As we are a couple of weeks shy of 2018 and the famous virtual reality movie “Ready Player One” is about to be released, let’s visit where Virtual Reality stands as of today, summarize what happened in 2017, and checkout what’s coming early next year.
All in all, 2017 hasn’t been as exciting a year for VR compared to 2016. For comparison, in the first quarter of last year, cutting-edge pc-powered Virtual Reality goggles from Oculus Rift and HTC were released, but 2017 has shown no comparable new launch from these two pioneering VR companies. As computing power needed to drive much of the latest VR still needs to catch up (as I mentioned in the introduction post to VR here), it makes sense that there are no new major product releases this year. Microsoft’s introduction of ‘Mixed Reality’ (MR) goggles is notable this year, as 5 new headsets are now available that can run VR content. They have unique features over the industry leaders, notably not requiring tracking sensors, but are still subpar compared to the capabilities provided by the industry veterans.
While the costs of what’s on the market have dropped, with Oculus Rift decreasing from $820 CAD to $529 CAD, HTC Vive from $999 CAD to $799 CAD, and PSVR from $599 CAD to $499 CAD; while prices for the MR goggles go from $449 CAD from Lenovoto to Microsoft’s $4000 CAD HoloLense. And on the other hand the costs of VR compatible PCs remain high, especially with the high demand of computing power needed in farming cryptocurrencies.
Since there’s little room for innovation until computing power evolves further, many VR pioneers are targeting low-cost and portable Virtual Reality goggles. Facebook and HTC will be releasing their first standalone wireless goggles in Q1 2018, named Oculus Go and Vive Focus respectively. While the adoption rate hasn’t reached what financial analysts forecasted in 2016, there are pros and cons for standalone or portable goggles. Because these goggles are powered by mobile chips, they can in no way produce the same quality of graphics as their pc-powered counterparts and may ultimately have the unintended consequence of introducing negative impressions to first time VR users. But it’s understandable that both Facebook and HTC both need to make their balance sheets look better and probably they also want to increase their brand image as VR for consumers before their next generation VR goggles hit, especially as competition increases.
A manufacturer in China is about to release a superior pc-powered goggle in Q1 2018, the super hyped Pimax 8K. Their kickstarter campaign has exceeded 3 million dollars (more than what was raised for Oculus Rift back in 2012) and I got the chance to personally tried the Pimax 8K prototype at Immersed 2017 back in September. Although it didn’t meet the expectation I got from their Kickstarter campaign, it does provide a wider field of view and improved graphic quality over the Vive and Oculus Rift. Here is a very honest review of of the Pimax 8K if you are interested. Curious to know how a startup company could build something superior to the products from two giants? The truth is VR technology is actually far more mature than many people realize and while the Pimax 8k, which leverages HTC Vive’s tracking system, is a slight improvement over the industry leaders, it’s very possible that both Oculus Rift and HTC may not be willing to push a new product that is only slightly improved than what they currently have out.
As for VR content, especially those big AAA titles that have been booming in late 2017 and will continue to boom in 2018, a few titles worth to check out are: Lone Echo, Robo Recall, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Skyrim VR, Doom VFR, Project Car 2 VR, Fallout 4 VR. You may be familiar with many of the non-VR versions of these, but the VR versions really deliver an unprecedented experience compared to the traditional game. Besides these AAA titles, there are a lot of VR titles from new studios, like online multiplayer social game Rec Room, hard-core sci-fi shooters Raw Data, and zombie apocalypse Arizona Sunshine, that actually are still leading the selling charts in 2017 and will likely stay there into the new year.
This is where we are at with Virtual Reality today. Despite costs dropping and VR content rising, VR development is slowing down due to the computing power bottleneck. But we’re confident that VR will eventually be something like the world mentioned in the novel “Ready Player One”, a world where the real and the virtual complement each other.
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