Virtual reality is not quite on and around our faces yet. But that didn't stop CES 2015 from buzzing with refined headset designs, jaw dropping demos and crazy upstarts trying to take down Oculus before it really gets going.
CES did its best job at answering our burning VR questions - when will we be able to buy an Oculus Rift consumer edition? How will we control VR games in 12 months' time? Do we want to wear a 3D tablet inside a huge helmet strapped to our face?
More importantly, VR fans got new headsets, new features and new content at the King Kong of tech conferences. Read on to find out what we can look forward to in 2015.
Oculus was showing off the Crescent Bay prototype of its VR headset and word on the showfloor from Wareable's editors, other tech journalists and the games press is that it's still very much the one to beat.
The lighter, higher res, higher frame rate Crescent Bay has been treated to what appeared to be minor updates but could actually end up making the Rift experience much more immersive. Getting audio right will be a massive boost for Oculus and it announced that as part of the Oculus Audio SDK, devs will be able to use the Rift's real time head tracking tech to create 3D audio spatialization. In other words, surround users with realistic sounds coming from different directions as they move around game worlds. Sounds intense? It is.
There was no firm release date for a 'finished' consumer version of the Oculus Rift that everyone can buy. Or any details on added gesture controls now Oculus owns
hand tracking company Nimble VR.
But Palmer Luckey, the Rift's inventor, was gallivanting around CES talking up the future of his baby, on the subject of releases he would only say that the company has now been around for two and a half years with the DK1 and DK2 to show for it.
And the 'Oculus killers'
Oculus might be the VR company that we expect to get it right and actually sell headsets in 2015, even if early adopting gamers are the only people to buy into it this year. But it's far from alone judging by the amount of VR headsets we saw at CES.
Sulon VR's Cortex headset was on show with rough demos of an exciting blend of augmented reality and virtual reality. Cortex scans then maps virtual 3D models onto the actual room you're moving around in, contextualising objects and in game characters to match your environment. If the thought of a long VR session, closed off from the real world, doesn't appeal Sulon could be the answer.
In terms of VR going mainstream, it might not even be gaming that does the trick - it might be movies. And a device like the Avegant Glyph could be the one to do it. The Glyph's final design looks like a pair of bulky Beats-like headphones and pulls down over your eyes when you want to catch a movie, on a plane for instance.
Still, not every company you've never heard of gets it right. London based 3DHead showed off its 3D-tablet-in-a-helmet monstrosity that is not only huge but has a really odd controller that adds $400 to the already steep $600 price to boot.
Of course, the most exciting "Oculus killer" isn't a real product at all. We are, of course, talking about Razer OSVR.
If the VR industry needs anything, it's open source solutions to some of its biggest problems and fast. That's what Razer's OSVR hardware and software platform is trying to do. Aiming to become a sort of Android for VR, it acts as an R&D shortcut for companies looking to create both headsets and VR software. Razer supplies the user interface and controls, you supply the rest.
The reference design is part of the Hacker Development Kit which will cost just $200 when it ships in June. The 3D files to print the headset at home are freely available.
We tried it out at CES and found that the tech is impressive, the gesture controls are smooth and with names like Leap Motion, Virtuix and Untold Games already on board, it might just move beyond proof of concept and the demo reel. We spoke to Luca Di Fiore, director of R&D at Razer who said as Oculus is locked, they don't want to compete with it, they want to support it while making the process easier for developers.
“If I’m a developer who wants to develop VR, I don’t want to really consider the shortcomings and distortions of each individual device and have to adjust to that. If you open up the system it prevents that."
The big content question
Just like 4K before it, VR is still juggling the chicken and egg conundrum. Until people start strapping Oculus Rifts to their faces in high numbers, we're unlikely to see much investment in developing VR games and shooting VR movies. But until there's something decent to watch and play on the headsets, we're not likely to buy them.
Samsung's Milk VR store for VR content is a step in the right direction but while the demos were lovely when we played with the Gear VR at CES, the selection was pitifully small and it's not exactly open - everything has to be approved by Samsung first.
There were also some promising announcements elsewhere at the show in the form of 360 degree panoramic cameras. Devices like Giroptic's 360 cam, debuted at CES 2015, stitches together stills and videos from three lenses and three sensors and costs a not unreasonable $500. This could mean that in six months, there's a lot more VR video to look around. That will be music to the ears of the 500,000 users of Google Cardboard.
Still, we know the Oculus Rift is coming and we know it has the resolution, field of view and audio smarts to deliver an immersive - if not flawless - VR experience.
That's why at the end of the month, we'll see twelve VR indie movies (created for the Rift, Gear VR or Cardboard) at the Sundance Film Festival. And why Palmer Luckey is confident that exciting games titles will make use of all the new features via the SDK.
2015 will be the year that VR headsets from the cheap, cardboard kind to the high-end Oculus Rift and its rivals find their way into the homes of non-developers. CES 2016? That will be where we see what VR is really capable of.
Source: WHAT'S NEW IN VR FOR 2015
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