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Innovation

VR and AR at CES 2016: 4 key takeaways

Virtual reality and augmented reality were everywhere at CES, but the technologies still have a long way to go. Here are TechRepublic's insights on what CES 2016 said about the state of the industry.

Image: Erin Carson/TechRepublic

Virtual reality and augmented hit CES in a big way this year. Aside from Oculus' massive, two-story booth, there was a noticeable presence at the show from companies making everything from their own headmounted displays and apps, to using VR as a marketing tool to attract people to their booths. In other words, even though both AR and VR got their own sections on the showroom floor, they also popped up just about everywhere else.

Here are a few key takeaways from the spread.

1. Mini Troughs of Disillusionment

One of the exciting things about watching the VR industry right now is that there's a lot of movement. People are experimenting with both the hardware and the software.

Where that goes awry is in the realization that there's just a lot out there that's not quite up to par. Whether it's half-baked ideas, low frame rates, or poor design, the collective view of the middle section of VR can be underwhelming.

That's an interesting place to be because, we are told, virtual reality is finally coming out of the so-called trough of disillusionment. The important thing to remember is that when you look very closely at the technology's trajectory, it's pointed upward, but with many smaller dips on the way up.

That gets dangerous for the impatient and the skeptical who will see middling VR and dismiss the entire industry. There's no perfect way to address that—when there's a hot technology, everyone wants in. It is worth remembering, though, that even as high-end VR hits the market, the field will inevitably continue to crowd with also-rans and wannabes.

2. Variety of platforms

If that sounded too pessimistic, the happier spin is that makers of VR are trying everything, without reserve, from gaming to health. There are VR platforms for music, a VR life coach, personal movie theaters, training tools, education tools, social VR. We're in a period where the strategy seems to be the old "let's throw everything at the wall and see what sticks." Some of it will, most of it will not. Hopefully, something genuinely cool and useful will surface.

3. Form factor

Design-wise, VR headsets are stunted. For decades, they've taken the shape of big black bricks that you strap to your face. There are reasons for that, one being that there's just a lot of electronics to stuff in there. It's not a great look, though, and what's more, it's rare to see anyone trying to make an HMD that looks different. The Gear VR might be the sleekest design, but it, like all the other HMDs, is bulky.

If AR and VR are to seep into our everyday lives, hardware makers are going to have to nail convenience without losing quality. This week I got to try out Figment VR, which is a Kickstarter product that's a VR viewer that pops out of a smartphone case. The obvious problem is light leakage, plus the general level of quality that people complain about with regard to the Google Cardboard class of VR headsets. But, imagine always having a way to view VR, whenever you want. Convenience can't be understated.

4. AR for business

In April, Digicaptial released a report that projected AR and VR would be a $150 billion market by 2020. Only $30 billion of that will be VR. That means that while VR is definitely the cool kid right not, AR is hanging in there and gaining traction in less-flashy ways.

Smartglasses are all over CES, from Sony to Epson, whether for enterprise use or fitness. Some are more promising than others. The clear message seems to be that companies are going to keep taking a run at them for a while.

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About

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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