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Augmented And Virtual Reality 1.0 — 2016 Preview

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Tim Merel

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Tim Merel is managing director of Digi-Capital.

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Samsung/Oculus’ Gear VR launch was the starting gun for AR/VR 1.0, so what can we expect next year? Strap on your magic goggles, it’s immersion time.

Consumer VR 1.0

You couldn’t miss the electrons (digital and TV) and trees sacrificed to VR this year. While 1990s VR was a poor beta, this time around it really is different.

The new wave includes Facebook/Oculus, Samsung, HTC/Valve, Sony and Google amongst others (maybe even Nintendo?). Apple bought Metaio. These guys are serious, and it isn’t their first rodeo.

High-end PC VR (Oculus, HTC Vive, others) will offer the best VR experience to early adopters next year, but CPU/GPU requirements will price it beyond average consumers. Moore’s Law and a flagging PC market searching for growth could bring this within reach of mass consumers by 2017.

Mobile VR (with dozens of startups) and Sony’s PlayStation VR for console will create the first broad VR consumer market in 2016. However, we might need to wait for the second generation of mobile VR with full positional tracking (discussed below) in 2017/2018 for it to become a true mass market.

Digi-Capital ARVR Leaders Q4 2015
(Note: Parent companies only included with acquisitions, e.g., Facebook/Oculus).

 

Enterprise AR 1.0

We guided the discussion to how AR could disrupt mobile and become four times larger than VR by 2020. Because VR is currently 12-18 months ahead of AR in consumer market readiness, AR players are focused primarily on enterprise markets for 2016. Leaders like Microsoft and ODG are working with enterprise and government customers before consumer AR emerges going into 2017.

New Year’s Resolution

Digi-Capital’s AR/VR technical benchmarking found a current best-in-class field of view for VR, hitting a whopping 136 degrees diagonally per eye. As anything over 90 degrees provides an immersive experience, that’s wickedly huge. With that delivered, increasing screen resolution will become a major VR battleground next year (although Oculus and others are already solving the screen door effect).

AR has already produced very high resolution from leaders like ODG, but one battleground for AR next year will be field of view. Most AR (like HoloLens) is currently in the standard range of 20-40 degrees diagonally, which is enough for mobile computing. Large (40-90 degrees) fields of view will begin to emerge for entertainment in 2016, but we might need to wait a little while for the industry to take us over the magical 90 degree mark for immersive Mixed Reality — this is AR’s Everest.

Light Field Of Dreams

AR’s first commercial “digital light field” could become available in 2016, although that might drift into the following year. What is a “light field”? The real-world analog equivalent is all the light rays at every point you can see travelling in every direction. In other words, a four-dimensional way of describing what your eyes see in the real world — 3 dimensions (for X, Y and Z positions), and a fourth dimension for direction. You see light fields every time you open your eyes.

A digital light field simulates its analog cousin by providing at least 5 digital light field arrays. So, for every point of light in space that the user can see, at least 5 additional direction dimensions are presented to the eye.

This convinces users’ eyes and brains that the virtual objects they are shown in the world around them are real (for Mixed Reality). The digital light field prototypes I have seen already do a convincing job of simulating an analog light field, and Magic Leap is not the only company doing this (although it is the best funded).

Location, Location, Location

Rotational tracking (where you’re looking) is standard across VR, but high-end spatial tracking (where your head is) and hand tracking (where your hands are) can take VR from an ambient to immersive experience to make you feel like you’re really there (“presence” in industry-speak).

The best spatial tracking at room scale will come from HTC Vive and Lighthouse, with Oculus, PlayStation VR and others doing similar things in smaller spaces. PC/console VR hand tracking will be mostly controller-based next year, with Oculus Touch an excellent solution. Leap Motion and others will be working on taking “hands-free” hand tracking mainstream.

Mobile VR generally hasn’t conquered spatial tracking yet, because of limited smartphone sensors. Google’s Project Tango has solved the problem, and smartphone manufacturers are keenly aware. Spatial tracking will come to mobile VR, but it might take until 2017 for this to go mainstream.

For AR, Microsoft, ODG, DAQRI and others will deliver excellent spatial tracking, with HoloLens in particular providing strong “hands-free” hand tracking capabilities. As with all hand tracking today, AR players are trying to improve usability.

Hooray For (Virtual) Hollywood

Hollywood is excited about VR, but has mainly produced short-form experiences to date. Sports video from folks like NextVR will emerge as the first consumer VR video market in 2016. News and other genres will follow in its wake. Cinematic VR in long form might not get there until 2017, as Hollywood studios invest more in VR marketing experiences than standalone properties next year.

While the VR-installed base grows, wunderkind directors must learn how to tell linear stories in a non-linear medium. Cinematic VR could end up having more in common with Grand Theft Auto than Driving Miss Daisy.

Reality Apps 1.0

AR/VR games and video are fantastic for bringing early adopters into the market, but a broader set of apps is needed. This is particularly important for AR as a general-purpose computing platform.

At Eyetouch Reality and elsewhere, startups will begin to disrupt reality next year with new applications types only possible in AR/VR. Solving the hardware challenge is crucial, but compelling apps will transform AR/VR from promising technology to indispensable platform.

You can find out more about where the industry is headed in Digi-Capital’s Augmented/Virtual Reality Report here.

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