My predictions for virtual reality in 2018

Two days ago I wrote my fancy predictions about augmented reality for this new year, so today I guess it’s the turn of its cousin virtual reality. AR is far behind VR, so there was less news to talk about: regarding VR, instead, in 2017 we have seen a bazillion of interesting (and sometimes) unexpected news. I’d like to take all these data from the past year and try to make some predictions for 2018.

This article will have a slightly different structure from the previous one: I’ll divide it into various topics of interest and for every topic, I’ll say what has happened in 2017 and hence my predictions for 2018.

Let’s start!

Standalone headsets
HTC Vive Focus announcement
Vive China president Alvin Wang Graylin presents the Vive Focus on the stage (Image by HTC Vive)

We all know this: 2018 will be the year of standalone headsets.

In 2017, a lot of companies have started investing in the standalone form factor: Intel (that has shown and later on abandoned its Alloy project), Qualcomm (with the Snapdragon 835 VR reference design), HTC Vive (that has announced at the end of the year the Vive Focus), Pico (that has revealed the Pico Neo), Google (that should release a headset of this kind with Lenovo, called with the cool name of “Mirage Solo”) and especially Facebook/Oculus (that has teased its cheap Oculus Go and Oculus Santa Cruz).

The reasons for such interest in the standalone form factor are that standalones are:

  • Easy to be used: you just put the headset on your head and you’re ready to go, without installations and other complications;
  • Comfortable: since they remove the cable, that is one of the biggest nuisances of current VR experiences;
  • Portable: you just need to carry one device with you;
  • Rather cheap: since the price of a single standalone is inferior to the one of a tethered headset + VR ready PC.

So, companies are investing in this new form factor because it solves a lot of problems that current VR has and that are preventing VR from becoming mainstream.

Pico Neo 6 DOF virtual reality release
A user while playing with a Pico Neo and its two controllers (Image by Pico)

2018 will be the year of standalone devices: all the above announced headsets will be shipped in 2018. They’ll come with different flavors: Oculus Go will be ultracheap (only $200), but it will have very limited functionalities: being only a 3DOF headset, it will be good only for watching movies and trying casual games and social VR experiences; Vive Focus will offer you 6 DOF, but it will offer interactions only through a 3 DOF remote; Pico Neo and Oculus Santa Cruz are the only ones offering complete freedom of movements and interactions with a 6 DOF headset and controllers: of course these features will make these devices more expensive. There’s a lot of curiosity for the Lenovo Mirage Solo, that should be the first headset to use Google Worldsense tracking technology and it should work with the Daydream ecosystem.

These are just the most popular ones: if standalone form factor will prove successful, surely other companies will invest in it… considering that Microsoft has already produced a standalone AR headset with 6DOF tracking as HoloLens, I wouldn’t find that strange if it created a reference design for standalone Windows 10 VR headsets. Furthermore, let’s all remember that Qualcomm has just announced its Snapdragon 845 chipset, that is optimized for AR and VR: I envision them creating a new Snapdragon 845 VR reference design for next generation standalone VR headsets and this will lead to the creation of new and more powerful devices.

While the devices will be a lot, I think that most of them will serve very few software ecosystems: Oculus’s ones will use Oculus Home; all the Chinese ones will use Viveport, while all the other Western ones will use Daydream. Furthermore, most of them will be just based on the Snapdragon reference design: at the time of writing, Oculus is the only one that is not using that reference design for its headsets.

HTC Vive Focus price release date specifications
The Vive Focus device, with its two available colors. They should be released in the Western market too, even if it is not completely sure (Image by HTC Vive)

So, in 2018 VR will go standalone and in my personal opinion, the standalone bubble will burst. I mean, there is too much confidence towards standalone headsets and someone thinks that thanks to standalone HMDs, virtual reality will finally reach the mainstream success it deserves. I have a different opinion: I think that the standalone form factor is very very interesting… but I also think it has problems that will prevent it from becoming mainstream:

  • It is too VR-oriented: when buying a Gear VR for your Samsung phone or a Daydream viewer for your Pixel 2 phone, you’re buying an affordable viewer for a fantastic phone. You can use that phone to do a lot of other stuff, like shooting amazing videos, playing games and chatting with friends. You’re spending a lot of money for the whole VR system, but you have a general purpose device. The same holds for a PC: my VR-ready PC has been very expensive, but I can use it also for fast developing and video editing. An all-in-one VR system is just a VR system, so you can use it only to do VR. And the general consumer has no idea why he/she should be interested in Virtual Reality: all my friends ask me what VR is useful for, they have no idea why they should buy a VR headset. Even more, they have no idea why they should use THE FREE CARDBOARD HEADSET that someone has given them. So, why they should spend $200 to buy an Oculus Go device? Just to watch some 360 videos? Let’s all remember that Oculus Go is like a Gear VR and most Gear VR devices are taking dust on the shelf of their owners;

    Oculus Go headset announcement
    Oculus Go device render (Image by Oculus)
  • Performances are mediocre: what can convince people to buy VR? The possibility to feel amazing adventures like shooting robots in Robo Recall or feel deep emotions like in Dear Angelica. The problem is that these devices can’t allow that: they have a limited computational power and problems of battery consumption and overheating. Some of them, especially the cheapest ones, have even limited interaction features… so can only offer a decent VR experience. They can’t make you drop your jaw because the premium experiences require a more powerful hardware (so a tethered headset), so people can’t be taken to buy a standalone headset driven by their emotions;
  • It is not that cheap: Vive Focus costs $600, the Pico costs more than $700 and I think that Oculus Santa Cruz will have a similar price. So, apart from the really basic 3DOF headsets like Oculus Go (and Pico Goblin), the price is not that low: a Windows Mixed Reality headset that works with almost any laptop costs less than that.
Pico Neo 6 DOF virtual reality release
The Pico Goblin 3DOF Standalone headset: it is basically a Chinese Oculus Go: so, it has limited functionalities, but it is also very very cheap (Image by Pico)

My prediction is that standalone will sell well, both between professionals (I think they could be amazing for exhibitions, for instance) and VR enthusiasts (some of them will finally be able to afford a complete VR headset). They’ll sell millions of devices, but won’t make VR becoming mainstream. I think that the prediction of Oculus that Go will sell more than Rift but less than Gear VR is a realistic one. Of course, I hope to be proven wrong because I love VR!

Wireless adapters

In 2018, we’ll also see more wireless adapters for virtual reality headsets. The Chinese company TPCast (backed by HTC) has already sold in 2017 various units in pre-orders to make the Vive and the Rift wireless and Vive ones are already on sale. The problem is that this device is still not that easy to set up: after an enthusiastic review by UploadVR, various users have reported on Reddit that when the device works, it works like a charm, but setting it up in the optimal way is far from easy (to not say that it is a pain in the a…).

Virtual reality wireless vive tpcast
HTC Vive with TPCAST Wireless adapter on (Image by HTC)

Intel and DisplayLink have already shown their alternative solution, that should be released at the beginning of this year. And I bet that even in this field if these wireless solutions will prove to have interest, more players will enter the market.

Surely the competition will be beneficial to improve the issues of such wireless adapters, starting from the easiness of the setup and the battery duration: Intel claims that the battery of its solution lasts 2 hours, that is a bit too few for a long VR gaming session or even for an exhibition. Regarding the resolution of the transmitted image stream, according to an article on Upload VR, we’ll have to wait for 2019 to have the 802.11AY Wi-fi protocol to be able to transmit 4K per eye.

Wireless adapters are cool because free the users from the cable while still having amazing performances due to the VR-ready PC still doing all the required computations, but they add cost and complexity to the setup of the VR systems. So I think that these first versions will be used mostly by professionals, gamers, and enthusiasts. In 2018 they won’t be consumer-friendly yet.

Mobile headsets

Honestly, I don’t know what to say about this category: it will continue the same trend it has had in the past years. A lot of cardboards will be sold or given for free, new Gear VRs will be announced for the new Samsung flagship phones and new Daydream viewers will come for the new Daydream-ready phones.

New Google VR Daydream View Pixel 2
The new model of Daydream View (Image by Road To VR)

I think that we’ll see two new models of Gear VRs and one of Daydream view. But, honestly, my opinion is that these devices will be almost identical to the ones that we’ve seen in this year… the problem of mobile headsets is that there’s not that much that they can do: they’re just two lenses to use VR with a phone, so they can’t add features. They can improve how they dissipate heat, they can become more comfortable, but that’s it. The only revolution may arrive if a company like Google will start using ARCore to perform the positional tracking of Daydream viewers: in this case, we may have 6DOF mobile headsets and this can be a game changer. IMHO, this won’t happen now, especially considering the fact that current Daydream View has no hole for the phone camera… but, maybe in 2019, this can be a possibility. This would blend even more the line between standalone and mobile headsets, that at the moment use exactly the same software platforms.

Cardboard viewer virtual reality
The dirty and cheap cardboard will probably still be the most sold VR device of 2018

I think that mobile headsets will still be the most shipped VR devices of 2018. I’ve seen analysts forecasting that the more we’ll go on, the more people will prefer standalone or tethered headsets and ignore the poorly performant cardboards, but in my opinion, times are still not ready for that.

Tethered headsets

2018 will be the year that tethered headsets will lose the spotlight on the stage, in favor of their standalone siblings. But this won’t mean that they’ll lose importance.

In 2017 we’ve seen some important events regarding tethered headsets, like:

  • The announcement of the Pimax 8K, a premium headset with an enormous 200° FOV and a fantastic 2*4K resolution;
  • The reveal of a headset with a super-high resolution in the center of vision announced by Varjo;
  • The release of the Windows Mixed Reality headsets, new cheap headsets that are very easy to be set up thanks to their inside-out tracking technology;
  • The enormous price drop of the Oculus Rift that has made possible for a lot of people to enter VR. As a consequence of that, even HTC has lowered the price of the Vive and Sony has performed a similar operation;
  • The 2-million sales mark reached by PSVR;
  • The announcement of Valve of a new tracking technology and new ergonomic VR controllers (the Knuckles).
virtual reality Vive Knuckles new information
New Valve’s Knuckles controllers. They’re surely an evolution over the current Vive VR Controllers(Image by Cloudhead games)

In 2018 I think we’ll see a lot of interesting things. First of all, prices will continue to drop (especially the ones of Vive and of the MS headsets) and this will make the sales of VR headsets to grow, even if they’ll be lower than the ones of untethered headsets. PSVR will still be the leader in the market, thanks to its cheap price and its ability to work out of the box with every PS4 (and there are 70+ million in the world). I’d also bet that Microsoft will make its move and will announce that its VR headsets can work with its Xbox console.

The big players (especially Oculus and HTC) will continue selling their present devices. We’ve seen with Oculus “Summer Of Rift” discount that price is a very important component for VR and so these companies have no interest in releasing a $1000 v2 tethered headset that would have no market. So, as I’ve already discussed in another post, I think they’ll wait for 2019 to release a new affordable and innovative new version of their headsets. But I also think that they’ll announce it in 2018: Oculus IMHO will announce the CV2 during the Oculus Connect 5 and HTC will announce something maybe a little sooner. I think that the v2 versions will be priced at launch around $400-$500 (controllers included) and will be very easy to be used and set-up (apart from offering a brand new set of features, of course).

Since the big players will wait, it’s time for the little players to propose something innovative: Pimax and Varjo will be there, selling their high-performance devices for a high price (the Pimax 8K X requires a graphics card that is not on the market yet!). So, little companies will propose high-end products for high-end professionals, while the big companies will start aiming at mainstream adoption.

Pimax 8k VR review
A nice girl playing with the Pimax 8K. Full scale tracking is included. (Image by Pimax)

LG will release its Ultragear VR headset and the Valve’s ecosystem will see the first device using SteamVR tracking along with the Vive (that will soon become two because of the Pimax 8K). Maybe Valve will finally deploy its Steam VR Tracking 2.0 technology with this device or with the next Vive.

A last word about the OSVR/Razer HDK project: I think that after a slow death in 2017, it will be officially declared dead in 2018. I’m going to write a post dedicated to it: it has been defeated on the hardware side by the optimal tracking and ergonomic controllers offered by Rift and Vive and on the software side by Steam VR.

Accessories

The accessories of VR devices will continue the current trend: there will be a lot and will serve different purposes (you can read about some of them in my post about virtual reality gift ideas). Some examples that we’ve seen in 2017 and that we’ll continue seeing in 2018 are:

  • Haptic gloves;
  • Vests;
  • Scent emitters (like VAQSO);
  • Brainwave readers (as Neurable);
  • Eye tracking systems (as Tobii);
  • VR lenses and lenses adapters (as the ones offered by WIDMOvr);
  • Guns and other props (powered by systems as the Vive Trackers);
  • Treadmills;
  • Special controllers (as the 3dRudder);
  • Cable management systems;
  • VR bags and suitcases;
  • Etc…

I think that in 2018 we’ll see more and more accessories, of every kind, for every price. Talking about accessories would require a dedicated super-long post about them. I just want to highlight here that most (but not all) of them will try to serve mostly three purposes:

  • Offer a better immersion of the user, through the inclusion of additional senses (as VAQSO that will add the sense of smell to VR devices);
  • Offer a better interaction of the user with the VR ecosystem (as Tobii that will let you use eye gaze as a selection mechanism);
  • Increase the comfort of the user (as the lens adapters that let people with eye problems use VR).
VAQSO VR smell scents
A user playing using VAQSO scents emitter. As you can see the device is very little and fits easily under the headset (image by VAQSO)

Most of the above-specified devices (VAQSO, Neurable, etc…) have been announced in 2017 but will most probably be released in 2018, so 2018 will be a great year to buy VR accessories. I also think that Valve will start selling its Knuckles controllers in this year: since they can work with current Lighthouse stations, they could be sold as separate controllers for all the headsets using SteamVR tracking. Since more headsets will start using SteamVR tracking technologies, we will start seeing a rise in the number of SteamVR-dedicated accessories.

More accessories will mean a more customized and an improved VR experience for everyone, both at home and at arcades. And the combined use of various accessories together may make the VR experience a lot cooler.

Content

“Content is the king”. How many times have you heard this sentence? Well, there is a reason, for sure.

As I’ve highlighted when I talked about standalone virtual reality headsets, people have no idea why they should buy a VR device because they don’t find it useful enough. A lot of people keep talking about the magical VR killer application, that will make everyone run to the stores to buy a VR headset… but let’s be honest, this is just

Exactly (image from Know Your Meme)

What we need is:

  • More and more content;
  • More diversified content: most VR applications are just games or storytelling experiences. We need more social tools, more creators’ tools, more educational tools, more working tools, etc… Furthermore, even in gaming, we need games tailored to different kinds of people: so fewer zombie shooters and more games for women;
  • More high-quality content: AAA games and highly polished programs. Tilt brush commercial has been seen by millions of people and everyone dropped his/her jaw;

  • More popular brands: talking about games, brands like Fallout, FIFA, CS, Assassin’s, Super Mario, etc… are able to attract a lot of people.

In 2017 we made a lot of steps forward in this sense: some great examples have been the release of a great creation tool like Google Blocks, of a high-quality VR-exclusive game as Robo Recall and of three games with a huge brand like Fallout 4, Skyrim and Doom VFR. These three last ones have been good games, but all of them were just VR-portings of the standard PC games and showed themselves as products full of compromises.

In 2018 I think we’ll continue seeing this trend: Valve should release 3 games dedicated to VR and Oculus should do the same with the VR wargame it has funded. I think we’ll see more VR portings of AAA games, but still not AAA games made specifically for VR. Oculus announced in 2017 that it would have risen the bar of funded content, so it would have begun to fund bigger projects, so I think that we’ll start seeing longer and higher quality content… so maybe the price of an average indie VR game will rise from $9.99 to $14.99. Unluckily, I still think that games will be the majority of content sold on the VR stores and that the exclusivities will continue for the whole year.

Regarding off-store experiences, let’s not forget VR porn: it is currently the most viewed VR content on the web and I think that in 2018 its offerings will increase and new dedicated websites and apps will pop up every day. The quality of the proposed video and the type of the offered experiences will increase a lot, too. And apart from adult-oriented videos, also other kinds of storytelling experiences and movies will evolve, becoming longer and of a higher quality. In 2017 we had Miyubi, the first medium-length VR movie and I think that in 2018 we can reach even longer durations, as long as creators will understand how to create a VR video properly and they will be given the tools to create easier such kind of experiences.

I think that at the end of 2018, the content available for VR will be good enough and far better than the one available now and this will make people more interested to VR. Regarding the general population, young males will be the category of people that will find VR appealing the most.

Of course I’m talking about consumer-content. The professional use of Virtual Reality in my opinion will skyrocket in 2018, with applications for education, training, rehabilitation, psychology, marketing, art and other 1000 possible usages that will start becoming pretty popular.

WebVR
webvr vr web issues
WebVR Logo

A special mention about WebVR content: in 2017 we’ve seen a growing interest towards WebVR and frameworks like A-Frame have become pretty popular, while other ones like Amazon Sumerian have been announced but have still not been released. The problem is that WebVR is still rough and not supported very well by all platforms.

In 2018 my prediction is that all browsers will support WebVR, that in the meantime will become WebXR because this will become a framework to make both AR and VR web-based applications. The tools to create WebXR applications (as Rodin) will grow in number and some (as Amazon Sumerian) will let users create WebVR applications even if they don’t know how to code. I think that Unity too will add an experimental way to export in WebVR. This way the number of WebXR-based experience will increase a lot.

Arcades

VR Arcades will continue to pop up like mushrooms, as is happened in 2017, especially in the Eastern part of the world (China, Japan, etc…). We’ll have both fantastic VR theme parks with highly technological warehouses into which you can try an amazing VR experience that blends the real with the virtual (as in The Void) and places where you can pay to try a VR device (like an HTC Vive) that you can’t afford at home. Of course, the first ones will be few, while the second-type ones will be the majority.

I think that 2018 will continue the positive trend of VR arcades and maybe they’ll also have more customers since in 2018 the awareness of people towards VR will be a lot higher. But I also think that will be the last year with such a trend. If, as I think, 2019 will be the year of disruption for VR technology, that year a lot of people will start owning a VR system at home and won’t need to go to an arcade to use VR anymore. So, I think that in two years, the arcades that just let people try VR will have to evolve or die. The high-quality arcades, instead, will continue to live, thanks to the fantastic realistic experience they’re going to offer.

China

Donald Trump’s favorite country will continue its VR race and will become a worldwide virtual reality power as the US.

I think that in 2017 we have assisted to the growth of the Chinese VR ecosystem, both with regard to its internal market (that is mostly interested to mobile VR systems because they’re cheaper) and to the external market. Apart from HTC, that is obviously a leader in this sector, some interesting Chinese companies have gained the interest of the worldwide VR environment:

  • TPCast for its wireless adapter;
  • Pimax for his wonderful 8K headset (and also for its 5K and 4K one);
  • Pico for its cheap standalone headsets.

In China, there is now an enormous VR theme park and in Beijing, you can find one of the first VR cinemas. In China the government has created some VR cities, cities where there is a lot of R&D on VR and where everything from education to medical facilities makes an intensive use of VR, so to exploit the technology at its maximum. HTC is experimenting the use of cloud rendering so that people can save the money of a VR-ready PC. Alibaba is experimenting a VR experience for buying online. Furthermore, Xi Jinping has clearly stated some times ago that AR and VR are a trend that the country should follow and so the government is investing a lot to make China a great XR country. And he’s succeeding in his plan.

Yue Cheng VR Cinema Beijing
VR Cinema in Beijing (Image by Yue Cheng Media)

I think that at the end of 2017 we have seen the first VR isolation of China from the western world: HTC Vive has started creating an ecosystem with Viveport+Vive Wave that is particularly tailored to serve the Chinese market, as Google has created Daydream to rule the western world. The Vive Focus and Pico Neo for the first time are interesting devices sold China-first and not US-first.

In 2018, China will continue this trend. Chinese major companies like Alibaba and HTC will continue funding AR/VR startups worldwide (Magic Leap has been also funded by asian funds); there will be a lot of new VR Chinese startups popping up, both on the hardware and software side; we’ll have an enormous production of VR headsets (especially plastic cardboards) in China; we’ll see interesting products being created and being China-only at the beginning; we’ll start seeing a VR-great wall starting to grow: as it has happened for all the rest, the VR Chinese ecosystem will become more isolated from the one of the rest of the world, with some companies becoming big by just serving the enormous Chinese internal market.

china vr theme park
The gigantic mecha in front of the enormous VR theme park in Guiyang (Image by Reuters)

China will be the second worldwide VR driver. Honestly, I keep thinking that they won’t be the first, because, from my first-hand experience, Chinese people are great at optimizing, but are not that great at inventing (since a Redditor kindly pointed me the fact that this sentence may sound racist, I want to explain it better: Chinese people are smart and every person in this world is able to invent. I just wanted to say that due to Chinese strict education and culture, I see in Chinese people a better attitude in copying-and-improving than in using fantasy and creativity (so in thinking outside the box). So usually they’re better at making incremental innovations than at making disruptive innovations. Of course this is a general impression: China is full of awesome artists, creative people and innovators as well). Just to say: HTC Vive uses a tracking technology invented by Valve (US); Vive Focus and Pico Neo use a headset reference design invented by Qualcomm (US). So, I think that in 2018 we’ll see amazing things from China, but we’ll continue seeing the biggest disruptions coming from the US.

Safety

In 2017 we have had a lot of people questioning if VR can hurt our eyes, if it can be dangerous for our children or if it can be addictive. The Guardian has published a (highly biased) article regarding an experiment that showed for the first time that maybe VR can have side effects on children. We have also had the first casualty of VR: a guy that while in VR has fallen on a glass table and has died because of this.

oculus home dash core 2.0 review vr
The dear health & safety warning of the Oculus Rift

In 2018 we’ll have more users and more awareness towards VR, so all these things will get worse: more people will start asking if VR hurts ourselves and more researches will be made in this sense; we will start having more people having problems because of VR or having problems that they think that are caused by VR. I think that as there are the “video games make people violent” trend, we’ll have similar stupid trends for VR too: people will start saying that VR hurts our eyes and that makes people addictive.

Safety will become an important topic in VR: apart from reseaches about if the devices can be harmful to ourselves, the users should be educated on how to use VR properly at home, to avoid accidents as the one happened to the Russian guy that has died.

Standardization

VR is currently in a far-west moment where there is no standard. SteamVR/OpenVR has become a standard de facto for the various tethered headsets, but it is absolutely not enough.

The OpenXR project of Khronos foundation serves exactly this purpose. As you can read on its website, its scope is creating a cross-platform VR standard:

The cross-platform VR standard eliminates industry fragmentation by enabling applications to be written once to run on any VR system, and to access VR devices integrated into those VR systems to be used by applications.

I think that in 2018 we’ll start seeing the first true results of this standardization efforts.

openxr vr standard
OpenXR standardization project (Image by Khronos group)
Research

We all want to reach the moment where VR is as in The Matrix, where we are completely immersed in the virtual world and we feel it as being real. In 2018 we won’t be there (we will need brain-computer interfaces to do that… and this will require decades), but scientists will continue working on this sense.

I think we’ll see a lot of experiments on every aspect of VR. It will be focused especially on displays, rendering techniques and eye tracking (so especially on things like high-resolution/high-frequency displays, foveated rendering and displays that help in solving the vergence-accommodation problem), but also on optimizations like ASW that can make VR complex applications run even on mid-end computers (and standalone devices).

Blogs

The Ghost Howls will rule the world, of course! 😀 😀 😀

Final impressions
pimax 4k virtual reality headset
Pimax 4K Headset (Image by Pimax)

I think that 2018 will be a very interesting year for VR: it will be the year when VR will come out from the quicksand it is in, the year when people will start understanding why VR is useful. More headsets of different kinds (mobile, tethered, standalone) will be sold, more content will be available and more companies will become interested in this fast growing market, creating a virtuous ecosystem. It won’t be the year of final disruption of VR, though, but it will be the year that will prepare the take off that will happen in 2019 (the more the time passes by, the more I agree with John Riccitiello’s predictions).


And that’s it. These are all my predictions for this year in VR. What do you think about them? Do you agree? What do you think that will be the disruptions that can make these predictions immediately become obsolete? Let me know in the comments here below or on my social media channels! (And don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter…)

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Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I've no idea what I'm doing. I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I've still not waken up...