It is a tradition of this blog to have a long roundup of the best XR news from CES every year. Could I make an exception for this year? Of course not. So here you are a collection of the best news in immersive realities from the CES 2023, with many links to go deeper! I hope it can be useful for all those people like me that weren’t able to attend this huge tech event in person.
And sorry if it took more days than expected to assemble this article…
A good year for XR at CES
Before listing all the most important pieces of news, let me tell you how XR presence was overall at CES. CES often is a good site where to check the health status of our ecosystem: for instance, when VR was hyped, there were many VR solutions at CES, while during the “Winter of VR” there were just a few.
Well, this year, XR presence at CES was good. There were many XR products to try, and also among the audience, there were many of the most important journalists and influencers in the field. Everyone I spoke with talked about an interesting event to attend for us XR people, and this shows that immersive realities are now in a quite mature status… to be niche technologies. This is a good sign that means that the ecosystem growing in a healthy way.
That said, let’s delve into the news!
Let me list for you what have been, in my opinion, the most important XR technologies from this CES.
HTC Vive XR Elite
The star of the event has for sure been the Vive XR Elite, HTC’s latest flagship headset. Vive XR Elite is a headset that is very lightweight, and many people that tried it at CES reported that it felt very comfortable for the time of the demo. Another feature that has been praised by many is the RGB color AR passthrough, which has some warping and not the same depth as the Quest Pro’s one, but it features a very detailed resolution. Many people were impressed by this. The last special thing is that the headset can run in full standalone mode with the battery on the back, but then it can also be modified on the fly so that becomes a pair of big glasses (like the Vive Flow) with a cable that connects them to an external power bank. I’m still a bit puzzled by this feature, but it’s for sure unique in our ecosystem.
The headset has a resolution and other optical parameters that are more or less in line with the latest headsets in the market (e.g. Pico 4). Also, the tracking is maybe just slightly less perfect than Meta’s one, but still very very good.
The price is $1100, which makes it in direct competition with the Quest Pro. It is cheaper than the Pro, but if you want it to support eye and face tracking, you have to buy an additional accessory. The good news is that instead, it features an integrated depth sensor which will help with environment understanding. This is one of the first headsets implementing it.
Hands-on reviews overall talk about a good device. It has two problems, though. One is the high cost: HTC markets it as a consumer device, but at that price, not many consumers are going to buy it, so it will be a prosumer one. The other is content: HTC is preparing a very good lineup of launch content, but still, it won’t be able to compete (at least in the short term) with the Meta Quest Store.
Shiftall, the subsidiary of Panasonic specialized in creating XR hardware, was at CES to showcase all its products. Two are the main news to consider from this event.
The first one is that finally, we have a price for its steampunk MeganeX glasses. If you remember well, these are very lightweight glasses with a pretty unique steampunk design that are hyping the community since a few years ago. Notwithstanding the small size, the glasses are meant for SteamVR gaming, and in particular for people that spend so much time in SteamVR that need a comfortable and lightweight headset. Shiftall MeganeX provides 2,560 × 2,560 per eye via two independent 1.3-inch micro OLED displays, which were built by Kopin, and help in having very bright colors. I’ve tried them at AWE EU this year, and while I loved the design, I thought there was still some work to do to iron out the distortions of the visuals.
Well, now we know the price of this special device: $1700, with an expected shipping date of around April 2023. The price is very steep, so I guess the target is a small niche of super VR enthusiasts, like may be the Japanese VRChat community.
At CES, Shiftall brought also the concept of innovative controllers called FlipVR. FlipVR controllers look a bit like Valve Index controllers, but then you can perform a fast hand movement to make the part of the controller with the buttons move away from your fingers, so that you can freely use your hands maybe to type on the keyboard or have a drink. Then, with another fast hand flip, you can regain control of the buttons to keep playing. It’s hard to explain this with words, so watch this video of Palmer Luckey trying them to understand what I’m talking about.
FlipVR was only a conceptual prototype at CES, and the controllers were not working yet. I would find them very useful for us developers, so we can debug applications and switch between testing an app and using the keyboard for debugging very easily.
Chinese manufacturer TCL brought not one, but three XR devices at CES this year.
The first one is called NXTWear S, and is a pair of glasses to watch media content on a big screen in “augmented reality” in front of you. This product is very similar to Nreal Air and is coming to the US for the first time sometime this quarter for $399.
The second product is dubbed RayNeo X2, and is a pair of real augmented reality glasses. If NXTWear S is like Nreal Air, this device is more like Nreal Light. RayNeo X2 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 chipset and is able to provide augmented reality in a form factor that resembles the one of standard glasses. The peculiarity of these glasses is that they have a vision system with 1,000 nits of brightness, so they can easily be used also outdoors. TCL showed some possible applications of them, like realtime translation between languages or map visualization when you need to reach a destination. These glasses will arrive in the hand of developers this quarter and then will commercially ship later this year.
Last but not least is the NXTWear V, currently just a bit more than a concept, which is a VR headset with AR passthrough, also featuring a Snapdragon XR2 chipset, a 108-degree field of view as well as a “super-sharp” pixel density of 1512 pixels per inch (thanks to a 2280 by 2280 pixels per eye resolution). Since this is a concept, we have no data about the price and expected release date.
It’s good to see TCL so committed to XR.
Somnium Space was at CES to showcase its modular and open Somnium VR1 headset. Or better, to give it a first taste, because no one was able to actually try the device on his head: the headset was fixed on a stand, and visitors could just put their eyes inside to see the visuals of both the VR and AR modes. This bizarre way of providing the demo makes me think that either the tracking system was not working yet, or that the current comfort was not good enough, so the company avoided providing real tests to avoid initial bad reviews.
Anyway, the overall feedback on what people could try, that is the visuals, was good. I’ve heard this both from some Youtubers (like Brad Lynch) and a colleague of mine (Anto) that went there to try the headset. Resolution and color are very good in VR, and also in passthrough AR. According to Brad, the passthrough cameras are 4K resolution each, so they can provide a very good passthrough vision.
Always according to Brad, the headset is a SteamVR one and not a standalone one because Qualcomm hasn’t provided Somnium with the XR2 chipset. Considering the fact that this project is very interesting, because it wants to create a headset with a very open ecosystem and 3D-printable accessories, I find this choice by Qualcomm very weird.
We don’t have info about the price yet, if not a very vague statement that this headset aims at being cheaper than Varjo Aero.
Sol Reader e-ink headset
The Sol Reader glasses made headlines because of their very peculiar technology: they work with an e-ink display, exactly like the e-book readers.
Of course, they are not meant for XR playing, but for e-book reading. The idea is to let people read books when lying down on a bed without having to keep a tablet or e-book reader in their hands. The glasses don’t stay very well on the head if you are standing, so you have to lie down to keep them on your face. You see in front of you the pages of the book you are reading, and with a small controller (which reminds me a bit the Daydream remote), you can switch between pages. Brad Lynch was one of the first influencers to try this at CES and reported that currently the tech is a bit rough around the edges, and the resolution is not amazing to read. But still, this is a pretty unique piece of hardware.
Sol Readers is going to cost around $350 and is of course targeted at people that love reading books. It is going to be released this year.
Lumus waveguide technology
Lumus gave at CES private demos of its second-generation Z-Lens 2D waveguide technology for augmented reality glasses. And it left many journalists impressed.
The company took some prototype glasses that looked a bit like standard glasses. But it didn’t mean to show some glasses as a product, but more to showcase its display technology. And this display tech was pretty cool. First of all, the resolution was great: 2K x 2K per eye, which let the wearer read quite small text in front of him. And also the brightness, with its 3000 nits, was able not only to provide very bright visuals per-se, but also let the people use the display in outdoor environments.
Lumus is not intended to manufacture glasses based on this technology but is working with partners that can create products out of it. According to the company, using these lenses and waveguides, it is possible to build glasses that are very lightweight, feature 50-80 degrees of FOV, and cost around $1000. Not bad for the current status of the technology.
AntReality AR/VR glasses
One of the coolest techs displayed at CES was provided by AntReality. They showcased their Crossfire glasses, which have two main selling points:
- They have a 120° FOV, which is quite impressive for AR glasses
- They can switch between AR and VR modes, so you can have both technologies in just one pair of glasses.
It’s not clear how the overall glasses may perform on the market because building a product requires caring about many components. There are not only the visuals, but also all the other features to think about (e.g. audio), plus there is design and comfort, and also the software ecosystem. But for sure the optics showcased by AntReality impressed many of the CES visitors, including my colleagues.
Let’s wait and see how the final glasses will be because they could be an interesting newcomer in the market.
AjnaLens, one of the top XR providers in India, has announced at CES AjnaXR, its new mixed reality headset. AjnaXR is something similar to a Quest Pro clone: a lightweight VR headset that is also able to provide passthrough AR. AjnaXR is theoretically available in a consumer and an enterprise edition, but only the enterprise one has been actually launched. It is also the most interesting because it introduces features like eye tracking, hand tracking, and especially a 2280×2280 per-eye resolution display that makes it compelling for professional use. The Enterprise AjnaXR can currently be pre-ordered on the AjnaLens website for around $1,200, so $300 cheaper than the Meta Quest Pro. Shipping should happen in August of this year (2023).
I think this news is very interesting because we finally see an entrant in the XR space also from India, after so many headsets manufactured in the US, Europe, and China.
At CES there were other pieces of news that made fewer headlines in our ecosystem but were still relevant.
PSVR 2 games
Sony is handling very well the communication about the PSVR 2 by continuously delivering news about the headset every few weeks to keep the attention of the audience high. At CES, it continued with this strategy, and it announced a few new games coming for the headset.
The popular game Gran Turismo 7 will so be one of the launch titles for PSVR 2: on February 22, 2023, all PS 5 owners of the game will receive a free update that will make it VR-compatible. Sony was pushing developers to have hybrid VR games, and Gran Turismo seems to work exactly along these lines.
Another title that will be PSVR 2 compatible is Beat Saber. The game was already incredibly popular on PSVR 1, and so Beat Games is working to make it run on PSVR 2, too. It seems so that Meta is making it exclusive to its platforms only on standalone devices.
VR car entertainment company Holoride announced at CES the launch of its retrofit solution. The retrofit is a small cylindrical box you can add to whatever car to make it become Holoride-compatible. Thanks to it, all VR enthusiasts can transform their cars into VR entertainment systems which make the family have fun in the backseat of the car during long trips.
Together with the announcement of Holoride comes also the one of a new game joining the catalog of Holoride content: Pixel Ripped 1995: On the Road, from the Emmy Award-winning studio ARVORE. It is an adaptation of the famous VR game Pixel Ripped so that it can work on the go on the Holoride entertainment system.
Sharp VR headset
I was very intrigued to discover that SHARP was at CES and intended to showcase there something XR-related. Luckily Brad Lynch went to their booth and made a video to tell us his first impressions of the SHARP VR headset.
First of all, he clarified that SHARP has no intention of building its XR glasses. The headsets shown there were more to showcase SHARP components at work together in a demo VR HMD than to hint at a future SHARP headset. SHARP is looking for tier-1 hardware manufacturers to sell them the components with which to build the devices. And this is good news, considering that the headset showcased at the booth provided a very underwhelming experience, according to Brad. But it was quite stylish to wear.
Looking at the single components, SHARP was showcasing 2K 120Hz displays for the headset, pancake lenses marketed as being the best on the market (I wonder which manufacturer doesn’t say this), passthrough cameras, and tiny eye-tracking cameras. The thing that left Brad impressed is the type of cameras that SHARP is building: they can auto-focus on objects very fast and without using any moving mechanical component. Considering that mechanical components are fragile, this is a great innovation and could be useful for building better passthrough AR cameras that let you focus on the objects around you at different depths, for instance.
VRgineers was at CES to showcase its XTAL 3 headset. This is not the first time that the company demoes this piece of hardware, and the hands-on impressions from CES confirmed the positive reviews I had already heard about this device. The headset features a very crisp resolution, and notwithstanding the wide-FOV, it shows very little lens distortions. This is a great selling point over many of its competitors.
At CES VRgineers was announcing a wireless module for XTAL. Built by IMRNext, it downgrades the visuals of the device to 2560×1440 at 70 Hz per eye to make the streaming possible. The data is transmitted wirelessly via a belt-worn module using Wi-Fi 6E technology to a nearby computer. Notice that the wireless module is worn on the belt because the XTAL headset is already heavy enough.
According to the usual Brad Lynch, XTAL was also showcasing wireless transmission using another provider: Nofio, the same company that is working on a wireless adapter for the Valve Index. The integration was a bit rushed for CES, but was working on the showfloor.
I’ve found no review on the IMRNext wireless module, while Brad tried the Nofio one and said that the streaming quality was good.
Pimax Crystal and Portal
Talking about wide-FOV headsets I can’t talk about Pimax, which was there at CES to showcase its two latest products: the PCVR headset Crystal and the Nintendo-Labo-like handheld console Portal.
Surprisingly, the Pimax Crystal got only positive reviews. There’s been a lot of criticism around Pimax for having continuous delays and for shipping products that are not as good as advertised. But reading the reviews around, I could get that the Crystal headset, at least in PCVR mode, works very well. I’m very happy that Pimax received the criticism from the community and managed to build a very good product.
The problem is that Pimax ruined all this new positivity with the other headset showcased there, that is the Portal. When Portal was announced, it got a lot of criticism, because the device looked like a cheap copy of the Nintendo Switch + Labo. Hands-on from CES highlight that the device has still a lot of problems to solve, and while some of them may be solved via software updates, the big question still remains why they decided to create this product, which no one asked for.
At CES, people had the opportunity of trying the ContactGlove gloves by DiverX, the same Japanese company that tried some months ago to launch a headset you could use while lying down on a bed.
Thanks to Cas & Chary that tried them, I could learn that these gloves have the peculiarity that they can be used in place of SteamVR controllers. Most of the other gloves can only work with applications using hand-tracking or applications that are built ad hoc for gloves. ContactGlove is different because it lets you emulate controllers’ buttons presses using gestures that you make with your hands. I don’t think it is particularly intuitive, but for some games, it could do the trick.
The Contact Gloves start at around $1,850 if you support them on Kickstarter. The price is not cheap, but actually it is cheaper than some of its competitors.
Breylon has been probably the weirdest XR device showcased at the whole CES. It is a headset so big that you don’t even wear it… you just put your head close to it while it is sitting on a stand on your desk. This giant headset is able to provide a large FOV, great color and resolution given by its 8K OLED display, and “true depth” thanks to the use of a new lightfield technology. The idea behind it is to be able to be immersed in another space without the need of wearing anything to your head and without having to stand up. Imagine this a bit like the evolution of a multi-monitor PC setup, but immersive and more realistic. If you want to buy it, though, you have to be patient: this is coming 3-4 years from now.
Here you are a list of news that maybe were not disruptive but are still worth a mention.
Lenovo Project Chronos
Lenovo presented at CES Project Chronos, a hardware that is basically a clone of the Kinect, meant for full body tracking. It is marketed for “metaverse” applications, like social VR or VR fitness, where you can use your full body in VR. No hardware was demoed, meaning the project is still in the early stages.
bHaptics leaked hardware
bHaptics showcased at CES its TactGlove haptic gloves, which got good feedback from the community. Someone also spotted that the company trademarked TactBelt, TactSleeve, and TactVisor names, but nothing with these names was showcased on the show floor. Someone from the company anyway hinted they may refer to future product names.
Neurosync Infinity is a station that helps you in playing VR. You can lean your back on it while standing, and then use slight movements of your body to trigger turning or locomotion in VR. It also provides armrests with at the end the input of the XR controllers. According to the creators, it should let you use VR while feeling less strain and less motion sickness.
Razer Quest accessories
Razer has entered the VR field by designing two accessories for Quest together with ResMed, a company specialized in creating comfortable products for medical usage. The two products are a head strap and a facial interface, which are advertised as very comfortable and designed to work with all head shapes.
Magic Leap gets medical certification
Magic Leap announced at CES that its Magic Leap 2 glasses obtained IEC 60601-1 certification. This certification will allow the glasses to be used in surgery operating rooms and clinical settings in general. An important success for these glasses that are marketed towards enterprise use cases, including healthcare.
Rendever acquired Alcove
Rendever, which is a VR solution aimed at improving the lives of the elderly, has just acquired Alcove, which was a social VR space meant to connect families with the elderly. This will let Rendever provide a more complete solution to seniors.
Intel partners with Meta to provide better Air Link
At CES, Intel announced that its Wi-Fi 6e AX1690 wireless card will have a special feature called Double Connect. Thanks to this, the card will be able to keep two Wi-Fi connections at the same time: one towards a router to have an internet connection, and the other directly to another device, like the Oculus Quest. This way it’s possible to wirelessly connect the PC to the Quest without passing through a router for optimized PCVR streaming, while at same time have still an ongoing internet connection.
Acer eKinect bike can charge your Quest
I discovered this year that Acer also makes smart stationary bikes. The new Acer eKinekt BD 3 Bike Desk is meant also to charge your electronic devices by pedaling. And it seems that can also change your Oculus Quest 2 with a total of 2.5 hours of exercise. Not bad if you like to exercise at home while working.
Nolo’s new products
It seems that Nolo was presenting a few new devices at CES this year, but I haven’t been able to find much info about them. Apparently, it was presenting the VR Glass, a visor featuring pancake lenses and two ring controllers (one per hand) to interact with your VR experiences without holding a controller in your hands. It was also announcing the Nolo Sonic 2, whose controllers can sense all five fingers of the user.
I hope to read some hands-on these devices in the upcoming weeks to discover how well they are.
ResonX embodied audio technology
EDGE Sound Research has presented at CES ResonX, its technology for “embodied audio”. The mission of the company is to create a hardware and software solution so that the user can enjoy every frequency range they can hear (acoustic audio) and feel (haptic and tactile audio, also known as physical audio). The system works by placing special audio emitters on the surfaces of the physical place where the user wants to hear the audio, and these emitters not only are able to provide good audio to hear, but also vibrations and haptic feedback on the object that are coherent with the audio.
BMW i Vision Dee
BMW has presented its concept of the futuristic car iVision Dee. The car features many XR characteristics, like a windshield providing information in AR, a mixed reality slider (whatever this means) that lets you define the level of information you want to see in the HUD, and a “glasshouse which doubles up as a display showcasing a digital avatar of the driver along with a welcome message when approaching the driver door with the key in your pocket” (whatever it means, again).
Seems to me just a concept to make some smoke and show that BMW is innovative, but I hope to be proven wrong.
Oobit brings the metaverse to LG smart TVs
Let me copy-paste the news from VentureBeat: “Oorbit, which operates a metaverse platform, has partnered with LG Electronics to bring interoperable virtual worlds to LG TVs. Through this partnership, Oorbit and LG will bring immersive games and experiences together and make it easy for consumers to interact in the metaverse.”
To me, this sounds like a lot of fluff, but I’ve found it interesting because among the various devices that may be used to enter the M-word, I had never thought about smart TVs, but actually they are a good candidate, too.
Meetkai launches new tools for room scanning
MeetKai has shown at CES a new system to digitize 3D spaces. With MeetKai it is possible to shoot a short video of a place and let the system digitize it as a 3D asset. After that, using another MeetKai tool, this asset can be converted into a 3D environment that can be used in XR applications or social spaces.
Arbeon releases its AR social media
Korean company Arbeon launched at CES its “AR social media” platform. Everything in this application starts with scanning an object: for instance, you can scan a dish at a restaurant, to see what are the reviews left by the other customers, or a thank you message from the chef that cooked it. Or you can put your 3D character next to it and share it as an AR content to the other Arbeon user. Arbeon has a pretty unique approach based on creating a communication channel over scanned objects, but it has to be understood how many people are interested in this concept.
Vuzix has presented at CES its latest product: Ultralite. Vuzix Ultralite is not a smartglass, but a reference design that other manufacturers can use to build their own smartglasses. It is meant to create monochorome smartglasses that can connect to the smartphone to show the user the notifications straight in front of his eyes. Its super-power is the sharp visuals, that can be seen even under daylight.
Other CES Roundups
Let me do a shoutout to other cool CES roundups that have been done on other magazines:
And that’s it! These are the most interesting pieces of XR news that I’ve been able to find from CES. I hope this big roundup has been useful for you, and if this is the case, would you mind sharing it on your social media channels to share the knowledge? Thank you!
(Header image by 163)
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