Shacknews Spotlight - VR vs AR: The Future of Gaming and Entertainment

Staffers Steve Watts, Steven Wong, Ozzie Mejia, and Josh Hawkins take once more to the Shacknews Roundtable. This time they're joined by CEO Asif Khan, as they talk about Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and the future this "new" technology has in gaming and entertainment.


Josh Hawkins: Oculus Rift, Gear VR, and now Hololens… The entertainment and gaming world are becoming more and more filled with devices focused around virtual reality and augmented reality, which begs the question – Is this the future of the gaming and entertainment world as we know it?

This isn't the first time that Virtual Reality has hit the markets, for many out there you may remember the short-lived days of the “Virtual Boy”, Nintendo’s attempt at stepping foot into the brave new world of VR. Virtual Boy, however, was a catastrophe, an utter failure in the commercial industry. In fact, it was promptly discontinued less than a year after its release.

Will this time be any different?

Steve WattsDon't forget PlayStation's Project Morpheus! It seems like everybody wants to get in on the trend, and I think that's saying something. Virtual reality used to be a pipe dream, but we're seeing a lot of companies join in and compete because it's a much more attainable goal now. The tech has gotten cheap and high-quality enough that it's viable as a consumer product. The "Virtual Boy," such as it was, wasn't really VR and on top of that wasn't very good. This new line-up is much different, so I don't think this is a situation where we must learn from the past or repeat it.

That said, viable tech from a production standpoint is much different than launching into a healthy marketplace. Right now VR and AR are perceived as cool gimmicks with some hardcore supporters, but I'm not sure the market at large cares or sees the necessity of them. Launching as a full consumer product, especially if it's in any way expensive, is likely to have people shrug it off. That's why it's important for companies like Oculus to crack the nut of how to get the average person interested, not just the hardcore tech hobbyist. 

Steven WongI think a lot of people have been waiting for VR to become viable, and what I've seen from the Oculus demo I saw was very impressive. It seems like the majority of people who have tried VR really like it, which is a good indicator of things to come. If it catches on, VR could revolutionize gaming the same way 3D acceleration technology did. The technology will still have a number of hurdles when it's ready for the market, the main one being price. Even $500 dollars might be a steep commitment for a device only a few games are using. Then there's the matter of interface, because once of the natural things you want to do when you put on VR goggles is to reach out and touch it.

That's where I think HoloLens has a big advantage. Instead of going for a true virtual reality experience, it goes for the more obtainable Altered Reality, and it can sense your hand motions when you reach out to interact with virtual objects. Microsoft further ups its game by having a Windows 10 experience that is designed for AR. Price will still be a major factor, along with how impressive AR is compared to VR, but it might be a shorter path to a fully immersive gaming experience. 

Ozzie MejiaI was one of those people that originally dismissed the latest round of VR headsets as a mere gimmick. Then I tried out Oculus Rift for the first time at IndieCade a couple of years ago. All it took was a demo of Dread Halls and I was sold. The headset really works and I'm really excited to see what comes of it, having seen some of the creative gaming ideas that have emerged in the past few years.

The trouble that companies are going to hit is that consumers are naturally going to be gun shy about expensive peripherals that they don't deem to be essential to the gaming experience. Examples of this are the Kinect and even the Wii U GamePad. They're solid pieces of gaming work, but if the gaming public thinks it's unnecessary, they'll hesitate to bite. So manufacturers are going to have to be really careful about how these devices are priced.

SteveWIt seems like the concern that keeps coming up over and over again is cost. I'm sure that plays a factor, but I'm more wondering about convenience. It might take a while to get over the weirdness of putting a thing on your head. I like the idea that this is the first step towards eye implants that make us all cyborgs, but until then I'm not sure I want to wear glasses to play video games. It will take a really compelling experience to draw me in and make that feel normal to me.

Then on top of that you have the cost issue. What would be a consumer-friendly price? Are we even anywhere close to a place where it could be offered at the price it needs to hit the mass market?

JoshHI have to agree with Steve, sure price is a factor, but for me one of the biggest things is going to be comfort. I like playing video games, heck, I love playing video games, I'd do it all day if I could. But with something like an Oculus Rift you have to worry about comfort, and convenience. 

Is it easy to put on? Easy to take off? What about those nights when you order Pizza and you're in the middle of an epic fight, can you just pause the game and go get your food? Or will you have to spend ten minutes yelling at your door for the pizza guy not to run away while you're struggling with wires and ten pounds of hardware over your face? These may seem like trivial things, but it's something that has to be thought about. Just look at how far gaming headsets have come. They aren't complicated, you don't have to fight with them to get them off. If VR can pull that off, as well as a reasonable price, I think it could work. I believe VR has what it takes to be the future. The only question is, will they actually do it?

StevenWThe Oculus Dev Kit is about $350, if that's any kind of indicator, but Razer recently put out a $200 kit for potential developers and hobbyists to mess around with. Let's remember that hardware tends to be expensive during its early phases, and get cheaper as production increases and becomes more efficient. For me, I'd say about $300 is my limit, but who knows, right? I have friends who have paid more for high-end monitors.

Comfort is also an issue that Oculus has always said that it's working on. Sitting through a 10-15 minute demo is fine, but can anyone wear one of these things for a full 20+ hour game? What will it do to your vision? But I think what will turn things around is the "wow" factor. People who try out a VR headset tend to like it. Even the AR experience from the HoloLens, where you check out the Mars Rover on Mars' surface, have been overwhelmingly positive. I think as long as people are blown away the experience, the more likely it is that people will forgive some of its faults.

Since we're discussing Virtual Reality and the future it has in gaming, we thought we'd bring in our resident VR expert. Here's what Shacknews CEO Asif Khan had to say.

We have seen display technology advancements lead to what I call the screen explosion over the last 10 years. Consumers have televisions, smartphones, tablets, smart watches (wearables), and they still have desktop and laptop computers. I believe we should view VR and AR products as another screen. In both cases there is an ongoing advancement occurring in how we interact with our devices. Voice assistants brought speech controlled computing to the masses and I believe the head mounted display will bring a new era of interactive entertainment and experiences to consumers. While we may not be in the early days of the Virtual Boy, which was not true VR, we are still very early in the evolution of the head mounted display. There is already one very visible fork in the road ahead. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality provide two very different experiences for users and they both offer a chance for software engineers to become the catalyst for change. 

I think it is pretty obvious when you look at the companies who are investing in head mounted displays that this product category is here to stay and it will only improve through iterative innovation. When one thinks about how far we have come since the original Gordon Gecko cellphone to today's smartphones, I think it is foolish to presume that head mounted displays can't follow a similar evolutionary path. 

I believe software will be driving the experiential side of the success of head mounted displays. The companies who adhere to an open platform-agnostic model will have a far greater chance at success. Oculus and Microsoft appear to be the two companies with the most to gain from this new product category, but Google and Sony will also have something to offer. At the end of the day, the reason this isn't going to be like last time is because the technology inside these devices is materially better than the last time a push for VR/AR occurred. I believe head mounted displays will be a part of our gaming experiences, but they will also open the door for software developers to create the tools of tomorrow. Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus, told me at CES that this really feels like the early days of the PC revolution when the Home Brew computer club provided a vision for the next 30 years of the personal computer. Disruptive technology always has a smaller user base at first, and it is frequently panned by the mainstream media. I believe very strongly that the head mounted display market will resemble the PC or the smartphone growth trajectory over time. 

The one thing that remains to be seen is how we will control the experiences. The mouse and multitouch gestures were breakthroughs required for the PC and smartphone to become mainstream consumer product successes and I don't know if we have seen exactly what the equivalent breakthrough will be for manipulating augmented or virtual reality experiences. Google acquired Magic Leap last year, Microsoft has Kinect, and Oculus recently acquired Nimble VR. This roadblock to mass market appeal is something that the big players in the head mounted display market are already addressing and only time will tell if their investments will be fruitful. At the end of the day, there is already a smaller niche market for this product category and I am personally very excited to experience something new in gaming as well as computing.

As with any of our Spotlights, we took to Chatty to find out just how the community feels about Virtual Reality, and it's play in the future of gaming and entertainment.

ThresherI wish the answer was yes, but I don't think it will be. 

Every ten years or so, we seem to go to a 3D phase. I am old enough to remember this happening twice in movie theaters and one more time on TVs. There could be a few reasons for this, but I think it really just goes to the fact that people just don't seem to be into it. Early 3D efforts for gaming also met with low uptake. 

Marketers thought it was the glasses that was holding it back, so we went to new displays which can polarize the light and show different views to each eye (think Sony's abortive 3D gaming tv or the Nintendo 3DGS) and that still doesn't seem to be catching on. Cost doesn't seem to be a factor since 3D is pretty much backed into any mainstream TV. 

It seems that entertainment, for some reason, is fundamentally a 2D experience. It doesn't seem to be cost, or glasses, or whatever that holds it back, just that people don't seem to like it. I don't think that the Rift will change that and it will be condemend to be a niche market for a few particular kinds of games and that's about it.

d flukeIt's the immediate future of "monitor" interfaces, yes. TV's, projectors, computer monitors are what this will replace, and it's all going to be optionally AR (with either glasses and/or outwards facing cameras) 

Things don't necessarily need to be "3D" for these things, you can still do 2D interfaces and video in there and that's going to be great once everything supports outputting to glasses

thetangentI doubt it. I think there's definitely a market for it, but "future of gaming and entertainment"? Naw. Especially with movies/TV, it's very often a social or passive kind of thing. VR totally cuts you off from everyone else around you, and I just don't think too many people will be into that. Some will for sure, and I think we'll be seeing a developing market for VR entertainment. But I doubt it'll dominate the more traditional form of the media.

Want to read what other members of Chatty had to say? You can find the original thread here.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 2, 2015 1:00 PM

    Shack Staff posted a new article, Shacknews Spotlight - VR vs AR: The Future of Gaming and Entertainment

    • reply
      February 2, 2015 1:11 PM

      Okay, Josh's example is a bit weird: What does a display have to do with you being able to pause a game to open your door?

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        February 2, 2015 1:24 PM

        If you're wearing something similar to the Oculus Rift, you can't just go waltzing through your house to open the door when someone knocks...

        You'd have to take it all off, and then go answer the door.

        not sure how that DIDN'T make sense, but there ya go. :)

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          February 2, 2015 1:47 PM

          It's easy to take off. I still think it's a weak example and it has little to do with comfort.

          Comfort to me is more related to the face not hurting after extended use, like the Gear VR that leaves marks on your face even if the straps are not too tight, how it rests on your nose (an actual problem in Asian countries actually), etc.

          I think you were thinking of mobility and there are better examples for that like actually being able to carry it around at all compared to having to be tethered to a PC. Gear VR does wonders for evangelists. :)

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            February 2, 2015 1:49 PM

            Are you expecting people to go open the door while in VR (pass-through camera)?

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            February 2, 2015 1:49 PM

            That part of my example was talking about the convenience factor. I've never personally had experience with the Oculus, however, I know people who have.

            Some say it's hard to set up, and take off/put on. Some say it's not. I was merely making the example that it would need to be convenient for me to use.

            Does that make sense? I didn't get much sleep last night, so I might be talking crazy talk.

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              February 2, 2015 1:50 PM

              Alright, never mind.

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                February 2, 2015 1:51 PM

                I see what you mean though. I could have better stated that example and had it make so much more sense. Thanks for pointing that out. Every piece of constructive criticism only helps me grow in this thing.

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                  February 2, 2015 1:54 PM

                  Another point of criticism, then: Try the Rift first. :)

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                    February 2, 2015 2:12 PM

                    Sure, I'll just let the power, internet, and phone services get cut off. While I'm at it, I'll just go hungry too. ;)

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                      February 2, 2015 2:15 PM

                      I heard your boss has money and gives away DK2's for free!

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                        February 2, 2015 2:16 PM




                        I just can't stop laughing.

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                        February 2, 2015 2:28 PM

                        Haven't you heard? His boss fired him! Twice!

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      February 2, 2015 1:38 PM

      Hey that Asif Khan guy owned the editors in this piece.

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      February 3, 2015 2:34 AM

      I played like 15 minutes of elite on a dk2 and I'm sold, but this will eventually end up being a niche product. I think that is fine though. Sometimes I want a vr experience sometimes I want the biggest screen possible and sometimes my 10" tablet is enough.

      I can't wait for the new kind of experiences this will enable though.

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        February 4, 2015 12:28 PM

        I think Elite is one of my all time most looked forward to games to play with the Rift. I mean SPACE in VR. What could possibly be bad about that?

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