This week HTC unveiled its first new phone in a while, but in a stark reminder that the company has mostly transitioned to VR headsets now, the Desire 22 Pro was presented as a partner to the HTC Vive Flow. Meanwhile, we keep hearing rumors about Apple’s revolutionary VR headset, Sony is trying to keep the PSVR 2 on schedule and Mark Zuckerberg is showing off prototypes for advanced AR/VR headsets.
What do you think – does VR have a future beyond their current niche? Zuckerberg’s ideas about the Metaverse would have you believe that virtual reality will soon be a viable way to both work and play. But smartphone makers tried VR for a bit and it fizzled out almost as quickly as 3D. Remember Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR? For consumers VR is mostly a niche gaming thing for now.
It doesn’t help that there are so many types of VR headsets. The early ones from Vive, Oculus and Sony were head-mounted displays (HMD) with head tracking that showed graphics from a PC or console. These are perfect for AAA gaming and for enterprise use, e.g. some designers and architects use them to show their work to clients. Cutting edge games and highly detailed models require a lot of processing power and a PC/console can provide that, it’s just not a portable setup.
The most popular VR headset right now is the Oculus Quest, a standalone headset that runs its own software on an on-board chipset. Similar to that is the Cardboard and Gear VR, which used the phone’s processing power and display as key components for the headset. These are highly portable and as long as you don’t need industry-leading graphics fidelity, they can be just as capable.
There are simple head-mounted displays like the TCL Nxtwear G from last year – no head tracking here, just a pair of lightweight glasses that create a virtual 140” display. Simple as they are, they do a great job of letting you watch a movie on a plane or getting some work done with something like DeX or other desktop modes. In a way these are like foldable phones, a clever way of having a large but portable display.
Then there are the Augmented Reality or AR glasses. Boeing technicians were using Google Glass to build airplanes, the glasses were overlaying important info about components and shows instructions on how they should be assembled. Microsoft’s HoloLens tries to render more advanced graphics, but despite several game demos it is also mostly used as a distraction-free way to have instructions always visible on the factory floor.
Which type of head-mounted displays do you think has the best chance of becoming the next best thing? Could one of these replace smartphones one day? Or are they to forever remain niche products for gaming and enterprise uses?
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