I put together a panel titled “The Future of Consumer Virtual Reality” at the IEEE Virtual Reality Conference in Orlando, Florida.
I was honored to have industry leaders participate on the panel:
Palmer Luckey – Founder of Oculus VR and creator of the Oculus Rift.
Sebastien Kuntz – Founder and President of i’m in VR and creator of the VR Geeks association. Sebastien focuses on VR middleware and creating cheap VR experiences.
David A. Smith – Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Fellow at Lockheed Martin GTL. David previously founded several companies including Virtus Corporation, Red Storm Entertainment, Timeline Computer Entertainment, Neomar, and Teleplace.
Amir Rubin – Founder and CEO of Sixense Entertainment. Amir previously founded the companies Interactive Light, Transparency Software, 2Train4, and Immersia.
Each panelist spoke for a few minutes about the future of VR before answering questions from myself and the audience.
David Smith was the first to present. David talked about how the mouse changed the way we interact with computers in the 80s even though it was first invented by Engelbart back in the 60s, and shared similarities of how the mouse evolved with the way augmented and virtual realities are evolving today–for example, early users didn’t know what to do with the mouse even though it is hard to imagine today not understanding how the mouse works. David also talked about how such technologies enable us to see the un-seeable and how the computer is a full participant in the conversation. David has created optics that provide a field of view of 180 degrees! I got to try his display and the experience provided by such optics is going to be nothing short of amazing.
Sebastien Kuntz talked about how consumers will win with VR. However, hardware must be standardized based on perceptive capabilities. Sebastien also made a great point that even in the worse case that if consumer VR fails, the professional VR market will still grow. Sebastien thinks the hardware is already good enough but we don’t yet know how to make the most of it, and adapting existing applications is hard. Thus we should start with simple applications since VR is a new medium and we must explore and experiment with the basics first.
Palmer Luckey talked about how consumer VR is not only possible, but that it is inevitable. We can leverage mass market technologies such as graphics hardware, high-density mobile displays, and high-performance motion trackers–these are all available today at prices consumers can afford. Palmer stated that a primary motivation for consumer VR is that a long game console cycle and a potentially disappointing refresh has left gamers wanting something new. Major game developers are backing VR tech, although even small audiences motivate indie developers.
Amir talked about the dream of being immersed within one’s art and how that is a motivation for him. Amir remembers talking with the artist David Hockney and how David wished to be immersed in his art and did so by placing his paintings around himself in a room. Amir did not understand the concept at the time but now understands the dream of David Hockney and is working towards that dream of immersive art with MakeVR–an immersive two-handed artistic system that works with Sixense Razer Hydras and the Oculus Rift.
A good panel has some disagreement–if everybody says the same thing thing then then attendees are going to fall asleep or leave. Palmer stated that VR game developers are not creating new immersive experiences for the money but instead are doing it for the experience in itself. Amir strongly counter argued by saying if he told his shareholders what Palmer just said then he would be out of business. His point was that if we want any technology to go mainstream then we need to show large corporations and investors how the business can be profitable. Profitability is essential for long term success, otherwise VR will only remain a hobby for a niche market that dabbles in simple experiences.
The panelists discussed challenges of porting existing games and how the best games built specifically for VR will be the best. Sebastien Kuntz noted that creating experiences across different platforms will require completely new implementations that are built specifically for that technology. This may be obvious when comparing a traditional console experience to a head-mounted display experience, but he noted the experience is different even across HMDs due to different fields of view, different brightnesses, tracking capabilities, etc.
Mark Bolas from USC ICT challenged the panelists to give a number of how many HMDs would be shipped next year. All panelists other than Palmer Luckey (who stated one million units, he also estimate 15000 Oculus Rifts have been ordered) would not give an answer because they felt it is a completely speculative question. David Smith made the point that the market could go either way–we could return to the 90s where VR was overhyped and under delivered resulting in the VR crash of the 90s or things could really take off with millions of units being shipped–it is just too early to tell.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed hearing the speakers talk about their view of the future of consumer VR. I look forward to moderating my next panel titled “Immersive Experiences: Augmented and Virtual Reality” on May 1-2 at at the Neuro Gaming Conference and Expo in San Francisco. The panelists will be Palmer Luckey–Founder of Oculus VR, Scallie Laurent–CEO and Founder of Atlantis Cyberspace, and Walter Greenleaf–Director of the Mind at the Stanford Longevity Institute.