Fein-Lines: Virtual Reality is About to Get a Lot More Real—and Fun

While two very interesting technology shows in the past month each had their own focus, I came away from both with the feeling that not only will these industries collide, but we are on the precipice of an explosion in extended reality.

Additionally, these shows were just a preview of what we can expect from CES 2023 as developers from around the world demonstrate the next generation of technology. Here are my key takeaways, what’s coming next, and suggestions to see the “reality” for yourselves.

Figure 1: The Tilt Five holographic gaming system won an Auggie in the category of "Best Game/Toy."

The show: AWE (Augmented World Expo), June 1-3, Santa Clara, California

Some background: I frequently hear that augmented reality (AR) devices are making a comeback; no longer on the back of the stage, they are now front and center. While extended reality (XR) devices aren’t exactly replacing smartphones any time soon, phones will soon start to include XR, as the glasses, haptics, and headsets necessary to use XR are now much more common. Hardware development and software advances seem to be moving in a parallel motion at an increasing rate.

Remember that at the turn of this century you used your computer mostly for running various programs, such as Word, Excel, or games. Maybe you started venturing onto the internet. But when lightweight, portable, easy-to-use smartphones arrived (and replaced those bricks we used to carry or mount in our cars), we all started using them to communicate as well as address the web. Then tablets arrived to show us we could have a mid-size, portable option between a desktop and a phone. Developers began creating multiple versions of websites to optimize the different sizes, thus responsive web design was introduced. Now we must deal with the same issues when we start to introduce XR to portable phone-like devices.

The questions: How will we connect in social XR environments? How will you use XR on a Teams or Zoom meeting with either your computer or your smartphone? Will it be possible to share virtual objects, take part in virtual concerts, sporting events, or even have a virtually-enhanced call with friends or loved ones? Will we be able to interact with others using desktops, tablets, AR glasses, and VR headsets simultaneously?

What I learned: Today the use of XR is where smartphones and the internet were 20 years ago, but this time we have a path to follow, so I expect things to move more rapidly.

Take a look at just a few of the more impressive new devices that could include XR in everyday life. The key is that the headset device needs to be comfortable and completely portable. When talking about an XR headset, we expect far more than stereo sound; we expect high resolution 3D video, perhaps even eye tracking. When I tried the first virtual reality headsets a few years ago, I was amazed. However, it didn’t take long to realize the headset was heavy, and I was wired to a computer, so I was limited in where I could go with it. Screen resolution wasn’t great either. Now, those limitations have been eliminated or greatly reduced.

See for yourself: The headset in Figure 1 by Tilt Five (tiltfive.com) is my choice for the best advance in XR hardware so far this year. Watch a video that demonstrates what you can expect from this headset. But we’ll see what happens at CES, as I’m sure more advanced XR headsets are on the way.

Bonus: It’s not just “what you see is what you get,” but it’s also what you can “move,” as I’m seeing significant advancements in hand tracking. Until now, we have been using manual devices like touchscreens and a mouse as good examples. Hand tracking in VR allows you to interact without needing VR controllers. Sensors capture data on the position, orientation, and velocity of your hands. Hand tracking software then uses this data to create a real-time virtual embodiment of them. As you move your hands, you are then “moving” things in the virtual world, all without touching a physical object. In the XR world, you will see be able to use virtual hands. 

These virtual hands are integrated into XR applications, allowing you to see and use your virtual hands in a seemingly natural way. The trick is that while the end-user experience of hand tracking in VR feels natural, it’s actually relying on quite sophisticated technology.

The show: NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), June 3-5, Anaheim, California.

Some background: The NAMM show typically focuses on musical instruments—everything from classic violins to the latest electric guitars. For the past half-century, electronics has played an increasingly important role in today’s music. We have gone from basic vacuum tube amplifiers to high-power lightweight, solid-state amps; and from vinyl recordings to mega high-quality music files on a memory stick or SSD.

Side note: I know that many still prefer vacuum tubes and vinyl, but each technology has its advantages and disadvantages. 

The questions: Will synthesized sounds continue to gain traction through the use of technology? How far will it go? How will today’s technology regarding music connect with the advancements in XR technology?

feinberg_orba.jpgWhat I learned: While most music is still made using standard musical instruments played by real musicians, there are many significant enhancements. Modern delivery modes are very dependent on technology. Therefore, music—as well as many other areas of art, construction, medicine, sports and just about anything—is now greatly enhanced using modern technology. When you visit a major tech-focused event, it is obvious how much modern science and technology drive advances and capability in what we all now hear, see, and use every day. Technological advances in one segment of our lives can eventually affect every area of our lives, and at an ever-increasing speed.

See for yourself: A new device by Artiphon called the Orba puts most of the capabilities of today’s synthesizers and electronic music-making devices into one small, amazingly capable device. You can find YouTube videos that show just what it can do.

Another bridge between the latest technologies is a unique and powerful synthesizer called the MotorSynth MKII. This device is built with eight actual motors which spin to create sine, saw, square, and M waveforms—with infinite results. Two separate motor voices with four oscillators each can be operated in mono, unison, or a four-note polyphonic mode. And there’s a digital third voice you can use independently or to modify the raw sound of the other motor voices. Again, you can find YouTube videos to see what I mean.

Figure 3: MotorSynth MKII.

Here's my point: XR usage is growing, and capabilities are advancing rapidly. Much of what we will see over the next year will be driven by the amazing and growing metaverse. As we look forward to CES 2023, I’m sure XR will play a major role, but I also look forward to seeing advancements in TVs, audio equipment, smartphones, smart watches, flying cars, computer gear, and drones. And yes, I know we’ll get a taste of what’s new in the music industry too.

Dan Feinberg is an I-Connect007 technical editor and founder of Fein-Line Associates. 



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