Pushing ‘mixed reality’ at CES, Intel sets Q4 release of Alloy VR headset


Hoping to latch onto a potential growth market, Intel Corp. today sought to show how its processor chips can drive the coming explosion of virtual reality experiences.

Speaking at an unusual press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show, which gave reporters a chance to view demos through high-end Oculus Rift VR headsets, Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich (left, showing Intel’s Project Alloy headset) positioned the company as the crucial foundation for VR experiences. VR, including what Intel calls “mixed reality” that allows virtual overlays on the real world, is an area that much of the tech industry is betting will be a prime driver of consumer electronics spending in coming years.

Krzanich demonstrated how VR driven by Intel will transform travel experiences, work, and sports and entertainment, providing experiences such as watching a live basketball game, inspecting a solar array by drone and soaring 3,500 feet above an Arizona desert. “VR makes it possible to have these experiences like you’re really there,” he said. “How many of us will climb Everest?”

Krzanich said VR needs Intel-powered hardware such as the high-end personal computers required by the Rift and in head-mounted VR displays. “It’s so compute-intensive, it really needs a company like Intel behind it to make it work,” he said.

Reporters viewed VR experiences at Intel's press conference.

Reporters viewed VR experiences at Intel’s press conference.

Finding new markets beyond the personal computer is critical for Intel, since PCs have seen mostly declining sales in the past two years. In mid-October, Intel’s shares fell about 3 percent after it reported fourth-quarter revenues would come in below consensus estimates by analysts. It has made strides in supplying chips for data center computers, where it dominates and saw 10 percent sales growth in the third quarter. But it reported enterprise sales fell 3 percent, more than expected, likely thanks to more customers going to cloud computing.

Intel also provided some updates on Intel’s hardware plans at the event. In particular, it said its Project Alloy mixed-reality headset, announced just last August, will ship by the fourth quarter of this year. It doesn’t need to be tethered to a powerful PC, potentially making it more appealing to the masses. Intel also showed the use of its Voke sports virtual reality firm it acquired in November to enable activities such as virtually watching a game from particular seats in a venue.

“There will be a host of content coming throughout the year,” Krzanich said, including concerts and soccer games. “We truly believe this will revolutionize the experience for fans. You’ll have the opportunity to go to games you never could before.”

Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said VR, augmented reality and mixed reality are all likely growth areas for Intel. “There are opportunities in the head-mounted display itself, the PC and in the data center which has to crunch all that content,” he said.

Krzanich acknowledged doubts about whether and how fast VR would take off, but insisted the experiences he showed off today prove its appeal. Whether or not the VR market develops into something significant, Intel got points for a press conference that went beyond Powerpoint slides to provide a visceral sense of actual VR experiences. “Intel’s keynote was very different from anything they’ve done before,” said Moorhead.

Photos courtesy of Intel