SAN FRANCISCO – While still at the stage of prototypes and developer kits, the nascent market for virtual and augmented reality headsets will explode by 2018, according to a panel of proponents at the Game Developers Conference here.
“In the long run, we think virtual reality will have hundreds of millions of users and end up eating into the mobile market,” said Tim Merel, founder and chief executive at Eyetouch Reality and Digi-Capital, an investment baking firm for VR and AR.
Merel and his fellow panelists defined virtual reality devices as those with “presence” that provide an immersive experience, such as the Daqri smart helmet. Augmented reality fuses overlays digital images on the physical world with products such as Microsoft’s HoloLens or Meta glasses.
The first two months of 2016 showed a $1.1 billion investment in AR and VR -- the first time that AR/VR investment has topped a billion dollars in any year. Nearly $800 million went into display startup Magic Leap, which developed a retinal display for AR that superimposes computer generated imagery over real-world objects.
Digi-Capital forecasts $120 billion in revenue from AR/VR by 2020. While the success of VR is mostly consmer related, AR poses an opportunity for revenue from myriad vertical markets. Mobile operators could potentially charge customers for the data used to drive higher frame rates and stereo images, Merel noted.
The tipping point for AR passing VR will be between 2018 annd 2019. Source: Digi-Capital.
“Everybody from big players at the top to a million startups is working on this,” Merel said, adding that the domestic Chinese market is growing rapidly.
VR will come online first, because the technology is driven by the gaming industry, and will eventually turn into a $30 billion market. Augmented reality systems – driven by smartphone-like use cases that include online commerce and heads-up displays for vehicles – will eventually take up a larger piece of the pie at $120 billion, according to Digi-Capital.
Merel said the price of hardware will decrease by 2018-2019, when many problems around battery life, field of view, and cellular communication will also be solved. At that time, consumers “will be able to sort of replace smartphones with [smart] glasses.”
In the meantime, AR and VR devices powered by smartphones, also known as head mounted displays (HMDs), share similar problems around mobility and power consumption.
“The target power we have to spend is maybe 15 watts. That’s not a lot of power to spend on high performance graphics,” said Simon Solotko, chief mobile officer at Seebright. To circumvent power and mobility issues in head mounted displays like that of Seebright, Solotko suggested adding an extra GPU that could be worn on a user’s back.
Solotko is also banking on improvements beyond Moore’s Law to further CPUs and GPUs, which he expects will deliver desktop-like performance and overall improve the capabilities of HMDs. Memory bandwidth at high resolution will still be a challenge at these performance levels, but Solotko assured, “Everyone’s eyes are on this problem.”
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times