REALITY SUCKS (or Maybe it Doesn’t)

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Throughout CES week in Vegas, amidst the Minotaur maze of things that were brighter and louder than the next, an undercurrent of dare I say – fake news – was seeping into the reporting. A sinister and cynical disinformation campaign about Virtual Reality was transmitted around the world via every platform, so much so that my mid-70’s parents forwarded a barrage of links to articles with great concern.  Although this scenario may echo familiar in today’s reality, there was in fact no collusion, nor any need to begin construction of any type of great monolith for security.  What we simply need to do is take a deep breath.

Therefore, after a week of enduring eye-rolls and blank stares coupled with polite nods as I tried to discuss its future, let me be clear – THE DEMISE OF VIRTUAL REALITY HAS BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED.

Since I just referenced a quote from 1897, let me also cite 1995 and the now infamous Newsweek article by Professor Clifford Stoll, entitled “The Internet? Bah!,” in which he scoffed at the premise that the world would ever buy, communicate or truly embrace the World Wide Web.  (best article ever by the way: https://www.newsweek.com/clifford-stoll-why-web-wont-be-nirvana-185306)

In homage to those former proclamations and the current residents of soap boxes from which experts are declaring that adoption rate and sales and other concrete metrics are demonstrating that VR will be just another Betamax, I would like to go on record here in 2019 so that people can look back someday and prove me right.

However, in order for me to have any credibility since I am just a creative fanboy who is “all in” on the technology, let me hedge my bets with a true innovator and evangelist of the technology and see what he has to say about the state of VR and what spoke to him at CES.

As the former head of technology for Will.i.am, Lee Kebler has been at the tip of the spear in pushing the limits of entertainment, creativity and technology at the highest level for over a decade.  Integrating the bleeding edge into concerts, museum exhibits and advertising campaigns for Levi’s, Coca Cola and Intel, Lee has harnessed and improved upon each advancement, creating both the sexy and the functional.

Lee is currently developing major projects for industries from manufacturing to marketing.  I had the opportunity to sit down with this visionary and see CES through his eyes.

Here are Lee’s key take-aways:

Oculus Quest: “Although announced months before CES, the Quest was still the talk of CES as the true manifestation of the dream of consumer-friendly VR. The all-in-one headset with room scale tracking and highly functioning dual controllers, was the benchmark for everyone’s expectations.”

HTC Pro Eye: “The Vive Pro hasn’t had the warmest welcome to the consumer market. Although it’s a great headset, it’s not as cost-effective when compared to the other options out there. Until now. The Vive Pro Eye was announced at CES.  HTC’s partnership with the fantastic eye-tracking company Tobii creates the first consumer-accessible VR headset with high quality features and user eye tracking. Eye tracking opens up a whole new world with user interfaces, advertising, and graphic quality.”

HTC Cosmos: “This announcement easily overshadowed almost every other VR announcement. But most of that was due to its mystery. Very little information was given about this new headset even though physical units were on display. It seems to be a headset that lives between the power of desktop headsets and mobile all-in-one units. How that is accomplished? We just don’t know yet. But it is very exciting!”

Viveport Subscription Service: “Right now we are in a store war in VR. VR games are purchased through Steam, VivePort (HTC), or the Oculus Store (Facebook). Each with their perspective headsets. The king of stores right now is Steam, but as mobile VR headsets grow in popularity (like the Oculus Go or Quest), this foothold will inevitably give out. Steam’s bread and butter is in the desktop gaming realm. Viveport may have been perceived as not the industry leader, but now they have announced a new subscription service. This is basically Netflix for Virtual Reality and that is a GREAT idea. It is no secret that VR is plagued with shovelware games and a subscription service like Viveport means you can safely find the games and realities you love – while not spending on content that doesn’t deserve your money.

Antilatency Alt Tracker: “CES is the place where you find the weird gadgets that you didn’t know you wanted. This is one of those. Although not consumer-ready, this little hardware node can attach to a 3DoF headset like the Oculus Go and turn it into a fully functioning room scale tracking headset. This is my personal fan favorite.”

Now take a deep breath.

I’ll wait.

The truth of Virtual Reality is that we are simply reliving the Web in 1995.  We have only scratched the surface of what is possible.  And as we have learned, it’s easy to dismiss progress happening in real time.  I am confident that in 2039, when we look back, I will be proven correct and the truth shall set us free – as is the case with many things happening in our current reality.

Jason Saffran

Jason Saffran

CEO at The Lost Tribe
Jason Saffran is the CEO of The Lost Tribe, a creative agency and incubator based in Nashville.Prior to founding the Tribe, he spent the past thirty years in the worlds of entertainment, private equity and marketing. The Lost Tribe’s mission is to harness multiple creative disciplines into new experiences and products for brands.
Jason Saffran

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