CES 2017 Dreams of a VR Future
CES 2017 is in the bag and this was clear: when innovation is lacking, VR is king and “experiences” are the queen.
From a technology standpoint, there wasn’t a lot that blew us away. Sure there were crisp short-throw projectors, laptops with fold-out screens, an electric car faster than a Tesla, and even a smart scooter. Yes, a smart scooter. However, the vast majority of products were just marginal enhancements that we’ve already seen.
Overall, there was a ton of VR everywhere you looked, with very little variety. Auto makers, gaming systems, IoT, all had VR experiences – and if the Las Vegas Sanitation Department had a booth, I’m sure they’d have a VR show too. That’s because manufacturers wanted to focus on how you’ll experience “potential” applications for their technologies.
The automotive section of the show had some of the most lauded displays throughout CES, and was the place where “experiencing” a drive is almost impossible for 200,000 people. Thus car manufacturers had large budgets to create VR experiences that told a story. Ford, Honda and others had full VR demonstrations so you could see and feel the car of the future. Harman had an interesting electric self-driving car to drive the message of making your commute a rich multimedia experience. With the connected car at the center and predictions of 5G network utilization everywhere, most vehicles will become driving entertainment and communication hubs.
Samsung was proud to show their Gear VR, taking over the central concourse of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Their range of VR activities, from moving chairs to full gyroscopic rides (complete with barf bags for those prone to motion sickness) sought to provide a broad example of consumer entertainment applications. There were IoT vendors and industrial sensor companies that were using their visors to show manufacturing safety and trainings. The new Media & Entertainment pavilion (C-Space) had every booth showing some form of VR or immersive multimedia, including swimming with sharks and Discovery Channel’s immersion dome. Even Caesar's Palace had a VR gaming lounge set up at one of their bars.
While a lot of companies are embracing the idea of VR, the vast majority are waiting on other application developers to really create the experiences that will push us beyond where we are today. During a 5G breakfast with top executives from Ericsson, Sprint, T-Mobile, Qualcomm and Kia, no executive wanted to go out on a limb and predict what the next experiences could entail. At the AT&T Developer Summit prior to the start of CES, it was more of the same.
Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift a few years ago still has people trying to create a better headset at this year's CES. But the VR future isn't there yet, as much as every “experience” would claim. Most people can only endure virtual reality experiences for a short period. Long-form content currently creates eye strain, and brain strain. Even 3D cinema creates eye strain and a general viewer will need some time to readjust after watching a long movie.
The real innovation will be in the content delivery. The problem for most of the headset manufacturers and streaming providers will be to deliver adaptive equirectangular playback where the resolution out of your field of view scales up instantly as you move your head, or else leverages eye-tracking to only deliver HD content where you’re currently looking. These are dense video streams, but only need to be in HD when we want to focus on the content. Minimizing the latency to optimize playback will be critical to finally delivering powerful immersive experiences, and that’s where Wowza could add tremendous value.
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