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Virtual Reality Makes Leaps and Bounds at CES 2015

By Peter Suciu
Jan 7, 2015 1:56 PM PT

Samsung this week unveiled its Milk VR platform for its Gear VR headset at the 2015 International CES in Las Vegas, but it was far from alone in ramping up the virtual reality action at the show. HP introduced the Zvr Virtual Reality Display, and Razer rolled out its Android-based OSVR. Not to be outdone by these upstart efforts, Oculus gave a peak at its Rift controller.

Meanwhile, 3DHead, which is the product of Alki David's Anakando Media Group, made its official debut. It has been dubbed the "Oculus Rift Killer."

It seems that 2015 could be the year that virtual reality gets real -- at least for those willing to deal with a technology that is still very much in the development stage.

"It is ready for early adopters," said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"While it can definitely get better, the current generation of products like the Oculus Rift do provide a good user experience," he told TechNewsWorld.

This technology could have potential applications not only in gaming, but also in industrial design and service applications, McGregor noted, but "with that said, this will not translate into high-unit shipments. This is and will remain a niche for the foreseeable future."

Hardware Makes Its Debut

Despite the fact that the technology likely has a long road ahead, the 2015 CES could be the point when true VR technology enters the mainstream market. Oculus Rift led the way throughout 2014, but this week the VR pioneer, now owned by Facebook, was just one of several companies making real progress in the virtual space.

Samsung announced at CES that Milk Video will make its way to Samsung Smart TVs and PCs via its Milk VR service, the content delivery system for its own Gear VR. While this technology reportedly will be compatible with Oculus, there could be a rift of another sort in the future.

On the show floor, "Oculus Rift was the most visible, but Samsung had what appeared to be the best implementation, using Qualcomm core technology," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Oculus booth CES

"There were also number of smaller vendors showcasing in and around the show, but it looks like the high-resolution cellphone adapted to a headset is the best and most cost-effective path to this, and now we are waiting for the compelling content that will drive people to buy the hardware," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "I wouldn't expect much before the end of the year, but it feels that close."

The Rift Killers

While Samsung and Oculus Rift may have the early edge, 3DHead introduced its own headset display, which uses exclusively licensed technology that originally was patented for the GCS3GameCaster. As a pro tool, it can be used as a headset or handset in developing virtual worlds for gaming or filmmaking.

The consumer version of the 3DHead can be used with existing games, including those on the PC as well as hardware-based consoles, making it a technology that can used right out of the box.

Other devices unveiled at CES weren't quite as immersing. HP's newly unveiled Zvr Virtual Reality Display won't provide the total immersion of either the Samsung or Oculus headset, but this new 25-inch HD display could garner renewed interest in 3D-display technology.

Unlike active 3D HDTV displays that debuted at CES a few years ago -- to much fanfare but few sales -- the HP system utilizes a passive 3D screen with head-tracking via multiple cameras and lightweight glasses. This technology could be more of a creation rather than consumption tool, but it is one area where VR could become very real very soon.

These various displays can allow users to "see" a virtual world, but it is the Virtuix Omni that could provide movement within the virtual space. The company, which also made its debut at CES after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014, developed a combination gaming platform/controller that truly could get gamers off the couch.

Over the course of three years, the Omni has been gone from the design stage through prototypes and is nearly ready commercial release. It utilizes a concave platform that enables a smooth, natural gait and an immersive walking and running motion. For some gamers, that might promise to be a little "too real."

Game On or Not

VR technology is clearly on the forefront of becoming the next big thing, but there are still plenty of questions about its practical applications. 21st Century Fox used this week's CES to demonstrate immersing clips that allow the viewer to feel as if they're in the middle of the story they're seeing rather than watching it on a flat screen.

At CES gaming hardware maker Razer and VR technology developer Sensics announced their combined effort to standardize virtual reality development as the "Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) platform. That effort could help ensure that competing technologies don't derail progress.

Despite these efforts, the VR bandwagon is rolling in fits and starts.

"VR is not yet ready for prime time," said Joost van Dreunen, cofounder of Super Data Research.

"From a gaming perspective, neither Sony nor Microsoft have made announcements at CES this year, which says that two of the most important players in the games industry are still quite a ways out from show time," he told TechNewsWorld.

"More likely, we'll hear from them in the summer around E3," van Dreunen added. "2015 will be the year when the VR space heats up. We're seeing an increasing amount of investment -- not just in head-mounted displays, but also in different user input devices and specialized 3D content engines."

OSVR could thus be a potential game changer said van Dreunen.

"Generally, the Android version of a platform presents a feasible alternative once a fancier, more expensive device has proven the case that there exists a viable market," he noted. "I like Razer's gusto in getting this out, but from a market perspective it seems premature."

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.

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