Somehow, inexplicably, impossibly nearly ten years have passed since the original Oculus Rift hit Kickstarter.
A decade of development later, VR headsets have gotten better and better – but it’s safe to say, at this point, that the adoption of VR will be… gradual. If we’re all destined to end up with headphones (whether VR, AR or some mixture of the two) strapped to our faces, it will be less about a big deal* and more the result of a thousand tiny steps. A Beat Saber here; a supernatural there. Earphones getting better/lighter/faster. Perhaps people get used to wearing headphones for on-the-job training purposes. Maybe everyone suddenly agrees on what a metaverse is.
This advancement little by little has been maintained this year at CES. There was a lot of VR/AR news, none of it overwhelming – but every other step in the progression.
(*The only possible meteor attack, of course, is if Apple does what it likes to do and arrives late, abandons its version, and turns the category upside down. That’s been the rumor for a while.)
Let’s recap the biggest VR/AR bits from the show.
Sony PS VR2
We’ve known for some time that Sony has been working on a next-gen headset for the PlayStation 5, following the PS VR headset launched in 2016. But beyond a sort of light “We’re working on it! ” announcement in early 2021 and some details about the controllers a few months later, they didn’t share many details.
They’re still keeping a few cards close by, but have shared a few more details about what’s now officially known as PS VR2. Such as:
- It will have a resolution of 2000×2040 per eye
- It will have a wider field of view than the first generation headset, at 110 degrees vs. 96.
- It will have a refresh rate of 90/120 Hz.
- It will be able to track your eye movement, potentially allowing you to do things like highlight UI elements just by looking at them.
- It will support foveated rendering, which is an elegant way of saying you can use processing power more efficiently by prioritizing rendering whatever is at the center of your vision.
- They’re building new controllers for it (pictured below) with finger detection and the PS5’s mind-blowing adaptive triggers.
How will the headset be? Unknown! When will it actually be shipped? To be defined! But with the PS VR being one of the few headphones to rival the
eyeglass Meta Quest In terms of ease of use, it’s good to see Sony continuing to build here.
HTC Vive wrist tracker
What’s the best way to handle VR input? Most popular headphones have settled on some sort of controller in each hand. And if you just do your hand the controller instead?
Manual tracking is not an entirely new idea, of course. Companies come and go with manual tracking as their primary focus.
But HTC’s approach here is a little different. Rather than relying entirely on the cameras, they expect you to attach sensor bracelets to each wrist to help the system track what the cameras can’t see – like when one hand is obscuring the other or you have your arm behind you to a golf swing. The company also demonstrated the sensors working while connected to other objects, such as ping-pong rackets and a NERF weapon.
The company says the sensors should go on sale later this year for $129. A catch? For now, at least, it will only work with HTC’s Vive Focus 3 headset.
VR headphones have gotten a lot more stylish over the years, but they’re still pretty robust. How much smaller can they really get, though?
Panasonic subsidiary Shiftall is working on an “ultra-light, ultra-high-resolution” headset called Meganex. With built-in bezel speakers and a 1.3″ (2560×2560) screen for each eye, they end up looking more like a huge pair of steampunk sunglasses than a headphone. Although designed to be lightweight and collapsible, don’t expect to move also a lot of these – you’ll need to connect them to your computer via USB-C to do the heavy graphics work.
Shiftall says they should ship this year for “less than $900”.
Microsoft Partners with Qualcomm for AR Chips
Microsoft already uses Qualcomm chips for its HoloLens headphones, but the companies made things a little more official this week. At Qualcomm’s keynote, it was announced that the two will work together to develop chips built specifically for use in AR headphones, with those chips supporting each of their augmented reality development platforms (Microsoft Mesh and Snapdragon Spaces).
It’s not flashy hardware, but it’s potentially important on the software side: Nvidia this week opened Omniverse, its collection of tools to help 3D content creators work together in real time.
Writes Frederic Lardinois in his post about the news:
omniverse is Nvidia’s platform to enable creators, designers and engineers to collaboratively build virtual worlds. It is the company’s platform that brings together its own and third-party application design tools and assets into a single hardware and software ecosystem. Until now, Omniverse and the various Nvidia tools that support it were in beta, but at CES today, the company stripped the beta label and made Omniverse generally available to creators.
TCL AR Glasses
This seems like more of a concept for now, so… well, don’t fall in love yet. But TV/phone/air conditioning maker TCL is taking an interest in the AR glasses space, releasing something similar to Google Glass in a package that looks much more like a couple of standard specs. “Holographic optical waveguide technology” pushes visuals into the lens and its field of view, and the concept video above promises touch-based controls built into the frames.