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CES 2023 was huge for AR and VR. Here's everything important that was announced
This year's Consumer Electronics Show offered us a glimpse at what might be the first in a whole new generation of premium VR headsets, ambitious products from completely new players, and a slew of intriguing developments.
AR and VR seem like they've been on the verge of revolutionizing mainstream tech for years now. While we can't tell just yet if this year's CES will be the tipping point that sends these technologies into everyone's living rooms, there were tons of new releases and debuts that could go a long way toward making augmented and virtual reality "the next big thing."
HTC's new VIVE XR Elite is an "all-in-one" XR solution
It should shock no one that HTC is leading this piece. The company's long-teased VIVE XR Elite reveal showed off a headset with some intriguing, never-before-seen features. From a modular design that lets you wear it either like eyeglasses or in a traditional VR headset fit, to its use of adjustable lenses that can help actual eyeglass wearers see more clearly, the VIVE XR Elite brought several upgrades to AR and VR that just felt overdue at this point.
The headset's $1,100ish price tag also places it well below its obvious competitor, Meta's enterprise-focused Meta Quest Pro. The price drop does come with the loss of eye and face tracking (something HTC plans to add via an accessory), but it also puts it closer to the price range consumers were already willing to accept for past models, including HTC's original VIVE.
Time will tell if the price point and feature set combine to put HTC back atop the consumer VR space, or if Meta, or even one of the new entrants we'll discuss below will snatch that crown.
The simplest, and most immediately available is the NXTWear S glasses seen above. They fill an increasingly popular niche of not-really-AR glasses that provide a lightweight, head-mounted virtual display for your smartphone, tablet, or portable gaming console.
TCL also revealed a pair of true AR and VR devices. The TCL RayNeo X2 glasses promise a full AR experience in a form factor that could, at a quick glance, be mistaken for standard specs. The company touted inclusions like Qualcomm's Snapdragon XR2 (Extended Reality 2) core and Micro LED-based waveguide optics while promising to power practical tasks like translating foreign-language text, literally right before the viewers eyes, or helping them navigate around town.
Lastly, the NXTWear V headset, a full-scale VR solution is a showcase of what TCL has coming down the pipeline. Impressive features like a weight of just 236 grams and 1512ppi of pixel density could disrupt the industry if they make their way from this concept design to a real-world offering.
The two new offerings include a head strap that promises to provide superior comfort and better weight distribution than the default elastic strap, and a new facial interface that is touted as being gentler or sensitive skin and better at blocking unwanted light.
Razer wasn't ready to price or date either offering just yet, but does expect to have them ready within the first few months of 2023.
The dream of truly discrete AR glasses gets a boost from Lumus
One of the biggest obstacles AR tech needs to overcome in order to be as ubiquitous as existing wearable technologies is its tendency to make the wearer look like a weirdo. At CES 2023, Lumus showed off a new optical engine that shrinks its waveguide technology into a package so tiny it can be hidden at the top corner of an eyeglass lens.
The new Z-Lens system offers 2,048 x 2,048 resolution for full-color AR content, as well as a 50° field of view and over 4,000 nits per watt of LED illumination. This should make anything being projected on your lens crisp and clear, even in bright sunlight.
It's still in the prototype stages, but the technology is functional, and ready for integration into offerings from the major players we're endlessly expecting to disrupt the AR/VR market (I'm looking at you, Apple).
CES brings so much news and so many product announcements that its easy to miss a few things. Often, it's little, half-heard announcements like these that can shake up the entire industry in a few years. Let's take a look at a few of those from this year's event.
Holoride's Retrofit kit can bring VR gaming to any car
Holoride creates in-car VR experiences. That might sound like a motion-sickness disaster waiting to happen, but the company's technology allows it to create "Elastic Content" which maps in-game or in-app movements to the real-world motion of the user's vehicle. The result is an experience that many testers have reported to be comfortable, and not nearly as nausea inducing as one might expect. This year's CES found Holoride launching its new Retrofit, a way to bring its in-car VR experiences to any vehicle.
The puck-like device that powers the whole experience weighs less than eight ounces, and is designed to be stuck to the windshield via a suction cup mount. From there it uses Bluetooth and a 14-hour rechargeable battery to connect with the user's VR headset, providing the required data needed for Elastic Content experiences. The Retrofit is available as part of a $800 kit that includes an HTC VIVE Flow headset, or as a $199 standalone unit from Holoride's online shop.
AR makes it to the operating theather, thanks to Magic Leap
There's likely nowhere on earth where a user needs to be more sure in their tools than in an operating theater. That's what makes it so impressive that Magic Leap's latest augmented reality headset, the Magic Leap 2, has achieved an IEC 60601 certification. This designation clears it for use "in an operating room as well as in other clinical settings."
Magic Leap and partner SentiAR have already developed a software solution for the device that lets surgeons and clinicians view live clinical data and images without ever having to take their eyes off the patient. The companies claim this can even aid in delicate tasks like threading a catheter into a patient's heart by providing a 3D map of the organ overlaid in the doctor's view.
Somnium Space brings modularity to consumer PCVR
Somnium Space is a player most likely haven't heard of. The company has been prepping a VR headset for some time, but ran into supply chain issues that resulted in it delaying a fully standalone unit. Fortunately, it was able to move forward with a PCVR headset for use with a computer at this year's show.
Capable of both wired and wireless play, the Somnium VR1 sports impressive basic specs like a 2,880 x 2,880 resolution, 120-degree field of view (FOV), and eye and hand tracking. However, it's the device's modularity that makes it stand out. Between the trio of 10Gbps USB-C ports for connecting accessories and three modular anchor points, the unit has the potential to be adapted to a massive variety of VR and AR scenarios.
The company even supports the ability for users to 3D print accessories for its headset, further expanding its use cases and potential comfortability. Somnium Space wasn't ready to commit to a price or specific release date just yet, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on.