2016 felt like the year in which virtual reality headsets finally made it home, with people finally able to get their hands on the big systems. 2017 was when VR finally got comfy in your home, settling into your favorite couch and drinking some hot cocoa by the fire.
Augmented reality, on the other hand, still isn't ready for prime time. But that's not for a lack of trying; there were a couple big steps some companies took that finally lit the pathway for our wearable futures. More than ever before, we can glimpse the potential of AR.
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But how did we draw these conclusions from this year? Well, let's take a look at the year in AR and VR.
When we first tried HTC's Vive Trackers at CES 2017, it was like love at first sight. We instantly knew that what we had tried were absolute game changers, and we rewarded Vive at our Wareable Tech Awards, naming the Trackers the AR/VR Innovation of the Year.
The Trackers essentially allow you to turn anything into a VR controller. Need a bat for a game? Just slap a tracker on it. Want to add your hands? Slap a tracker on them. We've only just begun to see the potential of these trackers and what they mean for the future of home virtual reality, but if it can help solve immersion problems then they could change how we interact with virtual reality for the better.
Windows Mixed Reality
Early in the year, Microsoft decided to rename its Windows Holographic ecosystem to Windows Mixed Reality. It would partner up with a bunch of manufacturers, from Acer to HP to Samsung, to put together a series of affordable-yet-powerful headsets that could bring people into the world of virtual reality.
Even better, people wouldn't need high-end computers to actually use these headsets. Simply, the headsets would work on Windows PCs that had integrated graphics - and if you want an even better experience you could get a more powerful PC, but it's not a requirement and it doesn't preclude you from any experiences.
The name may be a bit confusing, but Windows Mixed Reality is actually a platform that Microsoft sees both VR and AR headsets living on together, working in perfect harmony. For example, we've used Windows apps that can work with both Mixed Reality headsets and AR headsets, like HoloLens, at the same time.
Hugo Barra in, Palmer Luckey out at Oculus
As it continues to subsume into Facebook's business, Oculus has seen some changes over the past year. The first big move was back in January, when we learned that Xiaomi chief Hugo Barra was coming in to be CEO of Oculus. Then in March, Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey left the company.
Luckey's leave happened after months of silence, and after it was revealed he had been funding pro-Donald Trump campaign online that had been smearing Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. The poster child of virtual reality is gone, and it's been looking for a new one ever since.
Mark Zuckerberg has certainly become VR's biggest cheerleader, but he's got other fish to fry. Could it be Hugo Barra? That's one of the questions we're hoping to see answered in 2018.
Oculus Rift becomes more affordable
Even though virtual reality had finally made its way into our homes, the problem was that the price of entry for high quality VR was too expensive. You not only had to buy an expensive headset, which could set you back about $599, you also had to have a high performance PC.
That barrier to entry started to slip near the summer, when Facebook-owned Oculus started the Summer of Rift event. It dropped down the price of the Oculus Rift and its Touch Controllers to $399, putting it in line with the much popular PlayStation VR. That price cut became permanent later this year.
All the big VR headsets reviewed
- HTC ViveHTC’s headset shows us just what VR is capable of – but it's still for early adopters
- Oculus RiftThe poster child for VR is still number one
- Google Daydream ViewGoogle's new headset offers a better perspective
- Samsung Gear VR (2017)Does adding a controller keep Samsung atop the pile?
- Sony PlayStation VRTHIS is mainstream VR (with some ifs and buts)
- Lenovo ExplorerThe Windows Mixed Reality family gets bigger
- Acer Mixed RealityAcer's Mixed Reality headset leaves us with mixed feelings
The price wars have only just begun, and it's only a matter of time before the big three VR systems are affordable enough for anyone to dive into high-end virtual reality. Despite bringing down the price of the Vive to $599, a $200 cut, it's still quite expensive compared to PSVR and Rift.
We know this might be surprising, but we also learned that lower prices for high end VR mean more sales for high-end VR. Try to suppress your shock.
Apple ARKit and Google ARCore pave the future
One of the most exciting things about augmented reality is that it not only has the potential to be the entertainment of the future, as virtual reality does, it has the potential to change modern computing. Because you can see virtual objects over real ones, the potential of AR to serve as an operating system for our lives is massive.
However, to get to that point we not only need great hardware that we want to wear every day, but we need great ecosystems filled with useful apps that we actually rely on. Google and Apple, two of the biggest companies on Earth, took steps toward crafting those ecosystems.
Apple announced ARKit while Google announced ARCore. Both allow developers to craft high-quality augmented reality apps pretty quickly. However, both of them are thus far limited to your phone or tablet. There are no headsets to take advantage of these apps - yet - but they are coming. And when they come, the apps will already be there.
Location VR makes its entrance
One of the biggest things we'll be talking about in 2018 is location VR. These are outdoor spaces build for virtual reality, and they create props and environments that up the immersion of what you're watching in your headset. For example, when we took on Nomadic's VR environment we would feel the heat of a furnace as we walked by. If we picked up a gun or opened a drawer in VR, we would do it in real life too.
The two big companies behind location VR made their big debuts in 2017. Nomadic showed off what it can do, and The Void teamed up with Disney to create experiences based on Star Wars for both Disneyland and Disney World.
Oculus Go is a go
The future of VR isn't going to have us tethered to our computers. And it's not going to have us inserting our phones into headsets on the go, either. It'll be about standalone headsets that won't require us to use a computer or a phone.
Oculus Go is Facebook and Oculus' first attempt. It aims to deliver a great VR experience at an affordable price. We'll have to wait until 2018 to get our hands on it, and it probably won't match the high-end standalone VR experience that Oculus Santa Cruz is promising, but it's a good first start that could be the big mainstream moment for VR.
Magic Leap finally opens up
After years of secrecy, Magic Leap has finally announced a project. Magic Leap One is its AR goggles - with attached power pack. There's still a lot we don't know, like price and content, but we do know that the hardware is real. We also know that they'll be arriving in 2018 and that the company will finally let us experience what we've only heard about in whispers.
However, while the year in AR and VR ended in a bang, it also gives us a bunch of questions. How will this field of view work, is it really close to HoloLens or is it slightly bigger? Will this be too expensive for most people, and will Magic Leap be able to carve out a niche before Apple and other big tech companies make their big AR entrance in 2021?
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