One of the most exciting things about 2014 is the promise of new products that change the way we perceive and consume content. CES 2014 served as a harbinger to that change, and new virtual reality products were some of the most buzzed about items of the whole show, stealing the spotlight at one of the most talked-about tech shows of the year.
It’s easy to see why. Virtual reality products are rapidly shifting their consumer base from the somewhat-niche gaming community to a more general audience, which opens doors to greater attention and sales. In the past, we have seen some incredibly well-accepted virtual reality products compete for the top spot in consumer devices, and while most came from indie startups, the giants of the tech world have been begun making their presence in the virtual reality market known too, with products like Google Glass becoming a favourite topic of conversation for many media outlets.
Supplemented by their respective software development kits or SDKs, virtual reality firms have resolved to accelerate content creation for their devices by empowering developers to create apps that unlock the immense potential of these devices, building a community around devices that they hope will soon become as popular as televisions or smartphones.
The reception for these products has been phenomenal. Case in point, Google Glass — which, as a reminder , is not yet on sale for consumers — has sold 10,000 units at $1500 each, as of August 27, 2013, to an invite-only audience.
Below, we have compiled a list of the top five virtual reality products. These products stand out from the crowd not only in terms of traction they have received, but also their radical approach to revolutionizing human-computer interaction, as well as their stunning technological potential.
Oculus Rift VR Gaming Headset – $300 (Dev Kit)
One of the most talked-about products on this list, even though its focus is entirely gaming-related, the Oculus Right headset is positioning itself to be the premiere immersive gaming peripheral. Codenamed Crystal Cove, Oculus VR revealed a new prototype version at CES 2014, one that boasts an improved 1080p display and positional tracking.
This VR headset uses tracking technology to provide 360° head tracking, allowing players to look around the virtual gaming world just as they would in real life. While Oculus VR claims to have tweaked latency to make gameplay feel natural and intuitive, early testers of previous devices reported nausea, owing to the lag in response time. Further, the visual appeal of the product itself isn’t as charming as some design-savvy people might like it to be.
That being said, with its 110º field of view and improved stereoscopic 3D engine, gamers all over the world are salivating at the idea of getting in on this immersive gaming experience. Priced at $300, it’s one of the products gamers are most looking forward to, and one of the most exciting virtual reality devices out there.
Speaking to Wired Magazine, CEO Brendan Iribe commented on the enhancements made in the Crystal Cove model, which allow users to “continue to stare at an object or read text” while moving their head, all without having to deal with the motion blur present with previous devices.
Rumor has it that game development company Valve is working on a virtual reality headset of its own. This, paired with Steam, their in-house gaming platform, could turn out to be an effective combination to dominate the gaming headset market. Still, it has a long way to go before catching the excitement building up around the Oculus Rift.
Leap Motion – $79.99
A stunning piece of industrial and product design, this device, sized just slightly larger than a conventional USB drive, is one of the newest and best devices in the gesture control arena. Claiming to be much more accurate than the Microsoft Kinect, Leap Motion believes motion control to be the future of interaction with computers, and is set on improving and refining the tech in that space.
Though the hardware seems intuitive and responsive, the number of well-built apps is low, but growing steadily. Having gone hands-on with the Leap Motion device, we think the ‘Airspace’ (a marketplace for Leap Motion ready apps) is something to keep an eye on, because much of the Leap Motion controller’s user experience relies on the quality of software.
It’s too early in the device’s life to answer the core question it poses: Will Leap Motion replace track pads, mice or touch screens as the preferred medium of human-computer interaction? It seems unlikely, but there’s no telling what the future holds.
After toying with the device for a bit, one comes to realize that waving a hand around is fun, but a bit exhausting if done for extensive periods of time. With that in mind, the Leap Motion controller might be a better virtual reality concept than it is a realistic device for everyday use.
Google Glass – $1,500
Google cemented its position in the virtual reality devices market with the announcement of Google Glass back in June of 2012. Being developed by Google X, a team accustomed to developing futuristic technologies, the Glass project is currently selling devices at an exorbitant $1,500 to an invite-only group of users.
The Glass, with its 720p camera, initially sparked talk of privacy concerns, but has also received a good deal of praise and was even named one of the “Best Inventions of the Year” in 2012, on a list with inventions like the Curiosity Rover.
The Glass is not a standalone product though, and requires to be tethered wirelessly to a smartphone to use advanced features like GPS, messaging, or to access a data connection.
What’s most interesting about the Glass is its form factor. It’s sleek and attractive design (though, in fairness, some hate the look) makes it an instant hit, and what’s more, Google is in talks with eyewear companies like Ray Ban and Warby Parker to give this futuristic device a fashion-oriented feel, sure to win over those who deride its current appearance.
The Eye Tribe – $99
Announced in early 2013, this $99 eye tracking device is a different breed of virtual reality device. Imagine a future where you could walk down a street holding your tablet in one hand and a drink in the other, using your eyes to scroll along a webpage (and hopefully paying attention to everyone around you, too). This is what Eye Tribe has set out to achieve.
Eye Tribe CEO Sune Alstrup Johansen says the scope is limitless, and the device could be used for “aiming in games, eye activated login, or hands-free typing,” as well as hands-free navigation of websites and apps.
The most alluring thing about this device is its insanely low price — for perspective, their nearest competitors are struggling to keep prices under $3500.
Having said that, the device loses points for a lack of aesthetic appeal. Sized at 20 centimeters long, much larger than the Leap Motion, it isn’t a particularly pretty sight to have one strapped on to a tablet.
Sony HMZ-T3Q – Price Unknown
Unveiled just a few days ago at CES 2014, this product is fresh from the oven and poised to take on the virtual screen competition. A successor to the HMZ-T3W model that preceded it, Sony has made some vital adjustments to make this product a competitor for a top spot in the 3D head-mounted display market dominated by the Oculus Rift.
This device simulates watching a 700 to 750 inch display from a distance of 65 feet. To set itself apart from the Oculus Rift, Sony has emphasized its aesthetic appeal and portability. The Rift, in contrast, is bulky, and not as seamlessly designed as its Sony counterpart.
Unlike the Oculus Rift, the Sony device is not made for gaming, though we did catch a mention of it being “compatible” with games. How the device handles the intense graphics and low-latency that gaming demands is still a mystery.
Another of this next gen display’s unknowns is the price. This is a worrying sign, because the HMZ-T3W was priced at an alarming $2,100. In order to keep up with competing VR device manufacturers, Sony must aim to reduce the price drastically to bring it in the same range. As of yet, we don’t know if they will.
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