You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.
The following is my VR wish list for 2017: ten "stretch goals" across hardware, software, apps, content and distribution. While not all of these will deliver by year's end, I believe a certain amount of blue sky aspiration is in order for the good of the VR ecosystem. And despite an encouraging spate of AR/VR/MR announcements and demos at CES 2017 (check out UploadVR for the latest), we're not nearly there yet.
1. Integrated wireless
Nothing kills an immersive buzz faster than being asphyxiated by your high-end headset's cable. Tethers rein in the experience. Most of us don't have personal vassals to manage the data cord as we attempt to enjoy our room-scale range. TPCAST's wireless VR upgrade kit is a stop-gap measure that addresses the tether clumsiness, but also compounds the vertical cost of your home VR investment. Integrated wireless is essential.
2. Better form factors with adjustable lenses
Most people don't want to look like they're starring in FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Most people also wear glasses. Most VR headset companies seem tone-deaf to both of these points. Mass market traction will only be possible with gear that ordinary folks are willing to wear, with adjustable optics for the majority of us without perfect vision. Rectifeye is on the case.
3. Increased resolution and field-of-view
The human eye has 5 million cone receptors processing color and 100 million rods processing contrast. Multiply that by two eyes and take into account the manner in which your eyes flick about as your brain composites the input (much like stitching together a panoramic photo) and you're looking at over 500 megapixels of available image data in a healthy human. That's a tall order to accommodate in VR, but we're already seeing announcements of headsets with 4K resolution per eye and 200-degree-plus FOVs, which are steps in the right direction.
4. Hands-free controllers
VR hardware manufacturers who trumpet the sophistication of their hand-held controllers relative to the competition are missing the point. We need our hands free in VR. Let's please lose the TV-era remote control sticks and move on to hands-free VR gloves, rings or better. Beijing-based Noitom gets it.
5. A comprehensive, pro-grade VR content creation platform
VR content ideally needs to be created within the immersive environment. The VR industry is so far merely inching its way forward on this front, with incremental improvements to current tools. What we sorely need is an open, professional grade, stem-to-stern VR content creation platform that encompasses development, production and post - integrating 2D graphics and 3D graphics with captured video, LIDAR and light field data. Any takers?
6. Practical applications tailored to the average consumer
VR incubators and accelerators are slowly freeing their thinking from the grip of gaming and embracing the potential of the much larger applications market. 2017 will hopefully see the release of AR and VR apps that we didn't know we needed but can't live without - an app universe that spans demographics and compels people like my mom to use a VR headset the way she now uses a smartphone.
7. Innovative immersive content unconstrained by previous paradigms
We've been through a year of VR "firsts" (first VR documentary film, first underwater VR experience, first VR fill-in-the-blank), and the big studios are increasingly committing popular IPs to VR (yawn). In 2017, let's hope that we see more content creators exploring what VR can be instead of merely "augmenting" existing forms with immersive icing on stale cakes. The worst thing for VR would be for its expressive potential to be constrained in the way that Pixar constrained the breadth of 3D animation and Disney constrained the breadth of 2D animation (with all due respect to both for digging deep within a narrow range of commercial possibilities).
8. A distribution platform with an innovative, scalable business model
Talk to almost any VR entrepreneur, and you'll eventually hear the same mantra: "We're not just building a (headset/camera/app/etc.), we're building a platform." There's no shortage of players aspiring to be your end-to-end VR solution, but there is a shortage of solid VR distribution platforms, and nothing comparable to Apple's transformative iPod/iTunes combo punch. HTC Vive and others have announced subscription plans, but without much information in the way of content, pricing and availability.
9. An Apple announcement
Speaking of Apple, they're clearly up to something in VR, judging from their recent hiring and patent filing activity. Apple has a history of fostering game-changing, consumer-facing paradigm shifts. Although the primary author of that history is no longer with us, my money is on the assembled talent in Cupertino to bring a seductive, high-quality AR/VR experience to the masses. Here's hoping for a glimpse in 2017.
10. A Magic Leap release
Patience with Rony Abovitz' version of "Mystery Science Theater" is wearing thin, especially following the news of fudged demos. It's time to take a mixed reality shit or get off the billion-dollar pot.
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