What standard, really, should I judge virtual and magnified reality in 2018? Should I measure it against the sci-fi ambitions set by the VR and AR companies a year ago and have not surprisingly failed to meet? Should I estimate how far it remains from regular adoption? Or should I stick to comparing 2018 with 2017, when I gave VR a middling C-class and didn't even talk about AR? Since I just went through the trouble of noting these options, my predictable answer is "all of the above."
2018 was partly a disillusion year. Some prominent AR and VR companies, including Meta, Jaunt and Starbreeze, either sharply reduced or shifted focus. As head of the CCP games, it set in October, a year after leaving the VR business, "we expected VR to be two to three times as large as it was."
Even this year's successes sometimes felt subversive, like Magic Leap, a ludicrously well-funded AR startup, whose pitch was basically "we have recruited the greatest minds in modern culture to literally rewrite reality. " Magic Leap sent a headset in mid-201
Especially since this is the first year I have covered extended reality, I also draw points for the industry's increasingly complex terminology. Is a given product magnified reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, expanded reality, a heads-up screen, smart glasses, a discouraging computing or possibly something else? Here. Have a chart.
The major VR players coasted through 2018 with less hardware releases. Oculus released the well-executed but low-key Oculus Go mobile headset. HTC launched a more expensive, higher-resolution Vive headset update, and Valve's development kit for its new "Knuckles" VR controllers. Google and Lenovo released a mediocre VR headset, while Microsoft maintained its Windows Mixed Reality brand with updated partner headsets. But none of the platforms made a big splash.
And unlike previous years, we don't know much about the 2019 VR hardware line. Oculus announced an independent headset called Oculus Quest, but even though there are rumors that it is cutting off an advanced device, former CEO Brendan Iribe left the company for shallow reasons.
Improved reality hardware remains overwhelmingly focused on areas such as industry and medicine, where it has been used for decades. It's nothing bad, since it means companies can iterate on headphones in a market that actually exists, rather than trying to solve hardware problems at the same time and selling users to a whole new type of product. But it does make AR kind of abstract for most consumers, unless it is phone-based AR, which is an extremely different experience. (You may want to go back to check the map again at this time.)
Heartily, though one of VR's early long shots may have actually paid off. In 2016, site-based VR entertainment, The Void seemed to be an ambitious but risky project. Having received investment from Disney and launching a Star Wars theme experience last year, it opened several new locations and is working on several Disney-owned franchises. It's just one of many VR arcades and amusement parks – though not all good either, since IMAX joined its VR site-based entertainment experiment in 2018.
While Sony may not have released new VR hardware this year, it published some PlayStation VR titles that received serious attention. Dark Souls studio Fra Software published a short adventure game called Déraciné for the platform, and Tetris Effect had a well-functioning PSVR mode.
VR still is not remotely mainstream, but this was the first year I found myself consistently playing VR games for my own sake, rather than as experiments or ways to keep up to date on coverage. (Well, it was mostly only Beat Saber – who by the way was my favorite game of the year on any medium.)
And at this point, VR and AR are two of the last major technologies that I end up met a major scandal involving genocide, mass surveillance, electoral or complete dissolution of truth. Are there problems? Secure – VR boot post uploads this year in the wake of a lawsuit after losing the investment from Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey, who is now busy building controversial "virtual border" technology. Microsoft and Magic Leap competed to provide new AR headphones to the military. Meanwhile, the privacy fear of Facebook has raised concerns about how Oculus will monitor its users. But there is still a potential for optimism that is difficult to find in other parts of the technological world.
It worries me that I'm not sure what will happen next year in VR. I'm going to look at a second generation of Microsoft HoloLens, Oculus Quest, and potentially some products from China that have a large VR and AR industry. But we are approaching the end of the first generation of headphones, and the companies have not published many gigantic technological leaps that can sweep us into another. Meanwhile, AR will probably not be on the people's radar at all this year.
So towards the longer arc I'm not sure how the last year will look. But hey – at least we got Beat Saber out of it.
Final grade: C
Verge 2018 report card: AR / VR
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- A few good VR experiences
- Some good iterative hardware updates
- Relatively non-destructive to civilization at this point
Need for improvement
- To get very good VR experiences
- AR hardware is far from normal operation
- No clear path to unseen successes