CES 2017: The Most Exciting VR Reveals
CES 2017 is over, leaving in its wake a high volume of outlandish new gadgets as well as some genuinely exciting products and upgrades to existing VR hardware. These are our picks for the products and announcements that are going to make the most waves in the VR/AR space
HTC-Vive is updating everything, but lets start by talking wireless.
Everyone is talking about wireless VR, and the HTC funded TPCast wireless adapter is bringing that concept into vivid reality.
The device allows users to untether the HTC-Vive from their PC, making it easier for them to explore their VR spaces more freely. According to reports from CES 2017 the adapter works beautifully, with no noticeable lag or stutter. One caveat is that the unit is not actually wireless, it is just untethered from you PC. As you can see in the image to the left, the TPCast sits on top of the Vive headset and then connects via a long chord to the actual wireless adapter, which sits in the user’s back pocket.
The Deluxe Audio Strap
The Deluxe Audio Strap is beautiful. Its sleek, stylish, and looks like it has taken some great cues from its competitors. It sports high quality headphones that are supposedly comparable to the rift, as well as a new headstrap and rear adjustment dial that looks quite similar to the dial found on the PSVR. Overall, this deluxe strap should make your VR experience more comfortable, faster to get in and out of, and better sounding than ever before. No price has been listed for the upgraded strap, but it is said to be releasing in Q2 2017.
Peripherals steal the show thanks to the HTC-Vive’s new tracker.
The Vive Tracker. While I haven’t tried this out for myself, it seems to have left a lasting impression on journalists, with some claiming it is a bigger step forward for the Vive than wireless tracking. The Vive tracker is a tracking device that can be placed on non-HTC-Vive products. Its function to to encourage developers to play with new potential peripherals for the Vive. At their booth, HTC attached the tracker to baseball bats, golf clubs, toy guns, and even specialty gloves with built in finger tracking.
The ability to attach trackers to other objects opens the door for developers to create more specialized training programs that can help you improve your batting or golf swing, or perhaps help firefighters train with a Virtual firehose.
Finally, this tracker can also be place on external peripherals and attached to a smartphone, thus allowing folks without a VR headset to get in on multiplayer games.
Viveport. VR Arcades Meet Netflix:
HTC announced that it will be rolling out a subscription-based model for its app store, Viveport, in the coming months. The service would function similarly to Netflix, where instead of buying individual movies (or games in this case), users simply pay a monthly subscription fee for the right to download and enjoy an vast supply of VR content. However, just like Netflix, this is an opt-in program for creators, meaning that not all HTC-Vive compatable games will be on the subscription storefront. This subscription service is aimed primarily at VR arcades looking to maximize the amount of content available to patrons. Perhaps the best part of the Viveport subscription is its potential to generate a longer tail of profits for VR developers.
Intel’s Merged Reality: An incredible concept, but the jury is still out on the execution.
Intel showed off its own headset, codenamed Project Alloy, as well as its Realsense camera for the Oculus Rift. Both of these devices allow for inside-out tracking and most importantly, the ability to bring your hands into the Virtual Reality experience.
While the concept is incredibly cool and exciting, tech demos have been less than stellar (lots of issues with drift) and suggest that these technologies most likely won’t become consumer products within the next year.
“Mindshow” Shows off some exciting new creative tools.
When people talk about the potential of Virtual Reality, they typically highlight things like games, education, medicine, and social interactivity. However, when you actually get people into headsets, I often find that the thing they’re most interested in is creativity. In fact, I would say that Tilt Brush is my go-to demo for most first time users. This is why I feel compelled to highlight Mindshow, “an app that lets you create, share, and experience shows in VR”. It is essentially a method for creating short VR films that can be shared in VR or on more standard devices. I can’t do a description justice, but just be sure to watch the youtube video above. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Lenovo’s Microsoft Windows Holographic Headset
Lenovo has announced and begun showing its upcoming Windows Holographic Headset. The big talking points for this device are the two 1440 x 1440 OLED panels being used as its display (that’s higher resolution than either the Rift or Vive) and the fact that it is yet another HMD built with inside-out tracking in mind (yay!). The headset also includes stereo cameras for Augmented and Mixed Reality functionality. The headset is set to release late this year and should retail between $300-$400.
ODG is bringing AR to the Masses
The Osterhout Design Group, who amassed over $58 million in series-A funding, unveiled their first pair of consumer AR glasses, the R-8 and R-9. The R-9, which will be shipping first (in Q2), is aimed at “light enterprise” workers and is priced accordingly at $1,800. The smaller R-8 glasses, which are targeting gaming and education, should be shipping later this year for $1000.
The big story surrounding these glasses is their inclusion of Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835 mobile processor, which serves to make them more powerful than any smartphone currently on the market. With this amount of power, the glasses are well equipped for VR and AR and as a result they run the full android nougat, even allowing you to play games like Pokemon go.
Outside HMDs “Fove” and “Pico Neo” differentiate themselves in the crowded marketplace.
While there are a handful of outside HMDs out there, there is no question that the current VR market is dominated by HTC, Oculus, Sony, Samsung, and Google (and soon Microsoft). So, in order to stand out from the pack you have to do something different.
At CES 2017, there were two underdog headsets that separated themselves from the pack. The first is Fove VR, which uses the power of foveated rendering (a technique that uses eye tracking to selectively render only what the fovea of the eye can see) to drastically increase graphical fidelity for users.
The second is a headset known as the Pico Neo CV, whose unique selling point is that it is standalone mobile VR (no smartphone needed, no wireless adapters, and no extraneous details like bringing your hands into the experience). The idea of a self-contained VR unit is incredibly exciting, especially when you take its inclusion of a gamepad into consideration. The gamepad looks durable and it hints at a device that is really focused in-and-out gaming sessions. My fingers are crossed that in an age where VR is often either simple, yet lackluster or relatively complex, this device could find a perfect niche that is similar to consoles in the overall games space, simple and easy to enjoy.
It was announced that the Fove would be releasing later this month for $599. The Pico Neo does not yet have a release date or price.
So Much More
There are many more gadgets and VR/AR related stories that have come out of CES, and while the ones above are the most relevant to real consumers, there are definitely much more outlandish products to check out and explore as well. My personal favorite ridiculous products and booths are as follows.
Icaros: Get “Ripped” While Flying in VR.
I’m always on the hunt for ways to make my gym experience better, and this definitely tops my list. Looks fun and the idea for strengthening you core makes a lot of sense, but could you imagine having one of these in your home?
Samsung Gear VR 4D Experience
This looks like nausea on top of nausea. I would have loved to try it.
Taclim: Virtual Reality Foot (and hand) tracking.
Sometimes things are just really, really silly, which is probably a good note to end on. Watch the vid above for more detail on these silly VR shoes.
Congrats to all CES 2017 participants. Great show!
**Written by Nate Hoffmeier