CES 2018: The 5 Biggest VR Tech Updates

by Ian Hamilton • January 12th, 2018

We’re recovering today from the mad dash that was CES 2018 in Las Vegas. We weren’t able to see everything running back and forth between the Las Vegas Convention Center, The Venetian, and elsewhere in the city, but we nonetheless saw some incredibly interesting VR demos in our three days there.

Not everything we tried was consumer ready or perfect just yet, but we were very impressed by each of the five technologies we outlined below. There’s still a long road ahead for progress with immersion in VR and these five demos showed major potential to improve the state-of-the-art.

HTC Vive Pro and Vive Wireless Adapter

It was wonderful to see Vive Pro’s resolution upgrade. The 2880 x 1600 combined display (1440 x 1600 per eye) showed a great amount of detail and the headset overall seemed to offer a better weight balance. The company says the headset will have the same minimum specifications as the current generation and Vive Pro will work with the current base stations installed in VR dens around the world as well as upcoming 2.0 systems that can be used in 4-station tracking configurations offering the freedom to move around much larger areas.

The headset featured loud over-the-ear integrated audio with a nice snug fit from the headset’s strap.

We didn’t get to see Pro combined with the Vive Wireless Adapter, but we did try wireless with the regular Vive and it worked great!

Tobii Eye Tracking

Google, Apple and Facebook are among the tech giants that have purchased eye-tracking companies over the last few years in anticipation of what they can do if they can make future gadgets that know where you are pointing your eyes. Tobii hasn’t been purchased yet and still sells modified Vives with eye-tracking added.

I was so impressed by my demo I think it makes a lot of sense for developers to invest in an eye-tracking developer kit in anticipation of how the technology will enable new ways of interacting with virtual people and things. In one demo embedded above, objects in a home theater environment are selected just by pointing eyeballs at them, and a trigger pull or finger swipe is used to adjust the setting.

NextVR Resolution Upgrade

Newport Beach-based NextVR showed a significant upgrade to the resolution of its VR broadcasts. The company has been a leader in livestreaming sports and events to VR, delivering a 3D scene that looks great in current VR headsets like Gear VR or Playstation VR. At CES though, the company showed reality captures tuned for higher resolution headsets like Samsung Odyssey.

In a hands-on demo we found the increased detail to offer an incredible upgrade over existing NextVR content, and it produced a stronger sense of in-person viewing in VR of an event from the real world. At one point a dust cloud kicked up from a dirt track and I could see millions of tiny dirt particles floating through the air in intricate and fast moving patterns.

NextVR is working to combine the resolution increase with 6dof freedom, which was shown in a separate (but also impressive) demo at CES.

Contact CI Haptic Glove

The most impressive thing David Jagneaux tried all week was Contact CI’s latest haptic glove prototype.

To simulate touching objects in a virtual world the team at Contact CI mechanically recreated the way your muscles move your fingers. It wasn’t polished or finished and tracking wasn’t perfect, but David nonetheless felt like he was touching parts of a virtual world with his fingers for the first time.

The glove allows the company to combine the sensation with visual cues and provide an experience that is “super, super close to the real thing, my mind is telling my finger, ‘You just pressed a button so stop pushing your hand forward,” and that’s exactly what happens.”

Kopin Elf Reference Design

The “Elf’ is a super slim reference VR headset (seen at the top of this post) featuring a 2k by 2k per eye microdisplay from Kopin. For comparison, the Samsung Odyssey and upcoming Vive Pro feature 1.4k by 1.6k pixels per eye OLED panels from Samsung (Vive and Rift offer roughly 1.1k by 1.2k for each eye).

The Kopin demo was said to run at 60 frames per second and in my hands-on demo I noted two subtle but distracting horizontal lines in the display. Kopin was unsure the cause, but I otherwise found it to offer a super high resolution picture with a screen door effect I couldn’t notice. The company says its display can run up to 120 frames per second, and the resolution bump might require eye tracking to do foveated rendering to provide the greatest detail right in front of your eyeballs. We’d love to see a demo with active content and six degrees of freedom tracking too, but the promise shown in the Elf reference design is a VR headset that would be far slimmer and more stylish than those of today with a picture that is far more crisp.

If Kopin’s display tech could perform under the same kind of rigor that Samsung OLEDs are subjected to then it could offer a pathway to far more immersive virtual worlds. A representative from the company mentioned the potential of jumps to 3k or 4k per eye solutions.

And for a more robust rundown of everything we saw, along with a live Q&A, you can watch our livestream from CES yesterday above.

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What's your reaction?
  • Vixtrola

    2880 x 1600 not 1880 x 1600

    • It seems they have corrected it to reference “per eye,” which I feel is the appropriate manner the specification should be presented since they are indeed distinctly, two physical panels, with a physical space separating them. Not doing this just to confuse the buyer/user like what Pimax routinely does in promoting their HMD.

  • Francisco Almeida

    I love the Kopin’s idea of a compact headset, but its kind of technology that never comes, i heard news of it since almost a year, and it still a concept. And what about the other giant manufacturers, why dont they do a conpact headsets instead of predators helmets alike? What is the big difficult? I guess when this happend we’ll have another step on massive adoption of VR.

    • SomeGuyorAnother

      Keep in mind that it usually takes far more than a year to develop a rough prototype into a consumer product. The products that seem to come out quickly from first announcement are either based off tech that’s already out there and repurposed, or had been in development for a long while and not announced. Companies announce products early in development in order to establish initial investments and interest, but it’d be foolish to expect a new technology to produce anything really viable so early. Hell, we’ve been hearing about potentially stable and affordable concepts of solid state batteries, as well, but we’re not likely to see them within a decade due to the necessity for longterm testing and patent work.

      Kopin’s likely to sell the displays to the larger companies once they establish a better proof-of-concept that’s within an affordable range, as the biggest draw for these companies is keeping costs down to ensure adoptability, without having a decrease in dependability in the prodcts because they decided to switch untested tech. I wouldn’t expect Kopin to produce an actual major headset, as the display is the main thing they have. There’s still R&D on the optimal lenses for these kinds of displays, as well as the risk of whether or not they can keep up with demands such as higher FoV (I’m lazy and leaving it as hypothetical, but I think I recall an article from last year referencing that these displays couldn’t manage a field of view comparable to current headsets).

    • kontis

      That tech is on the market for decades (this one is just higher resolution). Microdisplays are nothing new and they are THE standard and the norm of doing HMDs. What Vive and Rift did is the exception and they are bulkier than most HMDs available 10 years ago, but that made awesome FOV possible.

      The irony is that the fact that some companies decided to finally STOP using this kind of tech is the reason you are here reading this article.

  • James Friedman

    I still can’t understand why NextVR has yet to create a Vive/Rift version of their app. They have been saying for the last 2 years it’s coming but NADA!