Dell bought Alienware years ago for a purpose. The gaming hardware division designs its edgy products for hardcore gamers. But those designs have found their way into mainstream computers that Dell sells to all consumers and businesses.
It turns out that cutting edge design is something that everybody likes, and so Dell has found that it can experiment with Alienware and then cull the designs for what it can use in its larger array of Dell products.
I caught up with Bryan de Zayas, director of game strategy at Dell, to talk about this at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week. At CES, Dell introduced four new gaming laptops, including three Alienware models and one new Inspiron-branded game laptop. All are ready for virtual reality games.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: When it comes to innovation in PC gaming, what’s new at CES this year?
Brian De Zayas: What we’re talking about for Dell and Dell Gaming—from the Alienware side, we’re continuing to push the limits when it comes to performance. We’ve just refreshed our entire notebook lineup.
But the innovation part of what we’re doing with Alienware right now revolves around two things. It’s about the experiences. One is the VR experience, the experiences gamers are getting with Oculus and HTC, pushing on that high end. We’re partnering with them, making sure all of our platforms are VR-ready out of the box. All of our laptops are VR-ready, no matter what configuration, for both HTC or Oculus.
Another one we’re doing from the Alienware side, I’m sure you’re familiar with Tobii eye tracking. We’ve incorporated their camera into our Alienware 17. It’s at the bottom, doing all the eye tracking built into games and so on. We’re still pushing the limits on performance, getting the most we can in there, wrapping the right thermal solution around the box. We still have our steel-reinforced keyboard with the most key travel we can, things like that that are mainstays for Alienware. But our real focus around innovation has to do with what experiences our customers want to have with the system and the games they’re playing.
GamesBeat: You also do an Inspiron gaming laptop. It seems like that inherits some design values from Alienware.
De Zayas: That’s another piece we’re talking about heavily here at CES. We just announced and launched the Inspiron 15. We’re solving a very specific need. As you know, for years Alienware has been driving that top end of the market, pushing the high end on performance. But gamers have been asking Dell, and a lot of other folks, for a very long time, for a box that can hit 1080p, somewhere between 30 and 60 frames per second, starting around $799. That’s the Inspiron 15.
We’ve selected the components, so you have a 1050 or a 1050TI, i5 and i7 quad cores. We’ve built the thermal solution so it’s built around the max capacity of those components. It’s what you would expect from a real gaming box. It takes in air from the bottom and expels it out the back. It’s all built around the thermal solution, versus just putting parts into a box with the cheapest thermals and being done with it. We built the Inspiron 15 from the ground up so it would be a real innovative box at the price point.
GamesBeat: If you look at some of the things from last year and what’s elevated into the mainstream, it seems like VR is everywhere here at the show. Everybody has some kind of VR imagery or products or demos they’re showing. It seems like it’s breaking through into a higher consciousness.
De Zayas: I think so too. There’s a couple of reasons. One, gaming is the nirvana usage model that people will be able to sit in an experience. They can experience some cool stuff. That helps get people engaged and wanting to see what it’s about. But why I think it’s starting to make its way – VR in general, not just VR gaming – is you’re starting to see it pop up in movie experiences. Assassin’s Creed is an example. We partnered with AMD and Assassin’s Creed to deliver their VR experience. Now, when people go to a movie theater and see that movie, they’ll have an opportunity in some theaters to experience themselves as a character. You’re going to start seeing that across different movie titles, which will bring it more into the mainstream.
VR is going to play a significant role in so many other things across our society. If you think about where it’s going to help in travel, in the medical fields—doctors can now put on VR headsets and see what their experience will be like in an operation or get closer into the body of a patient. They can assist somebody a world away. These kinds of usage models are helping mainstream consumers understand VR as a significant thing that will play a role in our society long-term. Over this next year we’ll see a lot more of it as those stories filter their way down.
GamesBeat: Intel has their Project Alloy coming, the stand-alone wireless headset. Yesterday they said they’re going to try and productize it by Q4. It’s the second generation of VR.
De Zayas: I have to check it out. I know Microsoft has announced they’re working on head-mounted displays. We’re working with them to figure out what the right specs are. We haven’t defined specs, pricing, timing, but we’re working closely with them to figure out what the right solution will be.
Looking at it beyond just computers for a moment, things like PS VR are going to help mainstream consumers get a better understanding. It’ll still be the gamer convincing their parents to buy them something like PS VR or Oculus, but once it’s in the house the parent’s going to try it on. All those things will continue to help the VR industry grow and become more mainstream.
One thing that’s a bit outside VR–innovation in gaming overall has a lot to do with esports. One thing you’ll see this year is the industry in general doubling down on esports. For Dell overall, we’ve signed on with Turner and IMG’s ELeague. We’ll be their exclusive PC hardware provider for all of their events. We want to be at the forefront of that. It’ll enable us to figure out how Alienware can help innovate in that space for the professional gamer and the viewer.
We’re not announcing any plans, but we want to figure out how to help the professional gamer be better at their craft. If you make a comparison to something like NASCAR, there isn’t really any other sport where the professional athlete is as closely tied to their technology as a race driver and their car. It’s the same in esports, a professional gamer with their gaming rig and their peripherals and the team around them. There’s a lot of synergies between those. This year, we’ll help enable and figure out, with these teams and brands and so on, what are the right solutions. How can we help make that better from the technology side?
For us it’s an important innovation statement. We’re helping drive a lot of things in VR. We’re helping drive things like Tobii. But outside what most folks are thinking about with technology innovation, we’re going to figure out we innovate and enable these professionals to get better at what they do. That’s a big innovation point for us.
GamesBeat: It seems like it’s going to be a much more competitive year for chips. AMD has Ryzen and Vega architectures coming. The other guys aren’t going to sit still. Does that look like a good thing for OEMs?
De Zayas: Any time there’s a lot of options and a lot of solutions, it’s going to be a great thing for the consumer. That’s the way we think about it. I know you’re familiar with the AMD/Nvidia wars on graphics. Seeing that across the entire industry, no matter what it is, for us and for the consumer it’s a great thing. It’ll push competition right across the board, whether it’s chips or panels or anything else.
From an Alienware perspective and a Dell perspective, we want the consumer to have that choice. We’ll work with our partners to inform them as best we can and let them choose. That’s been our mantra.
GamesBeat: I talked to the Synaptics people yesterday. They were saying how hard it is to train consumers to do anything new with things like touch pads and eye tracking. It seems like gamers are the ones who lead that.
De Zayas: They do. Gamers are very willing to try new things. Gamers aren’t scared of that next thing. Gamers want to be the early adopters. That’s the difference. If there’s this cool new trackpad or other input device, let us get our hands on it first.
GamesBeat: Is that why your structure makes sense? You have the leading edge with Alienware and gaming, and then it filters down to the mainstream.
De Zayas: That’s exactly right. That’s the strategy of what we’re doing with Dell Gaming. We push innovation in technology with Alienware, make sure what we have in there is exactly what the gamer needs to have the best experience possible. That’s Alienware’s brand promise, to deliver the ultimate gaming experience.
Once costs come down on those technologies over the years, once sizes of components come down, then we can bring that to a product line like Inspiron that will deliver a great gaming experience at more affordable price points, like we’re doing with the Inspiron 15. That’s the strategy. We’ve been employing that pretty successfully and we’ll continue to do that