2015 was a year of massive interest and development in VR. Apparently Facebook’s $2.3 billion Oculus Rift adventure in 2014 put some blood in the water. It seemed there was a new VR conference happening every week, even conferences with little to do with VR decided to add a side-wing or extension to embrace the buzzword and ride the wave. Now before we start getting all giddy about the cool stuff at CES next week, let’s tally the progress made in VR in 2015.
So what happened, and where did we end up?
The money poured in…according to Greenlight VR, $136 million in November alone, and Digi-Capital has it pegged at well over $1 Billion for the year (if we include the AR companies, like Magic Leap, this number gets much bigger).
A few major video game companies started dipping their toes into VR, notably CCP and Ubisoft. Only Sony decided to dive head first in this sector with Morpheus, which got a new name: “Playstation VR”, and it looks to be the dominant console VR platform for 2016 with over 50 AAA titles lined up.
Unity, Unreal and Cryengine all added significant VR support in 2015 to their game development platforms. Pushing on an open source common VR platform, Razer’s OSVR headset development expanded to include over 300 developers.
While we saw the low-tech Google Cardboard debut in 2014, it was the delivery of 1 million of them to New York Times subscribers in 2015 that made this more than a trade show gimmick. Mixed reviews abound from the newly indoctrinated VR pioneers, but it is hard to deny the power of VR storytelling from director Chris Milk and VRSE. Google delivered another cardboard gift this year just in time for Christmas, a VR tour of the Whitehouse!
Not to be left out, Microsoft showed us a low-end VR headset too (no, not the Hololens): The Microsoft VR Kit! Also, it looks like we’ll see Oculus support on the XboXOne. This year we tried to send the Microsoft Hololens to outer space twice, we succeeded once.
Filling the gap between the cardboard class and the high-end rigs, Durovis Dive and Zeiss VR-1 led the charge on middle class VR in 2014. In 2015, we saw dozens of new companies trying their hand at making their own headset. Improved comfort, customization, better lenses and increased FOV dominated this year’s offerings.
Thanks to Mattel, the Viewmaster of our childhood was resurrected as a VR device for children this Christmas. While Samsung research points to this sort of thing as probably not good for the visual development of children, it’s still pretty cool.
Google Glass, like Sean Connery in Highlander 2, was resurrected with an FCC filing for a monocle version just this week. While it claims to be focused a little more on enterprise and the workplace this time, hopefully they’ve solved some of the issues with the first one.
At the tail end of 2014, Samsung gave us the Innovator Edition GearVR – The first consumer grade device to hit the market. While limited to a single phone (Galaxy Note 4 from Samsung), it had its own platform and was a good wireless VR experience, save for some overheating issues (addressed in the more recent consumer GearVR). In 2015, GearVR commercial version shipped just in time for Holiday shopping (this time it supports 4 phones, all Samsung). Along with this, Samsung launched a web browser on GearVR, and we saw Netflix show up on GearVR too, thanks John!
NextVR trail blazed the VR media sector and brought us political debates and NBA basketball games live in Virtual Reality for the first time this year.
VR film makers experimented and began telling stories. Companies like Oculus Story Studio, VRSE and Jaunt are all testing the waters of what’s possible in VR storytelling. Hollywood is taking this seriously.
VR cameras started showing up in droves this year for content creators of all levels. At the low-end, we saw the stick-VR “Theta” cam offering from Ricoh, great for VR blogging. Kickstarter brought us a nice middle ground solution from Bubl. At the high end, we saw more than a few big names in the race for professional VR capture equipment: Nokia’s Ozo had a couple glitches, but stitched massive captures in real-time, Google introduced a rig and stitching solution with GoPro and the Jump, and at the high-high end, a $180,000 RED camera VR rig was built by NextVR. Also of note, Disney bought out Jaunt and they have a new camera dubbed “neo” which we will likely see next year. Looking ahead, Both Otoy and Lytro are tinkering with lightfield VR capture, both debuted their prototypes this year and both have cameras due out next year.
3D Scanning is now a VR thing…Scanning people, places and things for use in VR happened a lot from companies like Paracosm, Matterport, Occipital, Quantum Capture, and of course Google’s Tango. You can do it pretty well right now from your existing phone thanks to Autodesk’s “123D Catch”.
There was some acquisition feasting in 2015: Apple ate up Metaio, Primesense and Faceshift; Google absorbed Tiltbrush (famously demonstrated by Disney’s Glen Keane painting Ariel in VR using the HTC Vive, an obvious marketing ploy, still awesome to see) and let’s not forget Google’s massive investment at the tail end of 2014 in AR startup Magic Leap, they went for even more startup money this year; Oculus devoured Pebbles hand tracking solution, fresh from their Nimble and 13th lab grabs at the end of 2014; Sony snacked on Softkinetic and OnLive; and Adobe ate up Mixamo.
Location-based VR took a couple big steps forward: The VOID in Utah and Zero Latency in Australia were the two most talked-about examples. They must be doing something right, because everyone who has tried it agrees that it’s amazing. Both of these companies are well funded and primed for world domination.
We’ve just started to see glimmers of a social space emerge within our VR headsets: ConVRge, Altspace, GearVR Social, Janus VR, and Linden Labs (among many others) are all working on Social VR solutions to bring us together in virtual space.
We would be remiss if we left out the porn industry, who has been investing big behind the scenes to deliver next generation immersive experiences. Companies like Camsoda and VixenVR are experimenting with the new medium and driving the development of both software and hardware which will benefit the industry and the market as a whole probably more than any other mover.
It won’t be long before we see the next round of innovation, CES is right around the corner. It wouldn’t surprise any of us to see flexible 8K lightfield microdisplays, real-time depth sensing and world mapping, recognition of … well everything from faces to heartbeats, to voices, to locations, to mood, to interests. We’ll see touch playing a much larger role in our VR in 2016, thanks to haptics pioneers like Ultrahaptics, Tactical Haptics, and of course the TeslaSuit. So get ready, sooner than your driver-less cars, your replicators and moon vacations…it’s coming (well maybe not driver-less cars).
Happy New Year everyone! It looks to be a very bright one for VR. We are content light, we are hardware early, and the pool is filling up, soon we’ll all be swimming. The promise is that we will have the games, the apps and the hardware by the middle of 2016: Well…at least the HTC Vive, Playstation VR and the Oculus CV1. Sadly no Oculus touch controller until 2nd half of 2016…way to bury that one new year’s eve guys…At least a dozen other commercially available headsets will emerge to challenge the big dogs, and hundreds of games and apps from AAA studios and indies alike will feed our insatiable appetites for more, better VR content. As consumers, the challenges will be affording it in the first year and after that…taking the headsets off.