Seattle’s VR Community Reflects on CES

vive_tracker_img_3___side-1

Last week the Consumer Electronics Showcase offered myriad glimpses into the future of VR and AR in that most apocalyptic of American cities, Las Vegas. A number of Seattle VR pioneers were in attendance, either to showcase their own work or to simply soak in the latest hardware and experiences. I asked a few people to share their impressions, and offer them here, lightly edited, for your edification. –Ryan

Nima Zeighami

CES again brought the VR community together.  We all got to see the future of technologies and were given road maps to what we will do with VR in 2017, 2018, and even as late as 2019.  A variety of companies showed off high-resolution VR headsets and headset accessories, some much more interesting than others (looking at you, Panasonic).  Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835 was shown off superbly with the fantastic Mighty Morphin Power Rangers VR experience with inside-out positional tracking, showing us what Daydream devices will be capable of in the near future. Ericsson showed off key 5G mobile network technologies to live stream a 360 camera rig from the Intel booth to a VR headset in their booth, and also partnered with a company showing impressive texture-simulating VR haptics.  And finally, HTC brought the heat, partnering with all the most innovative software and hardware makers in the world, with Invrse Studios and The Nest, Trinity VR with DiamondFX, and IISRI was showing Flaim Trainer.  Of course, what stole the VR show was the new Vive Deluxe Audio Head Strap and the Vive Tracker, which had its own slew of innovative VR accessories.

Thomas Le

In terms of the VR things that I’ve seen, honestly I haven’t seen anything that was really different or better than the Seattle VR scene. Most demos I’ve came across were about shooting zombies… I’ve tried out other VR headsets that other companies have made and found that they were much more uncomfortable to wear compared to the big boys such as Oculus, HTC, and Gear VR. I was not able to see any of the wireless VR as I did not see any on display during my time there, unfortunately. Honestly I was a little disappointed with the variety of uses or experiences in VR at CES this year. On the other hand, with AR, I was much more impressed. Holograms were a cool sighting, with map navigation and car use among the use case scenarios. Intel showcased augmented reality in automobiles, which was cool and an interesting use of the Hololens. But all in all it was cool to see emerging technologies like VR and AR take the center stage at CES. One thing that I really liked were all of the 360 cameras that were showcased. I think 360 video/photo is much closer to the mainstream than VR and AR.

Ryan Smith

For me, the standout was the Vive Tracker, which almost everyone still calls the “puck” thanks to the size and cylindrical shape. Most have seen the clever items people have strapped them to, from guns and gloves to baseball bats and even a fire hose. What I didn’t see, but expect to as soon as the trackers become more widely available, is tracked shoes, and the tracked mobile headset. The latter would require Steam VR to function inside a mobile OS like Android, not to mention someone making positionally tracked VR content that can run on a mobile phone, so there are a few hurdles left. Nonetheless, it cannot be overstated how much of a game changer it will be to have a Gear VR or Daydream enclosure that suddenly has best-in-class positional tracking, plus tracked motion controllers. The obviousness of this product left me wondering where HTC is in this battle, so I asked…and was reminded that the Daydream-ready Google Pixel is actually manufactured by HTC!

The benefits of using the Vive Tracker for a mobile HMD became even more obvious when I left the Wynn to walk through the main convention halls at CES. The dozens of VR and AR companies showing off their newest products often had one or two decent innovations, like increasing screen resolution (Pimax), slimming the form-factor (Dlodlo) or making their own complete solution for tracking and hand controllers (XImmerse.) Each of these improvements tended to come at the expense of another equally important factor, and it was painfully clear that many of these competitors are up against superior technology, and probably won’t make it.
The Tracker, to use the cliche term, seems “disruptive” because it may simply kill off a dozen emerging companies who were trying to develop competing solutions. While such destruction is sad, the products that the Tracker enables will spawn thousands of new start-ups, to bring us tracked shoes, backpacks, robots, swords, shields, drones, pet collars and more. Next year’s CES will probably be a showcase of VR accessories that all stem from this one product, which is why it is by far and away the coolest thing from CES 2017.