Remember virtual reality? Its buzz has faded at CES 2019

At the CES 2019 tech show in Las Vegas, Facebook’s Oculus unit isn’t holding any glitzy press events

Just a few years ago, virtual reality was poised to take over the world. After decades of near misses, the revolution finally seemed imminent, with slick consumer headsets about to hit the market and industries from gaming and entertainment to social media ready to hop on the bandwagon.

But the buzz over VR has faded to a whisper. At the CES 2019 tech show in Las Vegas, Facebook’s Oculus unit isn’t holding any glitzy press events, just closed-door demos for its upcoming Oculus Quest, a $399 untethered headset due out in the spring. Other VR companies are similarly subdued. HTC announced two new headsets — one with only sketchy details — while Sony has some kiosks for its $300 PlayStation VR set in the main hall.

READ MORE: Trump adviser outlines conditions for U.S. pullout from Syria

It’s a world away from the scene a few years ago, when VR products from Samsung, Oculus, HTC and Sony seemed omnipresent and unstoppable at CES. These days, VR is mostly a niche product for gaming and business training, held back by expensive, clunky headsets, a paucity of interesting software and other technological shortcomings.

“VR hasn’t escaped the early adopter, gamer-oriented segment,” said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder — himself an early adopter who chafed in 2016 at delays in shipping Facebook’s then-groundbreaking Oculus Rift system. Gownder said many existing VR setups are still too hard to use; even simpler mobile systems like Samsung’s Gear VR, he said, don’t offer “a clear reason for the average non-gamer to get involved.”

VR proponents are still dreaming big, although the challenges remain formidable. Shipments of VR headsets rose 8 per cent in the third quarter compared to the previous year, to 1.9 million units, according to data research firm International Data Corp. — an uptick that followed four consecutive quarters of decline . Nearly a quarter of a million units of Facebook’s Oculus Go and Xiaomi’s Mi VR — the same stand-alone VR headset, sold under different names in different markets — shipped worldwide in the quarter, IDC said.

Those still aren’t huge numbers for a technology that seemed to hold such promise in 2012 when early demonstrations of the Oculus Rift wowed audiences — so much that Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion two years later. Despite large sums ploughed into the field by Facebook, Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and Google, VR hasn’t yet made much of a dent in the real world.

Some of the biggest consumer complaints involve expense, laggy or glitchy graphics and the fact that many systems still tether the headsets to gaming consoles or PCs. “Technology is still what’s holding VR back,” said eMarketer analyst Victoria Petrock. Upcoming stand-alone headsets like the Oculus Quest could solve some of those problems.

More alarming, though, VR still suffers from a lack of hit software. Many major game publishers have largely avoided the field so far, and venture funding for VR software development has nosedived this year.

READ MORE: BC Tech Summit to revolutionize business models

SuperData, a digital games and VR market research company owned by Nielsen Holdings, estimates that consumer VR software investments dropped by a stunning 59 per cent in 2018, to $173 million from $420 million the year before.

Software makers are retrenching. IMAX said in late December it was shutting down its VR unit. Jaunt, a startup focused on cinematic VR and once backed by Disney, restructured this year. Its new focus? VR’s cousin technology, “augmented reality,” which paints consumer-simulated objects into the real world, a la the cartoony monsters of “Pokemon Go.”

A few games have been modest hits. “Beat Saber” a VR game in which players move a lightsaber to music, sold over 100,000 copies in its first month and became the seventh highest-rated game on Steam, according to Forbes. But such titles are few and far between.

There’s one other problem: VR isn’t very social, Petrock said. There’s no easy way to share the experience with others on social media or within the games themselves, making a VR experience less likely to go viral the way, say, “Fortnite” has. “You have your headset strapped on and you’re in a virtual world but it is solitary,” she said.

VR “is still is the next big thing, but anything good takes time and effort,” said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen. “The industry as a whole did overhype it.”

He compares the current VR industry to the TV industry when HDTV first came out. People bought new high-definition sets but were disappointed when there wasn’t anything to watch in the new format. For VR, “the kind of breadth and depth of content isn’t all quite there,” he said.

Mae Anderson, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Sylvan Lake breaks ground on new water reservoir project

Town Council and staff were present at the ground breaking of the new reservoir, June 17

Mural for Sylvan Lake Community Food Bank underway

The 40 foot mural is a paint-by-number design in order to involve the community

VIDEO: Sylvan Lake celebrates 1913 Days

Sylvan Lake’s birthday celebration featured new events and annual favourites, June 14-16

Association of Communities Against Abuse continues to broaden its reach

The Stettler-based organization is set up in 13 other communities throughout East Central Alberta

Plans for public boat launch to Sylvan Lake an eventual project

Lacombe County says they plan to work with surrounding municipalities on the project, eventually

Raptors announcer credited with calming massive crowd after shooting

Matt Devlin, the Raptors’ play-by-play announcer since 2008, was praised for preventing panic from spreading

Two people arrested after Wetaskiwin vehicle theft

Wetaskiwin RCMP respond to theft of motor vehicle

Sexting teens at risk of harms including depression, substance use: study

Use of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana were also found to be associated with sexting

Deadline for cabinet to decide future of Trans Mountain expansion is today

International Trade Minister Jim Carr described the decision as ‘very significant’

UPDATE: Two shot, two arrested at Toronto Raptors victory rally

The team and several dignitaries, including Justin Trudeau, remained on stage

Oil and gas sector cautious as deadline on Trans Mountain decision nears

Trudeau government expected to announce whether it will approve pipeline for second time on Tuesday

Feds announce $50M strategy to fight dementia

Emphasis is on prevention and and supporting caregivers

Federal Liberals’ plan to help first-time homebuyers to kick in weeks before election

Ottawa to pick up 5% of a mortgage on existing homes for households that earn under $120,000 a year

Most Read