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3 tech breakthroughs poised to make it big in 2016

From wearables to virtual reality, 2015 has seen an explosion of new technology and gadgets
Hot new products to expect in 2016 03:48

Could 2016 finally be the year that virtual reality makes it big? And the year that a virtual assistant is actually smart enough to become a must-have addition to your life? CNET senior editor Dan Ackerman says those are among the latest tech breakthroughs likely to take off in the new year.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality, or VR, technology has been the talk of the tech world for several years but has yet to catch on in a significant way. Ackerman says that could be about to change.

"We've been talking about the current generation of it for a couple of years, but the catch is there's nothing really you can buy right now. All those big systems like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, they're allegedly coming next year, finally, after years of delays," he told "CBS This Morning."

The immersive video experience requires users to wear a bulky headset, and early adopters complained it sometimes resulted in a feeling of seasickness. But more refined versions have sought to lessen those drawbacks and could hit the market soon.

Until then, the only options are slightly makeshift. There's Google Cardboard, which is a cardboard holder for your smartphone that allows you to experience VR clips downloaded onto your phone. "Or you could get something like the Samsung Gear VR," Ackerman said. "It's kind of a complicated looking plastic box that again you slide your Samsung phone into and the phone screen is actually the VR screen. And that's all you can get right now. The real stuff is allegedly coming next year."

Virtual assistants

If you find yourself frustrated by the limitations of Siri or other personal assistant features on your smartphone, just hang on a little longer. Ackerman says 2016 could be the year this technology finally become indispensable.

"I think what we'll see next year is a lot of smart home stuff, the virtual personal assistant stuff will really start to be more practical. Amazon Echo is the first version of that, I think, that really works," he said.

The Amazon Echo, a sleek, 9-inch-tall cylindrical cloud-connected speaker that sits on a desk or shelf, costs $179.99 and responds to voice commands and questions. "You can talk to it, you can say its name. I say, 'Alexa, what's the weather today?'" and it gives you the answer. "It actually understands your voice. I've worked with voice recognition technology for years - you have Siri on your iPhone -- half the time they don't understand what you're saying. I'll say this gets you 80 percent of the time, and these days, that's actually pretty good," Ackerman said.

The Echo also plays music, audiobooks, news and weather, and it can be used to control "smart home" devices as easily as you can say, "Alexa, turn on the lights."

Beyond HD TV

Electronics manufacturers will be working hard to convince you that your flat-screen HD TV set is no longer good enough. What's likely to take its place? Maybe HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range. This technology results in enhanced light and dark contrasts and an expanded color palette in TV pictures.

"Forget about 4K, OLED, 3D, all the old buzzwords," Ackerman said. However, before there's much value to having a new HDR TV, more filmmakers and broadcasters will have to start producing content shot in the HDR format.

"I think at the end of the year you're not gonna buy a TV based on this, but they're gonna try to sell you one," he said.

What makes a product take off?

Lots of cool-sounding innovations never make it from the lab to most people's living rooms. What distinguishes those that do?

Part of what matters is how well the device actually works to fill a need people have, Ackerman said. He cites the Amazon Echo as a great example of technology hitting that sweet spot.

"It was a real breakthrough product for 2015 because it took things that we already had -- voice recognition, an online personal assistant, cloud-based smartphone stuff -- but it made it actually work. That's what people want, not new things they've never heard of before, but things they've heard about, or tried once or twice that actually works and is more practical. I actually use this to control my lights now."

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