#1191 – Consumer Electronics Big Bang!

As we start 2024, the entertainment and technology landscape is front and center with developments from the largest of the consumer electronic events, along with developments in the scene targeting this major media event. The Stinger Report is one of the few from the sector with a presence at the event, to collect the trending developments related to our industry.

Consumer Electronic’s New Year Blowout

The year starts with a gaggle of entertainment and technology events, one of the pivotal being the Consumer Electronic Show (CES). Owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the event saw some 3,500 exhibitors filling the Las Vegas west hall and numerous hotel suites, attracting an expected 130,000 attendees. The event offers consumer electronics, automotive and new technology trends, and has become a barometer of the year ahead.

The drive to establish a believable business model for consumer AR and VR played the pivotal battle of survival on the Las Vegas show floor. Where last years CES had been filled to the brim with “Metaverse” promotion, the term was near invisible this year. It seemed the metaverse was fad being abandoned for that of Artificial Intelligence (AI), as many of the consumer electronic products and services at the 2024 event boasted some sort of AI in their marketing and list of features. But it was the need to establish a business for VR/AR/MR that turned many heads at the show.

The influence from Apple was noted with their immanent entry into the MR space, with the ‘Apple Vision Pro’, which was leaked to be positioned for a January surprise. That surprise is proving to be the announcement of a 2nd February launch of the eagerly awaited $3k+ XR headset from the technology giant. Apple used the buildup for CES to fire their starting gun for the relaunch of headset technology – a pivotal product for the XR headset industry, and the latest new Apple product since 2015. CES even had one enterprising Chinese exhibitor demonstrating a low-cost knock-off of the concept.

The rest of the VR and AR scene is scrambling to ride a perceived consumer and media wave against a backdrop of stalling conversational VR aspirations. The CES’24 extravaganza acted as a “last-chance-saloon” to prove the bankability of the much-hyped consumer application of the tech. Especially so as manufacturers pivoted to ride the MR and Spatial Computing/AR coattails of Apple – rather than follow the VR coattails of Meta. The VR poster boy continued to avoid a direct presence at CES, instead favoring their own media events.

Exhibitor Letin showed their ‘Nimo One’ see-through smart glasses, equipped with the ‘LetinAR FrotinAR Pro’ optical system, supporting generative AI through Spatial Productivity. Meanwhile, Vuzix, a supplier of Smart Glasses and AR technology, announced the expansion of its Vuzix Ultralite OEM PlatformSM with its new ‘Ultralite S’ AR smart glasses, aimed in part at sports and fitness users.

Meanwhile, corporate giant Sony used the show to launch a new MR headset, aimed at 3D creativity. Sony also partnered with Siemens to employ their NX CAD software. The yet-unbranded headset offers 4k OLED display and has a unique controller, and represents one of the first releases using the partnership with Qualcomm, with the XR2+ Gen 2 processor. Another Qualcomm XR2+ Gen 2 partner is Google, who has been working on its own AR headset – but, in a surprise announcement, it was revealed they had abandoned the project to focus on a new MR-focused platform. This tempestuous process also saw the departure of prominent executives steering the corporation’s VR and AR initiative.

AR was represented also for museum application at CES’24, from exhibitor Bavart. The company showed their smart device AR app for exhibits, offering a gamification experience for gallery and museum application. CES was noteworthy for what was done on the show floor and hotel suites as well as what was announced off site. The Spatial Computing/AR reignition of interest saw many manufactures scramble to ride this wave. One such was Magic Leap, now owned by Saudi concerns, and it was revealed that some $590m additional investment had been made in the operation towards positioning to compete with Apple’s entry into the market. This investment comes after their $4b raise previously invested in the operation. It was not revealed if this new investment would be to pivot, once again, into releasing a consumer platform after abandoning this approach for an enterprise facing business model. Another poster boy avoiding the limelight and a presence at the Vegas show.

Regarding VR’s expected year of upheaval, at CES’24 the show floor included DPVR, the Chinese headset manufacturer, showing a range of their new headsets, as well as their efforts for greater market penetration. Part of this investment has seen enterprise partnerships, one such being with amusement powerhouse Raw Thrills, bringing their brand-new ‘Godzilla Kaiju Wars VR’ machine for attendees to try. Raw Thrills had previously partnered with HP for their Reverb VR headset, but HP had abandoned the market suddenly and sunsetted the headset, so now the vacuum is being filled by DPVR. The company was promoting their new headset (‘DPVR E4C’ (commercial)) for B2B/enterprise application and suitability for VR arcade application. News of other restructuring amongst hardware providers was also reported (see PICO news). Another VR headset developer at CES 2024 was Pimax, with a crowded booth representing a selection of their new headsets.

The XR future was also charted on the Sony booth, with the corporation running an Immersive Enclosure using projection mapping and tracked movement. An experience based on the Ghostbusters property had attendees able to interact with the visual experience. This represents an example of immersive screen technology and a snapshot of technology already penetrating the LBE scene. The projection mapped experience was also represented from Active Entertainment and their ‘DiDim’ smart playground – claimed to be the first in the world with a floor projection, movement tracked, multiuser experience. The system represents an AR/MR physical fitness experience, initially intended for schools and leisure venues.

Amusement was represented along with Raw Thrills presence, with Stern Pinball once again promoting their consumer and prosumer range. One of these included the launch of the pintable ‘Jaws’. Amusement and location-based entertainment also played a part in the hospitality and parties supporting the technology event. An after-show VIP event was held at Player One, a Las Vegas retro arcade bar, while the popular AREA15 venue was also decked out to support a number of mixers and after-show parties.

Back on the show floor, some exhibitors channelled the spirit of location-based entertainment in their booth design – one striking example was seen with SK Innovation, who created their “SK Wonderland”. This borrowed from the theme park and fairground style, with presentations on the booth including the ‘Dancing Car’ attraction with robot arms and a projection mapped model. The booth also had an AI powered Fortune Teller, and a Magic Carpet attraction, with the latter employing a suspended four-rider motion platform and the latest large screen display, to offer a unique soaring experience. The vast booth even included its own people mover, Rail Road, traveling through immersive areas using large screen displays, showcasing net zero activities with the Rainbow Tube display of waste plastic handling and recycling.

One interesting tech launch which offered a tantalizing crossover of technology was from Segway – who launched their new ‘GoKart Pro 2’ vehicle. This latest release comprised a 26mph go-kart based on the Segway platform – the fastest in their fleet. But the system also had an additional feature. Via the vehicle’s steering wheel and pedals, it could be hocked up to game systems and PCs to use the kart in a static mode as a Sim Racing platform – a unique crossover from vehicle to simulator.

Growing Withdrawal from Consumer VR

Following on from CES and news of restructuring of VR hardware providers continued, with HP sunsetting their Reverb range and with another prominent provider of enterprise VR headsets in the news.

Following on from our coverage of the layoffs impacting PICO, we learned (in a report from several well-placed sources) that Bytedance had activated plans that would see the cancellation of PICO’s planned PICO 5 VR headset. Seen in prototype form at several events, it was revealed that, following the restructuring, PICO would be cancelling this project in favor of a new platform under the ‘Project Swan’ name. This would be a direct competitor to the Apple Vision Pro, and not a dedicated VR headset. It was suggested that Bytedance had forced this move on their owned division after poor sales of their previous PICO 4. Further VR investment would only be continued through an updated PICO 4 system, but the new MR platform, directed by Bytedance, was the key focus. This abandonment of a VR platform for an Apple competitor in the MR field, mirrors what has happened at Google and Samsung – as well as being reminiscent of the departure from VR development that HP undertook.

Attempts from the VR community to defuse these rumors fell flat when confirmed from inside the corporation. There seems to be a few members of the VR community who are attempting to refute any negative information regarding the underperformance of the consumer VR scene. Attempts to promote a narrative following the Black Friday sales during 2023, as being a success for Meta’s VR platform, only saw heavily discounted Meta Quest 2 sales, while the high price Meta Quest 3 languished. Some supporters pointed to news reports that Meta Quest VR headsets had outsold Apple AirPods in online sales, with UK reports of higher-than-previous VR sales of the Meta system – although it would be late noted that these stories seem to deflect from a slowing in content sales, and the near abandonment of the ‘Horizon World’ VR metaverse. Or that higher priced VR was failing to find buyers, with the plateauing of Meta Quest 3 and Sony Playstation VR 2 sales.

Only a few days after this news, it was revealed that enterprise-facing VR/MR headset manufacture, Varjo, had also discontinued their Varjo series platform – a platform that had been aimed for consumer sales. The corporation confirmed they would still offer support up to 2025, but further information on this move was limited at the time of going to the wire.

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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