It is finally 2019!
So without further ado, here are what I expect to be the biggest VR story lines of the new year:
1. Oculus Quest vs Everyone
The 800 lb gorilla waiting on the edge of VR enthusiast’s collective minds is the upcoming launch of the Oculus Quest. As the first rich-standalone VR experience (well, maybe not technically the first but the first one of real consequence) it is poised to launch VR from the super niche industry it is into the mainstream.
But with new ambitions comes new competition and new rivalries because Oculus is not the only company investing in this space.
When you think about the prospective Quest buyer you will probably assume the following:
- They are relatively tech savvy (although prefer not to delve into the murkier waters of PC configuring/building)
- They have more than 2 pennies to rub together, but remain price conscious to some extent
- They want a self contained and easy to use VR solution
- They want to play fully fleshed out titles with a premium placed on games/franchises they have already heard of
When I list these characteristics it sounds like the prospective buyers of the PlaystationVR and Oculus Quest may overlap quite a bit and I believe both Oculus and Sony know it.
Virtual Reality Travel Is Exploding. Who hasn’t wanted to walk down the streets of Venice, or escape to a tropical climate during a particularly rough winter? Some with a travel bug may find that they can partially feed their need for travel through virtual reality. In the fall of 2015, Marriott boasted about its ability to transport clients from London to Maui in 90 seconds, thanks to Oculus. The concept behind the campaign was that people would be inspired to travel, and book with a Marriott hotel. Since then, Hilton, Renaissance, and many others have followed suit.
At the reveal, Oculus made sure to compare the Quest, with its self contained and portable nature, to the Nintendo Switch as VR’s first true console. The Quest elevates Oculus from a PC peripheral manufacturer in a niche market to a full on competitor to the big three video game console manufacturers (Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft) due to it’s similar price and function. Backed by a huge company in Facebook with very broad ambitions, I feel it is Sony in particular who will view the Quest as an intrusion into their very vital market.
For years now, the PlayStation business has been vital for the Japanese technology giant as their other ventures profitability has sunk. Sony also has recognized early the potential for the VR market to one day supplant the traditional entertainment devices we are accustomed to and moved into it earlier then their competitors. They have also found success their with the PSVR being the best selling high-end VR headset of this first generation and backed by a great library of games.
The Quest looks like it may be about to leap frog the PSVR with better room scale tracking, ergonomic and fully featured controllers, self contained portability and an ecosystem supported by one of the best and most committed VR companies out there in Oculus/Facebook.
There are five individuals that have contributed greatly to the title virtual reality including Morton Heilig, Myron Krueger, Ivan Sutherland, Douglas Engelbart, and Jaron Lanier.
I expect the Quest to shake up the industry for everyone if it takes off. The likes of Microsoft, Apple, Google will no longer be able to sit in the wings waiting to see how VR pans out if it gains any serious traction into the mainstream market. Sony in particular stands to lose their grip on not only the home VR market but the video game market as a whole (if you believe as I do that VR is the next paradigm for gaming) if they do not act relatively quickly and respond.
For so many reasons the Oculus Quest is going to make waves. Luckily we will not be waiting too long to see just how big these waves get as it launches this spring.
2. SteamVR: Put Up or Shut-Up
As we now come up on 3 years since the HTC Vive went up for pre-order I find that I am out of patience with Valve and SteamVR. For nearly 3 years now I have been stalwartly defending the platform during discussions, always reminding myself to “just wait for X” to happen, but X never comes.
Did any other SteamVR headsets launch to truly turn SteamVR into a wide and open platform? No. Did the Knuckles controllers finally close the gap between Oculus’s Touch controller superiority? No. Did the 3 fabled Valve games will propel the platform to a wide audience just like HL2 did for Steam itself 20 years ago? No.
The First Attempt at a VR Experience – The Sensorama. In the 1950s, a cinematographer by the name of Morton Heilig came up with a unique concept he later developed, known as the Sensorama. Featuring an arcade-style theater cabinet, the sensorama was aimed at stimulating a person’s senses. It featured a stereoscopic 3D display, fans and smell generators, stereo speakers, as well as a vibrating chair. The idea of the Sensorama was to fully immerse a person into a film-like experience. Heilig also went on to create as much as six short movies for his device.
There have been some rumblings and rumours from Valve which will once again stoke my hopes that 2019 will finally be the year where we see a big move from them. We had the late 2018 Valve HMD leaked photos. We have the launch of the Knuckles DV controllers to developers, potentially a final revision before launch. Even the 3 fabled Valve VR games have come up in conversation more often in late 2018 than they have in the previous few years.
Yet all these rumours and rumblings have happened before as Gabe Newell himself extolled in interviews from this early 2017 Ars Technica article. That is now almost 2 years ago.
And here we are.
SteamVR is still dependant on just one hardware manufacturer of dubious reliability in HTC, we still have Vive wands which are just okay and we still have next to no clear communication from Valve about where they are going with VR.
As an early HTC Vive adopter and SteamVR supporter who eventually had to eat crow and also pick up an Oculus Rift (you were right this time Aaron) several months later, 2019 is it. If Valve are still as committed to the VR industry as it seems (and as we all hope), 2019 should finally be the year when we see the tire hit the road and SteamVR blossom into the vibrant VR ecosystem we have always wanted it to be.
Movies and sports and other events will be viewable in VR as technology continues to advance.
3. The Hunt For What Comes Next
There is a growing appetite for the next step in the leading edge sub-niche of VR. Thousands of VR enthusiasts pledged hundreds of dollars to Chinese company Pimax based on the promise of providing that next level experience. We have also seen Oculus supposedly back pedal on their incredibly ambitious CV2 in favour or bringing out a Rift-S on a shorter time frame.
It is weird to say, seeing as the Black Friday and Boxing day sales doubtlessly saw many newcomers dive into VR by picking up a discounted headset, but after almost three years those of us who have been around for a while are looking hard for what is coming next.
As the Pimax 5K+/8K approaches retail availability in the first half of 2019 it may just full fill that desire, but if it does not here is what else we are looking forward to in (hopefully 2019):
Major Brands Are Investing in VR. About 75 percent of the Forbes World’s Most Valuable Brands have created some form of virtual reality or augmented reality experience for customers or employees, or are themselves developing these technologies. Given that this study was conducted in October 2015, the number is likely significantly higher.
So will 2019 be the year of the HMD Wars? It could very well be.
One thing is for certain though, the current batch of VR headsets are by no means running out of gas and with the Oculus Quest and Pimax 5K+/8K primed to join there ranks there is going to be no shortage of VR hardware to play with in 2019!