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What is the Future?
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My predictions for virtual reality in 2019

Yesterday, I have dressed as a fortune teller and I have given you my predictions for augmented reality in 2019. Now, it is the turn of virtual reality.

How has VR performed in 2018? And how it will be in 2019? Let me do some speculations…

Virtual Reality in 2018

Virtual Reality in 2018 has not performed that awesomely good : in my opinion, it has just laid the foundations for the success that will come in the upcoming years,

General trends

This has been the year of the disbelief in virtual reality. Lots of articles by the so-called press were full of statements about the death of VR, or the fact that VR is a gimmick.

virtual reality predictions 2019I don’t want to hear you say bad things about VR 😀

The expectations had been over-inflated by analysts over the year and this has created a lot of problems: when CCP games has abandoned VR, a spokesperson said that they expected the market to be 2 or 3 times bigger than what it actually turned out to be, This means that someone made some predictions that were totally wrong and this made lots of companies bet on a technology that was not ready enough, creating huge losses and so the general consensus that VR is not taking foot and so it is a dead technology.

Some companies have failed or abandoned VR : this year, IMAX has closed all its VR centers because they were not profitable; the StarVR consortium is in big troubles; Jaunt has abandoned VR to focus on AR; Upload has shut down its coworking spaces. This has not contributed at all to the health of the ecosystem.

Investors and big companies started looking with more and more attention to AR, creating excessive expectations on this other technology, that actually will need various years to mature.

In all this mess, there have been some positive signs:

  • Standalone headsets are giving new life to VR;
  • Gartner has stated that VR is now a mature technology for enterprise usage;
  • The latest reports by market analysts are finally positive again for what concerns VR. The number of bought headsets is increasing;
virtual reality gartner 2018Gartner Hype Cycle for 2018: there is no more VR, because now it is considered a mature technology (Image by Gartner)

So, I see a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe finally, after a peak of inflated expectations and a trough of disillusionment, we are really understanding the true potential of the technology.

Standalone headsets

2018 has been the year of standalone headsets. Actually, the first launch has happened in China with the Vive Focus at the end of 2017, but we had the full development of the ecosystem now.

Mister President launching the Vive Focus (Image by HTC)

I was skeptical about standalone headsets at the beginning, but after I have tried the Vive Focus in March, I got why they will be fundamental for mainstream adoption: they are affordable and they are user-friendly, You just turn them on and they work.

This year we saw the launch of:

  • Oculus Go;
  • Lenovo Mirage Solo;
  • Vive Focus;
  • Pico Neo / G2;
  • Shadow VR;

and the announcement of the Oculus Quest. Samsung has also teased to be interested in releasing a new AR/VR standalone device.

Oculus has been the king of standalones, because it is selling devices at very low prices that offer great content. It is also spending millions of dollars in TV commercials and other forms of advertisement. That’s why the other companies, like HTC and Pico, have decided to aim at the enterprise market.

Standalone sales are doing pretty well: in 2018, Oculus Go has sold between 1 and 2 million units, according to analysts.

PC VR headsets

The situation in PC VR has become a little confused. PC has been the first platform were VR has been developed, but now the interest is shifting towards standalone headsets.

Oculus itself seems to have lost interest in the PC platform and the recent departure of Brendan Iribe (that has resigned because he wanted to create a powerful second generation of PC VR headsets) seems to confirm this trend.

all you need to know on oculus quest vrOculus Quest and controllers inside a stand. Being the Quest priced as a Rift, I don’t know how many people will still choose to buy a PC-powered Rift (Image by Ars Technica)

All the newest PC VR headsets seem to target the high-end enterprise market : Star VR One, XTAL, Vive Pro, Varjo, are all devices that are very expensive (the Vive Pro kit starts from $1400, Varjo will cost more than $5000) and offer high-end features. The reason is that the PC VR is slowly becoming a market for prosumers, while the standalone market is becoming the one for the average consumer. As Alvin Wang Graylin has said, the standalone headsets are like the Sedan, a good car that is ok for everyone, while the PC headsets are like the BMW, a premium car that has high performances but that only few people can afford to have.

The only exception to this rule seems to be the Samsung Odyssey+, that offers features somewhat comparable to the ones of the Vive Pro, but costs only $500. It also features a very nice anti-SDE display that everyone loves. The Odyssey has anyway the problem of the non-optimal tracking of controllers.

All the headsets from previous years have become pretty cheap and cost less than $500. Vive and Oculus are still the kings of this sector and Windows Mixed Reality headsets are offering enormous discounts in a desperate move to gain some shares of the market (they are now around 7%).

In the end, there is Pimax, that has started shipping its headsets, but which situation is still quite a mess.

Mobile headsets

Mobile headsets are dying. The latest phones produced by Google and Samsung are still compatible with Daydream View and Gear VR headsets, but there has not been any new release of a mobile VR headset. Producers are just guaranteeing compatibility.

And Oculus, at its OC5 conference, hasn’t even added GearVR to its roster of VR headsets. When asked about GearVR, it has only released an empty PR statement about the fact that “Gear VR is still a priority”.

Oculus meeting after the OC5

I am not seeing branded Cardboards given everywhere anymore.

Analysts say that the number of sales of mobile headsets has drastically decreased.

Content

Content for VR users has grown quite a lot and we have seen the announcement or the release of some very cool games : Echo Combat, Stormland, Budget Cuts, FireWall Zero Hour, etc…

Astro Bot: Rescue Mission has been the first title getting a 10/10 on Road To VR, redefining the entire platform genre.

And then, of course, there is Beat Saber, Beat Saber has become so popular that even people that are not in the VR ecosystem know it. In every exhibition where there is VR, there is Beat Saber or one of its clones. Beat Saber is helping a lot the VR ecosystem in becoming popular, even if I keep saying that there is the risk that people will start seeing VR only as a gaming machine, while it is much more.

LBVR

It has been a great year for location-based virtual reality, as well, We had lots of great experiences offered to users, like for instance The Void’s Star Wars: Secrets of Empire or Nicodemus; Alien Zoo by Dreamscape; Dave & Buster’s Jurassic World; etc… Two Bits Circus has opened as an amusement park with lots of attractions and among them, there is VR as well. HOLOGATE has created a nice business with VR gaming booths. Virtuix is selling again its devices to let people play in arcades. And I could go on with other examples…

In China, we had the opening of a giant VR theme park in Guizhou, even if it actually is still an incomplete effort. Furthermore, in all Asia, since there is still the culture of arcades, VR is taking much more foot inside them.

PC VR is still an expensive luxury and being able to enjoy it paying few bucks in an arcade is an interesting opportunity for people that want to enjoy the technology.

Enterprise

Gartner has said that VR is a mature technology because the enterprise is finally understanding its value. Big companies like Wolkswagen are using it in their production processes.

VR can be a valuable collaboration tool and make people spare the expenses of traveling; it can be a safe training tool for specialized employees; it can be something to prototype fast; etc….

This means sparing money and time for a company. Bell has said that it has designed a helicopter in months and not in years by using VR. This means a reduction of the production processes of 5-10X … can you imagine how this is important for a company.

Virtual Reality is moving forward very fast in the enterprise sector because companies are starting understanding its potential.

Other

Some other points:

  • China is betting hard on VR;
  • Social VR applications are getting more popularity and VR Chat is still the most popular of them;
  • We have seen the release of a lot of new accessories for VR: threadmills, scent emitters, gloves, exoskeletons, etc…
Predictions for Virtual Reality in 2019

So, after all this long resumée of the past year… how will be this year in VR?

THE year?

It’s 2019. In May of 2017, Unity CEO John Riccitiello forecasted two things:

  1. That harsh times with people saying that VR is a fad would have come, He said that expectations were wrong and unrealistic and that we needed to be patient;
  2. That in 2019 we would have started to see VR becoming successful, thanks to the right combination of affordable headsets and good content.

The first prediction turned out to be true. So, what about the second one? I guess we are going to discover that during the year.

virtual reality predictions for 2019Look at this graph shown by Mr. Riccitiello: the purple line is the one of the analysts, while the white one is the one forecasted by him. Notice how it moves smaller in the first years… THIS is how VR adoption will happen. And seeing how things have actually gone in these years, I think that he nailed it. (Image by Road To VR)

For sure the launch of the Oculus Quest will give new life to the VR ecosystem. And the fact that Zuckerberg sees Quest as the last device of the first generation of devices, means that Facebook too considers 2019 a turning point for VR. This means that from 2019 on, we’ll see Facebook proposing us a new (and innovative, I hope) generation of devices, a phase II for its goal of getting 1 billion people into Virtual Reality,

At the same time, thanks to Valve, we should start seeing another generation of PC VR headsets and the name “Half Life VR” could cause riots in the streets of people wanting to grab a headset,

When I spoke with Mister President Alvin Wang Graylin, he told me that “ 2019 will be the year when we will start seeing real momentum “. I think that we should expect this year exactly in this key: not the year when VR will become mainstream, but the year when VR will start the road towards mainstream adoption. If we look at the above graph, the moment when there is the true spike of XR technologies is around 2020/2021, but this year we should start seeing some acceleration.

In the end, we have gone through all the stages of hype, and now that we all have more realistic expectations of the technology, it is time to set some solid foundations for this tech to enter in the life of all the people. But it will require time, a lot of effort, and a cemetery of dead startups. It will not be easy.

I think that, if at the end of 2019, we still won’t be able to see any growth in the ecosystem, then we should really start to worry. Otherwise, we all that have always believed in the technology, will finally have our revenge 😉

Standalone headsets

2019 will be the year of the Oculus Quest. For the first time, people will be able to put their hands on a headset that:

  • is affordable (most probably sold at loss by Facebook);
  • is easy to be used;
  • has great content;
  • has all the features that we want from a VR headset (6 DOF tracking + 6 DOF controllers);
  • features a high production quality.

We are all waiting for the Oculus Quest, it seems really an interesting device. It will the first VR headset tailored at consumers. It will be an important step for virtual reality. It will make more people interested in VR.

But, it won’t take VR to mainstream adoption, Let’s be realistic: a cheap ($200) and ultra-advertised headset like the Go has sold between 1 and 2 million devices, how can a $400 gadget sell more?

all you need to know on oculus quest vrThe Oculus Quest, ready to make people excited (Image by Oculus)

Your answer may be: “because it has more features”. Right. But first of all, the Quest will start with rather modest dedicated content (50+ apps), because it can’t exploit pre-existing apps as the Go has made; and then people don’t understand the value of VR, they don’t get what VR is for. If I say to my father “Dad, The Quest has six degrees of freedom controllers!”, he would look at me this way:

virtual reality predictions for 2019More or less… (Image by Quickmeme)

People need time to understand VR and they also need proper content. And I doubt that all of this will happen in 2019 thanks to the Quest. The Quest will be a great device that will make all the ecosystem make a step forward, but it won’t be the final step. For 2019, I forecast sales in the order of magnitude of 1-2 million, with at least 50% of sales made by people already owning a VR headset.

What about the competition? For sure the 3 DOF controllers for 6 DOF headsets will disappear : Lenovo and HTC have already started distributing two 6 DOF controllers kits to selected developers and so even the headsets having only one 3 DOF controller will finally feature hands presence.

For sure these kits are meant to let developers create applications for upcoming full-6DOF headsets, In my opinion (but this is pure speculation), HTC will tease a new Vive Focus this year, so that to answer to the Quest. Samsung will do the same, I have doubts regarding Google, since the situation of Daydream is not clear, but I think that sooner or later it will try to launch a new headset as well (maybe this year, maybe the next one).

We’ll see also some Chinese devices and the ShadowVR and Pico are clearly two of them.

Regarding the Go, I expect a discount at $175 somewhere during the year. This will keep the sales of this device strong.

Standalone headsets will make more people enter into VR and that’s great for our 2019!

PC VR headsets

Has someone said “Half Life 3”?

The PC VR headset market may have a little revolution thanks to Valve, As I have said, in 2018 the PC VR sector seemed destined to become just a matter of enterprise products. And for sure this trend will continue to happen also in 2019. But at the end of 2018, we had a leak (that IMHO, has been clearly released by Valve itself) abou t an upcoming new PC headset by Valve.

Valve virtual reality headset leakThe leaked image of the Valve Virtual Reality headset

We don’t know much about its features (here there is the article with all the info that we have about it), but since Valve usually makes high-quality products, the hype has started rising. And when Valve News Network and Upload stated that the headset may be bundled with an episode of Half Life in VR, the hype has reached levels that were not even imaginable.

Honestly, while I appreciate the work of Valve, I don’t see them as gods, so I don’t believe in a PC VR headset made by them that can really re-write all the rules, People have started fantasizing about eye tracking, inside-out tracking, super-hi-res display, hands tracking and all the features of this world, without realizing that such a headset would be so expensive that no one could afford that, I believe in a high-quality product, with some innovation. And this would also mean a price that is superior to the one of the Rift (I guess more than $500). Anyway, some excitement about VR is always positive.

We don’t know the release timeframe of such a headset. Someone says at GDC, but considering the time that Valve usually employs to develop its products, I find that improbable. But at GDC they could announce the project or give us some more official info … that is possible. IMHO the release date won’t be before Q4 2019.

valve knuckles ev2Valve Knuckles, the next-gen controllers for VR produced by Valve (Image by Valve)

At GDC the Valve Knuckles will most probably be put on sale. I expect a price of around $200-300 and I also expect a bit of disappointment. I’m very interested in Knuckles, but some people that I know have tried them and say that they are less cool than expected. I have not a first-hand impression, so I can’t tell. But I can’t wait to try them for sure.

In 2019, I expect Oculus to also announce its “Rift S”, the next generation of PC VR headset by Oculus … that is more or less a refurbished version of the Rift, with inside-out tracking and a better display and lenses. Basically, a Quest with a cable, This way, Oculus can upgrade the old Rift… but I think that this upgrade would be so non-interesting that it will make only more people interested in the Quest. I think that this device will just be useful to keep selling PC VR heasets until the true next gen will be affordable for Oculus customers and that probably will happen in another 2 years or such.

PSVR won’t release a new version, but will work under the hood to release a new device with PS5 maybe in 2020/2021.

VRgineers is also working on a consumer-oriented version of the XTAL… we’ll see what they will come up with.

Then I also foresee more experiments with microdisplays inside VR headsets and also higher resolution displays released on the market.

Thanks to the new RTX 2080 graphics cards, finally we’ll start seeing:

  • Headsets featuring eye tracking to do foveated rendering;
  • Headsets with the Virtualink USB-C connector.

Mobile headsets

I am not sure if it will happen this year or the next one, but for sure GearVR and Daydream View platforms will be declared dead. I don’t expect any kind of announcement, just the fact that slowly there will always be less support for the platform and the new phones maybe won’t be compatible with all Gear VR shells anymore. I guess companies will still continuing support of these platforms only because there are still more GearVR than Oculus Go out there.

Gear VR viewer virtual realityMy Gear VR innovator edition with VR Cover… I used to using it with my Samsung Note 4

Cardboards will still be there, to catch people wanting to spend a few bucks to try VR, but I think that interest will become always lower.

Content

If companies want to pave the way for the success of VR, they will have to bet on amazing content. Oculus for sure is doing a great job in that, but also the other majors have to do investments.

What worries me is the type of content that will be offered: Facebook has declared that the Oculus Quest is the ultimate gaming machine and I am worried by this message. Does this mean that Oculus wants to bet only on games?

I love games, but virtual reality is much more than gaming. If we want it to become the next computing platform, we must make it useful, PCs are widespread because you can use them for writing documents, contacting people and browse the internet, not only because of games. Yes, consoles are meant for gaming and they sell dozens of millions of units. But with XR we want to arrive at BILLIONS of people. At least, that is my vision. And to get there, we need to make the headsets useful.

We can’t get to billions of people with games. I know that it is the content that sells more, but I hope that in 2019, companies will invest money in more diversified types of content.

I forecast that in 2019 we’ll see at least another popular title as Beat Saber, I mean, now there are enough titles in the store to let developers take inspiration… I think that we may have someone else that finds the right mix.

Regarding storytelling content, we’ll start seeing always more volumetric (6 DOF) videos, at least the ones letting you slightly move the head.

LBVR

I foresee that the hype towards LBVR will diminish.

In these years, VR arcades have been depicted as goldmines, that take money from all the people that can’t afford to buy a VR headset.

But, first of all, I know that it isn’t true. I know about a lot of VR arcades that are having trouble surviving because there is not enough paying people to sustain the expenses. The first VR theme park in Italy has shut down, for instance. Then, if the number of sold headsets rises because the price falls down and the content rises up, why people should continue going to VR arcades?

I think that the only VR arcades that survive will be the one offering:

  • such an amazing experience that is impossible to have it at home;
  • multiplayer experiences;
  • enterprise services (e.g. team building in VR);
  • events and tournaments.

The VOID is a clear example of that: it is something so cool that it is impossible to have it at home and so it will have a long life. The station with just a PC running SteamVR opened to the public, IMHO before 2021 will shut down.

I think that this year, people will start having realistic expectations around LBVR. And I also expect seeing before 2020 some arcades actually employing standalone headsets like Oculus Quest.

Standardization

I hope that we will start seeing some of the results of the work of the Khronos group. In 2019, we should see at least the provisional release of the standard, so finally before the end of 2020 we should have a complete standardization of VR interfaces, allowing for easier cross-platform development and for more interoperability between VR accessories. This should open a lot of new possibilities for the market.

openxr vr standardOpenXR standardization project (Image by Khronos group)
Other
  • We’ll see some experiments of experiences mixing VR and 5G, maybe for the streaming of virtual worlds or 8K videos or volumetric videos;
  • China will invest a lot in VR and will make great progress, but the USA will still be at the forefront of innovation. In fact, China plans to be the best in 2025;
  • We will see always more accessories sold for VR headsets (scent emitters, different kind of chairs, gloves, covers, prescription lenses, etc…) and most of them will start with a Kickstarter campaign;
  • LG…where is the headset by LG? 😀
Surprises

I always expect the unexpected… please VR companies… give me something that I didn’t expect! Something like Half Life 3 would be cool…

In conclusion…

It will be a good year. Not a fantastic year, but a good one.

We’ll see the ecosystem starting getting momentum. Enterprises will be the one catching first and companies will use VR always more, Early adopters among consumers will come, and we will be more, but the ecosystem won’t take off yet. It will be like a plane running on the airport runway, gaining speed before the take off.

We’ll see a more impressive adoption in 2021 maybe… and by that year probably AR and VR will have already started mixing, and we will reference everything by just saying MR or XR.

Just give VR the time it needs.

That’s it with my predictions! And I also predict that you will subscribe to my newsletter after reading this post, so please fill the form below… 😉

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