The first thing attendees ask one another at CES is “have you seen anything special?” The name on everyone in XR’s lips is Nreal, the spatial AR glasses launching next fall. Based on the interest at this show and elsewhere, it’s clear they’re going to sell hundreds of thousands of devices the day they are made available. Microsoft and Magic Leap have ceded the consumer to them, at least for now. Of course, Apple and Facebook have designs on the market, and plan to introduce their own XR glasses in two or three years. In the meantime, Nreal has the field to themselves. Except for one thing. There’s very little spatial content. More on Nreal’s plans below.
Attendees try NReal augmented reality (AR) glasses, on the last day of CES 2019, on January 11, 2019 … [+]
AFP via Getty Images
We did our best to take a comprehensive look at the world’s largest trade show, but CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) is too, big (180,000 attendees, according to the CTA, which put on this massive show every January in Las Vegas) to adequately summarize in one news story, or even ten. The CTA should change the name to the Consumer Everything Show because there isn’t a single business which is not a technology business today and many of them were at the show. Automotive and transportation exhibits get more elaborate and numerous every year. International Harvester had one of their mega reapers in the middle of the show floor. Charmin toilet paper offered a satiric look at potty tech with a smartphone controlled “roll bot,” for those uncomfortable moments when you’re out of toilet paper. Nearly every car company used VR to demonstrate its future as an immersive, connected device.
Many of the leading XR companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Oculus/Facebook, and Magic Leap, don’t exhibit because they have their own developer conferences. Sony promotes playstation VR at E3, the huge games show in the Spring. So as comprehensive as CES is for so many consumer verticals, this is not the case for XR.
With Nreal founder and CEO Chi Xu at CES, Wednesday, January 9th.
Nreal steals the show. The sleek, smartphone-based spatial XR headset attracted big crowds on the show floor. We had to fight our way into their booth. CEO Chi Xu acknowledged that there isn’t much spatial content yet, but showed us their approach to bringing the 2D content on a smartphone into a spatial context. Users can place multiple screens around them, so you could type, consume media, and monitor social media feeds at the same time. Which could be useful to a writer. Or anyone. The $499 glasses are prescription compatible. Nreal is launching in Korea this spring, followed by Japan. Nreal will be available in the US in the latter half of the year. It’s Android only for now, unless Apple agrees to cooperate with the fledgling company.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg believes in the wearable future. In his annual blog post about the company’s goals, the founder and CEO said “While I expect phones to still be out primary devices through most of this decade, at some point in the 2020s, we will get breakthrough augmented reality glasses that will redefine our relationship with technology.”
The other company XR people were talking about was Spatial. The cross platform XR telepresence company burst onto the scene at last year’s Mobile World Congress when Microsoft Hololens inventor Alex Kipman invited the company to the stage to demo their application on the new HoloLens 2. Co-present Spatial users can cover walls with images, videos, and slide presentations, review, annotate, and modify 3D models, and even join through Mobile/PC. In addition the HoloLens, Spatial is on the Magic Leap and works on VR and mobile devices.
AARP Innovation Labs launched Alcove, a social space for shared experiences. The Association for Retired People, a not-for-profit foundation based in Washington, DC, thinks VR can reduce loneliness and isolation of the elderly by providing a virtual place for families to share activities and experiences. They have been thinking a lot about “the longevity economy.”
Pico Neo 2 standalone headset may be the Oculus Quest for businesses. As far as standalone VR HMDs are concerned, the only real players so far have been Oculus Quest and the HTC Vive Focus. At CES this week Pico shared their take on a standalone HMD. The all in one VR headset is aimed at business users, has 6DoF tracking, has two wireless controllers, and comes with optional eye tracking. If you are a business, you can inquire about pre-ordering the Neo 2 and Neo 2 eye from Pico’s website.
Firefox Reality coming to Pico devices. The web browser, tailored for virtual reality, works on the major consumer VR headsets and will soon work on Pico’s new Neo 2. Firefox is also bringing their Hubs virtual spaces to the Pico devices. Firefox Reality will land on Pico devices in late Q1 2020.
PSVR unit sales.
PlayStation VR reaches 5 Million units sold. Sony announced this week that the device has sold over 5 million units to date since its launch in 2016. While an impressive number, Sony also shared it has sold 106 million PS4 and PS4 Pro consoles. 4.5% penetration isn’t exactly proof XR is reaching the crook in the mythical hockey stick. But it’s growth. Much better than the fate of Gear VR.
Panasonic showed this prototype of a VR HMD at CES 2020.
Panasonic reveals compact VR HMD design at CES. The sleek form factor and reportedly high quality display make this concept HMD impressive. Unfortunately little has been revealed as to what these would look like with proper tracking hardware. Panasonic says they are continuing work on VR hardware so maybe we will see.
Samsung teases AR glasses at CES presser. Samsung’s “Age of Experience” product strategy includes its own dedicated AR headset.
VRgineers reveal newest XTAL VR HMD specs. The newest iteration of their enterprise level VR HMD touts 8k resolution, or 4k per eye, as well as a 180 degree field of view, and hand and eye tracking. It is so realistic it’s literally dizzying at first.
Pimax announces new high end HMDs priced for prosumers. The Pimax 5K SUPER retails for a $1,300, features a 180Hz refresh rate, 2560 x 1440 resolution and a ridiculously large 170 degree field of view. It’s compatible with SteamVR 2.0 base stations and Valve Index controllers.
Neon introduced its new virtual humans at CES.
Neon AI launched at CES. This spin off from Samsung Labs makes virtual humans so nuanced and lifelike they seem to be volumetric captures of actors. They are not. And they drew a crowd. The company hopes these intelligent agents will create more empathy between man and machine. It’s also possible that we’ll treat them like the non-player characters in Grand Theft Auto or the hosts in Westworld. The company is just four months old and undertook an enormous sprint to prepare for CES. They are looking for partners to help develop the new technology.
These robot arms – and fingers – are controlled with HaptX gloves.
HaptX is joining forces with Shadow Robot Company, and Tangible Research to form a new consortium: Converge Robotics Group. Their mission is “to extend the reach of human cognition, sensation, and manipulation through the integration of advanced technologies.” More on the group’s new website.
Serendipity is a big part of CES. This year we were blown away by the free roaming game on the Oculus Quest, Arenaverse from Escape VR Games, at DreamlandXR, a CES side event at the Alexis Park Hotel. This could be big. We saw Brent Bushnell there. Maybe he’ll add it to Two Bit Circus.
Serendipity happened outside the show, too. On Freemont Street, downtown Las Vegas, we saw this amazing video canopy. It is hard to see in the video just how big it is.
For more on CES:
Dean Takahasi’s Best of CES. The Dean of XR writers saw a lot more than XR at the show.
A Roundup of Immersive Announcements at CES by our Forbes Tech colleague Sol Rogers.
Christopher Grayson Digs Into AR Glasses in a this pre-CES deep dive.
“This Week in XR” is written and edited with Michael Eichenseer.