Virtual Reality (VR) headsets typically come with a screen – or one screen for each eye – which eliminates all interactions with the real world. Autofocus lenses are positioned between the eyes and the screen, which move according to the user’s eye movements to convert 2D images into stereoscopic 3D. Visuals are then rendered on the screen, either through a direct connection with another device, or, from an in-built computing system.
Listed below are the key technology trends impacting the VR industry, as identified by GlobalData.
The smartphone component ecosystem has played a critical role in the evolution of VR, but the next wave of innovation is being driven by purpose-built silicon. Nvidia and AMD lead the VR/AR chip market, but Qualcomm is a formidable competitor. The company’s Snapdragon XR1 chip, launched in October 2018, is the industry’s first VR/AR-specific processor, offering improved battery support, lower temperatures, and a better audio-video experience.
The use of XR1 in Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2.0 has raised expectations that Google’s Daydream VR, presently operating on the Snapdragon 835 smartphone processor, will also get the new chip.
Virtual reality display technologies have improved over the years but audio has generally been overlooked. Digital signal processors (DSPs), which improve audio quality and also make devices more powerful at the edge by reducing dependency on network connections, are becoming standard requirements in the VR market. Established players in the 3D audio business, such as Dolby Labs, Panasonic, and 3D Sound Labs, are exploring new growth opportunities in the VR market. Goertek and AAC Technologies already have dedicated teams involved in the development of audio DSP algorithms for VR headsets.
The growing pervasiveness of AI techniques – particularly machine learning, context-aware computing, and natural language processing (NLP) – across the expanding breadth of VR applications is enhancing the intelligence of virtual characters and delivering a rich immersive environment. For example, Google’s machine learning tools add 6DoF controller-tracking capabilities to any standalone headset with a pair of cameras, while Facebook’s DeepFocus framework uses AI to create focus effects in VR that mirror real life.
LG is using AI to minimise motion sickness for VR users. Microsoft opened an AI and VR incubator in China in 2019, and Nvidia launched a graphic design tool that uses AI to render 3D virtual worlds.
Despite being one of the hottest themes in consumer electronics, conversational platforms have been largely ignored in the VR space. Facebook introduced Oculus Voice in 2017, but the service was basic, with just four commands. The limited functionality meant that Oculus Voice suffered in comparisons with popular virtual assistants. In April 2019, Facebook announced plans for a new voice assistant on Oculus devices but did not give a release date for this feature. Google has yet to integrate Google Assistant into Daydream VR and Lenovo’s Mirage Solo, the first self-contained Daydream headset.
Cloud technologies promise scalability to virtual reality vendors. As VR-generated data increases in volume, cloud services will store apps, data, and memory in virtual servers and stream them on-demand. Low latency, frictionless cloud-native apps will improve customer satisfaction with fresh VR updates. Today’s cloud market leaders – Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM – are expected to benefit from the integration of cloud and VR in the coming years as VR companies will increasingly subscribe to their cloud services.
5G promises low latency, high density, and improved reliability, all of which will benefit the VR industry. Non-VR gaming today requires a minimum latency of 50 milliseconds, while VR requires less than 20 milliseconds. Thus, 5G’s expected latency of just 1 millisecond should deliver exceptional experiences on VR devices. From a connectivity perspective, 5G’s potential to support one million devices within a single square kilometre, without the risk of streaming attenuation, should help the VR market to flourish.
Telecom companies (including AT&T, Ericsson, Verizon, China Mobile, SK Telecom, Orange, and Vodafone) could be key beneficiaries from the association between 5G and VR, with their pace of penetration, tariffs, and partnerships with VR vendors ultimately determining their success.
Untethered Virtual Reality
While early VR headsets primarily required PC or smartphone tethering, new devices like the Oculus Go, HTC Vive Focus, and Lenovo Mirage Solo have popularised a new trend: untethered VR headsets. Facebook, Google, and HTC are increasingly bundling more resources – 6DoF controllers, eye tracking systems, and 3D audio into their devices to improve user experience.
VR App development
VR apps are proving increasingly popular. In 2019, VRChat – with four million registered accounts – boasted more than 10,000 daily peak concurrent users, while at the time of writing Astro Bot Rescue Mission had over 58,000 watch hours on Steam. Beat Saber became the first VR game to record sales of over a million copies, while Google Earth and BigScreen VR became popular non-game VR apps.
Facebook accounts for the most premium apps on VR at the time of writing, while HTC is the only VR company with an app store subscription service, introduced in early 2019. Google has not moved as quickly and its Daydream VR is losing out to Oculus and HTC Vive on the app front. Facebook offers more than 1,000 apps on Oculus Go, and HTC Viveport Infinity has more than 600 VR apps and games available on a subscription basis. In contrast, Google has approximately 250 Daydream apps.
This is an edited extract from the Virtual Reality in Aerospace and Defense – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.