5G is the swift kick VR and AR gaming needs to come to fruition

waiting too long for your oculus rift buy a bundle sale feature

One of the most notable promises of 5G is that it will revolutionize the world of gaming (and the entire entertainment industry) through its enhanced support for virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR). But does VR and AR really have the potential to change gaming and entertainment as we know it — and how will 5G help? Let’s take a look.

The current state of VR

VR and AR gaming already show major promise, but both are still in their infancy. VR, where you strap on a headset to experience an alternate reality, remains pretty exclusive, at least at the high end. That’s because the price of a system like the HTC Vive or Facebook’s Oculus Rift is out of budget for most consumers, especially considering they’ll also need a relatively-powerful gaming PC. But more and more consumers are gaining access to these experiences through VR arcades that are popping up all over urban centers.

HTC Vive Pro Eye review

Additionally, if you’re willing to take a step down in graphics and interactivity, it’s far easier to try out VR using inexpensive headsets like the $200 Oculus Go or the $400 Lenovo Mirage Solo, as well as mobile accessories like Google Daydream View or Samsung Gear VR, which require a compatible smartphone. These experiences can be quite captivating — take, for instance, the awesome feeling of staring up at a 15-foot dinosaur in a Jurassic World VR short.

Gradually, with standalone wireless devices like the forthcoming Oculus Quest ($400) and HTC Vive Cosmos (price unannounced, pictured above), these two categories of VR will come together, making the technology a much easier sell for the average consumer. For now, though, the market is still pretty divided between low-end and high-end VR, both of which have significant drawbacks.

AR, in a nutshell

As for AR, where you use a device to overlay digital images on the real world, the most notable example so far has been the massively successful Pokémon Go game for Android and iOS. The mobile game prompts users to get out of the house and catch Pokémon in the real world. The AR part of the game, however, often goes unused with many players citing a lack of accuracy and battery drain.

microsoft hololens app compettion surgery 5
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There are also AR headsets like Microsoft’s Hololens (shown above), though most consumers won’t have had a chance to try something like it quite yet. At least initially, a lot of the industry focus for AR headsets is on business applications (like architecture mockups and medical training) rather than games. The consumer-focused apps and games that do exist are much like the ones that exist for VR, which is to say — limited in content with short play-through times that simply don’t justify the investment in equipment.

What role does 5G play?

In either case, for both VR and AR it’s clear there’s still much work to be done to make the medium successful, but that isn’t halting development. The opportunity is far too great. Humans have fantasized about the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality for a long time — one of the most early examples is from a science fiction story called “Pygmalion’s Spectacles” by Stanley G. Weinbaum, dating back all the way to 1935.

samsung nasa moon landing in suit
Samsung moon landing VR experience. Joel Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Thankfully for our collective dreams of escaping into the virtual world, 5G’s bandwidth and low latency are expected to contribute greatly in making VR and AR mainstream. The higher throughputs of 5G will be necessary for VR and AR content that’s streamed from the cloud, providing users with the same flexibility they’ve come to expect from video streaming platforms like Netflix.

While there isn’t currently a Netflix of the gaming world, game streaming services like PlayStation Now, GeForce Now, and Jump already exist and are well-positioned to blossom in the 5G era of consistent and fast wireless internet. One of the key benefits of these platforms is that players can stream games for much lower prices than they would pay if they bought the games outright, which would be massively helpful when it comes to reducing the overall cost of AR and VR for consumers. Google’s Project Stream lets you play games like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey in the Chrome browser, and 5G would only help make it run far more smoothly. The fact that 5G opens up opportunity for game streaming means it also broadens opportunities for AR and VR.

The importance of higher speeds alone should not be understated, though. Mobile video was already well on its way to becoming a major force when 4G LTE came into play, but it was the new generation of wireless technology that improved the quality enough to make it commonplace, leading to groundbreaking apps like Snapchat, and bolstering growth for platforms like YouTube and the abovementioned Netflix. In much the same way, 5G could do the same for VR and AR.

In the future, it’s easy to envision VR and AR (or a mix of the two — a hybrid known as mixed reality) seeping into every aspect of our digital lives. In fact, there have been some pretty fascinating video projections, like the one above from Keiichi Matsuda, which shows an overwhelming AR future crammed with advertisements and animations layered over top the real world.

Predictions for the future

It’ll no doubt be a while before that becomes a reality, but market predictions are optimistic about the future of AR and VR. Though sources vary significantly, Statista expects AR and VR market size to reach 209.2 billion U.S. dollars by 2022, while Research and Markets more conservatively estimates the market will generate revenues of $55 billion by 2021.

Whichever forecast proves true, it’s clear many are betting on VR and AR as one of the key applications of the 5G era. In fact, it may end up being the killer 5G application, as video was for LTE. With the multi-gigabit speeds and millisecond latency that 5G promises in the coming years, we can expect to jump in and out of new worlds on a whim — thus bringing our science fiction dreams full-circle. Stanley G. Weinbaum, and all the other visionaries who predicted this era, would be proud.

Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is building a giant VR battlefield to train soldiers virtually

Imagine if the U.S. Army was able to rehearse battlezone scenarios dozens, or even hundreds, or times before settling foot on actual terrain. Thanks to virtual reality, that's now a possibility.

Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs brings 3D demolition into your living room

Angry Birds is releasing its next entry in the spring of 2019 - with a new spin. Bringing 3D environments and destruction, Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs uses augmented reality to add a new dimension to a classic series.

New Sony patent suggests a wireless PSVR headset could be on the way

Images and documents in the Japan Patent Office appear to suggest that Sony is planning a wireless version of the PlayStation VR headset. It isn't clear which system it will be used for.

Law Enforcement and Technology: What is the right balance?

Mobile technology is finally advancing out of the standard form we've become used to. The Samsung Galaxy Fold is one example of further innovation and possibly a redesign of how we communicate and interact with our devices. Will 5G…

Get your hands (and ears) on Apple’s new AirPods — here’s where to find them

Apple's new AirPods with wireless charging are the latest version of the much-loved wireless earbuds. Unfortunately, they aren't widely available yet. Here's where you can find them right now, and where they will show up soon.

You can now use the innovative Red Hydrogen One on Google Fi

The Red Hydrogen One was first announced in 2017 and has been delayed a few times since then. Now, the Red Hydrogen One is finally available, featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage.
Product Review

There’s almost nothing bad to say about the Mi Mix 3, but you still shouldn’t buy it

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 is good-looking, really well made, packed with features, and is a powerful, modern, desirable smartphone. But you probably shouldn’t buy it. Why? Nothing wrong with the device itself, but Xiaomi itself is mostly to…

Apple’s AirPower wireless charging mat may be coming soon

At its September event in 2017, Apple unveiled the AirPower, a new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.

The best Apple AirPods alternatives for Android, Windows, and iOS devices

Apple AirPods might be new and improved, but they aren't the only game in town. Other makers are offering their own truly wireless earbuds, with attractive features. These are the best AirPod alternatives on the market today.

Here are 20 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great small gift ideas), we've rounded up 20 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth keyboard.

The latest Google Doodle lets you create Bach-like music of your own

Google is celebrating the life of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, and to that end the company has released a new Google Doodle that allows you to create Bach-like melodies and harmonies of your own.

Amazon’s new Kindle has an adjustable light and costs less than $100

Amazon has taken the wraps off of a new Kindle model, which boasts a number of great features and comes at a very affordable price. Perhaps the best thing about the new Kindle is that the device has an adjustable.

Apple iPad Air vs. iPad (2018): Which Apple tablet is right for you?

The new iPad Air replaces the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, but it doesn't pack quite the same punch. It is a fair bit cheaper, starting at $500, but it's a lot more expensive than Apple's 9.7-inch iPad which starts at $330. If you're shopping for…
Social Media

Facebook Messenger adds quoted replies to better organize group chats

Facebook is rolling out a feature that should help make group chats a whole lot more organized. The feature allows you to reply to specific messages within a group chat, so others will be able to tell what you're replying to.