The Virtual View from CES 2018 – Roundup #2

[Editor’s note: This article first appeared via VP of Research and Strategy Stephanie LLamas’s site: https://www.stephaniellamas.com]

So as I sit in a Starbucks after chaos on the show floor both yesterday and today (guys, seriously, stop staring at your phones while you walk and for the love of god, say excuse me when pushing through!), I’m still in awe of the amazing things coming out of VR and AR. So if 2016 was the year of hype and 2017 was the year of disappointment, 2018 is the year of redemption.

Ok VR, I see what you did there.

Most of the biggest announcements happened earlier this week, but Lenovo stole the spotlight as they released details on their Google VR standalone device and camera, the Mirage Solo and Mirage Camera:

Lenovo finally breaks out its Google standalone headset: the Mirage Solo.

Lenovo-Mirage-Solo-Top.jpg

How it works: Lenovo will launch its Google standalone device in Q2, competing with the Oculus Go. The company says the device has inside-out tracking, 6DOF and 110 degrees FOV. Reports are conflicting on price.

What it means: Lenovo was the first to commit to a standalone Daydream (the Lenovo Mirage Solo) and now that HTC pulled out they have the spotlight. Google worked on the original Daydream with HTC but it felt more like a throwaway side project than a viable product. Now that they’ve shifted their partnership focus to Lenovo, a company that has thrown itself into VR with a Microsoft headset and computing solutions, they may have stronger potential. While HTC has its own products to focus on, Lenovo needs companies like Google and Microsoft to power their VR accessories. Neither of those companies are really “hardware” companies — they create hardware to support their lucrative online and software solutions — but Lenovo is strictly hardware. It’s what they do best. And the standalone is purported to have a lot to offer: inside-out tracking, 6DOF and 110 degrees FOV. What this means is there’s no need to tether it to another device, no need to set up external sensors, and you can move and see inside the content as freely as you can in the Oculus and VIVE. Final price is still up in the air as conflicting reports range from “under $400” to $400 to $450, all of which are similar to the Oculus and PSVR, and less than the VIVE. But if quality rivals those high-end devices, they could still entice consumers to spend the extra cash in lieu of buying the $200 Oculus Go. One added note though is that Google quietly invested a lot of money in content, so we should see improvements on that end that, again, could help give the device an added edge (despite Oculus’s catalogue).

TL/DR: It functions like a tethered device, but without a clear price point it’s unknown as to whether it can rival the Oculus Go.

SteelSeries is prototyping a VR doorbell prototype.

::Puts on headset:: Welcome to the USS Callister… oh, wait, you’re pizza’s here!

How it works: Honestly, Tom Brant at PC Magazine explained it best: “Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol to transmit signals from a motion detector to a receiver connected to the computer powering your VR headset, which would display or sound an alert in whatever game or app you’re currently using.”

What it means: **WARNING: BLACK MIRROR SPOILERS** After Ryerson University and the MIT Media Lab unveiled their project last year to “bring back the dead” by creating what they dub “augmented eternity”, which analyzes a person’s digital footprint to revive them in AI, all my worst nightmares from Black Mirror seemed to be coming true… And now we are seeing new tech reminiscent of that in the show’s USS Callister episode, and it’s creeping me out! Well, ok, no one’s DNA is going to be used to create virtual versions of people (yet), but we may be able to hear the pizza guy while in VR like the spaceship’s captain, Robert Daly.

**OK I’M DONE RUINING BLACK MIRROR FOR THE PEOPLE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET** To reiterate for those of you who for some reason have not caught up with the show (c’mon guys, get it together), SteelSeries is creating a tool that sends alerts to VR users in their headsets of something in the real world needs their attention. This is actually really important. One of the biggest issues folks have with VR is the feeling of isolation full immersion can give us. Even when you don’t want interference from the real world, life is still going on around us and sometimes we need to pay attention to it whether we like it or not. Honestly, I never use VR once I’ve sent my order on Seamless because of the ire I fear from the poor driver who has to come back after he left when I didn’t hear my doorbell. But it’s not just about a knock at the door: this tech could save us from the perils of the real world as well. It could alert of us intruders, people or pets who for some reason decide to enter your virtual bubble, or even a bird flying through your window and b-lining it toward your head (not that that has ever happened to me… ok, yes, it did. And it pooped EVERYWHERE. All windows are now closed during VR sessions.). And because it’s Bluetooth-capable, it can go anywhere within a reasonable range (e.g., next to your doorbell), and it reportedly can go months without needing to replace the battery.

TL/DR: Go watch Black Mirror.

In light of everything we’ve heard so far and my perusal of the show floor, these are the biggest trends I’m seeing so far:

  1. VR for everyone: VR and VR accessories are going untethered this year with quality products at accessible price points that don’t need supporting hardware or external sensors.
  2. The tried-and-true are seeing refinements, with HTC’s VIVE Pro taking the lead. But smaller companies like Pimax are even getting on board with innovations like 8K (even if it does have kinks).
  3. There’s going to be more interactivity implemented into the hardware both inside and out, with inside-out tracking, eye tracking and real world alerts helping us feel more comfortable immersing ourselves.
  4. Prices are coming down. With really good, recognizable IP, standalones, which wouldn’t require the added cost of supporting hardware and accessories, could penetrate the mainstream market (but probably not until next year).
  5. There’s more support for 2018 being the year of XR enterprise. Well, at least, that’s where the money’s at…
  6. MR funding has picked up, but now with a little more realism.

Follow me @stephinaners and tweet at me with your comments, questions or recommendations, and stay tuned for more updates to come this week!

If you didn’t catch my first round up, click here to get more insights.

Also, SuperData CEO Joost van Dreunen put together a stellar write-up of his own, so be sure to go check that out.

Ok, now seriously, after your CES parties tonight go stream a little Black Mirror. Happy nightmares!