CES 2021 VR: 5 Cool Announcements You May Have Missed

Where were all the CES 2021 VR announcements?

Traditionally the start of the year kicks off in flustered fashion for the tech industry as the world forgets festivities and flocks to Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. But, like so many events before it, this year’s iteration ended up going all-digital for the first time, making it a much smaller deal than usual.

There were, however, a handful of CES 2021 VR announcements. Below we’ve rounded up five you’ll want to pay attention to.

Panasonic’s Super Slim Refresh

One of the coolest things we saw at CES last year was Panasonic’s concept for a super-slim VR viewer. The mad-invention design may not quite be at ‘sunglasses’ level of VR comfort and social acceptability, but it’s a heck of a lot closer than even the Oculus Quest 2. The tradeoff, of course, is that it can’t do as much as Quest 2.

Well, almost as much. The 2021 revision does at least introduce a 6DOF tracking system along with other improvements. Still, without trying that for ourselves we can’t talk about how well it works. Plus we don’t even know if it will ever see a real release, but we certainly hope it’s on the cards.

Nolo’s New Standalone

Chinese VR company Nolo is a CES mainstay, often showing off new tracking solutions and headsets at the event. This year it had a new 6DOF standalone device that builds on its previous offerings.

The unnamed headsets uses SodarTraq ultrasonic positioning technology and Nolo’s own dual-camera SLAM solutions for 6DOF tracking for head and hands. Other info is light right now and we wouldn’t expect this to be a serious competitor in western markets but it was basically the only new VR headset reveal at CES this year.

Reachy The Robot

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No, not a CES mascot (although there’s always next year), Reachy the Robot is maybe the cutest and most useful application of VR to spin out of CES this year. It’s a humanoid robot that’s controlled using a Valve Index headset. Move your hands, and Reachy will imitate you. Twist your head and it’ll follow your direction.

It’s an idea we’ve seen before, but Reachy definitely looks like the most appealing iteration yet. It might not have much to do with VR presence and immersion, but it has endless potential for safety and convenience. If only we could get Reachy to run out to the store for us right now, eh?

Sony Making High-End VR Concerts

The possibility of virtual concerts is one VR’s most promising future prospects, especially at a time when venues are closed and artists are performing in front of webcams, not people. But, broadly speaking, current VR concert solutions are a little lackluster. 360 films don’t capture a sense of presence and most digital recreations can’t hope to replicate the in-person experience.

It seems like Sony is hoping to brute force its way past the problem with a new virtual concert featuring Madison Beer. The upcoming show features meticulous production, with performance capture from Beer herself and a digitally recreated version of New York’s Sony Hall venue. It’s due later this year on PSVR and Oculus platforms.

Nvidia’s 3060 and New Laptops

VR seems to be increasingly moving towards standalone as the dominant format (if it isn’t already there), but Nvidia’s CES 2021 announcements could at least make PC VR more accessible than it’s ever been. Firstly, the company introduced the new 3060 card, which ships in late February, starting at $329. It’s the lowest-end card of the new 3000 series, but is still much faster than the VR-ready 1060 cards from 2016, so should be a good pick for PC VR gaming on a budget.

Also revealed were new laptops sporting variants of the 3000 series. Again, these GPUs won’t be as powerful as top-of-the-range cards like the desktop 3080, but you should get good performance for VR on even the low-end mobile RTX 3060 card, which is 41% faster than Mobile RTX 2060 and roughly on par with Desktop RTX 2060 Super. It’s not cheap, though, as laptops start at $999. The first devices should go on sale later this month.

And that’s it for our list of CES 2021 VR announcements. What did you make of this year’s show? Let us know in the comments below!

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