CES 2020 proved VR and AR are thriving

Virtual and augmented reality have had a rough few years: Pundits tried to proclaim VR “dead” despite growing consumer interest and sales, while AR’s high prices and limited utility relegated dozens of competing headsets into various “enterprise” niches. If you believed the naysayers, mixed reality was just a fad that should have been over by now. CES 2020 proved the anti-VR and anti-AR crowds wrong — profoundly wrong, in my view. Walking through the North, Central, and South Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, I found mixed reality technologies all over the place, and not just from the expected players.

Major automakers, peripheral developers, and streaming companies were all showing off VR- and AR-ready solutions, many of which were actually exciting. This show was easily the best VR and AR event I’ve attended, both because of and despite the fact that I had to walk miles in the real world to see the state of the art in mixed reality technologies.

When people look back at CES 2020, they’ll remember it as the show when augmented reality had its first real consumer moment — the point when the technology stepped beyond the realms of sci-fi and $3,500 HoloLens headsets into mainstream affordability. Multiple companies were showing $500 to $600 AR glasses with various features, all intended for release before summer 2020. The critical factor that spurred this innovation was the use of a smartphone for core processing while loading lightweight glasses with sensors, cameras, and stereoscopic displays, an initiative Qualcomm has called “XR Viewers” or “XR Smart Viewers.”