The Virtual View from CES 2018 – Roundup #1

January 10th, 2018 | /the-virtual-view-from-ces-2018-roundup-1/
[Editor’s note: This article first appeared via VP of Research and Strategy Stephanie LLamas’s site: https://www.stephaniellamas.com]
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This will be my second year attending CES. While I don’t think any of us are looking forward to the crowds and chaos, I am definitely excited to see what new XR (Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality) innovation is out there.

After XR’s somewhat lackluster showing last year, 2018 is record-breaking for the medium at CES: according to the CTA, exhibit space for the Augmented Reality Marketplace has grown 10% this year, with an added 18% for the Gaming & Virtual Reality Marketplace.

While there is sure to be mountains of cool stuff to report on, let’s start at the beginning. Here’s a rundown of the latest announcements:

AR-enabled book Charlie Fink’s Metaverse is now available on Amazon (and I contributed!)

The Fink himself

In case you haven’t heard, Charlie Fink has put together an amazing, AR-enabled book featuring contributions from a long list of the who’s who in the XR industry, including Phillip Rosedale, Annika Steiber, Stanford’s Dr. Walter Greenleaf, Ori Inbar and so many more. I am incredibly honored to be listed alongside such talent as Charlie kindly asked me to contribute two chapters — one on monetization (you can read it in Forbes) and another on definitions and why it’s important for the industry to be on the same page. The coolest part about the book? You can whip out your phone and see content in AR. It’s now available on Amazon and trust me, it’s awesome.

HTC VIVE unveils hardware upgrades with the new VIVE Pro.

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How it works: The Pro provides higher resolution (making small text readable, for instance), added comfort and optional wireless use using Intel technology and a battery pack. Price and launch dates are yet to be announced.

What this means: Tethering has been a big issue for VR thus far, which is why the HTC VIVE Focus and Oculus Go were designed to hopefully quell that issue. However, VIVE is striving to create gold-standard devices (think of it as the iPhone of VR: higher cost, higher quality, lower accessibility), so experience is going to continue to trump affordability. But cost may be the key to adoption, at least in the beginning, so they will need to corner the enterprise market and provide extra compelling content for high-end users until mainstream consumers gradually get hungrier for premium devices.

Oculus partners with Xiaomi and Qualcomm to launch the Oculus Go worldwide and the Mi VR Standalone in China.

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How it works: Both headsets are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 Mobile VR Platform. Xiaomi will be Facebook’s hardware partner, manufacturing the affordable devices as Oculus focuses on powering them with their proprietary VR tech. Xiaomi will also work with Oculus developers to localize content for the Chinese market.

What this means: Facebook can invest in VR without an immediate path to profit, unlike HTC VIVE. Therefore, they can afford to create more economical products that will help boost overall penetration and, in turn, make them the primary household name for VR. Oculus is also focusing on Facebook’s strong suits — social media and experiences — rather than invest in hardware development where they don’t need to. Right now, HTC VIVE is winning China in regard to high-end devices, so this is Oculus’s chance to get into the region by selling to a different market. Meanwhile, Xiaomi, which shipped over a million devices by November 2017, is striving to corner the Chinese standalone and premium mobile markets in the face of their strongest competitor, Huawei, who is working with Oculus competitor Google. These partnerships bode well for all companies involved — as long as the quality of experiences are high enough not to deter the general public from VR (the way the Cardboard did).

Intel announces new volumetric capture technology, new VR/AR content studio and an “exploratory partnership” with Paramount Pictures.

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How it works: Volumetric capture provides video viewers with enhanced depth, allowing them more virtual space to interact with content. Intel is currently using sports venues to test their True VR platform’s volumetric capabilities, giving users the ability to change their perspectives in real-time (they are the Olympics’ official VR partner). They also announced a VR mini-PC at CES.

What this means: Volumetric capture is essential to the growth of 360 video. Without it, the experience is just too voyeuristic, which makes VR videos go stale rather quickly. It also provides true immersion and that will grow interest. Just 18% of American users watch videos using their headsets (not including Cardboard) and they only watch for about 10 minutes during a single session (of course, this partially has to do with mobile VR limitations like phones overheating). More immersion means more compelling content, which will provide incentives for users to stay in their headsets longer and advertisers, for instance, the opportunity to better tap into this market. However, volumetric is nothing without good content, which Intel is trying to tackle by opening their own studio and partnering with Paramount. If done successfully, the combination of immersion and content will be enticing to general consumers and, therefore, boost adoption and revenue potential.

LooxidVR was named CES 2018’s most innovative product.

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How it works: The premium mobile device tracks eye movement (the first of its kind) and brain sensors, providing data on user interaction and allowing for a more in-depth user experience. Preorders begin February 1. 

What it means: This could be a real coup for premium mobile, which is in danger of becoming obsolete quickly as standalones are released. However, if phones are still incapable of giving lasting experiences without overheating or providing high quality graphics, this technology won’t be enough to keep mobile VR alive.

iStaging creates an affordable and easy solution to creating spatial VR capture with VR Maker.

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How it works: iStaging Corp. focuses on real estate solutions in VR and AR. According to the Taiwanese company, “via use of just a fisheye lens and rotator, VR Maker condenses hours of capture and stitching work into mere minutes.” This allows anyone with a smartphone to easily create virtual tours.

What it means: Realtors are general consumers, which means they are not always VR-savvy. But I have long believed in the promise of VR and AR for real estate (I wish I had had that option before my exhaustive 2 month search last year when I visited over a dozen apartments!), so giving folks with different levels of VR experience an easy tour solution is essential. Arm realtors with this tech and some cheap Google Cardboards, and millions of house hunters could be renting and buying without even needing a live visit. This also introduces people to the idea of VR, especially if they can use this to try higher end mobile devices.

uSensAR gives more Android users than ARCore. 

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How it works: uSens CTO and Co-founder Yue Fei claims the technology will allow folks with lower-end Android phones to experience AR, allowing the AR to access vastly more users than ARcore. According to Fei, “ARCore currently only serves about 30M Android phones, which is just 5% of the entire Android smartphone ecosystem.” The tool supports Unity, C++, Java and their own SDK, which will come out this quarter.

What it means: I mean… it would be game changing. First, it’s super easy to develop for (supposedly). Second, the iPhone is expensive, so affordable Android devices really reign supreme in many markets, including the biggest one: China. This would give AR developers the opportunity to potentially monetize better and allow them more content freedom without the same restrictions as the App Store.

I’ll continue to keep you posted as I walk the show floor and hear more announcements. In the meantime, wish me luck…

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