Was CES 2018 Big for VR? VRFocus Recap all the Tech Encountered at the Show

A breakdown of VR headsets, VR content, 360 cameras, audio, MR and nifty gadgets from the world's biggest tech event.

CES 2018 is the most exciting showcase of innovative technology every year. With over 170,000 attendees and over 3,900 exhibitors, there has to be some virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) here, right? Today,  VRFocus is doing a Post CES #XR event Review at the Realities Centre in London, UK bringing some of the companies together for those that couldn’t attend the main event. However if you aren’t attending the Post CES event, VRFocus has put a little recap together. From head-mounted displays (HMDs), VR platforms, VR content, 360 cameras, AR, audio, and MR to accessories to accompany new immersive technologies, you’ll find a sizable list in the run down below.

Big Announcements at Press Conferences

HTC Vive Pro
The HTC Vive Pro was the most exciting pre-CES announcement from HTC Vive.

Before CES even started VRFocus attended the Nvidia press event, where the company showcased its latest technology in autonomous cars. The biggest trend by far at this year’s CES, was how both VR and AR are being used to help ensure the safety of future cars, but also testing autonomous cars in environments that otherwise could not be controlled. Nvidia announced AutoSim, a VR simulator for self-driving cars as well as Drive AR, software that gives drivers information about what is around the car. All this information will be featured on the windscreen or dashboard screen. Think Google Maps on your heads-up-display (HUD).

It was HTC Vive that really stole the show that day after its initial Twitter tease of a HMD with new resolution, announcing the new HTC Vive Pro and Wireless adapter. The promise of no screen door effect and going untethered? It was a big day for VR lovers around the world. To add a cherry on top, the HTC Vive Pro will feature two microphones for noise cancellation capabilities and it’ll work with both 1.0 and 2.0 base stations.

Nothing could quite surpass that announcement that day, but Sony did showcase some very beautiful looking Sony RX0 cameras in collaboration with Zeiss, which, if 100 were to be connected could create immersive imagery.

Head-mounted displays

Timescope
Not exactly room-scale virtual reality, but a quick and easy access to transport users into a digital re-created world.

With the announcement of the HTC Vive Pro, Dell revealed at its press conference a partnership with HTC Vive to make it easier for consumers to get a full VR package with their desktop by allowing customers to purchase both the VR-Ready Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop and an HTC Vive.

With no new Oculus Rift being teased or showcased, VRFocus managed to catch up with Kopin, showcasing the Elf VR headset. With a pixel density of 2,940 PPI, dual 2K resolution, 120 Hz for each eye, and a promise of smaller, lighter size and no screen door effect, Kopin is making ambitious promises for VR applications in the future. The Elf VR HMD is not yet available for consumers, but Kopin has said to keep an ear out for news just before the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2018.

Pico Interactive showcased its standalone headsets Pico Goblin and Pico Neo CV. Both headsets will be compatible with the Vive Wave platform, giving Pico customers access to 400 titles from the Vive owned store. A taster perhaps of what other standalone headsets might be such as Oculus Go and Vive Focus. The Pico Goblin is retailing for $269 USD and the Pico Neo CV can be pre-ordered for $749 on Pico’s website.

Lenovo also demonstrated its standalone device, Lenovo Mirage Solo. The headset utilises the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, has 4GB RAM, with 110-degree field-of-view (FoV). The headset also uses Google’s WorldSense technology for inside-out tracking and comes with a wireless Daydream controller. The HMD is set to be released in Q2 this year.

Zeiss VR One Connect  is now also compatible with Steam VR. Supporting both iOS and Android, the Zeiss VR One will need two wireless three degrees of freedom (3DoF) controllers that are linked via Bluetooth to enjoy full VR. The Zeiss VR One Connect is set to be available at major US retailers in the spring of 2018 at $129. No details on an international launch date are currently available.

Then there was Timescope’s terminal, which wasn’t what one would call “true VR”, in the sense that it’s not room-scale, you are not able to teleport or physically pick up objects with controllers – but still a form of new VR for public spaces. From the age of seven, members of the public are able to use the Timescope terminal to then see into the past or future of certain locations. All 3D content is as historical accurate as possible, with historians and engineers that have worked hard on making the terminals suitable for everybody – including people wearing glasses.

VR Platforms, VRContent, Training and Social VR

It might become easier to start a platform when making numerous amounts of VR content, and trying to find a solution to distribute the content to their clients and audience. This seems to be exactly the case for Jaunt, Ikonospace Art and Serious Factory.

Jaunt has created the Jaunt XR platform, which gives clients an easy way to distribute large amounts of VR content. With a media manager, player engine and intelligence suite to track information of how users interact with 360 content – its biggest benefit is that it allows all 360, VR films to be distributed across various VR HMDs.

Ikonospace is a small Dutch start-up company that use VR to create virtual art exhibitions. The platform would enable any artist around the world to build, create, digitise and finally curate their own art exhibition. CEO and Co-Founder Joris Demnard, personally comes from a family that specialise in curating and putting together art exhibitions. With simple design tools, one can create a building, decorate the interior and then place their art in it.

Serious Factory have a special toolkit that enables users to create social scenarios. Think of it as directing a social space where you can control the characters interactions, facial expressions, reactions and create the perfect social training scenarios. The platform allows for full customisation of characters from ethnicity, outfit, and interactions to the 3D environment where the interactions would take place. The final scene also has a point system, which would allow recruiters to see in which category users failed in or excelled in.

Fibrum is the largest Russian developer for VR games and applications, having dipped its toes into e-sports as well as creating the Fibrum Pro HMD. Fibrum now focuses on a platform called Desirium, a mobile VR app and platform that’s similar to Jaunt’s app, where the company can host 360-degree and VR content. You can download the app on Google Play, App Store, Google Daydream or Samsung Gear VR for a free trial period now.

Make your dreary gym workout plan fun with VR, gaming and highscores.

VRFocus got into the grind of CES with Black Box VR, a new concept that combines gaming with gym workouts. Instead of getting bored at the gym, trying to make your exercise routine more interesting by listening to your ‘Gym Workout Session 1’ playlist on Spotify or attempting to enjoy the visual images on the TV screen, you’ll soon be able to dive into a HTC Vive headset (accompanied with special trackers on each arm) and carry out various work outs through Black Box VR. Several Black Box VR gyms will be opening on the West coast of the United States, to make your average gym workout more interesting.

Anybody who’s been trying to use VR for exercise will have heard of Sprint Vector, Survios’ action-packed multiplayer VR title. Survios announced several Sprint Vector tournaments and that it would be coming to various VR arcades soon, which can also be experienced in California.

Serious VR takes things very serious indeed, specialising in VR training and performance data focusing on industrial companies such as defence, metal and automotive sectors. The plan is to change manuals and e-learning into an information schedule to implement VR for training processes. The benefits of immersion that VR offers seem be very cost-effective and more efficient than conventional training for industrial companies at the moment.

French company Light and Shadows use both VR and AR to provide solutions to major industrial enterprises, having created various devices and training applications for companies that are looking for ways to train or operate in VR. With a background in 3D environments, they showcased a training simulation that combined leap motion with the HTC Vive. Using just your hands, VRFocus managed to pick up mechanical and industrial pieces in a factory.

vTime Wilderness 1600x900
vTime gets an audio boost with DTS custom audio technology.

vTime is one of the longest running social networks for VR. At CES the studio announced a new partnership with audio specialist DTS to bring enhanced audio to the social VR platform. The aim is to create a more realistic world, and thus make the platform more immersive. Creating a virtualized surround experience over headphones using a combination of localised, spatial and head-tracked audio.

All in all, VR companies exhibiting at CES showcased various platforms that wanted to be cross-platform friendly and were looking to have users create and generate their own content in order to boost their platform. For the most part, it seems like these platforms are oriented at large industrial companies looking to train staff or employees, whether it be in factories or in social situations. With it comes a lot of responsibility to create easy-to-use toolkits, quick production work flows as well as the tools to create the best immersion. For the most part, it has been HTC Vive that’s been the winner when looking at how companies are using the HMD to help introduce VR to the masses.

360 Cameras

Kodak 8K 360 Camera
Kodak’s three lense camera shoots 8K and will have a waterproof case to film underwater in.

There were only two cameras that really showcased what 360 VR could offer in the future. Besides Sony and Zeiss’s previously mentioned, it was Chinese company Pisoftech and Kodak that offered 8K capabilities. Lenovo also dips into VR, but uses 180 degrees instead.

Pisoftech has a background in mass surveillance and data. They decided to venture into the realm of hardware when they saw that the products their clients were making could be more efficient if they made it. The Pilot Era camera can shoot 8K and has the capability to stitch internally. In other words, no need for an external device or software to stitch for you anymore. It’s quite big as well, 61mm x 61 mm x 159mm and weighs around 565g, however it may be worth it if you don’t want the hassle of stitching your images and if you want 180 minutes of battery life. 8K comes at a huge price though, its estimated price is at £3,000 GBP, not exactly affordable for the average consumer. The product is expected to be available on Amazon in April 2018.

What Pisoftech offer in 8K internal stitching, Kodak makes up for in size. Showcasing two brand new cameras that as of yet have no name, Kodak is also dedicated to creating 8K VR footage but in stereoscopic 3D VR. The first to be shown is the three-lens 8K PixPro 360 camera that is able to film at 30 frames per second (FPS) or 4K at 60FPS, potentially even at 120FPS. A waterproof version is said to be released around the same time to enable underwater filming. Half the size of the Pilot Era camera, this camera does not offer internal stitching but is very small and could potentially last a long time if combined with external batteries.

The second camera shoots 4K 30 FPS and can fold out and do 3D stereoscopic 180 images. It was designed specifically to please the push YouTube and Google are making into 3D on their platforms. You can also tether the cameras together and make a full 360 3D unit, if you were to have three of them. When speaking to Kevin Kunze, he mentioned that the three-lens 8K camera would be $1,000-$2,000 cheaper than other 8K cameras on the market and both cameras would hopefully be coming out in Q4 this year.

Lenovo hasn’t exactly created a 360-degree camera but instead opted for the Lenovo Mirage Camera. The device enables users to capture VR video in broad 180-degrees from its two front facing lenses, which can then be viewed on the Lenovo Mirage Solo HMD (mentioned in the HMD section).

It really depends on what you’re looking for when it comes to cameras, 8K, size, weight, price or the effort of stitching. It’s interesting to note that both Lenovo and Kodak have created VR 180 degree cameras due to the push that Google have made for this content on the YouTube platform. Lenovo’s Mirage Camera for example natively integrates VR 180 images and videos onto both YouTube and Google photos.

Augmented Reality

AR was a big buzz word when it came to autonomous cars. Nvidia showcased this with their Drive AR, but it was WayRay that really got people on the show floor queuing up to have a try.

WayRay, is a Swiss developer of holographic AR navigation system for connected cars. They showcased NAVION, the world’s first ever holographic AR navigator, and the advanced version of the AR Infotainment System for cars. Placed on a dashboard, NAVION shows directions, trip details and display real-time indicators for things like pedestrians, POIs or alerting to hazards exactly where the driver needs them to be ­— on the road ahead ­— with no headgear or eye wear required. NAVION works hands-free and responds to the simple voice commands or to unique hand gestures.

Hololamp on the other hand depends on interactions with your hands. Tracking individual faces, it’s able to change and alter the perspective of holograms to appear 3D. This can include anything, from food to architectural buildings. The holograms can be interacted with as well, so you can choose to change the colour of a room for example by tapping on the hologram.

AstroReality takes 3D printed objects and then uses their AR app AstroReality to help inform users about planets. AstroReality showcased how this was done by using 3D printed planets such as Mars, Earth and the Moon for example at CES. They hinted at working on other 3D printed objects and AR for other uses cases such as Dinosaurs, Rocks and other things. They’ve been very popular with astrologists, space-enthusiasts and classrooms.

uSens has not only partnered with Pico interactive on hand-tracking for mobile VR, but has managed to find a way to bring AR to almost all Android phones with the uSensAR app. uSens also announced a partnership with Chinese technology firm Spreadtrum, and uSensAR will be bringing AR camera effects to the Spreadtrum SC9853 chipset platform which will be in “hundreds of millions” of smartphones in 2018.

AiFi showcased the Wonderlens app which remarkably manages to capture individuals from their phones or tablets to anywhere they want without the need for green screen. This is all done in real-time as well, so no need for Chroma keying or masking – it’s all done on your phone or tablet. For those who aren’t filmmakers – this is remarkable and ground breaking technology at the tips of your consumer fingers and should definitely be tried (it can be argued that Wonderlens is actually MR).  AiFi also showcased Holo Messenger turning you into a hologram which then gets projected in a personal video message to friends and family. Founded by former Google and Apple engineers, AiFi is currently working on the advanced checkout-free shopping experiences in the US. Apparently they’re doing Amazon Go, but on a much larger scale in US retail stores.

XXII is a French company that has taken the profits made in VR and AR and have gone into Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). Its created various escape room VR experiences and have now gone into smart retail, where the system uses sensors to analyse customers. They use AR to show and explain how their smart retail AI can be used. Similar, but smaller in size to AiFi it looks like the combination of immersive technologies and A.I. are proving to be a great combination for selling products.

The feedback VRFocus was getting from exhibitors was that AR was the first step to bring VR  into the mass market. AR was an easier and less drastic way of introducing the technology to consumers. The buzz around autonomous cars and AR definitely looks like a new exciting possibility for future entertainment – right there on your dashboard. Stepping into an autonomous car in the future, will possibly be like stepping into a theatre. The combining of AI with both VR and AR can be very interesting, but is just at the start. Booth AiFi and XXII are blurring the lines and we could potentially see various interesting outcomes from both companies if they were to apply it in new and exciting ways.

Audio

Noveto_1
Can you imagine being in a busy and loud room where only you hear the sound and voices?

Audio is equal, if not more important when it comes to feeling immersed. You can hear a mistake a lot quicker than seeing a mistake. If audio doesn’t quite work the way it does in real life, it breaks the immersion for many people. Besides vTime’s partnership with DTS, Dirac and Noveto aim to help create more immersive environments for both VR and AR.

Some tech needs to be experienced first hand, VR is certainly one while Noveto’s audio tech is another. The company showcased what it called ‘virtual headphones’, named Sowlo, projecting sound into your ear like a pair of headphones. The system tracks the users’ ears as well, so even if you turn your head a certain degree, the sound and volume would stay the same. Noveto demonstrated this for a conference call and interior of car use cases, explaining that the days of ‘headphones’ would soon be over. The system works with no need for any accessories on the user at all, no headphones, cables or added accessories. It just needed you and your ears.

Swedish company Dirac launched Dirac VR last year, a 3D audio platform for VR. This year at CES Dirac showcased the next iteration of the Dirac VR platform. The audio rendering of a virtual environment showcase how the location and volume level of the audio adjusts as the head rotates with a VR headset. In other words, if you move your head, sounds bounce off the walls the same way they would if you were doing this in real life.

Noveto’s Sowlo has the potential to not only change the way users interact with audio for VR, but also for everyday use cases. It has the potential to really enable social VR and really alter the way we can experience audio as a whole. Dirac’s experience in audio means that the re-creation of environments will create more immersive and realistic sound environments. Both look very promising to enhance VR worlds through means of audio.

Mixed Reality

Being hands-free would enable health care providers to work more efficiently.

There was not too much MR that VRFocus saw on the show floor at CES. Luckily the company that did showcase MR are doing something that could revolutionise the future of public health care. Making it more efficient, quicker and potentially lifesaving.

Exelus, a French telemedicine solution company has created a comprehensible mobile diagnostic platform using Microsoft’s Hololens. Partnering with Holoforge, they’ve created Nomadeec. It’s focused on delivering and providing the most accurate information as efficiently and quickly as possible between healthcare providers. Designed for nursing homes and out-of-hospital care facilities, it would allow nurses, care assistants, night watchmen and doctors to communicate with one another. Nomadeec is currently being used in France and could be a glimpse of what future healthcare methods healthcare providers will be using in future.

VR Accessories: Untethered, Gloves, Sensors, Gadgets & Haptic Feedback

YAW
Nina tries the Yaw VR Motion Simulator

The last part of this recap is dedicated to accessories that are made to enhance your VR experience or can be used by developers to help develop and create new VR content.

When it comes to untethered VR, or VR without wires and cables that attach you to a laptop or desktop, HTC Vive users can rejoice at the announcement of the HTC Vive Wireless Adapter. However TPCast are also providing another option. The TPCast 2.0, which according to TPCast will utilise the latest generation of ultra-low latency codecs and upgraded real-time data control protocol. This will allow the company to deliver high quality video with low latency and real-time transmission at a range of distances. TPCast’s General Manager for Americas Udi Yuhjtman confirms that regardless of which HTC Vive HMD you’re using (Vive or Vive Pro), you’re able to use the TPCast 2.0 for both.

Feeling and Touching in VR: Gloves and Haptic Feedback

French company Go Touch VR uses haptic feedback to create the illusion of touch, except you don’t need to wear a glove. So no matter what size your hands or fingers are, you will be able to feel haptic feedback. It’s probably important to note, that long fingernails do not work with the system. By wearing small devices at the user’s fingertips, the units provide pressure on the fingers, allowing for multiple haptic feedback sensations. The VRTouch Developer Kit began selling in October 2017 and has since sold to several companies that include BMW.

Dutch start-up company Sense Glove is also seeking to find a solution for haptic feedback. However instead of putting items on your fingers, you need to put on what looks like a very complicated exoskeleton of a glove. It not only provides haptic feedback though, but force feedback as well. This was demonstrated at CES by having users trying to crack an egg and various other circular objects. The idea is to help the user feel the shape and density of virtual objects.

BeBop Sensors showcased their newly announced BeBop Sensors Marcel Modular Data Gloves that allow for either 6 or 9 degrees of freedom with a sensor sub-frame latency at 120 Hz. The data glove uses smart fabrics, with sensors tracking force, location, size, weight, bend and twist.

Alternative VR Motion controls

3DRudder showcased their new 3DRudder Blackhawk motion controller at CES, designed for seated VR experiences. Users simply have to use their feet to move in VR. They showcased the new motion controller which is compatible with Steam VR vidoegames and a variety of software for both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. There’s even a hint that it will be coming to consoles in Q3.

TreeTech is a Dutch company that realised that PC gamers were moving to the couch with VR and Steam Link box. So they created the PO!NT Controller, a modular game controller that brings the keyboard and mouse shortcuts to a controller. TreeTech also create custom module controls, and can be approached by developer for custom experiences. They will start producing the PO!NT controller in Q3, and on the market in Q4 retailing at $149.

Jamzone is a Dutch company that’s created a videogame to help train users to learn and cope with stress. Stressjam uses a special waistband that measures heart rate variability to read your body’s state of mind. So in other words it knows when you are calm or stressed. Stressjam then takes you on a guided journey where you can only complete certain tasks by making yourself calm or stressed. Jamzone want to use it for B2B purposes and want large companies to use it to help prevent stress, burnout and depression in their employees by training them to control their stress levels in VR.

VRFocus stumbled upon the Yaw VR Motion Simulator which makes VR more like a Cinema 4D experience. The Yaw VR offers full 360 degrees swivel, tilts, shakes, spins and motions that make you feel like you’re in real life. You can pre-order the Yaw VR and it is compatible with the Gear VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for £629 if you get an Early Bird version.

On a special note, Pico Zense, AiFi and various other companies seem to be working on depth sensing technology at CES. The ability for VR or AR headsets to recognise the location around them could change and alter the way we interact with digital objects as well as pave the way forward for mixed reality content. All in all, it’s clear that there are numerous exhibitors who are looking for new solutions to solve problems in the fields of VR and AR.

Conclusion

CES 2018 showcased untethered VR without the need to link to a PC or laptop, trying both the HTC Vive Wireless Adapter and TPCast 2.0 was very strange in the sense that the usual ‘safety net’ or umbilical cord that kept you grounded to the sense of existing reality was gone. However with Oculus’s Santa Cruz and HTC Vive’s Wireless Adapter coming to the market – TPCast may struggle to stay relevant by the end of the year. The most common trend amongst HMD manufacturers such as Kopin or Zeiss One and VR content producers such as Jaunt, Fibrum, Ikonospace or vTime was that they wanted to be cross-platform and enable user generated content. This means that users need access or full customisation to what they’re creating in VR, but also make VR a much more accessible platform. It was very refreshing to see Timescope take VR outdoors and to public places where numerous tourists, and anybody from the age of seven is able to experience a location in a new way. It just goes to show that no matter which HMD you have, it’s all about content.

With regards to 360-degree cameras the trend is looking to get higher quality resolution and bumping up the cameras to 8K. It’s then just a matter of size, prize, weight and intent. There’s a definite trend towards using 3D 180 degree cameras for YouTube and Google’s sake, as is seen in Lenovo Mirage Camera – although not many except the Lenovo Mirage Solo seem to be discussing being a platform for the 3D 180 degree video or image content that would be created with the cameras. The foldable Kodak camera seems to try and combine both stereoscopic 180-degree 3D as well as full 360-degree filming – but at what cost? Stitching is still a massive problem when it comes to creating 360 content, but is paying $3,000 worth the price for not having to stitch?

When it comes to AR, the autonomous cars were the winners. AR on the dashboard or windscreen were two of the biggest hypes at CES when Nvidia and WayRay discussed them. Not only would information become easier, but it seemed like a natural progression having all this information accessible. Within five years, it will be expected that every new vehicle should have AR integrated in it. This means that in some sense AR will have reached the general consumer population to a certain degree. uSens as well as AiFi do deserve a special mention. uSens not only showcase impressive finger tracking,  but uSens AR would also bring AR to cheaper android phones – especially in China opens up the AR market to various new types of content, users and market. No longer will AR be something only iPhone users can afford, but something that is for everybody. AiFi is one to watch with regards to how they are using A.I. with AR and VR. Though Wonderlens and Holo Messenger seem like small quirky apps, the technology behind it really showcase the intelligent sensors and software created by AiFi that enable them to go into the mass smart retail market.

When it comes to audio, it’s clear that vTime is trying to address immersion through realistic audio. It’s great to see a company such as Dirac who have built custom made audio for various locations and applications intently try and create a realistic audio as possible for VR. It was however Noveto that really blew VRFocus out of the water. Not only could this revolutionise the way users interact with audio as a whole, but it would also enable various users to go into a public space without the need to wear headphones on their VR headsets to enjoy an experience. No unnecessary wires, hygiene problems or headphones that aren’t suited to your specific ear shape.

There was only one real contender that truly showcased a working platform and model that is revolutionising the healthcare industry, and that is Nomadeec. A small thing such as enabling hands-free care whilst giving real time data back to the hospital as well as being able to call a doctor regarding the patient can be life changing and perhaps even life saving for patients that need immediate care. Though Nomadeec would be implemented in large business such as care homes or out of-hospital care facilities, it’s clear to see the potential of it as Nomadeec roles out. Hopefully Nomadeec will be brought to more countries and have a quick as well as immediate positive impact on patients in need. The only barrier to entry then becomes the price as well as training of staff the use the expensive Microsoft Hololens.

And last but not least, accessories. Now it’s hard to say which glove or accessory was the best at CES. When we reached BeBop Sensors it was nice to see something that felt complete, I personally was unable to use Go Touch VR because I have long fingernails and my colleague Peter demoed the Sense Glove. However after much discussion VRFocus concluded that when it comes to being prepared for consumers, BeBop Sensors was the closest to being ready. Go Touch VR and Sense Glove both felt like early prototypes which needed several iterations whilst BeBop Sensors was almost there, had haptics on the fingers, was small and worked for both myself and Peter who have very different hand sizes.

A personal favourite of mine was Stressjam. This was probably because of how drastic and immediate of a change was asked from me whilst at CES in my state of mind. When I came out of Stressjam, it had a similar effect to how I felt when I used Noveto’s Sowlo system. Personally, I also believe that being able to control stress is a very healthy and useful ability for a population that suffers a lot from stress, depression and other illnesses as a result of that. It would be great to see VR implemented in a healthy and fun way that is not only associated with shooting zombies, scary horror VR videogames or training simulations.

Finally one thing that was most prominent from the whole show, was the continuous showcasing of VR experiences by using HTC Vive. Almost every single experience used the headset, from Black Box VR to training simulations that combined it with magic leap. Another thing that was noticeable was the incredible number of Asian or Chinese people at CES. It’s very clear that China is a huge market to be tapped, and it will be interesting to see more Chinese VR and AR tech coming out of the continent as well as seeing how HTC Vive will fare in the Eastern market.

 

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