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YEP Talk: What’s Trending in VR/AR? The View from NAB, VRLA and AWE

by Jyotsna Kadimi, Technical Product Manager, YBVR

I was almost nostalgic when I walked into Los Angeles Convention Center for VRLA. The event brought back memories from USC and the connections built there during graduate school and as president of the VR student club (VRSC).  My first visit to VRLA was as a new graduate student at USC.  This year, I walked in as a young professional working for a Silicon Valley VR startup.

2015 was the height of the VR2.0 wave; it was a great time to get into VR. In 2016 I was actively doing VR/AR/MR projects in media companies and university research labs.  Yet, when I was asked whether the industry would go first in the VR or AR direction or where the future lay, I would say towards ‘mixed reality,’ because I honestly saw it that way. Now in 2018, ‘mixed reality’ is defined differently by different audiences – for some MR is advanced AR, to others MR is mixing VR video and players’ live-action video captured with green screen. So, we all seem to agree that the term ‘XR’ (also referred as eXtended Reality) is a better umbrella term for immersive (excluding augmented virtuality and diminished reality for now – google that!).

The state of VR remains a constant topic of conversation in the industry.  Perhaps VR is ‘not doing great’ and AR is what is becoming big, now and in the near future. One of the reasons the VR industry has been struggling with adoption is because the headsets are heavy and pricy, among other bottlenecks.

Having kind of seen the rise and relative fall of VR (it’s not dying), I walked into VRLA with renewed hope to see what’s in store, because hey, the new standalone headsets are hitting the market – light, portable, better screens, better optics and affordable. There is no denying that the arrival of Spielberg’s Ready Player One at the same time as the Oculus Go headset has been a blessing for the VR industry!

At its launch in 2014, VRLA started small with 100 attendees.  It was organized by USC undergrads Cosmo Scharf and his friends. Rumor has it that the first year took place in a parking lot!  Scharf dropped out of school to dedicate his energies to his own startup and to this event.  VRLA now bills itself as the biggest VR expo, boasting 12,000 attendees.

During this year’s keynote, Scharf referenced a scene in Ready Player One where everyone in the real world wears headsets, calling for the creatives and technologists in the audience to take responsibility for how our technology transforms the world.

Some other thoughts on what I saw at VRLA 2018:

Despite a keynote on how AR was white hot, there wasn’t much AR there – no Mira, no DAQRI, no Magic Leap, few HoloLens and WMR experiences. However, we saw all of them and many more at AWE 2018!

Location-based VR with multi-player games have matured. This is the best time to enter Esports VR.

Social VR and avatars are also improving – they were virtually present at VRLA to give demos. Yes, we truly live in a virtual world! There was real-time PokerVR tournament, and several booths had real-time VR tours and demonstrations by real-people avatars from their remote locations.

6DoF (six degrees of freedom) is on the rise. 3DoF seems quaint now. Games featured for Pico, Vive Focus, Lenevo Mirage Solo. This week ViveFocus announced that it had sold the most units in China and is now the top headset next to Pico. Leading creative studios such as Dragons, Felix & Paul are focusing on 6DoF live-action experiences

Light-field capture (by GoogleVR) is amazing! You can see the reflection and lighting change in real-time as you move your head in 6DoF. It feels very natural and realistic to the human eye.

VR distributors are making deals to white-label content created by Vimeo 360 and YouTube 360 video creators.

Meditation VR is a thing now! There was a large dedicated area organized by Anshul Pendse, my USC colleague. Only a few of the experiences were video-based, and one was so relaxing I fell asleep in 10 minutes. Anshul was working on his own immersive audio project called Inner Activity as a PhD student at USC.  He graduated and kept working on the project and reached out to others doing similar work in meditation, healing and relaxation through VR. Now his single inner activity installation is accompanied by 10+ such demos in a dedicated space on the expo floor!

Partnership is the new way to go. Many 360 content creators, VR communities and tech companies are making open calls. Kumar Kausik, head of commercial VR/AR at Intel and GM of Wireless Charging, showcased the “Future Classroom,” which has involved partnerships with Sansar Studio (which did Intel’s VR theater at CES), the Smithsonian, Linden Labs, and Sundance Film Festival, and announced there is an open call for more partnerships.

Radiant Images showcased “Macro VR” footage that looked amazing, and demo’ed FUNIQUE, an e2e live action solution for 6DoF. Ricoh Theta, which makes consumer 360 cameras, announced a switch to Android’s OS to allow users to make their own plugins in Android Studio.

At NAB 2018 we saw new 360 cameras from Kodak, Vuze, Insta, YiHalo, Kandao and Samsung: their new 4K live-streaming capabilities.

VRARA (Virtual Reality Augmented Reality Association) hosted their VRLA after-party event. It had a good demo showcase of different companies – mostly gaming on standalone 3DoF and 6DoF headsets and AR for entertainment.

Some VR companies that have been consistent attendees at VRLA were missing at this year’s event.  They are downsizing or going out of business.

Even at NAB2018, last year’s AR/VR Pavilion changed to Immersive Storytelling Pavilion to accommodate for XR. And the show floor was not buzzing like last year. The area was much smaller, with more participation from newer companies. It’s hard to say whether the exhibitors from previous years who were absent this year evolved their business models and chose to be at events more relevant to their niche, or they are not doing well and that’s why we don’t see them anymore, or they are busy secretly building for the next big move!

The Augmented World Expo (AWE), hosted by Superventures for the past nine years, claims to be the world’s largest and no.1 AR/VR showcase. This year’s theme was clear: Go XR or Go Home! There was an AWE playground with multi-player games, room-scale experiences, and fun holographic and AR experiences. There were VR dancing classes, snap chat lenses studio, arcade shooting games and of course VR for relaxation, as well as a lot of enterprise use-cases!

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