Remember virtual reality? Its buzz has faded at CES 2019
By MAE ANDERSON
AP Technology Writer
Wednesday, January 9
NEW YORK (AP) — Just a few years ago, virtual reality was poised to take over the world. After decades of near misses, the revolution finally seemed imminent, with slick consumer headsets about to hit the market and industries from gaming and entertainment to social media ready to hop on the bandwagon.
But the buzz over VR has faded to a whisper. At the CES 2019 tech show in Las Vegas, Facebook’s Oculus unit isn’t holding any glitzy press events, just closed-door demos for its upcoming Oculus Quest, a $399 untethered headset due out in the spring. Other VR companies are similarly subdued. HTC announced two new headsets — one with only sketchy details — while Sony has some kiosks for its $300 PlayStation VR set in the main hall.
It’s a world away from the scene a few years ago, when VR products from Samsung, Oculus, HTC and Sony seemed omnipresent and unstoppable at CES. These days, VR is mostly a niche product for gaming and business training, held back by expensive, clunky headsets, a paucity of interesting software and other technological shortcomings.
“VR hasn’t escaped the early adopter, gamer-oriented segment,” said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder — himself an early adopter who chafed in 2016 at delays in shipping Facebook’s then-groundbreaking Oculus Rift system. Gownder said many existing VR setups are still too hard to use; even simpler mobile systems like Samsung’s Gear VR, he said, don’t offer “a clear reason for the average non-gamer to get involved.”
VR proponents are still dreaming big, although the challenges remain formidable. Shipments of VR headsets rose 8 percent in the third quarter compared to the previous year, to 1.9 million units, according to data research firm International Data Corp. — an uptick that followed four consecutive quarters of decline . Nearly a quarter of a million units of Facebook’s Oculus Go and Xiaomi’s Mi VR — the same stand-alone VR headset, sold under different names in different markets — shipped worldwide in the quarter, IDC said.
Those still aren’t huge numbers for a technology that seemed to hold such promise in 2012 when early demonstrations of the Oculus Rift wowed audiences — so much that Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion two years later. Despite large sums ploughed into the field by Facebook, Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and Google, VR hasn’t yet made much of a dent in the real world.
Some of the biggest consumer complaints involve expense, laggy or glitchy graphics and the fact that many systems still tether the headsets to gaming consoles or PCs. “Technology is still what’s holding VR back,” said eMarketer analyst Victoria Petrock. Upcoming stand-alone headsets like the Oculus Quest could solve some of those problems.
More alarming, though, VR still suffers from a lack of hit software. Many major game publishers have largely avoided the field so far, and venture funding for VR software development has nosedived this year.
SuperData, a digital games and VR market research company owned by Nielsen Holdings, estimates that consumer VR software investments dropped by a stunning 59 percent in 2018, to $173 million from $420 million the year before.
Software makers are retrenching. IMAX said in late December it was shutting down its VR unit. Jaunt, a startup focused on cinematic VR and once backed by Disney, restructured this year. Its new focus? VR’s cousin technology, “augmented reality,” which paints consumer-simulated objects into the real world, a la the cartoony monsters of “Pokemon Go.”
A few games have been modest hits. “Beat Saber” a VR game in which players move a lightsaber to music, sold over 100,000 copies in its first month and became the seventh highest-rated game on Steam, according to Forbes. But such titles are few and far between.
There’s one other problem: VR isn’t very social, Petrock said. There’s no easy way to share the experience with others on social media or within the games themselves, making a VR experience less likely to go viral the way, say, “Fortnite” has. “You have your headset strapped on and you’re in a virtual world but it is solitary,” she said.
VR “is still is the next big thing, but anything good takes time and effort,” said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen. “The industry as a whole did overhype it.”
He compares the current VR industry to the TV industry when HDTV first came out. People bought new high-definition sets but were disappointed when there wasn’t anything to watch in the new format. For VR, “the kind of breadth and depth of content isn’t all quite there,” he said.
AP Technology Writer Rachel Lerman contributed to this article from Seattle.
A green future is one without war
By Robert C. Koehler
Donald Trump and his base — the leftover scraps of Jim Crow, the broken shards of racist hatred that once were the American mainstream and made the country seem “great” to those who weren’t its victims — have, it appears, a crucial role to play in our future.
President Trump is what we have wound up with: a raw, uncensored scapegoating and fear-mongering that’s too much for most of the American public. And thus the political center, the military-industrial-media consensus that has ruled the country for the past four and a half decades, pushing progressive values to the margins of American politics, is unraveling. Centrist compromise, which birthed the Trump presidency, can’t mask the truth anymore.
It’s time to evolve.
If we don’t, we’re stuck in the mire of racism, exploitation, empire and war. We’re stuck in the dead past, which has given us the current state of Planet Earth: a planet at war with itself in multiple ways. We’re stuck in a dead past and a dying future.
This is the context, I believe, in which we should evaluate the Green New Deal, which may well be the most brightly shining political ideal to emerge on the national horizon in my Boomer lifetime. Here’s how one of the Deal’s arch enemies, Justin Haskins of the Heartland Institute, described it recently in the Washington Examiner:
“Make no mistake about it: This is one of the most dangerous and extreme proposals offered in modern U.S. history. It’s the sort of thing you’d see in the Soviet Union, not the United States. If we don’t stop the Green New Deal, our economy may not survive. This isn’t a battle we can afford to lose.”
So it must be good! If nothing else, it’s a piece of potential legislation with real traction that transcends Democratic centrism and timidity — its instinct to cave to well-funded right-wing criticism and avoid upsetting the military-industrial applecart — that became de rigueur party behavior since the defeat of George McGovern in 1972.
But the GND needs to go further than it does. Since it’s already being pilloried as the most radical piece of legislation in modern history, it might as well open itself up to become just that: the cornerstone of a truly sustainable national and global future. The Deal should take on militarism and war as well as climate change and poverty; they are all linked. Our near-trillion-dollar military budget, and the endless and needless wars it funds — not to mention the ongoing development of our nuclear arsenal — can’t be quietly, politely ignored as we envision a sane tomorrow.
Right now, the draft legislation for the Green New Deal calls for ten years of intense national focus on such objectives as: establishing 100 percent of national power generation from renewable sources; decarbonizing U.S. industry, agriculture and transportation; the draw down and capture of greenhouse gases; the building of an energy-efficient national grid; and, along with this, the recognition “that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone.”
This is no small plan! It’s a rallying cry and vision that virtually transcends political thinking as we know it, reflecting a near-complete dismissal of status quo politics and its obeisance to Big Money. It refuses to comprise with the forces of either Trump or the Koch brothers. It challenges America to be a democracy.
Let it also challenge the military-industrial complex. The organization Code Pink has taken the lead in calling for it to do so, suggesting, for instance, that the list of goals on the draft legislation should include this one: “a major transition away from the environmental destruction of war and war-preparations, including the closure of most of the U.S. military bases abroad and within the United States and the thorough cleanup of the land and water in those locations.”
Code Pink also suggests, regarding funding for the project, that “much of the 60 percent of discretionary spending now going into the environmentally destructive project of militarism can be moved to environmental protection.”
The point, as I see it, is to create a holistic vision for the future. We can’t just shrug that war is politically untouchable. Doing so — avoiding all serious discussion of militarism, both its costs and its consequences — leaves the global noose dangling.
The military-industrial PR machine spews noise about glory, honor and national defense, but mostly what keeps the system running in perpetuity is a complete lack of discussion about alternatives to violent self-defense. The need for a strong military presence — my God, the need for a new generation of nuclear weapons — is taken for granted by the mainstream media and much of the public, and must be challenged at the national level. The time to do so is now.
A number of years ago I wrote: “From the radioactive fallout spread by depleted uranium munitions to the destruction of the ‘compression-fragile’ desert floor, we are pursuing a geopolitical strategy with single-minded, and ultimately suicidal, indifference to the consequences of our actions. And nothing can stop us except our own awakened consciences.”
The Green New Deal resonates with awareness and awakened conscience, with transcendent vision and, hallelujah, youthful determination. It represents a yanking of the future away from the moneyed interests that think they own it. Let the future it begins to build be one of peace: with the planet and with ourselves.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.
Best and Worst
By James A. Haught
The immortal novel, A Tale of Two Cities, begins:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
Actually, I think this yin-and-yang contradiction exists right now, today – and probably existed at every moment since the beginning of recorded history.
These are America’s worst times under a ludicrous president who has uttered 7,600 countable lies and shut down part of the federal government in a temper tantrum. But life also is good, with full employment, booming prosperity and superb personal freedoms.
Writers like Chris Hedges are correct that right-wing greed is pulling America apart in ever-worse inequality, and that industrial pollution causes global warming that threatens the planet. But writers like Steven Pinker are correct in claiming that our “better angels” cause life to improve constantly, with fewer wars, fewer murders, fewer rapes, fewer cruelties, fewer ethnic persecutions and relentless retreat of other evils.
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times – and it always was.
The hero of Scaramouche was “born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad.” But that’s just half the story. Laughter can be dampened by grief and suffering. A better assessment of our ongoing carnival is the cliché: Life is a comedy to the person who thinks, and a tragedy to the person who feels.
Columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote that, despite daily horrors in the news, “2018 was the best year in human history.” He cited:
Each day, about 295,000 people around the world gained access to electricity for the first time.
Each day, about 305,000 got safe drinking water for the first time.
Each day, 620,000 more people acquired access to the Internet.
“Only about four percent of children worldwide now die by the age of five,” he wrote. “That’s still horrifying, but it’s down from 19 percent in 1960.”
Before the 1950s, more than half of humanity lived in extreme poverty, defined as less than $2 daily income. Now the ratio is below ten percent.
When I was young in the 1950s, gay sex was a felony – and it was a crime for stores to open on the Sabbath – and blacks were banned from white schools, restaurants, hotels, pools, neighborhoods and jobs – and it was a crime to buy a cocktail or look at something like a Playboy magazine – and a desperate girl who ended a pregnancy faced prison, along with her doctor. Our mayor once sent police to raid bookstores selling “Peyton Place.” Now all those Puritanical strictures have vanished. Human progress occurred.
A century ago, average life expectancy was 48 years. Now it’s near 80, thanks mostly to medical science.
It’s true that the bizarre Trump era is the worst of times. But I have blind faith (perhaps fueled by wishful thinking) that Trump will fade into the muck from whence he came, and intelligent statecraft will return. I have hope that Democrats eventually will attain universal healthcare as a human right for everyone – and today’s ruinous college debts will cease – and other progressive goals will be achieved, one after another.
As we stumble toward that future, it will always be the best of times and the worst of times.
James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice,is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.