VR dominated last year's CES, but was almost invisible in 2017. VR has a chicken and egg problem - it needs compelling content to get consumers excited enough to invest in it, but until consumers embrace VR, there's not enough of a market for quality content to be created.
Hoping to change all that, Lenovo showed off new software at this year's show called Entertainment Hub, which can "upscale" regular movies and video games into a VR experience, and powering it all is an Australian company - Beyond Media.
CES 2017: Making VR content out of movies and games
Beyond Media's Shashi Fernando explains how Lenovo's Entertainment Hub can 'upscale' regular 2D movies and games into VR experiences.
The company's boss Shashi Fernando is based in Melbourne, but his team spans the globe, with offices in London and LA. Fernando has been working in digital entertainment for many years, first with Saffron Digital, which was sold to HTC in 2011 (US$50m). Fernando was then appointed to the board as Chief Content Officer of HTC. After leaving HTC, and spending time on "gardening leave", he formed Beyond Media, and immediately began work on the new VR platform presented at CES 2017.
Fernando is "incredibly pleased [Beyond Media] was able to go from a standing start six months ago to a fully working demo at CES".
Shashi Fernando at CES 2017.
The demo ran on Lenovo's upcoming Legion R720 gaming laptop - an impressive beast of a thing. The first demo involved watching an "upscaled" Hollywood movie, Angry Birds, in a virtual theatre. The attention to detail in the theatre was cute – illuminated exits were featured to the left and right of the screen and even a little projection booth appeared at the back.
As fun as it was, I'd prefer to be able to just view a movie in a plain dark room a little closer to the screen. I'm sure there are ways of doing this already but after spending 14 hours on a flight back from CES, I would have loved blocking out the plane and focusing on the movies I was watching.
The game on display was Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, developed as a 3D Shooter and never with VR in mind. First person shooters are ideal candidates for VR treatment, as they usually have "looking" controls separate to movement controls. After launching the game via the Entertainment Hub and donning the VR headset, turning your head moves the look controls.
The experience was technically polished but there were a few rough edges, largely stemming from the translation to VR. It took a few minutes to get used to moving your head while using the controllers to aim, but that learning experience is no worse than that of other games built for VR. The first jump into the game felt immediately disconcerting though - a real stomach turner.
A prototype Lenovo VR headset at CES 2017 that tracks head movements using cameras. Photo: AP
Because Fernando hates "closed, locked-in platforms", the software works with both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. And with Lenovo as the new owner of Motorola, he hopes the companies can work together to bring the software to mobiles in the future.
I was curious if Fernando had run into any issues with game developers or movie studios in regards to intellectual property. He laughs. "We are working with film studios and gaming publishers, and so far there have been no IP issues, and we expect to have all the major film studios on board when we launch. Working with a company the size of Lenovo, there can't be anything shady. It's all above board. Our contracts are the size of a telephone book."
Lenovo's new gaming laptops and the Entertainment Hub software is expected mid 2017.
The author travelled to CES in Las Vegas as a guest of Samsung.