The technology industry loves a good format war — 240-line vs 405-line television, CompactFlash vs Secure Digital (SD), Blu-ray vs HD-DVD. The latest tech ding-dong is a battle for digital reality, pitching virtual reality (VR) against augmented reality (AR) and mixed/merged reality (MR).
But is it really a war? As CES 2017 proved, the three formats are very different. Full-blown virtual reality systems like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift look destined to dominate high-end gaming. Yet you don’t need a high-end system to be VR-ready. The ASUS VivoPC X is a mini PC that packs a 7th Gen Intel Core i5 and Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics card.
Not only will VR become more affordable, it’s also aiming to provide greater levels of immersion. HTC announced at CES that its TPCast adapter will enable the Vive to go wireless in 2017 (for as long as the battery pack lasts). While a new collaboration with Intel promises a WiGig-powered option in the future.
Beyond cutting cables, VR accessories also aim to deepen immersion. The Noitom Hi5 VR Glove uses six, nine-axis IMU sensors on each finger to track and motion-capture the wearer’s hands, recreating them in VR. While Taclim, by Japanese company Cerevo, includes a set of VR exo-sandals that provide haptic feedback as you virtually walk across different surfaces.
Another way to boost immersion is to up the resolution. While the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift boast a resolution of 1080 x 1200 per eye, an 8K headset from Pimax on show at CES 2017 trumps it with 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) per eye. Admittedly, the prototype is still a little rough around the edges. But it surely points the way forward for the next generation of consumer VR headsets.
Of course, buying a Vive, Rift or PSVR isn’t the only route into VR. Nor do you need a PC or a console to power them. CES saw several more affordable, room-scale VR HMDs designed for Windows 10. Lenovo, Dell, HP and Acer are all working on these holographic goggles, self-contained devices that will give smartphone-based systems like Google’s Daydream VR and Samsung’s Gear VR a run for their money.
VR wasn’t the only immersive technology at CES 2017. ASUS unveiled the Zenfone AR, proving that augmented reality is still a force to be reckoned with. BMW demonstrated an app for Google’s Project Tango that lets you walk around a real-size, 3D visualisation of an i3 or i8 car; while Daqri showed off its new Smart Glasses, a lightweight companion to the Daqri Smart Helmet that debuted at CES last year.
Sitting between AR and VR, you’ll find MR (Mixed or Merged Reality). Project Alloy is Intel’s all-in-one head-mounted display, which uses VR-optimised RealSense camera technology to merge physical movement with simulated digital environments. Wearing one, you can explore a virtual world and see your own hands in it. No gloves required. No PC needed. A 7th Gen processor is built inside.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich incorporated VR into his press conference at CES 2017, allowing attendees to experience skydiving from a plane; exploring the wilds of Vietnam in an interactive 360-degree HD video; and inspecting a vast solar panel array, seeing through the camera of a low-flying drone.
We’re only just beginning to see the potential of virtual, augmented and mixed reality systems. But all of these systems have one thing in common — they are leveraging huge amounts of computing power, something that only the fastest processors make possible.