The ubiquity of the technology at CES 2023 matched its ephemeral nature in virtual and augmented realities.
This felt almost like mid-1990s, when all tech companies had an Internet strategy. Nearly everyone now has a method of overlaying images on the real world, or immersing yourself in fantasies.
This is because hardware drives this, and CES 2023 was stuffed with it. It was abundantly available on the floor. There were many AR glass companies present, eager to get in the dangerous waters that Google Glass has created.
However, the true leaders in this space are HTC, Magic Leap and Meta. The once-secretive and newly opened Magic Leap was present at the show floor encouraging people to go through various enterprise scenarios. Meanwhile, Meta and Vive offered invite-only demonstrations of the latest gear in nearby ballrooms.
My visit began with Magic Leap, where I was greeted by Julie Larson Green (CTO), a former Microsoft Windows veteran who helped guide Magic Leap from an inexplicable and over-promising wonderkind to a pragmatic and purposeful AR headset that can be used for industrial, factory, disaster relief, and other purposes.
Green said to me that Magic Leap was not yet ready for the market and was still unclear about the consumers’ scenarios.
Enterprise is an entirely different matter. They are used to having things on their face, whether it’s in industry, factories or medical theatre.
Green advised me to get the Magic Leap 2 headset. It is 50% lighter than the original and half the size. The new AMD SoC is also included.
Magic Leap 2 is slimmer than the HTC Vive XR Elite or the Meta Quest Pro. The processor and battery are contained in a separate, lightweight puck you can attach to your belt. The result is that the headgear feels lightweight and comfortable. This means that you will have a cable from your puck to your skull. I felt the puck touch my hip.
The Magic Leap 2 headset is comfortable, as promised. The scenario I tested was one in which the headset allowed me to stand in an exact replica of Hoover Dam and simulate an emergency. I was impressed by the graphics and my -70 degree field of vision made the dam appear to be almost everywhere. The controller allowed me to place police officers and cars all over the virtual world. I was able to see the real world all along.
Larson stated that Magic Leap was working with NVIDIA to develop its “Omniverse”, but the buzzwords aside the partnership has brought ray-tracing support for the headset.
The original Magic Leap was often discussed with awe and in quiet tones. Only a few people had actually seen demos. But this company, and the new leader, is focused on utility. My experience shows that they are focusing on the practical part. Even at $3,299 it may have a shot in the enterprise.
HTC has embraced the suit-like look of Magic Leap and is leading in immersive, augmented experiences that are accessible to everyone.
Since I last used a Vive VR headset, it had been some time. My original HTC Vive XR Elite was VR-only, and required beacons to track your location. The HTC Vive XR Elite has everything you need. The HTC Vive XR Elite has been redesigned in order to be lighter, and it supports AR as well.
HTC offered me a variety of experiences, but I first had to adjust to my new headgear which looks more like a pair of goggles with a cushiony head band. The back has a large knob that tightens the headgear. To use the Magic Leap headset I needed to take off my glasses. The HTC Vive XR Elite has little dials that allow you to adjust the focus. You can also slide the eyepieces closer or further apart depending on your pupillary distance. The display has a visual grid that allows you to position your lenses correctly.
This was easy and took only a few seconds. A rubber band runs across the top of your helmet to provide additional support. The fit was very comfortable for me.
These demos were a great way to highlight the specs and capabilities of HTC Vive XR Elite.
To interact with the games, I used the dual controllers as well as my hands. Maestro was a concert in which I led an orchestra. One hand held the remote, which I used for touch, swipe, and gripping a virtual baton. The other hand of mine was unassisted and I could use it to point at different sections in the orchestra, while waiting. It was amazing to discover that Vive Elite Elite could recognize the movements of my five free fingers. The four cameras as well as the 3D depth sensor are likely to play some role in this.
Hubris was a fun game that I enjoyed. It was notable because it intuitively read my climbing, swimming and grabbing movements.
Yuki is a game where aliens appear from the holes in walls. Because the second one was useless, I tried my best to get them down all with just one hand. It was very compelling to see the mixed reality effect.
Gesture AR also allowed me to draw in 3D, much like Tilt Brush.
Kayak was my favorite. They had me sit in a chair and gave me a kayak oar with trackers. Then they let me go paddling around. The motion capture and effect made it seem like I could actually kayak in real life.
The HTC Vive Elite’s 2K LCD screens per eye is a key reason why everything looks great. The HTC Vive XR Elite also has a great pass-through camera, which made AR more engaging.
The battery lasts for two hours. But I found it more impressive that it can be hot-swappable. The device will stay on even if you remove it. There’s also a 10-minute backup battery that is hardwired to the system.
The system will be available for purchase in February starting at $1,099 and it is expected to beat Meta Quest Pro by just a few hundred bucks. However, that rival system also has a charging dock, remotes, and remotes which do not require the use of the LED rings.
While I am not yet ready to declare the Metaverse a reality, VR and AR continue to make significant leaps each year, if not every six. Both the hardware and software are getting more lightweight and powerful, and they offer immersive and convincing experiences.
We have not even seen the Apple upcoming products.
TechRadar has all the coverage of CES 2023. All the latest tech news, launches and announcements, from 8K TVs, foldable displays, new smartphones, laptops, and smart home devices, are brought to you by Tech News.