The best entertainment innovations of 2018

They're the Best of What's New.

Entertainment
Included: the video game controller for everyone.Brian Klutch

All the gadgets on our Best of What's New list are groundbreaking, but they can't all be fun. The lineup of innovations in entertainment, however, boasts more good-time gear than Infinity War had super heroes. This year's winners include a pro-grade HDTV, speakers that double as modern art, and an ill-fated movie subscription service that shifted the way people go to the theater. But the star of 2018 was gaming. This year, we witnessed a game shatter platform barriers and a cardboard controller kit transform into a steering wheel we could use to dominate the lap times of our little ones.

Fortnite by Epic Games
Fortnite by Epic Games
Grand Award Winner The game that broke down platform barriers
In August, 78.3 million people logged into Fortnite's cartoonish landscape—peppered with rideable golf carts and coveted treasure chests—to try and pummel friends or strangers in a last-player-standing battle royale. The game set the record for most concurrent players (8.3 million) and game-streaming eyeballs on Twitch (1.46 million). Those are in part thanks to the fact that the game is the first available to every tribe within the button-mashing clan: high-end PC gamers, console devotees, and mobile-phone tappers. To bring everyone together, developer Epic Games orchestrated massive in-game events, like a rift appearing in the sky or the arrival of a massive and mysterious cube, that help the game transcend whatever screen it's on.
Epic Games
Master Series A9F TV by Sony
Master Series A9F TV by Sony
A TV that doesn't compress your content
Lots of important data gets lost as the moving image makes the long journey from the high-end reference monitors in professional editing suites to the television in your home. Sony's Master Series TVs use a dedicated picture processing chip called the X1 Ultimate to cut down on image degradation typically associated with encoding and decoding flicks. The processor analyzes objects on the OLED screen on a frame-by-frame basis and tweaks sharpness and color settings. The silicon is powerful enough to drive future 8K TVs, which will push the resolution limits of your puny human eyeballs.
Sony
The death of MoviePass
The death of MoviePass
The rise of movie subscriptions
By almost every account, MoviePass is a wreck. A slow-motion, venture-capital-funded catastrophe that promised users unlimited movies for $10 per month, then quickly started piling on caveats: limited film selections, no repeat viewings, one movie per week. MoviePass, a ghost of what it once was, is still barely hanging on, but, if nothing else, it proved the model for similar subscription services that popped up in its wake. In June, for instance, theater chain AMC launched Stubs A-List, through which moviegoers can see three flicks per week for a $20 monthly fee.
MoviePass
Labo by Nintendo
Labo by Nintendo
The STEM toy/video game mashup
Most build-it-yourself engineering kits are project-based: fun to put together, but the finished product makes for better decoration than it does a toy. Not so with Nintendo's Labo cardboard construction kit, which works around the Joy Con controllers for its Switch console. Simple cutouts convert humdrum gamepads into any one of dozens of mods, including a robot, a piano, and a fishing pole. Kids follow the build on the Switch's 6.2-inch screen, and then use their creations to play mini games, such as a racing sim for the steering wheel kit.
Nintendo
BeoSound Shape by Bang & Olufsen
BeoSound Shape by Bang & Olufsen
Speakers that shape sound to your room
B&O's modular speakers are like sculptures that can pump "Piano Man" into your room. Each 14-inch tile in the custom wall installation hides a piece of a high-fidelity wireless audio system behind a fabric cover. There are speakers, amplifiers, and acoustic damper tiles. Systems can include up to 44 speakers and 11 amplifiers, which is enough sound to fill a living room the size of gymnasium. All the gear takes its commands from a hub that's equipped with an auxiliary line-in and an ethernet port for streaming.
B&O
Xbox Adaptive Controller by Microsoft
Xbox Adaptive Controller by Microsoft
The video game controller for everyone
Modern video game controllers are loaded with buttons and sticks that don't work for every player. The Xbox Adaptive Controller, however, has a USB-C port and 19 3.5-millimeter, headphone-style connectors for attaching external devices that dramatically increase the pad's accessibility. Each port lets players map specific controller functions to accessories that enable gamers with different physical abilities to play. For instance, users with limited hand and arm mobility could plug in a large joystick to handle movements and use a foot pad as the trigger. It can also pair with a standard Xbox One controller, so a co-pilot can play at the same time, making any game accessible to players of all capabilities.
Microsoft
Omen Mindframe Headphones by HP
Omen Mindframe Headphones by HP
Headphones with a built-in cooling system
The 7.1-channel virtual surround sound in these HP over-the-ear cans is fairly standard for a high-end gaming headset, but there's more going on in this pair of cups: Each one has a thermoelectric device inside that cools the speaker grill plates to pull heat away from your ears during marathon sessions. A gaming marathon should leave your t-shirt stained with Mountain Dew, not ear sweat.
HP
G Pro Wireless Gaming Mouse by Logitech
G Pro Wireless Gaming Mouse by Logitech
The mouse that secretly won an e-sports championship
At the finals of the inaugural Overwatch League e-sports season, the London Spitfire team was secretly wielding Logitech's ambidextrous gaming mouse. The peripheral's 16,000 dot-per-inch sensor is more than four times more sensitive than a typical wireless mouse and can track 400 inches of movement per second. That makes it well-suited for the super-twitchy actions pro gamers use during events, where fractions of a second can separate winning and losing. The e-sports equivalent of an all-carbon Tour de France bike, the mouse weighs just 2.8 ounces, which lets players flick it across the pad with almost no resistance or strain on their wrists.
Logitech
The Wall TV by Samsung
The Wall TV by Samsung
A truly modular display system
Typical flat-panel TVs are like big, rectangular quilts of pixels, locked into a consistent shape by manufacturing practices. Samsung built its Wall TV differently. The panels consist of clusters of individual MicroLEDs that tile together like puzzle pieces in whatever size and shape you want. An eight-foot TV in the shape of a Tetris piece? Your name spelled out in blocky text? You got it. The screens are rolling out to commercial customers like advertisers and retail stores, who want big, splashy displays. Since the sets will be out in the open, they're resistant to water, dust, and impact.
Samsung
Nighthawk XR500 Pro Gaming Router by Netgear
Nighthawk XR500 Pro Gaming Router by Netgear
A router that prioritizes game data
Milliseconds divide gaming winners from losers. Netgear's XR500 router helps competitors shave crippling lag time off their streams. The device detects the type of web traffic passing through and prioritizes data packets it knows are coming from PC or console games—over, say, YouTube videos. If you're willing to do some manual tweaking, it allows for changes like using a geo-filter to tap servers that are physically close to your location, which also speeds transfers. As streaming resolutions climb towards super-dense 8K content, this kind of prioritization will be crucial for maximizing overcrowded networks.
Netgear
RTX 2080 graphics card by NVIDIA
RTX 2080 graphics card by NVIDIA
Hollywood effects for your video games
Immersive computer games are all about details: the way light moves through clouds, a subtle reflection on a car bumper. Conventional rendering technology—known as rasterization—struggles to make these flourishes pop. New graphics cards from Nvidia fill in those small-but-crucial gaps with a technique called ray tracing, which is common in Hollywood special effects but new to gaming. The RTX cards keep track of millions of individual light rays as they interact with objects in virtual 3D environments. As a result, a shiny surface like a puddle reflects light just like it would in real life. Games that support the scheme are still limited, but watch the explosions bounce off the eyeballs of the Battlefield V characters and it'll obvious that this is a new era for PC gaming.
NVIDIA