Headlines in 2016 proclaimed, “The Year of VR!”, heralding unmistakable momentum reflected by exciting new product arrivals (notably headsets), a vibrant ecosystem, and steadily increasing VC investment. This looks to increase even further in 2017; here are some promising indications.
Follow the money
Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus in 2014 was arguably the tipping point for mainstream virtual reality. It woke the industry and the public to the technology’s potential and validated the market. Since then, venture capital investments in VR and AR reached $2.3B in 2016 alone. Goldman Sachs estimates the market for VR and AR to reach $80 billion by 2025.
Microsoft and Google are making strategic platform investments. Microsoft is releasing Windows Holographic this spring and is partnering with all major PC OEMs on low-cost, high-resolution Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) with inside-out tracking. Google has introduced the Daydream platform, based on Android.
The HTC, Oculus and Sony investments in VR headsets has yielded three great products which launched in 2016. A number of VR ready PCs were also launched, including HP’s OMEN products. These PCs, with top-shelf GPUs, are capable of driving rich VR experiences with the new headsets. Microsoft, Google, Intel, and Qualcomm all have detailed their plans for VR, and Samsung released a second-generation Gear VR headset. Smaller players have also flooded into the industry in the past year.
Mark Zuckerberg’s declared intent to invest another $3 billion in the next decade reflects industry optimism about the outlook for VR, despite lukewarm sales of VR products.
Where’s the smart money and momentum in the consumer and commercial VR markets?
Gamers are VR’s early adopters. But developing AAA (highest quality) gaming titles is expensive. With emerging content, as well as movies, sporting events and concerts get closer to true 360° VR and Cinematic VR experiences, they are expected to attract a larger audience for mainstream consumer adoption. The cost of production in this category is comparatively low, and content distribution is on a larger scale, following a pay-per-view model.
Consumer VR has driven the first wave of commercial VR. Customers in HP’s commercial segments including product design, AEC, digital media and entertainment, training and simulation, healthcare and education, are testing VR in their workflows. In the automotive industry, VR enables immersive design reviews for dispersed teams. Solutions are also proliferating in training: a recent project by Brazil’s power distribution company intends to reduce costs and improve safety. Major theme park providers and movie studios are creating VR content to deliver new experiences to their customers.
Technology maturity: Ready for Prime Time
Technology maturity may be the simple reason we are seeing VR finally take-off. In VR, the user experience needs to be excellent, short of which, will result in motion sickness and dizziness for the user. The minimum acceptable level has at last been reached, though there is much room for improvement. Consider the elements required to deliver a quality VR experience, and the technologies which support them:
Resolution: Watching a monitor from a few feet away the field of view is quite small, roughly 30-40 degrees. In an HMD it’s roughly 100 degrees. As the display resolution is stretched across this much wider field of view, individual pixels can become visible resulting in “screen door” artifacts and indistinct imagery. In 2017, the industry will see HMDs with resolutions of 1440x1440 per eye, continuing to increase in upcoming years. 16K resolution is needed to get the equivalent of watching a 4k monitor from 3 feet and experts believe as much as 32K is needed to reach the acuity of human vision.
Latency & Frame Rate: In VR terminology Motion-to-Photon Latency is described as the delay between the time a person moves their head to the time the new image is rendered in the HMD. In the real world we are accustomed to an instantaneous update, so our brain expects minimum lag. According to industry experts such as Michael Abrash, a maximum latency of 20 milliseconds is necessary to prevent motion sickness in most people, with less than 10 milliseconds highly desirable. 90MHz is the generally accepted minimum frame rate.
GPU Performance: High frame, high resolution experiences put heavy demands on the system. GPU requirements will increase steeply as resolution increases to 4K and beyond, frame rates increase to 120Hz, rendered image complexity and fill rates increase and new display technologies such as light fields emerge.
Tracking: For a truly immersive VR experience, the headset must precisely track the movement of a user’s head in all six degrees of freedom, and the image must update quickly. Hand controllers and other peripherals must be tracked with equivalent precision.
Wireless: Today the premium PC VR experience is far superior to mobile in all respects except one: it’s tethered, via one or more cables. The backpack VR is an excellent solution for some use cases, but others dictate a fully untethered experience. We’ll soon see fully untethered wireless VR and the enabling technology is WiGig.
Foveated Rendering: Foveated rendering relies on a simple concept of determining precisely what a user’s eyes are looking at and rendering only those pixels, rendering the remaining pixels in far less detail. As a result, the GPU and display bandwidth performance requirements drop significantly without compromising any user experience. Foveated rendering will drive VR to new user experience levels or drive VR more mainstream by lowering cost of GPU requirements.
HP products in the VR Ecosystem
HP’s path to enabling customers for today’s VR began a bit over a year ago at CES 2016, when we announced our partnership with HTC to deliver Vive-Ready PCs. With this partnership, we worked with HTC on solving two of the main pain points for early VR adoption: price and setup complexity.
We identified the correct drivers, system tweaks, and settings necessary for easy out of the box setup of the Vive headset. Ane then worked with HTC to offer a Vive+ PC bundle for holiday 2016.
Our success with HTC led to a partnership deal with Oculus to provide Rift customers the same benefits of a tested and certified PC at a great price. In our final VR introduction of 2016 we launched one of the first VR enabled laptops at a very low price, opening VR to our many customers who prefer gaming notebooks to gaming desktops.
In the commercial space we have a full complement of Workstations that are VR Ready, the Z240, Z440, Z640 and Z840 systems which feature NVIDIA Quadro P4000, P5000 and P6000 graphics. We also are offering the Zbook 17 G4 Mobile Workstation with NVIDIA P4000 and P5000 graphics. In the commercial desktop space we offer the EliteDesktop 800 G3 Tower with NVIDIA GTX 1080 graphics. We are seeing strong interest in all our commercial market segments including Digital Media and Entertainment, AEC, Product Design, Training and Simulation, Healthcare and Education.
Six months ago we launched our OMEN X VR PC Pack, which is a full power, cord-free computer that a user can wear comfortably while playing in the VR world. We launched this as a developer program, a somewhat unique move for HP, and sent seed units to many customers and developers in both the Consumer and Commercial markets. Giving developers access to tomorrow’s hardware is allowing them to start developing content today.
We are partnering with Microsoft to develop a VR headset that features higher resolution than the best headsets on the market today and inside out tracking for easy setup.
One aspect of HP’s true vision of tomorrow’s VR—imagine the combination of our VR backpack and VR headset—easy setup, high resolution, no cable ergonomics, unbounded tracking, and content that takes advantage of learnings from our developer seed program. This is just is a taste of our VR work over the past 18 months. At HP we are excited to play a leading role in driving this fledgling industry to the mainstream and honored to help write the next chapter in Virtual Reality.