PAX East 2016: Virtual Reality is Here!

Colin McMahon
Apr 26, 2016


The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East was held on April 22-24 in Boston, and has been growing since its inception in 2010. Initially solely focused on video gaming, the conference has expanded to include other new technologies. Virtual reality (VR) has been at PAX for at least the past three years, but always with a disclaimer: “VR is coming.” This year, the message had changed: VR is here.

Consumer models of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were released earlier in the year, meaning that, for the first time, major VR platforms are available to the public. Previously, only minor or limited VR interfaces (Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear) were available. While these devices are less expensive, they are essentially a pair of lenses and housing to hold a smartphone. Today’s smartphones are considerably less powerful (in terms of graphical projection ability) and have limited-to-no control scheme when mounted in these headsets. With the release of the major platforms, VR is no longer a pipedream.

One panel at PAX, titled “Alienware, Oculus, & Epic Games: The Driving Forces Behind VR” highlighted the coming impact of VR. Those dismissing it as simply an advancement in gaming technology do so at their own peril. “This is a new medium,” said one representative from Oculus. “There is far more we don’t know about VR than what we do know.” These sentiments were echoed by the other two speakers at the panel.

Epic Games created Unreal Engine 4 (UV4), which, until VR, was used solely by the video game industry. During the panel, Joe Kreiner, Americas Engine Licensing, Epic Games, highlighted the new clients that VR was bringing to the table. “We announced a couple of weeks ago that BMW is using UV4 to visualize all their cars. Telsa is using UV4. There’s just a breadth of application… so we’re really in a growth period.”

Other verticals that were highlighted included medical application (Google Cardboard has already been used to enhance surgery; Vivid Vision has the potential power to correct lazy eye) and real estate (realtors are creating VR representations of property to showcase a wide range of variables to prospective clients). VR is also being explored in mental health therapy, primarily for patients recovering from PTSD and other phobias. That being said, there is potential to go far beyond even that.

Robin Arnott (far left) discusses how SoundSelf transports the user to world created purely by sound. Aaron Lemke (middle) and Anthony Carboni (right) also spoke.

Robin Arnott (left) discusses how SoundSelf transports the user to a world created purely by the user’s own voice.

Robin Arnott, creator of SoundSelf, and Aaron Lemke, Developer and Musician – Unello Design, Chief Creative Officer – The Wave, Unello Design, spoke about how VR could be used to influence thought on a subconscious level. Arnott, who uses his program to promote meditation through creating abstract reality, highlighted the danger of suggestion. He stressed that, while the consumer is under complete VR influence (the headset and earphones), it would be incredibly easy to subtly interject foreign ideas into the user’s deeper conscious mind through undetectable audio.

While VR has arrived, the industry is still in its infancy. Barriers exist that will slow VR adaptation in the short term. The two greatest barriers are expense and space. Frank Azor, General Manager and co-founder, Alienware, subtly indicated VR’s expense through a raffle. The raffle was for an Oculus Rift headset and an Alienware PC, capable of handling VR’s processing requirements. The value of this package totaled over $2,000, showing that VR is still above most spending limits in the consumer market. This, however, primarily reflects PC costs, as the Oculus Rift CV1 is priced at $599.

Space is the other notable restraint, but likely the one to be fixed first. Most people live in apartments, areas with little open space. Any VR experience that requires movement will quickly – and literally – hit obstacles as consumers stumble around blind. Detection software is already coming that will help Oculus and Vive know where the real walls are. Many VR experiences also do not require physical movement. The greatest factor that will aid in this, however, is that many VR developers are indie developers – people who will be developing within this limited space. Where there is a will, there is a way – and these developers will likely quickly have answers to the VR space detection problem.

InfoTrends Opinion

VR is here. While it is still too early to see mainstream integration, the train has left the station. Within the next five years, who knows how much VR will grow. It is worth noting that, for the third year in a row, every VR live demo had lines that wrapped the booths and stretched for hours. People are beyond excited to finally jump in.

A portion of the eternal line that fed into the Oculus Rift Booth.

A portion of the eternal line that fed into the Oculus Rift Booth.


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