#447: VRLA Highlights + 2017 as the Year of Mobile VR

anshel-sagAnshel Sag is an analyst for Moore Insights and Strategies where he has focused on mobile computing platforms. I had a chance to catch up with him at VRLA where talked about his content highlights there as well as why he thinks that 2017 is going to be the year of mobile VR.


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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So, I went to VRLA for the first time this year, and I was really quite impressed with the show that was there. And it's pretty distinct from other VR shows that I've been to, where there's a very specific focus on entertainment and content. And so today on the Voices of VR podcast, I have Anshel Song, who is a analyst at More Insights and Strategies. And he had a chance to check out a lot of different experiences at VRLA. And we talked about VRLA, SIGGRAPH, and kind of the overall trends that he sees in terms of content and virtual reality, and why he thinks that 2017 is going to be the year of mobile VR. So that's what we'll be talking about on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. But first, a quick word from our sponsor. This is a paid sponsored ad by the Intel Core i7 processor. VR really forced me to buy my first high-end gaming PC, and so Intel asked me to come talk about my process. So my philosophy was to get the absolute best parts on everything, because I really don't want to have to worry about replacing components once the second gen headsets come out, and the VR min specs will inevitably go up at some point. So I did rigorous research online, looked at all the benchmarks, online reviews, and what I found was that the best CPU was the Intel Core i7 processor. But don't take my word for it. Go do your own research. And I think what you'll find is that the i7 really is the best option that's out there. So this interview with Anshel happened at the VRLA Expo that was happening at the Los Angeles Convention Center on August 5th and 6th. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:52.010] Anshel Sag: I'm Anshul Sog, I'm an Associate Analyst at More Insights and Strategies. I primarily cover the smartphone and computing space, but I also got into VR about a year and a half, two years ago, because I saw both mobile and PC kind of drifting towards VR. And I kind of have been following the industry for a while. I think I'm a little bit more PC-centric, which is kind of good, because a lot of the industry right now is pretty PC-focused. And yeah, I came to VRLA to see the latest content, because VRLA is kind of the place you go to see all the latest content.

[00:02:25.433] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm noticing that, because I've seen, like, I've been to a number of different VR expos and conferences. This is my first VR LA, and to me, there's, like, a certain enterprise element for SVVR, a lot of companies. SIGGRAPH is a lot of kind of lower-level technology innovations, but not a lot of, like, premier content. GDC is a lot of the gaming content that's premiering, but yet, I think they're starting VRDC, so it'll be interesting to see whether or not Some of the premier content that's coming from games will also be at VRDC. But for entertainment and artists and creatives and sort of digital out-of-home entertainment experiences, VRLA seems like that's kind of the sweet spot of what they're hitting here.

[00:03:09.665] Anshel Sag: Right. I think, you know, this is probably my third or fourth VRLA. And part of the reason why I come back is, you know, content is such a huge part of virtual reality. And without content, it's pretty much sunk. So you need to be able to see, you know, what the latest content is, what the latest developers are doing with the latest hardware, how they're, you know, innovating in user experiences, you know, graphics. what they're pulling out of the engines, and kind of, you know, taking a lot of technical aspects that we all see over the course of the whole year and turn something really interesting. And, you know, like the VR rave was something that, you know, you really don't see anywhere else because it kind of combines the sub-pack with the VR headset, with the 3D glasses, with wireless technology, so it's kind of like a culmination of everything. And VRLA is a really great place to see that. And at the same time, there's still a lot of technical expertise and knowledge that these people have from just doing things and trying things out. Most of these developers have pretty much been using VR since DK1 days. Not all of them, but a lot of them have. And they've tried a lot of things out, and they've really tried to evolve their content with whatever the hardware makes them possible. And there's some experiences out there that are still pretty enterprise focused, but there's a lot of creatives out there that are doing some really cool things that are You know, not necessarily pushing the limits of graphics, but trying to tell a story and get the user really engaged. And I think, you know, you don't really see that in any other show. And that's why VRLA is extremely important. You know, we're in LA, so there's a lot of game developers, there's a lot of filmmakers, even photographers and cinematographers. you just have a lot of people who are creatively inclined and you know a lot of them at one point or another had a chance to try out VR and as as VRLA and VR grows I think VRLA has really grown with VR in terms of size and popularity because what happens is you know these guys they meet someone that they know and they try out VR and it changes their life and a lot of these people kind of came out of the woodwork some people you know haven't really been doing anything for like 10 or 15 years and VR got them excited about things and they started you know trying to create content for VR and I think that's really awesome.

[00:05:41.349] Kent Bye: What were some of the highlights of things that you saw here so far?

[00:05:44.671] Anshel Sag: I would say one of the best things I've seen so far was the VR rave. That was really cool. I really liked how they, you know, tried to combine the experience with, you know, the haptic sub pack and the VR headset and with the actual live VR DJ. You know, it's not just you being passive. You can kind of, you know, meld off of the DJ and kind of have a real experience, like a rave. And then, you know, I just got out of the VR trike, where you're basically riding around in a VR environment where you're riding around in a trike, and the way they have it set up is so you never really drive off the track. But it's really cool because it shows that there's an opportunity for people to have VR go-karts or VR whatever in terms of driving because the latency was good and the experience was good and I didn't feel any kind of motion sickness whatsoever. which also was surprising because I had a, right before that, I know back-to-back really crazy experiences, but I did a roller coaster experience and you're kind of sitting on a platform and you've got an Oculus Rift on and it's a really fast-paced roller coaster and I was expecting myself to get sick but they've really built that platform well along with the headset to really reduce motion sickness significantly and I didn't feel it at all, even though it was moving, you know, probably 80 mile an hour on that roller coaster. So, there's a lot of interesting content. I've seen, I mean, there are a ton of different little booths all over the place. I saw a haptic, I don't even know what to call it. It's like a heat wind machine that is, you know, blended in with the game engine to get you the feeling of, you know, fireballs and and wind and all those kinds of things. And I thought that was really interesting, because we have haptic feedback in controllers, we have it in the sub-pack, but what about air? And I think that's really interesting. Obviously, the best use case for that is something like a Cinema 4D kind of experience, but it's still really cool that that can be integrated with VR. It adds another level of immersion that you wouldn't normally have.

[00:07:59.541] Kent Bye: Yeah, I actually did the the trike the VR trike and it's you're literally on like this little three-wheel motor like bicycle trike and it's got like this computer in the back and you're on an Oculus Rift and it's got like OptiTrack tracking and you're doing these figure eights where you're actually literally driving around in the physical world but kind of bounded so that you know you don't go outside of the bounds because They basically tell you like, well, if you go outside these white lines, you may actually crash into something. So my mind was like, not sure. I was like, I'm not going to even try to go outside of it, because it's like, I don't want to actually crash into the wall or crash through something.

[00:08:39.572] Anshel Sag: Yeah, and the great thing was is that I also saw some really cool AR experience as well. So, you know, this may be called, you know, VR LA, but there's no shortage of, you know, HoloLens experiences as well. There's a couple other AR experiences that are just AR headsets. So, I think it's a good thing that they're not, you know, just limiting it to VR only. And they're giving game developers and experience developers an opportunity to show whatever great content they have. So it's not limited to one platform, which is a great thing. Because I think all of us recognize that AR and VR are both kind of going to grow. And there's no reason why you should exclude one or the other. And the HoloLens doesn't work that great in that dark of an environment. But when it works, it works pretty well. And I mean, I didn't really, in my mind, you know, I never really considered HoloLens a gaming experience, but there's games here. So I think as HoloLens matures and as AR matures, we're going to have more and more games, even as opposed to just, you know, the standard, you know, enterprise applications, which is what Microsoft is kind of pushing.

[00:09:51.054] Kent Bye: Yeah, and probably one of the most visceral experiences that I had was this airflow where you're actually on this rig and you're horizontal and they're blowing wind in your face. It was just kind of rendered that you're able to look up and down to move in elevation and then I don't know it was the closest that I felt that I was like literally flying in VR.

[00:10:12.494] Anshel Sag: Yeah, I actually had a chance to try that at last VRLA and it's the same setup but it's really cool because you really do you have control over you know how fast you go and the wind changes based on your speed and It genuinely feels like you're flying. It's a pretty impressive experience and I think there's a lot of opportunities for people to kind of integrate beyond just the controller and the headset. And it's good that the game engines support it, right? I think both Unreal and Unity have a lot of plugins for non-controller peripherals. And you know, as HTC opens up their system, it'll increase the creativity of different developers, and hardware developers as well, to increase the complexity and immersion of their experiences beyond just a controller and a headset. and I'm really excited to see what people do because you know back a couple months ago I was at another thing in LA sponsored by Vice and I think it was VR Scout and they had a trippy experience where you're in a room with a bunch of other people who are taking LSD and you're like on a mat. They actually had a whole set up so it looks like you're going into a really trippy experience and they had a little fan, a little heater set up there and you could feel the heat as you're supposed to kind of feel the warmth from the drugs. So it was a really interesting experience. But I'm surprised they're not here, but they do a lot of really cool stuff. I forget the name of the dev team that does that, but they do really cool stuff. And that was one of the things where it's like, you know, just a little added thing kind of goes a long way. And you only see this kind of content, you know, creativity in places like LA where people are constantly like, OK, you know, I tried this, but I want more. take it to the next level. And that's what I think VRLA is about, you know, just taking content to the next level and every year it gets better and different and someone always tries to do something different.

[00:12:16.029] Kent Bye: I love it. Yeah, there was a 360 dome experience here by an artist named Android Jones who's a visionary artist and so It was the closest thing that I've seen that felt like what a psychedelic journey might feel like within VR. And the interesting thing was with the 360 dome, it was big enough that I could actually look around and kind of feel like I was immersed in an experience, but yet still see my nose and not get motion sick and kind of have the cues of being able to still be grounded in reality. But it feels like the immersive domes is another trend that I'm starting to hear more about, kind of moving that way. But I'm curious from your perspective as an analyst, your role in some ways to kind of see the patterns and look into the future. And so I'm curious like what specific kind of things you're really focusing on and trying to look and see what's going to happen next.

[00:13:11.385] Anshel Sag: I think right now what you're seeing is a lot of developers are finally creating content that they know will work on these headsets. You know, they have final versions since April. And I think what you're starting to see is real content, real, genuinely well-built content, and this is Gen 1. I think after you see that, you're going to see people starting to gravitate towards the headsets because of the content. Because, you know, the first generation of people who buy these headsets are people who are excited about the idea. But there was never really any kind of content that drew them to the platform. So I think you're going to see a lot more people starting to gravitate towards VR because of the content. And as that content matures, it gets better and better. And I really saw that trend with a lot of the Vive games that I bought. I paid, I would say, a little too much initially. And then the games started to get better and better, and they added more and more features. You start to realize, you know, this game is a full-blown game and it's worth whatever they're charging for it. And I think you're going to see more mature content drawing people to the platform. And then, once there's enough content, you're going to start seeing more mainstream style of headsets. So I think you're going to start seeing way more, you know, integrated headsets and smartphone HMDs. that will draw in the mass market. You're gonna see a trickle of it this year, but really it's next year is when that starts to really hit. So, you know, 2016 was the year of PC VR, and 2017 will be the year of mobile VR. and we haven't even seen the beginning of it. There's no daydream devices yet, and the reality is even if we know what the standard will look like, I don't think realistically very many hardware vendors will have something ready by the end of this year. I think really next year is going to be a very interesting year. I think Mobile World Congress and CES will be extremely interesting. And I think that next phase will be, you know, mobile VR and integrated HMDs because I think, you know, mobile VR has kind of lagged behind, I would say, compared to PC VR in terms of content, innovation, performance, just in almost every single metric, right? And I think it's time for mobile VR to really take off. And when mobile VR takes off is when you'll really see VR become, you know, this truly mainstream platform. Because right now it's kind of niche. And you know, a lot of people are really interested in it and talking about it, but do they really have something for it? The answer is usually no. But they're working on it. So I think that, yeah, you're going to see this shift from PC VR to mobile VR over the next year or so. And I think a lot of that's going to be driven by content.

[00:16:05.902] Kent Bye: And do you expect to see a lot of mobile VR peripherals at CES? Or why do you say that CES is going to be exciting? Because to me, it feels like a lot of the major innovations for VR is pretty well set. The biggest players are kind of out there. But to me, mobile is sort of like one of those domains that seems the area where there's the room for the most innovation.

[00:16:27.819] Anshel Sag: Right, I think peripherals wise, there's still a lot of room for growth. Because we don't really know what the platforms are like, we're just getting wind of what you can do on the Vive and SteamVR, so that's going to take a while to shake out. And then, you know, it's going to take a while for the mobile stuff when it comes to Daydream and other platforms in terms of accessories. But really, the way I see it is, you know, some of the early players will launch at CES. And I think some of the – I wouldn't say late, but timed around Mobile World Congress, I think you'll see a lot of headsets around Mobile World Congress or some other shows around that time frame, you know, like towards the end of the first quarter. kind of around the same time as the headset's launch this year. So I think, you know, there's a lot of really interesting developments that are happening right now, but they're not going to be available for the next couple quarters. And that's just because, you know, the content's not developed, and the hardware needs to be refined, and costs need to be brought down.

[00:17:35.443] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I was just at SIGGRAPH, and this is my first SIGGRAPH that I've been to and it's sort of an interesting mix of a lot of the visual effects industry with Hollywood but also a little bit less on the gaming side and more of like looking at the pipeline for special effects and to me I felt like digital light fields were kind of like a hot topic in terms of like the next cutting-edge foray into a lot of the production pipeline in terms of how do you how do they deal with these both the processing resources for that, but also integrating into all the different tools that they have. But there is also just a lot of just kind of experimental demos that are not quite ready for prime time, maybe a year or two out before anything would be productized, but a lot of more experimental, kind of academic type of research and that type of interactions. And so for you as you're covering and looking at SIGGRAPH, what were some of your big takeaways from that?

[00:18:35.716] Anshel Sag: I would say SIGGRAPH is a kind of show that always leads. Like you said, it's a lot of experimental research. From what I saw, you know, there's a lot of A lot of companies are trying to figure out where they fit themselves in AR and VR. I saw a couple of these AR experiences where they, you know, scan your face in or your whole body. And they're just trying to, you know, make use of these depth cameras and AR capabilities. You saw some of these other companies pushing, you know, light fields as a technology where you can render light fields into an HMD. I think it was Otoy showed off a really interesting demo where they were streaming a light field through their service into a smartphone, which will eventually make its way into an HMD. I wouldn't say there was one broad trend that I saw at SIGGRAPH that really grabbed me, but there were a lot of very interesting little developments like foveated rendering from SMI for the HTC Vive. or NVIDIA utilizing perceptual foveated rendering for the HTC Vive. So I think there's a lot of really little developments that are going to kind of knock away at the little problems that we have in VR. And, you know, SIGGRAPH was, you know, talking VR two or three years ago at least, maybe even more.

[00:20:13.624] Kent Bye: Well, even back to the 90s, I think it's a lot of people will talk about where they have their first VR experience at SIGGRAPH, you know, going back to the 90s. So in the peak of the hype cycle of VR, I think it's that SIGGRAPH has always been kind of in the leading edge.

[00:20:27.002] Anshel Sag: Yeah, there's no doubt that SIGGRAPH has always been the leading engine. A lot of these guys have been around for a long time, so they really know when something is going to take off. A lot of them are a bit cynical, to be honest, right? But I've found that there's very little cynicism when it comes to VR this time around. and everybody's just kinda getting their heads down and doing what they do best. I think the coolest thing that I saw was the facial and mouth recognition. It was like a robot, or not a robot, a puppet, that reads your facial expression and your mouth movement and your body movement with a Kinect, and it translates that into a puppet, and the puppet moves like you would, and it talks like you would, and it moves its mouth like you would, and then there's little cameras on the puppet so you can see the reaction of the person you're talking to through the puppet. So it's really interesting. I don't really know what the application of that is outside of just animatronics. But it's an interesting thing and I'm sure someone will take something like that and maybe you can use it for therapy. I don't know. There's tons of applications for things that we don't know about yet. That was, you know, just using a VR headset. And there were, you know, a lot of the experimental things I saw at SIGGRAPH, because they have like an experimental side, and then they have all the expo vendors. And the experimental side, almost everything was AR or VR. I would say, you know, it was almost 80% VR. It was pretty crazy. But there was, you know, a lot of these were, you know, like in an infinite hallways. The Oculus Research had that like haptic touchpad thing. There were a lot of very interesting applications for VR and it was definitely a VR show. More VR than I've seen in previous years and I expect next year to be just as VR heavy. So, if anything, you know, it was just people utilizing VR in different ways and trying to, you know, improve VR in a way that they see fit.

[00:22:31.156] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:22:38.827] Anshel Sag: Well, that's a pretty meaty question. I've had a lot of conversations with some very interesting people in the industry that have been in the industry for 20 or 30 years, and the reoccurring thing that I keep hearing is this metaverse. And I think that it will kind of create a new reality. And one of the most interesting things I heard was from Tim Sweeney. And he said, you know, we're going to have a metaverse, but it's not going to be like you think it is. You know, it's going to be one of those things where You create a game experience, but you don't actually play the game. You just interact socially with other people. And that game, in air quotes, is kind of an enabler for social experiences in the metaverse. And it will only be possible through heavily engaging experiences that absolutely positively have to use social. Because without social interaction, you know, VR is, you just don't sit in VR very long. Personally, I found that, you know, whenever I'm in VR and there's other people there, I spend much more time in VR. And, you know, it doesn't even have to be that good of an experience, but just the social aspect of it gives VR much more legs than it would if you were just kind of solitary sitting by yourself. So, you know, I'm not a visionary, unfortunately, but I see VR really gravitating towards social interaction and finding ways for people to connect with one another in ways that they can't right now. And I think that VR, you know, transports you in places and brings you closer to people. So I hope that, you know, VR will become an enabler of people coming closer together. as opposed to the cynical vision of, you know, VR's gonna tear us apart and put people in separate rooms and never talk to each other. So, I think, if anything, it'll be a very social kind of enabling technology.

[00:24:46.033] Kent Bye: Great. And is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?

[00:24:52.595] Anshel Sag: I don't know. That's a good question. I think I'm really excited for the end of this year. I think there's more surprises to come. PSVR and Touch will be fun. And I think there's going to be a lot of great content that will come from that. But I think there's still even more to come. So I think this year's not over yet. Yeah, and Daydream is also launching as well, right? Yeah, Daydream's coming. I wish we knew more about it. But that's also extremely exciting, just because Google and whatever they do when it comes to platforms is usually very interesting. And they have a lot of power. And I mean, we still don't know what Apple's doing. So that's the wild card that we still don't know. And I think that could potentially change everything, too.

[00:25:44.565] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Thank you. So that was Anshel Song. He's an analyst at More Insights and Strategies. And so I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, I think Anshel is making a pretty big prediction about what he sees is going to happen within the next year and a half in virtual reality. So he says that 2017 is going to be the year of mobile VR. And the reason why he says that is that, first of all, the Gear VR has been out there and has been able to see presumably hundreds of thousands of adopters starting to go into VR. I think the content is probably like the biggest open question in terms of VR and adoption. And I think at this point, there's not really one of those killer apps that are going into mobile VR. If anything, it's going to be VR videos that people are watching, as well as perhaps live sports. It's something that people are already going to be doing. And so I know that NextVR has been able to have a lot of different streams. And I know that the Fox News has been recently live streaming some mobile VR. There's some social applications like AltspaceVR where people are able to have different gatherings and events. And there's of course games that people are playing as well. But I think in terms of the mass audience of going beyond the games and to find some of those applications that are really driving people to start to adopt and use VR technologies, then I do see that the Daydream VR headset is going to likely be launching on October 4th. I know that Google's announced that they're having a press conference that morning and just from the timing and everything I kind of expect to see more information and perhaps some of the early content of what's been developing with the Daydream system for Google which has a lot of different mobile headsets that are compatible with it and it's going to have a 3DOF controller which I think is going to introduce a whole lot of new interaction paradigms within mobile VR that haven't really been possible with the touchpad approach that Samsung has taken. While that's able to be functional, I think that we're just going to see a lot more sense of active and embodied type of interactions with the mobile VR when you have an external controller that is going to be launching with every Daydream headset. I think that's going to be a huge differentiating factor for the Daydream. Oculus connect is just a couple of weeks away as well. And so I expect to hear even more Announcements maybe about the gear VR, but certainly about the oculus touch controllers, but just in terms of mobile VR I know Intel has made some different announcements and that they're starting to get into the mobile VR headset space with their project alloy and And talking to Qualcomm, they're able to start to do some positional tracking capabilities within the headset that they're showing at SIGGRAPH. And so perhaps we'll see some more information about fully six degree of freedom tracked mobile VR headsets. So there's a lot of stuff that could be on the horizon here shortly that could be announced. But certainly in the next year, in 2017, we'll expect to see even more announcements. One of the things that Onshell is saying to really look out for is the CES in 2017 as well as the Mobile World Congress, which is happening at the end of February of 2017. So those are kind of big mile markers in terms of seeing either new hardware or peripherals that are coming out for mobile VR, as well as what may be coming out at the Mobile World Congress. So just in terms of content at VRLA, there was quite a lot of really interesting, amazing types of experiences that are very unique and may be my only opportunity to try out some of those experiences just because they have a lot of different haptic feedback or special devices that I may not have and own. being able to actually fly through the air which is an amazing experience or having a tricycle where you're literally on this motorized tricycle and you're driving around in a figure eight and there's a computer in the back of it and you're wearing a VR headset and you're literally moving around in physical space but you're also moving around in the virtual space which to me was super trippy because the tracking using the OptiTrack trackers was pretty accurate, but there were still some times when I was kind of sliding subtly that I could feel, but it wasn't fully being tracked. And so there's a little bit of disparity there. But that was an amazing experience from the interaction lab that was a lot of fun to try out and do. And another experience that I did was the flying experience. And I have an interview with those developers that'll be airing at some point. But that was an amazing experience of how much you can fool yourself that you're flying through the air just by blowing air in your face but also hovering and kind of taking away the weight by flying in this harness and moving your head around and actually feeling like you're flying around. So lots of really great and amazing experiences with VRLA that I was able to see and highly recommend people to go check it out. They've announced their Spring Expo that's happening April 14th and 15th that's also going to be at the LA Convention Center and they just keep getting more and more space To me, that's the amazing thing about VRLA is that it is a nonprofit and that they're able to raise money from different companies to be able to make it affordable for these really huge digital out of home entertainment experiences that just wouldn't have the same amount of space to be able to show the full capabilities of what they're able to do with some of these big beyond room scale VR experiences. And so it's a great opportunity to kind of see what's the latest entertainment content that's out there. So that's all that I have for today. I'd like to just thank you for joining me here on the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please spread the word, tell a friend and become a donor at patreon.com slash Voices of VR.

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