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VR continues to drop jaws and win fans at CES, but it’s still not ready for 2015

I’ve got some bad news to share from the trenches of CES, my friends: 2015 is not the year that virtual reality takes off.

It’s so close. Young, unknown upstarts like Vrvana and Sulon are popping out of the woodwork. The mighty Razer has thrown its weight behind a promising, open-source platform to standardize VR. Sony’s Morpheus, notably absent at CES 2015, continues to loom large after an impressive 2014 debut. And don’t forget you can already go out and buy Samsung’s Gear VR, which turns its Galaxy Note 4 phablet into a VR headset.

It’s like a race where no one actually knows how to find the finish line.

And that’s to say nothing of Oculus VR, the Facebook-owned VR torchbearer that quite literally Kickstarted this entire revolution. At CES 2015, the company’s Rift headset is looking better than ever thanks to the addition of 3D audio and other, smaller performance upgrades to the Crescent Bay prototype that debuted in fall 2014.

So what’s the problem? It’s like a race where no one actually knows how to find the finish line. There are many different approaches to tackling VR at present, but most of them feel like experiments. “How does this work for you?” There’s no real sense of competition yet.

That’s a big deal. All of these companies, even Oculus, are still trying to crack basic problems. How do you allow a headset-wearer to interact with the space in front of them? What do those user inputs look like? Is there any way to get around the disconnect between the brain and the virtual space when you’re piloting a walking first-person avatar from a seated position?

Photo credit: Digital Trends/Adam Rosenberg

Most importantly, how do you solve all of these problems while keeping the cost down?

No one has the answers yet. The evidence is right there in the way these developers interact with the media. “We’re going slow because a bad VR experience hurts the potential market more than anything else,” they all say. “We’re happy to see [INSERT COMPETITOR HERE]’s progress, because success for one is success for all.”

That’s not the language of competing interests. The hype train is an important component of free-market capitalism, since you’ve got to get consumers interested in your product long before it arrives on store shelves. If we were six months out from a release, you’d see a proper effort on the part of one company or another to establish its hardware as the one you definitely want to buy.

“Success for one is success for all.”

Instead, these companies continue to work toward a common goal, even as they approach it in different ways. They’re future competitors, all of them, but they can’t compete until they’ve got something to sell. And there’s no VR product at CES 2015, the annual trendsetter for tech in any given year. Just a lot of developer kits and big ideas.

So what point do we end on? Should I tell you now, with more than 340 days to go before the calendar ticks off another year, that 2016 is when VR has its moment? It seems likely, but that was true for 2015 last year as well.

I remain confident that VR is coming. Jump into any of the headsets right now, even those that aren’t as far along, and you can see the raw potential. This is no fad like it was in the ‘90s. But right now, 2015 looks more like another year companies will spend buffing out the rough edges on VR, and less like the one it will shine it up and roll it out onto the sales floor.

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