CES 2017: HTC’s Plans For World Domination
By Charlie Fink
VR Is A Screen Door Covered With Flies That Will Open A New World.
CES has, like mercury, spread across the Vegas Strip, mile after congested mile, hotel after hotel. Vegas is a monument to greed and passion. CES today means navigating a crush of people on the floor and the crush of traffic on the Vegas strip.
This doesn’t really do it justice.
VR is everywhere and everything, not confined to just the Virtual and Augmented Reality “Marketplace”. This ghetto features miles of aisles of cheap, sexy, $20 brightly colored plastic headsets for mobile VR and peripherals. I was shocked to see many barely working prototypes with no ship date or other commercial plans. And, despite the CTA’s recent clarifications of definitions, those making 360 videos aren’t giving up their claim to virtual anytime soon. Flying a drone? Virtual Reality. Making a 360 nature documentary? Virtual Reality.
[Tweet “Number one player in the virtual reality space, including mobile.”]
Nonetheless, today we had some amazing conversations and some real finds, including a comprehensive interview with Rikard Steiber of HTC. VR today is the story of people and companies who believe in the potential of a technology so much, they will do anything to make it true. As a twenty-year veteran of CES (not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed), in VR I see the early notebook computers and smart phones.
HTC’s Plans For World Domination
I started my day at HTC’s enormous demo suite at the Wynn Hotel with a conversation with the remarkable President of HTC Virtual Reality, Rikard Steiber. HTC’s ambition, he told me, almost casually, is to be the “Number one player in the virtual reality space, including mobile.” Their strategy is not to make games, but to remake the world. The task is enormous, because it’s not about making razors, or blades, but rather convincing people to shave.
Rikard Steiber, President, HTC Virtual Reality.
Without saying so outright, Steiber is keenly aware of Vive’s limitations, but he’s not the hardware guy, so he has to work with what they give him. Some problems are more easily solved than others. 2017 will see the introduction of a wireless solution, integrated audio, and multipoint sensors that will better integrate the body and objects in the virtual world. The downside is that these must have upgrades are going to increase the cost.
Adapting to these realities, Steiber’s Virtual Reality Division has developed a strategy to get its products in front of a mass audience even though it’s still only suited to first adopters:
(1) More, better non-gaming software for enterprise and education (remember, we all got computers and internet access at work first);
(2) Less expensive, easier to find software. They’ve announced a subscription package, as yet unpriced, for Viveport.
(3) Better native content. There are 1,000 Vive games, and 30 new ones coming out every week.
(4) Location Based Entertainment (LBE).
Coming to a mall near you.
LBE Just Might Work For HTC
Just as internet cafes gave computers and online access to people around the world in the 90s, before the prices came down, HTC’s LBE plans makes good sense. The system is most enjoyable for new users when they’re attended and instructed. Heck, it’s even better for experienced users like me, who are constantly taking our headsets on and off to deal with our PCs. The complicated, labor intensive operational requirements of LBE means public space VR is unlikely to generate a lot revenue. What it will do is expose millions of people around the world to the technology. In China, HTC’s partner, publicly traded LekeVR is planning 1000 HTC VR locations. Steiber thinks there could be as many as 5,000 locations in the world.
[Tweet “It’s not about making razors, or blades, but rather convincing people to shave.”]
Prospecting For Diamonds On The Floor and Finding One
I only spent a couple of annoying, nauseating hours in the VR/AR ghetto yesterday after the doors first opened. It’s raining cheap headsets in there, but the one by MergeVR caught my attention. Their mobile headset is molded from colorful soft foam and retails for $60 at Best Buy. Their light, comfortable headset just won an award from TechRadar for being the “Most Unique” headset at the show.
MergeVR Will Soon Introduce Low-Cost AR with The Holocube
Hold their tiny square Holocube in front of your mobile phone and look into another world. A company representative suggested it would retail for under $100 through their Best Buy and Amazon channels. Right now they are developing their own apps. The three initial titles will be Dig, a minecraftesque casual game; Doodle, which will allow you to draw; and a virtual pet product.
Looks great, but it’s a prototype. No release date.
The other notable VR development is the number of high resolution 2K, 4K and 8K (coming soon to Kickstarter) headsets coming to market. When the “screen door” effect caused visible pixels in relatively low resolution headsets is eliminated, we will be truly immersed in a three dimensional virtual world.
An affordable 2K headset would eliminate the “screen door” caused by visible pixels.
Who’s Not Here, and Who Told Me To F*** Off
Notably absent is Apple, as they run their own mega-conference in San Francisco every year. Oculus, also notably absent, also runs its own conference, Oculus Connect. Microsoft has a very, very large presence, but they politely demurred when I requested a demo of the Hololens. In response to my request to talk to someone, anyone, involved with Hololens, they sent me links to their press releases.