The year 2019 was a rather big one in terms of VR advancements; we saw a lot of cool new technologies and concepts brought to life in new and (really) interesting ways.
But as always, there are certain key points that stand out from the rest. Let’s review the top Virtual Reality technologies that gave us some excitement in 2019.
1. The Oculus Quest
First on our list of 2019 VR roundup would have to be the Oculus Quest. We finally saw a very intriguing and functional hand tracking solution, plus a full-on transition from PC-based to standalone VR devices.
Released on May 21, 2019, the Quest became an affordable solution that incorporated better resolution and refresh rates while not breaking the bank.
Some of the more prominent technologies incorporated into the device include an onboard Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and active cooling, plus of course, 2–2.5 hours battery life for extended gameplay with pass-through support.
IPD hardware is adjustable with ‘Insight’ inside-out (no external sensors) – four cameras tracking and supports 6 degrees of freedom head and controller tracking.
The Quest presents itself as the right direction on which VR headsets will follow in the future.
Now we are eagerly anticipating what comes next. When you add in the inclusion of hand tracking in the Rift S, we can only be more excited.
2. Better Controllers
The VR experience is mostly centered around what you see but also on how you interact with the environment.
Having more controller options or just better controllers would lead to a far more fulfilling experience. 2019 gave us a few more options to explore in this area.
We saw startup companies like Ultrahaptic leading the charge in creating true touch sensation within VR. They are developing what they call mid-air haptic technology using ultrasound to create rich, three-dimensional shapes and textures that can be felt, but not seen.
Things didn’t end there with the addition of extra senses (taste included!), but we also saw improvements in the controllers themselves. Such is the case with the Valve Index “Knuckles” Controllers which brings in a whole new level of interaction and adaptation to the VR experience.
No having to hold on to the controller and have each finger being tracked individually, not only gives you more freedom of movement but allows for more complex motions in-game/ in-simulation.
3. ASW 2.0
April 2019 saw the release of the ASW 2.0 on the Oculus Rift and the Rift S PC VR headsets.
By definition, Asynchronous Spacewarp (ASW) is a frame-rate smoothing technique attempts to reduce the CPU/GPU time required to produce nearly the same output from the same content. Like Asynchronous Timewarp (ATW), ASW is automatic and enabled without any additional coding from developers.
It now incorporates an understanding of depth. The data, however, has to be provided by developers before it can function. This should enhance the quality of the extrapolation and result in much fewer artifacts in gameplay or simulations.
4. Full-body avatars
What would you say to experience a full-body avatar of yourself (and others) when in VR? Well, Facebook showed us that this is possible and on its way in 2019 with a video illustrating what it calls an early prototype of the next generation of hyper-realistic VR avatars.
The video shows a man and a woman moving while nearly identical, three-dimensional, virtual versions of them — down to their jeans and t-shirts — played soccer on a virtual field with a digital soccer ball.
Obviously, the technology is still in development, but we are hoping to see advancement in this technology at the next Facebook developer conference in 2020.
5. Time for shared experiences
One of the major issues with VR has always been its single perspective view or its isolation. This changed with the introduction of Shared VR.
Here we see multiple users experiencing a simulation at the same time.
Take for example a surgical team working on a shared simulation. You can have the whole team from the lead surgeon to the attending nurse all present at the same time. This not only increases training efficiency but also allows multiple users to adapt to the workflow of team members.
Companies like Eventual are allowing VR to become a multiplayer experience by default.
Brands can have whole virtual worlds that allow their clients to interact with each other or shop attendant, represented by an avatar, can help guide the consumer around the store displays and assist with purchasing, also training can take place with multi-user environments and team configurations
6. Varjo headset
Ever wanted to experience VR in high resolution and not have to deal with low refresh rates? Varjo, a Finnish company, has you covered with a headset using their Varjo’s Bionic Display™, which delivers an unprecedented resolution of 60 pixels per degree, the equivalent of 20/20 vision.
This basically takes out almost every other HMD out in the market but it comes at a cost. We are not talking cost in terms of technology or limitations but in actual green bills. This HMD will set you back a $6,000 with no apology.
However, seeing that the company has spent a lot of time and resources on its development it is understandable why it’s so pricey. They are calling it, the VR-1, not very imaginative but this device is nothing to joke about.
To understand how much of an impact this is, we must first consider that when in VR reading various texts and focusing too closely on any individual aspect usually breaks the immersion because you get blurring and artifacting.
This device solves the issue. So it’s obvious to see such being a critical tool where a high level of precision is required such as in the enterprise or medical space.
7. Mobile VR is almost dead
Not everything went well in 2019 and that would be an understatement for the Mobile VR concept. The year saw the slow and painful decline of Mobile VR.
In October, Google announced the end of its Daydream program which was its Android-based platform for mobile VR. Google’s flagship phones from the Pixel 4, won’t be compatible with Daydream and Google is also discontinuing its Daydream View headset. It joins the list of apps and programs Google has discontinued.
Their reason for this end, well they say it’s because of low user adoption and even fewer developer interest. With the loss of these two features, we can say that mobile VR has been dealt a great setback.
As it stands we really don’t see much hope for the field in the near future.
8. VR Finds its place in Teaching
It has long been taken as a fact that VR is mostly for gamers and the entertainment industry and this has held through for a while. But now the potential of VR as a training tool is becoming more and more widespread.
From training doctors in complex procedures to fire and safety training for corporate and industrial staff. 2019 saw an influx of companies adopting VR training programs and technology. In order to both increase efficiency and reduce long term costs as a result of improper training.
9. AI in VR took a big leap
This is not something that got its own large headlines but from all the updates and subtle indications we saw over the 2019 period we can say that VR developers are taking full advantage of the functionality and advancements the inclusion of Artificial Intelligence brings to the VR landscape.
An excellent example of this integration is on WeChat which will incorporate VR to the mobile messaging system. Additionally, Facebook’s VR Spaces platform will allow individuals to meet and socialize in this environment.
VR in 2019: a quick summary
The year was one we will not be forgetting anytime soon and it makes us understand that VR might just be getting its second wind. With more features and functions, we now have to look forward too, the coming years should bring with it even more advancements in the VR space.