installed Linux operating system. Support for Windows is expected, but Valve boss Gabe Newell hasn’t had the kindest things to say about Microsoft’s OS in recent times. There is hope that Valve will have new insights to share about its Steam Box plans at or around E3. We’ll know soon enough; E3 2013 kicks off next week, on June 11.