One need only to have attended the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2017 to have a sense of how rapidly augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies are moving to market.
One exciting example of AR was Osterhout Design Group’s (ODG) R-9 and R-8 smartglasses, which offer mixed reality through their ability to darken, immersing the user into a different reality, and then with clear-glass mode, changing it into AR. The capability is based on the company’s partnership with OTOY, Inc., enabling the switch between VR to AR. OTOY’s cloud-based interactive technology delivers extremely low latency and minimal battery drain on the glasses.
The downside for early adopters, however, is a $1,000 price tag and the lack of content unique to the glasses, especially compared to Microsoft’s HoloLens and its industrial application focus. Other prototypes demoed at the show focused on industrial versus consumer apps, which makes sense on several levels.
In those respects, CES was a harbinger of some of the top AR/VR trends we can expect for 2017.
“In terms of AR headsets and technology adoption, CES demonstrated that vendors in this segment are starting to develop consumer facing hardware and solutions to test the broader appetite for this new technology,” says Piers Harding-Rolls, Director of Games Research at IHS Technology.
“AR has had most success in commercial and professional deployments, but AR headset companies such as Osterhout Design Group (ODG) and Microsoft will be hoping they can entice early adopting consumers to start testing the technology. To this end, we expect consumer AR applications to grow in volume through 2017.”
In terms of professional and commercial VR, out-of-home VR entertainment venues, already amounting to over 8,000 in China, are expected to become commonplace in the U.S. and Japan during 2017, driven by the IMAX and other deals. (China’s VR industry is expected to “expand more than 4-fold in 2017 as more major players enter the industry and new and exciting content drives growth,” according to new IDC forecasts.)
Industries where VR is already making an impact on business processes, particularly where design and visualization are required, include automotive, construction and architecture industries, and these segments are expected to continue to invest in these relatively inexpensive solutions to visualize their designs and content.
As IHS Markit predicted in its 2016 VR market report, sensor technology developments are likely to be one of the key trends this year. “At CES we saw a series of prototype headsets using inside-out, camera-based tracking, which allows for mixed content experiences and better head tracking. In 2017, these sensor advancements will narrow the gap between high-end VR solutions — Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR — and cheaper VR headsets such as those that support Windows 10 or in the smartphone VR space.”
Indeed, headset technologies were front and center at CES. Occipital showed off its Structure Sensors depth sensor technology in a headset. Depth sensors are critical for mixed reality applications. Microsoft’s HoloLens uses a custom chip from an Xbox Kinect sensor controller. Intel, Google and Microsoft all use technologies that scan a user’s living area and map it into 3-D while blending or overlaying images into that virtual world. The sensors can also use the data to prevent users from bumping into objects in the process.
At CES, HTC unveiled technology that allows third-party devices to be mapped into the Oculus VR world. Its Vive Tracker has sensors that allow it to track any object it’s attached to via lighthouse stations so that any prop becomes a virtual asset. The company intends to expand from consumer to education, health, manufacturing, training, arts and automotive with its VR technology.
“Most VR news in 2017 will be centered on headset technology and not content, but this tide will start to turn at the end of the year,” says Mr. Harding-Rolls.
“I think we’re on the cusp of a media backlash against virtual reality as early experiments in entertainment content leave many developers out of pocket. It’s inevitable that after so much hype, the consumer VR sector will enter a period of self-reflection as commercial realization sets in and I think that will hit us more forcefully in 2017,” said Harding-Rolls. He expects negative news stories to swirl around the sector, however installed bases will continue to grow steadily and things will look more positive at the end of 2017.
When asked what else would occur in 2017, Harding-Rolls indicated that we would begin to see third-party Google Daydream View headsets, including launches from Chinese smartphone original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with the ambition of building overseas sales for their smartphones and accessing the premium headset market. He added that we will have to wait until 2018 for Daydream View to outsell Samsung’s Gear VR on a world basis. Also, a number of PC OEMs will launch Windows 10 VR headsets as Microsoft aims to make its OS the platform of choice for these technologies.