With next-gen tech, virtual reality will finally hit the mainstream in 2018
The coming year no doubt will be just as unpredictable as 2017, as a huge range of tech trends from the cloud and blockchain to machine learning and virtual reality collide and combine. This is the latest in a series of predictions by SiliconANGLE’s staff and other experts on what’s coming in the enterprise, emerging technologies and the broader tech industry in 2018.
The ability to immerse yourself so fully in a game or a movie that it’s like actually being there is the stuff of science fiction, and the promise of virtual reality is to bring that fiction to life. In 2017, VR came a long way, but 2018 may finally be the year it starts to have widespread impact.
To find out how far VR will go in 2018, SiliconANGLE reached out to a few industry insiders, such as Jon “Neverdie” Jacobs from VR developer Neverdie Studios and Dipak Patel, co-founder and chief executive officer of VR content ecosystem Zeality Inc., to get a vision for how science fiction will become science fact. And, not much later, a business: Allied Business Intelligence Research Inc. predicts it will reach an estimated $60 billion worldwide by 2021.
The year 2018 may be the start of VR hitting the mainstream as headsets come into their second generation and will become cheaper, lighter and easier to use. Head-mounted displays released from Facebook Inc.’s Oculus VR, HTC Corp. and Sony Corp. in 2016 and 2017 can cost anywhere from $400 to $800, which is a barrier to wide adoption.
“I don’t expect the headsets to fly off the shelves,” Patel told SiliconANGLE, imagining a ramp-up in the market. “Rather, I see steady but small growth within the video game community driving the majority of it. They will get smaller and more consumer-friendly.”
Already, HTC has presented a standalone VR headset model priced around $200 called the Vive Focus, although the company will first release the headset in China with a lagging release in the U.S. during 2018. Oculus VR also announced its own $200 standalone headset near the end of the year, the Oculus Go.
Jacobs said that he believes much of 2018’s VR push into the mainstream will also be driven by enhancements to the technology. That’s especially likely with better tracking technology, which should make VR feel much more like an immersive experience.
“I predict constant progress with the technology, which is going to make it sexier and sexier,” Jacobs told SiliconANGLE, “in particular ‘inside-out’ and ‘eye tracking’ for VR.”
The concept of “inside out” tracking is that VR headsets can keep track of orientation and position in space – basically how a VR game or environment would allow a user to look around and move around. With inside-out tracking, the headset determines its own position with sensors without the need for a room to be outfitted with extra hardware and sensors.
Eye tracking, in particular, will be fundamental to VR technology in 2018. This is because rendering a VR experience even, on tiny screens near the eyes, takes a lot of computer power. That limits how games, entertainment and apps that can be written.
With the way the eye works, human vision does not “see” very well except for a very tiny spot in the very center. Foveated rendering makes it possible to spend most of the rendering power on that tiny spot and ease up in the periphery without affecting the user experience. This greatly reduces the strain on computer resources.
The year 2018 also has something else weird going for it: more movies that use VR as a foundation for the plot such as “Ready Player One,” expected to release in March. “Ready Player One” posits a dystopian future, a world wrecked by an energy crisis, in which much of the world is wired in to virtual reality, and VR is the way people interact, play games and experience entertainment.
“The Ready Player One movie will get everyone dreaming about the potential of VR and will provide a much-needed boost to headset sales which will result in breakthrough games in 2019,” Jacobs said.
Headsets still sparse
Over the past few years, analysts have predicted that the VR industry is growing, but slowly. The hold-up? Content for VR is still sparse even as the market for headsets grows.
Patel said one upshot of 2018 will be that 360-degree video content will become easier to produce, leading to a wave of consumer-based content entering the market. At the same time, the slow but steady rise in the headset market will mean entertainment producers will begin to tap into it.
He predicts that “major content news and sports properties will leverage 360 media to drive viewership,” and that “these experiences will be integrated into their core apps.”
At its base, the VR industry has strength in a diversity of experiences that can be related through virtual reality. Although Jacobs predicts it will be gaming that sets the stage as late as 2019, Patel’s revelation is that even during 2017, news agencies and sports have been building a bridge into the virtual.
In 2017, CNN Digital launched CNNVR and Getty Images Inc. launched 360-degree video with Jaunt Inc. That followed activity the previous year, as AOL acquired 360-degree video company RYOT Corp. and USA Today network released the first branded VR news show “VRtually There.”
Explosion of add-on devices
Finally, the one thing 2018 will become best known for will be an explosion in the number of peripherals for VR.
So far, two major approaches have emerged: controller wands and hand gestures. Controller wands dominate the market with remote-control-like wands such as the Gear VR controller, the Vive Controller (a $130 price tag peripheral) and Oculus Touch controllers.
However, the fact that not everyone wants to interact in VR with wand controllers has become obvious. After all, what about the people who want a virtual version of their office and keep their mouse and keyboard (Logitech has an experiment for that, pictured)? And how about other tools mapped into VR such as actual wands, pointers and even mock mobile phones or displays?
Work has already gone into making almost anything trackable, via HTC’s Vive Tracker, which can be used to make a baseball bat into a VR-trackable object. Although still cumbersome and clunky — the tracking marker often seems gargantuan in comparison to everyday objects – these trackers show where this could go for the purposes of immersive play and exploration in virtual environments.
At some point, virtual reality must take into account actual reality, and not everyone wants to interact with VR with video game controllers. So there’s an entire market still figuring itself out and looking for ways to let people do in their virtual life what they do in real life.
Between the hype that will be generated by Ready Player One and the mass-market appeal of lower-priced standalone VR headsets, 2018 is shaping up to be the year when the industry will finally show what it can do to bridge the gap between the virtual and the real in a more seamless way.
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