#1201 – XR’s New Stand in Entertainment

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The developments in the consumer VR scene have galvanized many towards the reality of hyperbole vented for some ten-years, about this technology which was going to take over the social media and entertainment medium. As with Bitcoin, NFTs and even eSports, a new critical eye is being applied to all those who proclaimed this technology, and the reality is being hard sought by those who still have invested heavily in the tech.

Building a New Love Affair for XR

The dust (and hype) seems to have settled, following a tempestuous few months since the Apple launch of their Vision Pro MR platform. The media hype for all things glasses-based has quelled, and a new reality seems to have descended. This is what many see as a clearing of the decks towards a final push to prove the hype and investment in VR/MR has been worth it, and there is a strong revenue achievable at the end of the tunnel.

This clearing of house can be seen with the news that Meta has discontinues all Oculus accounts (deleting them), shuttering the Oculus brand completely. The older Oculus brand came with baggage, and Meta seems to want to focus wholly on its own stewardship. However, this move would see connected Meta VR headsets suffer an outage for over an hour – which Meta claimed was due to an outage across their network, caused by a server malfunction. They promised in future to try and make their hardware more resilient to these situations. Meta (then Facebook) had paid over $3b for Oculus VR in 2014, hoping the acquisition would cement them as controlling the consumer VR space and hoped Metaverse future. But this seems to have been a drawn-out money pit – requiring a new focus towards regaining lost credibility.

This new focus on defining Meta’s place in the MR/XR revolution was seen with the announcement that Meta would be partnering with LG, towards the development and sales of a XR headset. Clearly a mixed reality platform, building off LG’s proven manufacturing and consumer sales capabilities, with a clear eye on the Asian market opportunities. A 2025 timeframe was hinted by some media for this planned system, which some have dubbed a possible Meta Quest 3 Lite platform, building off the Meta Quest 3’s bumpy launch, and hoping to create a cost-reduced and market-suitable platform, employing the API and R&D from this effort. That would also compete directly with the big guns entering the market, such as Samsung and Apple. It was also revealed that, in the Meta hardware roadmap, there are now plans to reveal an AR-based glasses system (codenamed Onion) in Q4 of 2024 – cementing the corporation’s plans in this sphere, after their Ray Band partnership.

A move in XR, rather than VR, with the new headset in development, looks to follow in the wake of interest generated by Apple’s entry into “Spatial Computing”. Regarding other hopeful entrants in this field, it is reported that Google has partnered with Samsung (a previous partner of Oculus and Meta on the ‘GearVR’ early VR smartphone headset), towards developing a new XR platform of their own. The new system will incorporate the new Qualcomm XR2+ chipset and will combine several MR elements. At the same time, an attempt by Google to partner with Meta, on combining forces to incorporate the Android XR platform into their ecosystem, was revealed. It was reported that Meta rejected this proposal out of hand, as the corporation did not want to give access to their userbase, and so losing control of their core goals. Google’s Android platform is seen as the only real competitor to Apple’s advantage.

Apple has been linked to numerous rumors regarding the success of their Apple Vision Pro headset. Claims of a higher-than-expected rate of returns (even suggestions that a certain YouTuber, who had made a wild praise video of their unboxing of the release, had been the first to “pump-and-and-dump” their purchase), were countered by loyalists who claimed the system was seeing greater adoption. Cracks in the screen were countered with claims that this was only seen in a handful of units. A lack of serious apps was countered by promises of new games in development. This tribalistic defence of the Apple hardware by hyperbolic fans of the ecosystem, seems to have put some possible customers off. Also, reports of plans to launch a low-cost version of the Apple hardware for 2025 has seen many possible early adopters now sitting on the fence – although still proposing a hefty launch price around $2,000, this was hoped to be less than the current systems already hefty price tag.

The entry of more MR (XR) developments was seen from HTC at the recent Mobile World Congress (MWC’24) in Barcelona, pushing their XR credentials, following their launch of the ‘VIVE XR Elite’, along with their face tracking support, as well as their new VIVE Ultimate trackers. The corporation’s VR focus in commercial entertainment was represented on the booth with an eight-player free-roaming arena, running HTC VIVE Focus 3 headsets from Varonia Systems – an LBE platform provider with a substantial 40+ arena installation in Europe. The latest zombie-blaster was being avidly played by over 1,300 show attendees. HTC was promoting their Location Based Software Suite (LBSS) platform, enabling free-roam arena development and support. While another aspect of HTC’s collaboration on LBE installations came with a demonstration of Backlight’s ‘Le Bal de Paris’ VR experience, which has been on tour.

In other VR/MR headset developments, Chinese manufacturer DPVR announced they had agreed a partnership with ASI, a distributor of IT hardware and software in North America (not to be confused with the Amusement Service Internation). This partnership will see the DPVR range of VR headsets represented in the territory – this will also see an investment in enterprise placement, and the announcement confirmed that the DPVR E3C and E4C range will be focused on placement in VR arcade business. This follows the showing of the DPVR range at CES’24, that included promotion of the usage of their hardware in the Raw Thrills VR amusement platform. The Chinese VR headset manufacturer is looking to maximize its position in the market, building on their proven technology and long legacy in this scene, supporting Chinese platforms under the previous Depoon brand.

The news from PICO had previously been mooted, linked to speculation that parent corporation ByteDance had instigated layoffs and restructuring of the operation’s VR interests in the face of less than stellar sales results for their division. But Western media was keen to promote new rumors emanating from the corporation, that they were working on a new XR headset dubbed the PICO 4S. The system is coming with new controllers and could see greater sales penetration. The original PICO 4 standalone VR platform had only seen limited Asian and European sales focus. PICO will be going straight for Quest 3, and possible Quest 3 Lite sales, following the announcement of the LG partnership for Meta. This platform will also push a strong MR agenda, hoping to ride some of the Apple Vision Pro interest.

A clear battle line has been drawn between VR and MR, following the weeks of coverage of the new Apple launch and subsequent new partnership and launch announcements. XR is shaping up to be the watch word for the next phase of deployment, as other manufacturers avoid the “Spatial Computing” term in favour of adopting “Extended Reality”. The big issue, however, is the public. No matter the hype, the audience-base seems to be suffering “VR-fatigue”, not really understanding the issues separating VR from the MR environment being proffered by the manufacturers. The lack of a “killer app”, let alone any content that offers true staying power, are adding to the fatigue, with some wondering if the consumer love affair with head-mounted technology is cooling significantly.

About the author

Kevin Williams

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The brainchild of two location-based experience enthusiasts, Christine Buhr and Brandon Willey, the LBX Collective aims to inform and educate, create opportunities to connect with industry peers, and to spur collaboration, discourse, and cross-pollination of ideas.

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