AR/VR Shows Up Big at Smaller CES, Looking Ahead to 2022

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By Eric Abbruzzese | 1Q 2022 | IN-6432

2022 is shaping up to be an influential though not revolutionary year for AR and VR, based on what was shown at CES 2022.

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Plenty of New Toys, Like a Classic CES

NEWS


Even with reduced size and attendance, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2022 was filled with new Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) announcements including new Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs), accessories, and enabling technologies and platforms. Some of the highlights include:

HMDs:

  • TCL Leiniao AR smart glasses: Only a prototype for now, but full color waveguides and built-in audio are compelling in the shown form factor.
  • Vuzix Shield AR smart glasses: An enterprise-skewed device, only in monochrome and bulkier than TCL and other consumer-oriented showcases, but a promising slim-down on the enterprise AR side.
  • ThirdEye Razor AR smart glasses: Another form factor improvement from an established hardware player.
  • Sony PlayStation VR 2 HMD: Confirmation of the device, with promising high-end specifications.
  • Shiftall Meganex VR HMD: Panasonic subsidiary pushing form factor boundaries with ultra slim and lightweight headset.
  • XTAL 3 VR HMD: Ultra high-end enterprise VR headset with class-leading specs including 8K resolution and 180° Field of View (FoV), with passthrough.

Accessories:

  • HTC Vive wrist tracker: Similar to the Vive Tracker, an option for tracking outside of a normal controller. Works with standalone headsets.
  • OWO Haptic Vest: Streamlined shirt boasting thirty haptic feedback types.
  • bHaptics TactGlove: New haptic gloves, but more streamlined and lightweight than competition.

Enablers:

  • Microsoft and Qualcomm AR partnership: Custom chipset partnership for next generation AR glasses.
  • Nvidia Omniverse general release: Launched out of beta to general public. New integrations and a cloud version were also revealed.
  • DigiLens Crystal30 second generation waveguide: Improved efficiency and brightness, targeting indoor and outdoor use.
  • Panasonic AR windshield: Differentiates with eye tracking to better place AR content on the windshield.

Iterating, Expanding, and Diversifying Portfolios

IMPACT


CES is always a great opportunity to spot trends in a market, with representation spanning from conservative to ridiculous. 2022 has been no different, although many high-profile tech names have shown off product that is both exciting and realistic.

Smart glasses have been a small but steady staple at CES the past few years, and this remains the case. Vuzix and ThirdEye’s product updates are somewhat expected but welcomed. Their most direct enterprise competitor, RealWear, launched an updated product prior to CES. Microsoft, the other big AR name today, didn’t show any new hardware at the show but was present elsewhere.

VR was also well represented with both new players and old. Sony’s PSVR 2 is shaping up to be a huge product launch—targeting the PS5 install base, which despite significant stock shortages has set shipment records, and including a high-end headset is smart. The first PSVR was lacking a bit in specifications, and the power of the PS4 was also lacking in comparison. PSVR 1 as a testbed for development and consumer interest leads into a no compromises PSVR 2 with a much more enticing and engaged market. Shiftall is a newcomer targeting a novel appearance and light weight—only time will tell if the market responds to that, as VR is still mostly an in-home experience other than high end location based or enterprise ventures, where appearance matters less. Speaking of enterprise, XTAL continues to target that market with high end hardware, focused on simulation and training use cases.

Haptics remain an interesting accessory area, one that seems to continually be in the news but never stretches into the mainstream. While there weren’t any groundbreaking announcements at CES this year, some nice improvements have been seen. Being lightweight and affordable are paramount factors for the consumer space—lightweight was certainly on display with OWO and bHaptics, but affordability was less so. For location-based experiences like VR arcades, these products could shine, but home use will likely still be limited.

The Microsoft and Qualcomm partnership announcement was simultaneously surprising and not surprising. Qualcomm has done well positioning itself as a core AR/VR partner going forward, with specialty Extended Reality (XR) chipsets, reference designs, and an expansive existing partner ecosystem, while today Microsoft has the HoloLens and a few Microsoft partner VR headsets (HP and HTC). A Qualcomm chipset could make its way into any of these devices, and with Microsoft pushing more into the metaverse and cross-market XR space, this could be a benefit. NVIDIA’s metaverse play, Omniverse, has been around for a while but now has a full public release. Perhaps more interesting is the cloud version, playing into the company’s cloud compute ambitions and offerings greater flexibility to creators especially in a chipset-starved market.

Expect an Exciting AR/VR Year

RECOMMENDATIONS


As a representation of the coming year, CES 2022 suggests a more dynamic AR/VR year than years prior. That being said, it’s also fair to say there will be no revolutionary, market-shattering products in 2022. The CES hardware lineup is impressive but mostly expected. Apple and Meta are the big wildcards, with no CES product and little known on the next gen HMDs from either other than their existence. A 2022 release will be surprising from either of them, despite being expected—the chip shortage is certainly a factor, but so is an ongoing question around these company’s supporting platforms. Announcements and confirmations in 2H 2022, with launch in 2023, is a fair expectation.

Platforms, partnerships, and enabling technologies will likely be more interesting than hardware. Mobile World Congress has a number of companies that are highly active in AR/VR—Meta, Microsoft, Google, Huawei, HTC, and Qualcomm, just to name a few. The connectivity play is also strong for AR/VR going forward, so the telecoms will likely also leverage AR/VR (or more broadly, metaverse) at the show to showcase infrastructure and service needs. Cloud streaming has been a cornerstone of connectivity and AR/VR overlap, and that will remain true at MWC 2022, even though actual value to customers is not as strong as the demonstrations try to show. Full cloud compute is indeed a potential market driver for AR/VR, allowing for incredible battery life and processing in a lightweight device, but the use cases and Return on Investment (ROI) for a full shift towards cloud have not been strong enough to overcome the existing local processing strengths and weaknesses of standalone and tethered HMDs.

It is high time for a killer use case for consumers to be seen, which 2022 is likely to bring even if it’s only through announcement rather than hands-on or tangible product. The existing standouts will remain—gaming for consumers and worker enablement (remote assist, training, etc.) for enterprise—but the market is ready to expand beyond that. This will partly be accomplished through the platforms and partnerships growing a software and services ecosystem, along with early efforts in metaverse delivering some smaller-scale advancement in cross-platform opportunities.

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