AR/VR hardware rush could slow the arrival of content: analyst

Man with VR headset on
Concerns regarding ecosystem fragmentation and slow adoption are likely top of mind for virtual reality industry groups.

Following last week’s CES show in Las Vegas, analyst firm CCS Insight was left questioning whether the focus on hardware might sink the nascent virtual reality/augmented reality market.

The firm saw hundreds of companies exhibiting VR and AR hardware at the show, but few were demonstrating software or content innovations. Demonstrations by Qualcomm, Lionsgate and Intel were encouraging, but overall the focus was worrying.

“Despite the sharp increase in the number of companies exhibiting, little appears to have moved on in 12 months,” wrote CCS Insight. “The focus on hardware indicates an urgent need for greater attention to be paid to software and content if the technology is going to move beyond early adopters and fulfill its potential in the near term.”

CCS pointed out companies like WebVR that are working to address early signs of fragmentation in the industry by providing a platform-neutral runtime, but worried that too much focus early on hardware could leave development tools and platforms in the dust and, in turn, hold back the arrival of new content.

“It is increasingly clear that there is a looming fragmentation problem on a scale far bigger than that witnessed in mobile devices. A growing number of different input mechanisms is creating headaches for developers unsure which accessories and platforms to support,” CCS wrote.

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Concerns regarding ecosystem fragmentation and slow adoption are likely top of mind for the handful of virtual reality industry groups that have sprung up in the last month.

The Virtual Reality Industry Forum (VRIF), which has members including Akamai Technologies, Arris, Dolby Laboratories, Ericsson, Fraunhofer, Harmonic, NAB Pilot, Qualcomm, Technicolor, Sony Pictures and more, is focused on hatching an “interoperable, end-to-end ecosystem presenting high-quality audio-visual VR services.”

“We hope to ensure that the VR industry avoids the fragmentation of standards and formats that has plagued audiovisual media in the past,” David Price, vice president of strategic business development at Ericsson, said in a statement. “We expect that many of those involved in the original informal discussions will join VRIF shortly.”

Shortly before that, the Global Virtual Reality Association (GVRA), a group counting Acer Starbreeze, Google, HTC Vive, Facebook’s Oculus, Samsung and Sony Interactive Entertainment among its members, launched its efforts.

“The organization will foster dialogue between public and private stakeholders in VR around the world and make education and training material available to the public. Working groups will be organized around important topics for the industry, enabling us to produce relevant research and guidance,” the GVRA said on its website. “We will also host and participate in international discussions on important topics in VR to shape the public discussion on the technology. Ultimately, the group will develop best practices and share them openly.”