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The CES Decompress

Come home. Sleep. Sort through 100 business cards. Try to recall what just happened.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) the largest trade show in the world, closed the books on 2018 on Friday, January 12th. 170,000 attendees swarmed Vegas for four days of floor showcases, panels, parties, and traffic gridlock. CES is spread all over the city. Each venue is a mile or two from the main show floors, which during CES means a forty minute cab ride. Even when you get to the hotel or the convention center, you can still walk another twenty or thirty minutes to reach your destination. Usually, the madness of the crowds reaches its peak on the third day. This year it seemed like the crush started when the doors opened on Tuesday, January 9th.

This was the crush on day one, hour one of CES.

I was instantly reminded of my CES peeves: people who stop in pedestrian traffic lanes to check their cell phone; booth attendants with bad breath (they have to get close because of the relentless din); people with black or glossy cards you can’t write on; and, finally, at the risk of sounding like a deservedly unpopular American politician, booth attendants who don’t speak English, including those in the booth of a large Chinese company with an impressive AI driven handheld translator.

It would be impossible to cover 2.75 million net square feet of exhibit space spread across Las Vegas — the largest show floor in CES’ 51-year history. The show’s official venues spread from Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) to the Westgate next door, the Renaissance across the street, the Sands Expo Center, The Venetian, The Palazzo, Wynn, Encore, ARIA, Cosmopolitan, and Vdara. “Large and small companies from around the globe came to Las Vegas this week to use CES 2018 to launch technologies that will change our world,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

Your erstwhile reporter on the last day in the world’s sweetest massage chair. They finally chased me out by trying to sell it to me for $4,999. Show special.

I couldn’t come close to spending time with all the VR and AR products, ideas and people that were at CES, let alone the vast array of objects, machines and devices which are now legitimate Consumer Electronics. One thing I’m not going to talk about: the things my 7,000 (not a typo) colleagues in the media have already written about such as the Intel keynote, the 100 drones light show, a brief power outage in the central hall, drift racing BMWs, or the Samsung VR auditoriums.

I’ll get my AR/VR highlights, but first I want to talk about the general vibe of the show. For me, 2018 will be remembered as the Google year. They were everywhere. And everyone in every hall was talking about digital assistants, AI, Computer Vision, Machine Learning and how everyone’s everything integrates with Home or Alexa.

LAS VEGAS, NV — JANUARY 07: A Las Vegas Monorail car with a Google ad is seen running prior to the CES 2018 on January 7, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs from January 9–12 and features about 3,900 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 170,000 attendees. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Google in lights at CES.

Next to LVCC. At CES 2018, Google was omnipresent.

Google was everywhere at CES2018. Hey Google. Stop.

Google thinks people want to do this.

Other big themes:

Cars are consumer electronics, too, and consumer electronics for cars are using the most advanced AR available right now. No headset required.

IoT, Wearables & Neurables. Something is happening with performance sports monitoring, wearables and brainwave sensors. I made up the word Nuerable. It’s a wearable for your brain.

LAS VEGAS, NV — JANUARY 11: The Yamaha Fazer R combustible engine, industrial-use unmanned helicopter is displayed at the Yamaha booth during CES 2018 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 11, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The USD 100,000 autonomous drone is primarily used for high-end agricultural purposes. It features a 32-liter capacity tank that allows it to spray about four hectares without reloading chemicals or refueling. CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs through January 12 and features about 3,900 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 170,000 attendees. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Drones, not AR and VR, dominated the vast South Halls 1 & 2 of the LVCC. I looked it up and found out why: 2.4 M personal drones were sold in 2016, generating $4.5 billion, according to research firm Gartner. Industrial and Military sales account for another $4 B.

What’s the deal with products to help you sleep? There must be a lot of people who need help with this, because there are a lot of companies, like Phillips, making things to help us sleep.

Everywhere you go at CES, someone going to make you sleep better. This solution, which I was told was “relaxing” actually plays a spa-like audio sales pitch.

A lot of the action was actually not as CES but in hotel suites and private conference rooms at both the show and other hotels around town, like Ceasar’s and The Hard Rock. The epic difficulty getting around the city during the show made it hard to see everyone and everything I wanted. However, I was fortunate that VR Voice asked me to lead their broadcast from the floor of the show for four hours a day from the Vuze Camera booth in the VR/AR area of the South Hall. The world came to us. Vuze makes an $800 3D 360 4K (ultra high definition) camera which is necessary to create 3D environments for VR. We hosted twenty-seven leaders in the category, including Viveport President Rikard Steiber, Tony Parisi, Global Head of VR/AR for Unity, and Ted Schilowitz, Futurist, Paramount Pictures. All the interviews are archived on Crowdcast.io.

Tony Parisi, Global Head of VR/AR for Unity, being interviewed by author Charlie Fink in the VR Voice/Vuze Camera broadcast booth on the CES Las Vegas show floor.

CES 2018 Women of VR panel, VR Voice Broadcast from the Vuze Camera Booth on the floor of LVCC. Pictured from left, Sarah Hill, CEO Chief Storyteller at Story-up, Suzanne Lagerweij, CEO of Field of Views, Joanna Popper, EVP of Media and Marketing at Singularity University, Alina Mikhaleva, Co-founder at SPHERICA VR studio, Laura Mingail, Director, Marketing & Business Development at Entertainment One, and Rutha Aronson, VP Product and Marketing at Humaneyes Technologies

“There was a significant lack of women speakers at CES, even when top female leaders in VR and technology, in general, were in attendance at the event”, said Laura Mingail, from Entertainment One in Toronto. “Suzanne Lagerweij (of Vuze Camera) thought we should be heard, so we quickly gathered colleagues considered the leading women in VR to share insights on the VR Voice Crowdcast.” Panelists shared insights into topics ranging from content, storytelling and monetization.

Interviewing Justin Barad of Osso VR, which creates realistic simulations for orthopaedists.

With Jeremy Kenisky of Merge VR and their new “Blaster”.

Interviewing Vuze Camera CEO Shahar Bin-Nun

HTC Vive made the most noise in VR by introducing the Vive Pro, which addresses the most asked for improvements in high-end home VR: better optics(no screen door!), and wireless. The upgraded headset also features dual noise-canceling mics, better 3D audio. The 2880 x 1660 resolution optical view is 78% better than today’s Vive. While the new Vive Pro is backward compatible with their lighthouses and controllers, it also supports 10 x 10 room tracking (presently users are limited to 6 x 6 feet of free roam. The Pro will be released this summer, but as yet no price has been announced. It won’t be cheap. A company executive told me the prosumers and enterprise users this product targets aren’t price sensitive. I would not be surprised if it was as much as than $1,500.

With Viveport President Rickard Steiber, VR Voice in the Vuze Camera Booth at CES.

I was fortunate enough to snag an interview with Viveport President Rikard Steiber. Viveport has recently redesigned to create what Steiber describes as “a VR-first experience that allows users to experience 3D content themselves while browsing, rather than watching a 2D video of someone else’s experience.” Subscriptions continue to exceed expectations, and the number of titles available to subscribers now exceeds 200.

Someone at Vive was giving select press and VIPs a demo of the ultralight $500 wireless standalone VR device, the Vive Focus, which is being introduced in China next month. I found the quality remarkably good and being untethered intoxicating. No U.S. date has been set, nor do we know if it will use Viveport, Daydream or Steam for its content. Here in the US, deep-pocketed Oculus is set to offer its untethered standalone, the Go. The Go is similar to the Gear VR but no smartphone is required. The Vive Focus, which is more than twice as expensive, felt much more like high-end VR we’re used to seeing on gaming PCs with new graphics cards.

The Vuzix Blade is a consumer version of its current industrial smart glasses. These extremely lightweight (3 oz) glasses from Vuzix are operated by a combination of wing swipes, gestures and voice commands (integrates Alexa). A very tiny 8MB high-resolution display is projected on a small portion of one of your lenses. Because of the short focal distance, users can choose to focus on the tiny screen, making it seem much bigger, or continue to focus on the physical world beyond the lenses. There are terrific business and consumer applications for the blade. Vuzix is taking deposits for developer kits on its website and hopes to ship a consumer version by the end of the year. The Vuzix Blade was awarded four CES Innovation awards in the areas of Fitness, Sports, and Biotech; Wireless Handset Accessories; Portable Media Players and Accessories as well as Computer Accessories.

With Paul Travers, CEO of Vuzix, wearing their upcoming “Blades”.

Kopin Solos. Kopin, until recently, was a little-known provider of HUD and other AR optics and components for military devices. The company is now moving into the consumer market with an AR device of its own, Solos, a smart cycling heads-up display which works a lot like the Vuzix Blade, but is half the price. Solos feature voice control enhanced audio and also throws a high definition window into the corner of the glasses’ lenses.

Kopin Solos Bike Riding Glasses will retail for $499.

Lenovo’s AR & VR offerings show how serious the company is about being a player in this category. They are are targeting three very specific and distinct markets with their Star Wars AR game headset, the Mirage Solo for Daydream (coming this summer) and their fully occluded Windows MR headset.

Lenovo’s three plays in AR & VR. From left, Disney Last Jedi Star Wars HMD and lightsaber, Lenovo Explorer for Windows MR, and their soon to be released Mirage Solo for Google Daydream.

The $99 Mira Prism continues to intrigue as it tantalizes us with a simple solution to throwing data into our field of view: Pepper’s Ghost. Simply, your phone mounts on the top of the Prism. Its stereoscopic images are projected onto the lenses. Boom. Welcome to AR. We’re told the Prism will be available later this year.

The fiendishly simple and effective Mira Prism always puts a smile on my face.

Holobeam Me Up, Scotty! Microsoft gave me a private demonstration of volumetric telepresence with HoloLens from a German company, Valorem, which I wrote about in Forbes just eight weeks ago, as part of a story about the coming disruption of telecommunications. The technology makes science fiction science fact, but it is far from worked out. As you can see from the shot through the lens of the HoloLens, the participants in the conference look like victims of a Star Trek transporter accident.

Holoportation, in which real space is occupied by remote participants, may transform communications are we know it.

Last, but hardly least, was Kino-mo, shows off its amazing Hypervsn retail promotion product, which uses spinning LEDs to project animated, floating, holographic 3D images into space.

Someday soon we really could be living in a BladeRunner world where commercial strips will be filled with floating Holographic billboards. 2D video can’t do it justice. You have to see it in person. With your naked eyes. That’s the thing about CES. As much as you hate it, you have to see for yourself.

Oh! And to celebrate the release of my new book, Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, An AR Enabled Guide to VR & AR, I signed and gave away over 100 copies, courtesy of Vuze Camera.

Gratitude to my colleague, editor and publisher, Bob Fine of VR Voice, our contributors, and our incredible host, Vuze 3-D HD Camera

You don’t need to buy the book to get a taste of the AR inside: (1) download & open the app (2) Go to Finkmetaverse.comand point your camera at the book cover art (3) be amazed by AR art that literally pops up out of the page.

Point your camera at the cover logo and see the book come to life.

This post was originally featured on Forbes.com on January 15, 2018

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