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Virtual Reality Fine-tuned at Asia Tech Show

  • Ralph Jennings

FILE - A general view shows booths at the 2014 Computex exhibition in Taipei World Trade Center, June 4, 2014.

FILE - A general view shows booths at the 2014 Computex exhibition in Taipei World Trade Center, June 4, 2014.

New hardware went on display Tuesday at Asia’s biggest tech show to make virtual reality games smoother and more life-like as popularity skyrockets for the technique of transporting a user into different spaces through computerized head and hand gear.

About 30 brands of not-yet-released PCs and processors designed mainly for virtual reality games – where a player simulates diving to the bottom of an ocean or slaying lifelike enemies – went on display at Computex Taipei, which runs until Saturday.

New VR hardware

The 130,000 tech industry visitors expected at the show can test the new hardware designed to support headgear that blocks images or ordinary surroundings and displays virtual 3D images instead. The new technology would also complement handsets with buttons to control a user’s movement – firing a gun, for example – in a virtual environment.

Exhibitors acknowledge a lot of growing space left for virtual reality, often known just as VR.

Smoother user experience needed

Only eight companies, including Sony, HTC and the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, dominate the market today. Users are too often weighed down by wires and heavy headsets, participants of the annual Taipei tech show say. Resolution could improve, they believe, and a user’s motions could be more lifelike.

A bouncing ball in virtual reality should deflect off a table, not go through it, said Huang Jen-hsun, CEO and co-founder of Nvidia, a Silicon Valley designer of graphics processing units. The company this week unveiled a speedy, high-memory graphics processing unit called Pascal.

“It has to be much more elegant. Connected by a wire -- it has to be solved. The resolution has to be much higher. The physical world does not behave according to the laws of physics and the environment you’re in is not beautiful enough,” Huang told a news conference. Scientific researchers need the technology as well as gamers, he added.

“We’ve always been a computing virtual reality company,” he said. “The amount of work that we have to do to create a virtual environment, to behave according to the law of physics, to look real, we’re a decade away.”

Led by gamers, virtual reality is already getting real economically. The industry will be worth $15.89 billion by 2020 after taking off last year and growing at a compound annual growth rate of 63.18 percent, according to a report from the research firm Marketsandmarkets.

FILE - A visitor looks at ASUS computer screens at the Computex trade show in Taipei.

FILE - A visitor looks at ASUS computer screens at the Computex trade show in Taipei.

The United States is the world’s preeminent VR market, but China is following. The Chinese market should reach 5.5 billion yuan ($835 million) this year, says Mark Natkin, managing director with market research firm Marbridge Consulting in Beijing.

“In order to try for an increase in profits, the branded developers will actively seek bigger shares of the high-end and let their gaming desktop PCs link with VR,” said Ian Wang, analyst with Taipei-based tech research firm Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute.

VR games may soon run on laptops or smartphones

Games normally run on desktops because of their power and components. But Taiwan’s top PC maker Acer said last week it had developed laptops with enough power as well as gaming components and a fan-cooling system.

Virtual reality may eventually migrate to smartphones from PCs, making the systems less cumbersome, show participants say.

British microprocessor design firm ARM Holdings came out this week with a specialized processing unit for smartphone virtual reality, according to marketing and strategy Vice President Nandan Nayampally. They are due in smartphones by next year.

He too acknowledged space for improvements across the industry.

“In terms of a VR experience, you’re talking about higher frame rates to keep it more real,” Nayampally said. “You’re talking about increased resolutions, because now it’s not just a screen. You’re looking about how you’re reducing latency for the experience to stay much more realistic. Then finally of course how do you actually simplify so that it doesn’t seem tacky, how do you get rid of jagged edges. So in terms of an experience it becomes much more full-on.”

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