The Metaverse Emerged Slowly at CES

Covering the metaverse at this year’s CES was difficult. The metaverse is really like a giant iceberg. The stuff you see on the show floor — headgear, glasses, apparel, toy guns — is the 10 percent folks see, smell, feel, talk about, brag about at the show.

But the truth is 90 percent of the metaverse is totally out of the view of the consumer — below the waterline.

The metaverse for the time being is really all about creatives — game, content developers — who develop the environment, the experience.

The whole idea sorta started back in ’82 when Jeff Bridges slipped into a mainframe in Tron, became an avatar and battled programs. Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash took it further with cyberpunks that hung out in a new world he dubbed metaverse.

A social media boss borrowed the name/technology and decided he’d ride into the future.

The idea fumbled along until Epic Games rolled out its online game Fortnite with guys and gals of all ages beating the crap out of each other, attending concerts, and having fun. Hanging out in the virtual world was cool until people were told going to the office, classroom or movie house wasn’t going to be an option and then became a drag.

Despite that momentary bump in the road, organizations like McKinsey still predict that by 2030, working, playing, stepping in/out of virtual personal/business experiences could generate $5 trillion.

While we’re still in the formative stages, it’s still movies and games that are shaping the industry, even though CTA’s VP of research Steve Koenig and a lot of CES exhibitors are pushing the virtual future.

None of this would be possible without Nvidia’s and AMD’s GPUs (graphic processor units) that can create complex images in the blink of an eye and Epic’s Unreal Engine that is the undisputed king of the hill for “easily” making photoreal images and immersive experiences.

While “everyone” rushes to take credit for the metaverse, define it and explain what they are doing to make the new immersive world a reality, it’s still a long way from a hard reality.

To help get things moving in the right direction, CTA and the world of acronym organizations — SMPTE, HPA, IEEE, MESA as well as Kronos, the international open standards organization — are the driving forces behind establishing the ground rules businesses need to turn all of the new realities — virtual, augmented, mixed, whatever — into reality.

Speaking of reality, Sony joined forces with Honda to introduce the Afeela which won’t be available until 2026 (maybe).

Sony has been busy across the entertainment spectrum. Their upgraded HMD/controllers seemed to be more responsive, more comfortable for the player. Their project Leondardo controller will be great when it’s released this year, making it easier for people with disabilities to enjoy gaming.

In addition, the long promised/delayed Gran Turismo movie will finally hit the big screen and based on the trailers, should be very impressive.

It’s interesting how games are becoming films and films are becoming games.

But our focus was more on what they’re doing to help other studios and themselves create better films/shows more rapidly and more economically.

Giant LED walls from Sony, ILM and other organizations have already been installed in more than 100 studios around the globe to make scenes more real, reduce VFX post-production and save time and financial budgets.

They’re also showing new technologies such as the Portable Volumetric Capture, Spatial Reality Display and mocopi previsualization technology.

That seems to be good indications that film production technologies will soon become valuable tools for companies that want to be major participants in the metaverse, even though there are still a lot of technical hurdles to get over before it gets widespread adoption.

Until then, it will simply be great gaming entertainment which, according to Koenig, isn’t all that bad because according to the organization’s Future of Gaming report, they estimated that there were more than 164 million gamers in the U.S. or more than three/fourths of the population between 13 and 64.

On the headset front, HTC’s new Vive XR Elite mixed reality headset is well positioned against the clunky Quest Pro headset.

Remarkably lightweight, comfortable to wear and use, it incorporates RGB color AR passthrough and very detailed resolution which undoubtedly is important to our serious gaming friends. It also features an integrated depth sensor which really helps the viewer understand his/her environment.

A nice feature we found inviting is that you can use it in full standalone mode with a battery on the back or as a pair of big glasses with a cable connected to an external power bank. Either way, the Elite is a great headset that isn’t big and clunky like most headsets.

While Apple doesn’t attend CES, there are still those nasty little non-announcements coming out of Cupertino around showtime.

This year’s rumor was that Apple is getting close to announcing their long-awaited MR (AR/VR) headset even before June’s WWDC with sales beginning this Fall.

The unannounced device will supposedly have dual micro-OLED 4K displays, 120-degree field of view, waist-mounted battery pack, ultra-low latency audio, hand and voice tracking controller and obviously a nifty price.

Of course … all that’s just rumors!

Ever since we can remember, people have unanimously agreed that you look really stupid wearing a head-mounted display.

Brelyon unveiled an impressive 8K fully immersive OLED display that takes you to a whole new level of VR headset experience.

It blends light-to-scale field of view of a very immersive screen but will be years before it becomes commercially available.

The core technology, called Ultra Reality, provides a massive field of view that surrounds you and tremendous optical depth.

Obviously, no one is saying what the cost will be when it’s finally available.

It sorta makes us think of a personal version of giant MSG Sphere that will open later this year in Las Vegas next to the Venetian.

We were given a peek at the concept a few years back by award-winning cinematographer Andrew Shulkind.

Andrew has been instrumental in bringing the idea to fruition. The imposing sphere will eventually host Hollywood tentpoles and live events using real time virtual production techniques that will put you in the center of everything no matter where you’re seated.

The sphere will handle 16K-by-16K picture resolution, spatial audio, 4D wind and scent capability and more.

We see it more as the next generation theater we can’t wait to experience. Frankly can’t imagine buying a “personal theater” for a couple of mind-blowing immersive projects a year…but that’s us.

But there was more than headsets to experience at CES.

Lots of VR folks like and need to ditch the controllers and use their hands and touch to work or enhance their experience so there were several haptic gloves and sleeves shown at CES that we found both fun and practical.

Using your hand to grab, turn and hold stuff that really isn’t there is a real kick once you get used to it, but we also see that they could be invaluable in training people to perform intricate and dangerous tasks in a wide range of careers.

And if you really want to “get into” your VR gaming, you’ll probably want to add a vest or heck, a complete suit.

The idea of “feeling like you’re being shot, stabbed or punched from all sides” doesn’t appeal to us but then, we’re not into paint ball either.

Walking in the rain, feeling the wind and even smelling flowers and the world around you is enjoyable.

If we were serious VR players like some of our friends, it would certainly enhance the gaming experience.

Some of the gaming stuff we saw at CES make you look and mumble “WTF” and other times, you know exactly who the product was designed for.

When we saw OSIM’s throne gaming massage chair we said it would be something Rob, a friend up in Oregon, would immediately want to add to his gaming set-up.

Rob has dozens of curved, flat high-resolution screens; controllers of every shape/size and always seemed to have a different chair every time we visited his “office.”

Their uThrone seemed to have it all.

Custom/tailorable massage technology, reclining adjustment, adjustable back/lumbar support, and color options that tell folks you’re a serious gamer and don’t mess with my chair.

But that’s Rob, not us.

Still, it’s interesting to see how often the real world mimics/follows what emerges from what creative minds imagine/envision for the movies we watch.

When Tony Stark slipped on his Iron Man helmet to “see” a different world and then added his cool fighting, flying suit, creative entrepreneurs saw opportunities to put various aspects of his adventures into products ordinary folks could use.

More importantly, hard-nosed businesspeople envisioned how the entertainment technology could blend into people’s everyday life and activities.

We’ll begrudgingly admit that there may be a place for this metaverse stuff.

Ultimately, there will be an infinite number of digital worlds we’ll live/work in that will be connected by AI, VR, AR, MR.

Right now, it’s still a bunch of nice products/services and it’s up to technology standards groups to set the ground rules to keep it open and available to everyone.

It’s still going to take time and effort to make the ideas and initiatives to work smoothly, seamlessly together.

There will be some who heed Kevin Flynn’s advise in Tron when he said, “The only way to win the game is not to play.”

But … what’s the fun in that?

Andy Marken is an author of more than 700 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media and entertainment, consumer electronics, software, and applications.