(Photo courtesy of CES)
Last month, the Balti Virtual team made our annual trek to the massive Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where we saw new products and technologies that will move the virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (XR) industry forward in 2019. As the dust settles from CES, there were also some encouraging new players in the AR/VR space and solid products from the more established “OGs of XR”.
Almost as notable as these new offerings were a couple of high-profile absences, specifically the Oculus Quest and the Microsoft Hololens 2 (both are expected to be released before Q3 2019).
Here are a few things we’re excited about in 2019, from CES and beyond:
From the good-looking, non-cyborg Focals by North to the RealMax’s Qian wide-view, which sported a wide (100+ degree) field of view, this year’s AR headsets ran the gamut from form to function. Our favorite was nReal, whose glasses were slightly more “headset” feeling than North’s, but sported an impressive display and rendering capabilities housed in a small tethered pack.
The major VR announcements at CES came from HTC, who introduced a pair of new head-mounted displays (HMDs): the Vive Cosmos and the Vive Pro Eye. The Vive Pro Eye adds high performance eye tracking to the already impressive Vive Pro, and is targeted at industry/training rather than home users.
Moving into 2019…
The Oculus Quest
Blending the best elements of the Oculus Go (portability/ease of use) with the tracked hand controllers typically only found on high-end PC based VR setups (Rift/Vive/Windows MR), at $400, the Oculus Quest should make a splash when it lands in the spring. It promises to be great for games like Beat Saber and Superhot, and offers some intriguing longer-term capabilities including a passthrough camera that could potentially enable AR experiences.
The Microsoft Hololens 2
Microsoft has been pretty quiet on the AR front since the release of the initial Hololens (nearly 3 years ago). The original device has held up impressively well, and is still the gold-standard for area learning and tracking. There have been rumors of a Hololens 2 (and even a 3) for a while now, and it seems likely that 2019 is the year the new device drops. The feature set is still under wraps, but there are hints that the device will use less expensive custom hardware than its predecessor, moving it closer to a mainstream device.
“App-less” Mobile AR
Still in fairly early stages, there are a growing set of features making their way into mobile web browsers and operating systems that enable AR experiences without requiring users to install an app.
Developments such as Apple’s native support for simple animations and visualizations via its .usdz format or Google’s experimental branch of Chrome that supports the WebXR standard will offer low-friction ways for casual users to try AR on the move.
While traditional native apps will deliver the most powerful and exciting experiences for the foreseeable future, these “app-less” formats open up new options for situations where downloading an app doesn’t make sense.
AR Kit/AR Core Enhancements
The year 2018 was marked by a healthy competition between Apple and Google in the AR API space. Both Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore had multiple releases and added powerful new features, allowing for recognition of surfaces, images, 3D objects and shared spaces.
In 2019, this competition should continue to bring developers awesome new tools, as both companies continue to create infrastructure that will enable the AR Cloud.
The X Factor
Inevitably, there is a new product that lives in “stealth mode,” flying under everyone’s radar until it drops onto the scene. In addition to the products and technologies outlined above, I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises 2019 holds.
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