As it is a tradition of this blog, I’ve prepared a big roundup of the best news in XR from this year’s CES! For every piece of news, I’ll share with you a brief summary and one or more links to go deeper. I hope that this way, even if you lost the announcements from CES, you can catch up with all the most important ones by just reading a single article.
I was afraid that at this CES wouldn’t have been many pieces of news about AR and VR, but actually, we had quite a few interesting ones. This shows that the ecosystem is alive, and notwithstanding the pandemic, there are many XR companies that are pushing the technology forward.
And yes, even at CES we had a lot of companies trying to surf the buzz of the metaverse. This hilarious tweet thread by Nima Zeighami shows you all the worst uses that have been of the M-word on the Las Vegas showroom.
Click to read the thread on Twitter… it is worth it
Now let’s dig into the best news!
PlayStation VR 2 Logo (Image by Sony Interactive Entertainment)
The biggest announcement of CES, for what concerns XR, has come from Sony Interactive Entertainment, which has finally revealed new details on the “Next-gen VR headset”. The successor of the PSVR headset will be called “PSVR 2” (yes, a surprising name), and will introduce innovative features that have never been released on a consumer XR device before:
HDR display, that should offer very bright colors
Eye tracking with foveated rendering, so that to push the graphical quality of the shown VR experiences at its maximum
Haptics on the headset, that so will be able to rumble if you got headshot.
As for the “standard” features, the device makes a big jump forward with regard to the previous model: it has 2K x 2K per eye, 110° FOV (probably diagonal), OLED displays, and up to 120Hz of refresh rate. The headset features inside-out tracking via four cameras (similar to Quest, I guess), so its setup is much easier, requiring only one little USB cable from the headset to the PS5 console. The controllers had already been unveiled, but at CES we discovered their name: “PlayStation VR2 Sense Controllers”.
No words have been said about the release date (that will be this year, by the way) and the price.
Little is known about the content for this device. But at CES, a new game for it has been announced: Horizon Call Of The Mountain, a game from the exclusive Horizon IP that has been built for the ground-up to showcase the innovative features of the PSVR 2 headset and controllers.
There are also some rumors about Half-Life: Alyx coming for PSVR 2, but nothing has been officially announced in this sense.
Sony launches PSVR 2 (The Ghost Howls)
Sony announces PSVR 2 (Road To VR)
Sony announced Horizon Call of the Mountain for PSVR 2 (Road To VR)
PSVR vs PSVR 2 comparison (Road To VR)
Everything we know on PSVR 2 (Upload VR)
PSVR 2 entering mass production soon (VR Scout)
Half-Life: Alyx rumored for PSVR 2 (TweakTown)
HTC Vive Wrist Tracker
HTC Vive Wrist Tracker (Image by HTC)
HTC has made an announcement at this CES and it has been a pretty cool one. The company has just revealed the Vive Wrist Tracker, which is an external 6DOF tracking unit that can be put on the wrist of the user or also on external props. The Wrist Tracker is basically like a Vive Tracker, but that works on a standalone headset like Vive Focus 3. Vive Tracker has been one of the best products ever launched by HTC and it has been used in many applications, either for leisure (think about full-body tracking in VRChat) or for professional usage (training with physical objects). This tracker promises to offer the same versatility, but on a standalone headset, so without the need of installing the SteamVR base stations. Of course, the object must be in the FOV of the cameras of the headset to be tracked, even if HTC says that the tracking can somewhat continue also when this condition is not true (i guess using just IMU data).
To showcase its functionality, HTC showed some videos of the tracker in use to improve the performances of hands tracking and also with the tracker installed on external props.
I think that this tracker can be very useful. I’ve seen what companies are doing nowadays to use tracked props on the Oculus Quest: they have to add bulky mounts to install the even bulkier Touch controllers on them. I think for instance about the SenseGlove Nova, which has these big controllers attached to the gloves just to have 6DOF tracking. With the Vive Tracker, this won’t be necessary anymore, and just a tiny tracker add-on would be needed. For LBVR venues and enterprise companies, this can be huge.
This is a picture I’ve taken of Senseglove Nova. The Touch controller and its mount are bigger than the glove itself. With the Vive Tracker, this setup can become much more compact.
The tracker is expected to launch early in the year in the United States starting at $129.
Shiftall MeganeX glasses (Image by Shiftall)
Panasonic subsidiary Shiftall (to be read as SHIF TALL, please don’t mix the F and the T…) has announced it’s releasing a lightweight consumer VR headset this year. If you remember well, last year, Panasonic showed a cool prototype of a lightweight 6DOF headset with a cool Steampunk look: well, this headset is clearly the evolution of that one. Unluckily, it has lost the cool design (it looks like dorky glasses) and also has this questionable name attached (Shiftall/Shitfall)… but it remains an interesting gadget.
Rendering of the 2021 version of the Panasonic VR glasses. They looked quite cool (Image by Panasonic)
The coolest feature of this headset is the compact form factor, which offers high comfort given the low 250g weight. It is possible thanks to pancake lenses and OLED microdisplays. And there are no compromises on the features, either: it supports 2,560 × 2,560 per-eye resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. There is no mention of the FOV, but given the fact that the headset features Kopin displays, Road To VR suggests it should be around 95°, so a bit smaller than the other headsets on the market. The visuals offered by the headset seem nice, and youtuber Brad Lynch in a hands-on at CES found them to be crisp.
The headset provides no inside-out tracking, but it relies on SteamVR, so it is poised to be the smallest SteamVR headset on the market. This is quite surprising, since we all expected a standalone device, and I wonder how is the comfort and the stability of this lightweight headset that has to be attached to a PC with a long (and so heavy) cable. I guess we’ll discover it in the first hands-on sessions, but I am a bit worried about it. It also features a Snapdragon XR1 chipset inside, and it is not clear why yet… maybe Shiftall will announce some possible standalone hybrid mode in the upcoming times. A compatible controller has not been announced, either.
Shiftall MeganeX is slated to launch sometime in Spring 2022, and it will be priced at around $900, so it will also be quite expensive.
Haptic technologies were represented at CES very well especially by two companies: OWO and bHaptics.
OWO Haptic Vest (Image by OWO)
OWO has been the true surprise of this event: it is a haptic T-shirt, very lightweight, that contains 10 electrodes that can provide you different kind of sensations, from pain to just the gentle sensation of touch. This T-shirt must be in direct contact with the skin, and its electrodes use the power of a battery to provide enough electricity to make your muscles contract so that to give you the sensation of having been touched or shot. According to some articles, it can also provide cool (and creepy) sensations, like the one of having been stabbed, with you feeling the blade entering into your chest and coming out from your back. I know many people that have tried this T-shirt: it has been one of the most discussed gadgets of CES in the community, even if it had no visibility on the most important VR magazines. OWO Vest can be preordered now on its website should be released around October for $450.
Front and back of bHaptics TactGlove gloves (Image by bHaptics)
bHaptics, a company we already know well, has instead announced TactGlove, a pair of very lightweight haptic gloves. TactGloves are made in fabric, and so look like standard gloves, and feature LRA vibrational motors on the fingertips to provide haptic feedback at finger level. The gloves can be so thin because they feature no tracking technology, and they rely on the hand tracking system of the headset (e.g. Oculus Quest 2) to know the pose of the fingers. The company plans to provide TactGlove DK Kits starting in the 2nd quarter of 2022, then officially release the consumer version in late 2022. The expected retail price is $299, with the gloves coming in 3 sizes: Medium, Large, and Extra Large. I’ve tried these gloves at AWE and found them quite interesting, even if I would have preferred to have more haptic motors on them because the haptics should be on the whole hands and not just on fingertips.
Another company proposed its haptic vest at CES: it comes from Paris and is called Actronika, and its product is dubbed Skinetic. It really looks like a bHaptics vest clone and it features vibrational motors inside a cool vest that looks like the bulletproof vest of special forces. It will be available for pre-order starting on March 22, 2022 during a one-month Kickstarter campaign.
Unlink VR hardware (Image by Unlink VR)
Another company that didn’t get visibility on major VR publications but was discussed a lot in the communities has been Unlink VR. This startup is proposing a solution for streaming VR content from the PC to a headset using laser beams. It would let you use whatever PCVR headset in an untethered way just using its transmitter near the PC and a receiver on the headset, a bit like with the old TPCAST. People got amazed at the news because this device would let all Valve Index owners use their headset without the cable, finally giving Valve Index that wireless feature that Valve is promising since years.
I had a look at its website, where the company promises “Lossless quality, full 4k, no compression” and it shows a picture of a Valve Index to suggest the use case, but unluckily there are no videos of people actually showcasing the technology in use. And there are also no reviews available about it. I suppose it is still a prototype, so take its claims with a grain of salt. I’ll try to get to know more and I will report to you about it as soon as I discover something.
Big kudos to Micah Blumberg for having reported about this company.
If it were a prize for the weirdest XR gadget from CES, Mutalk (the one in the header image of this article) would win without any doubt. It is a VR accessory by Shiftall that should let you have better voice interactions while you are in social VR spaces.
Mutalk is a small box you put on your mouth so that when you speak, the people around can hear less your voice. Plus, thanks to its microphones, the voice it reads is sent in a clearer way and with less noise to the other people in VR, that so can hear you better. This way you annoy less the people physically around you, and offer a better experience to the people that are virtually around you.
The problem is that to have this advantage, you have to wear on your face this box hat seems like a BDSM gadget, and in the end, you look like Bane, the evil character of the Batman saga. I’m not so sure if I want to look like this.
XTAL 3 launch trailer
VRgineers has just launched its new headset: called XTAL 3, it is priced at a very hefty price (€10000), but it may be the best high-end enterprise headset on the market. XTAL has always been an interesting device offering crisp graphics with a wide field of view, but it was haunted by its very heavy weight and visible distortions on the lenses. This new XTAL 3 announced at CES, first of all, boasts incredible features with its 180° horizontal and 90° vertical FOV, two 4K resolution displays, 120 Hz refresh rate, and a pair of 4K mixed reality cameras for passthrough AR. But especially it seems to have solved its usual problems, with a weight that is now acceptable and lenses that remove the annoying distortions, giving you fully immersive visuals in all your field of view. I wasn’t sure if believing this claim from the press release, but then I’ve read the review of the professional XR journalist David Heaney on Upload VR about it and in there, he claims that “XTAL 3 is the most immersive virtual reality headset I’ve ever worn”. After that, I was fully convinced of the value of this headset.
€10000 means that the device is even more expensive than Varjo, so it won’t be easy for VRgineers to sell it, but I for sure applaud the fact that they have been able to reach such a cool technical milestone.
Talking about hi-res, wide-FOV headsets, we all recall that some months ago Pimax teased Pimax Reality, a headset that more or less should include everything we have always dreamed about a VR device. This fantastic VR system should have been showcased at CES, but the company withdrew its participation at CES 2022 because of the new Omicron variant and the safety issues coming from the new pandemic wave. The Chinese company is promising to offer a livestream soon to reveal the current status of the project.
Qualcomm and Microsoft partnership
(Image by Qualcomm)
Qualcomm and Microsoft have announced a partnership to push together the next-generation lightweight AR glasses. It is not exactly clear what this partnership is about: the two giants talk about “designing custom AR chips and integrating software platforms”, something that sounds very vague. Road To VR goes a bit more in depth about it, specifying that:
Specifically Qualcomm says it will be working with Microsoft on “developing custom AR chips to enable a new wave of power efficient, lightweight AR glasses to deliver rich and immersive experiences.” Further, the announcement reveals plans to integrate Microsoft Mesh—the company’s multi-user XR foundation—with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Spaces XR development tools.
Road To VR
I think that the news is particularly interesting because both Qualcomm and Microsoft are two very important companies with deep pockets and great XR expertise, so whatever they can do together, can surely be beneficial for the ecosystem. I also wonder if this partnership has been made to join the forces against the upcoming arrival of Apple in the field, or against Meta, which is rumored to abandon Qualcomm chips in favor of custom chips for its future Quest devices.
LIghtweight XR headsets
TCL Leiniao AR teaser trailer
Apart from the device from Shiftall, we had other news about lightweight AR or VR glasses. In this field, TCL has been the true surprise. The Chinese company, which is used to building glasses just are just portable displays (and announced one of them at CES), has also brought to Las Vegas the prototype of new AR/smartglasses, called TCL Leiniao (雷鸟 = Thunderbird) AR. These glasses look like standard glasses, but feature full-color waveguides and integrated speakers. From the teaser video, we can see that they are advertised as gadgets to see notifications from your phone, have video calls, have contextual information in front of your eyes, have additional monitors, and even operate your smart home via IoT. TCL talks in the press release about AR and VR, while actually there is no reference to 3D elements in its video. They look anyway very cool as smartglasses, better than the Ray-Ban Stories on the features side. I’ll keep an eye on them in the future for sure.
Vuzix Shield launch trailer
Vuzix, which is instead a very well-known company in the field, has just announced its Vuzix Shield glasses, which are smartglasses similar to normal glasses, but for enterprise use. These glasses look perfect to substitute the awkward monocles because they can show contextual information in monochrome green color right in front of both eyes of the user. They are optimized to work in loud environments thanks to advanced noise-cancellation algorithms and are also compliant with various standards to protect the eyes of the user in industrial settings. They also work out of the box with popular remote assistance solutions like Teamviewer. Vuzix has also partnered with Verizon to exploit 5G together with AR in industrial environments. Vuzix Shield is probably the first good-looking industrial AR headset out there in the market.
Thirdeye Razor MR glasses (Image by Thirdeye)
ThirdEye, another company that has always focused its efforts in delivering AR glasses for the enterprise, has instead announced the ThirdEye Razor MR, which are MR glasses devoted to consumers. They can connect with most Android and iOS phones and feature a 43-degree field of vision (FOV), 70Hz refresh rate, and 8-hour battery life. The company claims that 100+ apps will be available in its store at launch, but reading the press release it seems that most of them will be an adaptation of the enterprise ones already featured by the previous industrial-oriented glasses. For instance, the remote assistance for business settings has become remote assistance to fix home appliances. These glasses should launch later this year.
TCL’s new media viewer glasses (The Verge)
TCL Leiniao smartglasses (CNET)
TCL Leiniao launch trailer (Youtube)
Vuzix Shield official webpage (Vuzix)
Vuzix Shield launch trailer (Youtube)
Vuzix announces partnership with Verizon (Yahoo)
ThirdEye announces Razor MR consumer glasses (Globenewswire)
NVIDIA and AMD
An NVIDIA RTX3090 Ti. It’s good to see it in a picture because I will never see it in real life (Image by NVIDIA)
NVIDIA and AMD have just announced their new graphics cards. I don’t know who they have announced them for, since it is almost impossible to buy a graphics card nowadays, but we appreciate the effort of trying to offer something new. Anyway, NVIDIA has revealed the very powerful RTX 3090 Ti and the very cheap RTX 3050. The 3090 Ti is 10% faster than the 3090, with 24GB GDDR6X RAM and 40 TFLOPs of GPU performance, and will be priced at $1499. It is ideal for those who want the best graphical performances in VR. The 3050, instead, could have problems in running some heavy VR experiences, but it comes at the incredibly cheap price of $249.
Talking about XR, NVIDIA has also announced huge news for Nvidia Omniverse: the tool will exit from its beta phase and will officially be available for all creators. The tool should have a free tier for small teams, and at CES new features have been announced, like the integrations with popular 3D marketplaces like Sketchfab and Turbosquid, and a cloud version to make people work all together on an online project in a way similar to what happens with Google docs.
AMD has answered these announcements expanding its Radeon RX 6000 graphics lineup with eight new GPUs for laptops and two new graphics cards for desktop PCs. Talking about prices, AMD has won the battle against NVIDIA again, because its cheapest new GPU, the Radeon RX 6500 XT, will be available on January 19 at a starting price of $199.
Mojo Vision AR contact lens (Image by Mojo Vision)
Mojo Vision, the innovative company working on AR contact lenses, has just announced an additional funding round of $45M to explore the use case of sports athletes. This is a new market type that had not been announced before, and it is about providing athletes with data about their training directly in front of their eyes without having them wear glasses. It is very intriguing, but I guess also very challenging given that it is not uncommon for athletes to lose a contact lens during a sport performance. The funding round was led by Adidas, that of course knows very well the sports field.
The automotive sector is interested in exploring AR windshields since a lot of time because they can offer useful information right in front of the eyes of the driver. At this CES there have been many showcases of similar technologies of this kind, and I’ve selected two of them. The first one is from Panasonic: the windshield features an eye-tracking system, and can so detect where are the eyes of the driver. Thanks to this information, it can provide augmentations that are seen better from that point of view. It is very interesting.
The second one I selected is from Samsung, and in this case to show what I wouldn’t like to have in an AR windshield. The company has released a concept vision of its idea of the future of cars, and like many concept videos of this kind, it features many annoying notifications on the screen, something that to me seems disturbing. Also, at a certain point in the video, there is a meeting happening in AR right in front of the eyes of the driver: the car is self-driving, but you know that drivers of self-driving cars should always be aware of what is happening around them, and not looking at their colleagues depicted on a windshield. This is the kind of video that gets produced when only marketers work on an idea without involving people that know how to build a product, and the result is a total disaster.
Foottroller shoes for VR
There are other pieces of news I’ve found somewhat interesting, but I don’t feel like commenting much:
JP TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVES, INC. has showcased Foottroller a pair of rolling flip flops to let you walk in VR while running in place in real life (More info on its official website)
Beomni is a robot that you can control from anywhere by using a VR headset and controllers or Senso Gloves (More info on CNET)
Digilens announces next generation Crystal30 Waveguide and the new EnLiten30 Projector, for AR glasses to be used indoor and outdoor (More info on BusinessWire)
Samsung has bought a piece of land on Decentraland to host 837X, the virtual version of 837, its flagship New York City experience center (More info on Samsung Official Website)
Samsung also organized a showcase home filled with Samsung home appliances inside Zepeto, but its result have not been that exciting (More info on The Verge)
Rendever, the VR company created to assist seniors in overcoming social isolation through shared experiences, has announced that its VR fitness platform, RendeverFit, is now shipping globally (More on Globenewswire)
Korean company Viosys has announced its WICOP microdisplays for AR and VR. The company claims that they can also realize “the high-resolution virtual reality of 2,000 PPI (Pixel Per Inch)” (More on Viosys official website)
I hope you have enjoyed this roundup, and that it has helped you in discovering at least one piece of XR news from CES that you missed. If it is the case, please subscribe to my newsletter to not miss my future informative articles, and share this post with your peers to spread the knowledge about cool XR technologies!
(Header image by Shiftall)