CES 2017 Brings Product Diversity to the VR/AR Ecosystem

Alexis MacklinAnalysis

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Among all the home assistants, robotics, and wearable tech, virtual and augmented reality was a highlight at the 50th Consumer Electronics Show through new product releases and announcements. The biggest consumer electronics conference prominently showcased VR and AR on the expo floor. Major manufacturers like Intel, Qualcomm, and Huawei highlighted VR in a big way with AR headset manufacturers having a bigger representation.


Samsung announces it has sold 5 million gear VR headsets

At Samsung’s press conference the company announced it has now sold 5 million GEAR VR headsets, and users have watched more than 10 million hours of video since launch. Breaking it down, this only averages 2 hours per user. Samsung also did not specify how many headsets were sold in bundles with Samsung phones, which may affect how active and interested users are in using the headset. Overall, we see this as a good start for a new technology to have an installed base of 5 million headsets out in the public.


2017 will see AR-capable smartphones

CES set the stage for Google Tango applications on smartphones. Google Tango is the next wave for mobile AR with the sensors capable of 3D mapping the area, enhancing AR experiences beyond layering graphics on reality. Lenovo announced Phab 2 Pro will be one of the first smartphones with Google Tango AR sensors. ASUS also announced the release of their Google Tango capable smartphone, Zenfone AR. ASUS Zenfone AR will also be Daydream ready, which will make it the first phone capable of running both Tango and Daydream. While we do not believe AR capable phones will mainstream-ready in 2017, we see a wave of exciting development for AR mobile apps this year.


ODG announces the first AR headset with Qualcomm Snapdragon 835

Qualcomm announced improvements on its smaller, faster and more powerful Snapdragon 835 with VR and AR optimization. In tandem with their announcement, ODG revealed two new consumer AR glasses, which are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835. The partnership is a positive advancement the VR and AR industries have been waiting for – a strong, small processor that can deliver on experience quality, but not added weight.

ODG's R-9 AR Glasses

ODG’s R-9 AR Glasses (Photo by ODG)

Diverse VR headsets emerge from CES

Oculus was notably absent from this year’s CES with the company holding suite meetings, and no new product features from HTC. This left emerging companies to take the lead. Lenovo brought a prototype of their Windows Holographic VR headset to CES. The headset will be light weight, will be lower cost ($300-$400), and compatible with Microsoft’s holographic platform. Intel also demoed Project Alloy, its standalone “merged reality” headset, that uses sensors to merge real world objects with the virtual environment. Another notable headset was Fove 0, which was announced to ship by the end of this month. The eye-tracking headset will be the first of its kind on the market. Headsets on display at CES hinted at a diverse ecosystem of VR headsets and how non-gamers could use VR. The industry is seeing a new category of VR headsets emerge for passive usage and entertainment.

 

VR accessories look to solve manufacturer issues

If VR headsets stole the 2016 show, VR accessories will be the unexpected success of 2017. Wireless connector KiwikVR by Scalable Graphics debuted at CES. The accessory cuts the cord through a WiFi connection and is said to be compatible with both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. KiwikVR has a projected price point of €300 if Scalable Graphics proceeds to distribute and manufacture the VR accessory itself. There were also be various controllers and haptic devices on display.

 

New VR cameras captured the landscape

Insta360 announced a professional 360-degree camera, which is the first higher quality camera from the company focused on mobile-based cameras. The professional camera will have 8K, 3D, auto-stitched, and live-streaming capabilities, and will be released in April 2017 for $3,000. Insta360 demoed photos taken with the camera at CES but not video. It will stand to be seen if the new professional camera can perfect live-streaming and auto-stitching software.

 

Volumetric video capture technology

As part of Intel’s CES press conference, HypeVR was also demoing their volumetric VR videos capture technology at Intel’s booth. The company’s video capture technology allows for immersive 6 degrees of freedom. The user can walk around and explore the scene and the image has such amazing graphics quality it feels almost animated. HypeVR is camera agnostic, able to run on up to 8K cameras and renders each frame as pixels, at roughly 3 gigabytes each, uncompressed. Professionals looking for ways to make their VR videos more realistic will be impressed with HypeVR when other stitching, video quality, and stereoscopic solutions feel like they are holding back a truly immersive experience.