BRIAN SANTO: I’m Brian Santo, EE Times editor-in-chief. You’re listening to EE Times On Air, and this is the Weekly Briefing for the week ending November 5th.
Brian Santo：我是《EE Times》美國版主編Brian Santo，您正在收聽的是EE Times On Air。
Virtual reality is another one of those technologies that people have been talking about for decades but whose biggest payoffs seem to remain stubbornly in the future. Now Facebook, one of the biggest companies on the face of the planet, is betting its future on unleashing the potential of VR.
Mark Zuckerberg’s grandiose plan to remake his troubled social platform Facebook into a VR powerhouse has cultural hurdles, of course. But Facebook will also be facing technological challenges; and furthermore, Zuckerberg could be steering his company into an area where he might run in to some formidable competition. This week, life, the metaverse, and everything with our guest Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.
當然， Mark Zuckerberg要把他陷入困境的社交平台Facebook轉型為VR巨擘的宏圖難免存在文化障礙，Facebook也會面臨技術挑戰。此外，Zuckerberg此番願景可能將Facebook導入一個競爭激烈的領域。我們邀請到了(市場研究機構) Tirias Research的首席分析師Kevin Krewell，他將與我們一起探討生活、元宇宙及相關的一切。
How long have we been talking about virtual reality? The concept of creating digital environments with the use of modern computers goes back to at least the late 1960s. Computer scientist and artist Myron Krueger was using the phrase “artificial reality” in the 1970s. In the 1980s, Jaron Lanier, who created some of the first virtual reality hardware systems at his company, VPL Research, certainly didn’t invent the phrase, but he unquestionably popularized it.
我們談論虛擬實境有多久了？用現代電腦創造數位環境的理念最早能追溯到1960年代晚期。電腦科學家兼藝術家Myron Krueger在1970年代用的是「人造現實」一詞。到了1980年代，Jaron Lanier的公司VPL Research打造了首批虛擬實境硬體系統，儘管Jaron Lanier不是該詞的發明者，但毫無疑問是他普及了「虛擬實境」這一說法。
The upshot here is that the idea of virtual reality – or VR – has been percolating for a long, long time. But VR has yet to truly take off for a lot of reasons. It’s neither cheap nor easy to create both rich virtual environments for mass consumption and the infrastructure necessary to sustain them.
Over the years, various companies have dabbled in VR, but among the largest companies, Facebook in particular has been dedicated to the technology. It bought goggle developer Oculus in 2014, and has stuck with that business. For the last year or so, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been talking up VR, or as he hopes to brand it, “the metaverse.” That term definitely is not new, by the way. It was probably coined by writer Neal Stephenson in his 1982 novel, “Snow Crash.” If you like science fiction and you haven’t read it, you really ought to get to it.
多年來，不少公司對開發VR均有涉獵，但在一些規模最大的公司中，Facebook尤其致力於此。Facebook於2014年收購了VR眼鏡製造商Oculus，並堅持發展這項業務。過去一年多，Facebook執行長Mark Zuckerberg一直在鼓吹VR，也就是他所標榜的「元宇宙」這一概念。順便一提，這個詞絕不是新造的。它可能源自Neal Stephenson1982年的小說《雪崩》。如果你是科幻小說愛好者，並且還沒看過這本書的話，那它值得一讀。
Anyway, Zuckerberg recently doubled down on the metaverse, declaring that Facebook’s future will be in VR. His pitch is that the change in corporate mission is so radical it merits changing the name of the company to Meta. Facebook says the name change has nothing to do with its problems that have sprung out of its inherent refusal to take any responsibility for its business model or its actions. Hey, maybe they sincerely believe that. Anything is possible. Which explains why we’re talking about VR today.
And that brings me to introducing today’s guest. Kevin Krewell is a principal analyst with Tirias Research, where one of his areas of coverage just happens to be VR and AR. Kevin is an industry veteran, a savvy watcher of technological and business developments, and we’re pleased that he’s been a regular guest on this podcast.
首先我介紹一下今天的嘉賓。Kevin Krewell是Tirias Research的首席分析師，虛擬實境(VR)與擴增實境(AR)正好是他的研究領域之一。Kevin是業界資深人士，對技術和業務發展有深刻的洞察力，我們很高興他能成為本節目的固定班底。
Here’s my conversation with Kevin about life, the metaverse, and everything.
BRIAN SANTO: So we have noticed, you and I, that there’s this amazing new trend called The Metaverse.
Brian Santo：所以就像我們都注意到的，現在有一個很神奇的新趨勢「元宇宙」(The Metaverse)。
KEVIN KREWELL: How meta!
BRIAN SANTO: Yeah, exactly. What’s a meta you?
Brian Santo：真的…What’s a meta you?
KEVIN KREWELL: Hey, what’s a madda you? Eh?
Kevin Krewell：嘿， what’s a madda you? Eh? (EETT編按：兩位來賓只是在模仿下面提及的一部美國老動畫的主角)
BRIAN SANTO: Yeah. Let’s hope there are some people out there who remember Bullwinkle and Rocky. So, we’ve got Facebook, famously either, well, they were on the metaverse before they got into a lot of trouble. So it’s legitimately not only a distraction from whatever political winds they’re facing, but it’s a real idea that Facebook has been looking into for a while.
Brian Santo：好。希望還有聽眾記得《Bullwinkle and Rocky》這部動畫。眾所周知，Facebook在麻煩纏身以前就開始研究元宇宙了。這樣做不僅合法緩解了他們面臨的一切政治風波，也是Facebook的真實意圖，他們已經研究元宇宙一段時間了。
KEVIN KREWELL: They bought Oculus for that very reason, right? They bought Oculus because they wanted to double down on this idea of an extended connection between people using virtual reality. So Mark Zuckerberg is a true believer in that sort of Metaverse, “Ready Player One” type of view of the world.
Kevin Krewell：他們收購Oculus也為了這個原因，對吧？他們收購Oculus是想借助虛擬實境拓展人與人之間的連結，Mark Zuckerberg眼中的元宇宙是就是電影《一級玩家》(Ready Player One)裡的那種世界。
BRIAN SANTO: Yeah, well, I guess the question is, how many more people will buy in? I mean, you take a look at, for instance, you take a look at a visionary like Elon Musk, builds Tesla, and everybody has to play catch up. I mean, Oculus has been around for a while and nobody’s really… Not nobody. It’s VR and AR still hasn’t caught fire. It’s still an idea, but it just hasn’t caught fire yet.
Brian Santo：是的，我想問題就在於，有多少人認同他的想法？比如說，像Elon Musk這樣富有遠見的人物，他創立了特斯拉，所有人都只能處在不斷追趕的狀態。我想說的是，Oculus已經成立了一段時間，但沒有人能真正……也不能說沒有人。只是VR和AR始終沒有成為主流，仍只是一個概念，未引起廣泛關注。
KEVIN KREWELL: Yeah, I’d agree, except for the fact that they have sold millions of these Oculus Rift headsets. Now the question is, how many of those are sitting in closets collecting dust? So there was definitely a sense that this was cool. This is new. Everybody wanted one. There were a shortage of them. People bought them a couple years ago, and last year to The Quest II came out. And then they used it for a little while.
Kevin Krewell：是的，我同意，哪怕他們已經賣出數百萬套Oculus Rift系列頭戴顯示器。現在的問題是，那些裝置有多少已經被束之高閣？當時人們一定覺得它很酷，覺得這是新科技，每個人都想擁有一套。那時它們還缺貨。人們幾年前買過一副，去年又推出了Quest 2系列，但人們買了以後也只用一下子。
And then a lot of times, they just got put aside and never picked up again. Even during the Oculus Connect event. There was a question that John Carmack, their consulting CTO, suggested that this could be a real problem. That they there’s just not people just picking it up and just getting into it. And some of it is, it’s kind of clunky still. You need these controllers in your hands to track stuff. The thing on your face is kind of bulky. You get maybe a couple hours at best of use before the battery runs out. Because they don’t have a lot of battery in it.
人們大多數時間就是把那些頭戴顯示器擺在一邊，沒再戴過，甚至是在Oculus Connect開發者大會上－－這是Oculus技術長John Carmack指出的實際問題所在，人們就是不想把它們拿起來戴上，一則是因為裝置本身仍有點笨重，再者你得握著控制手把去追蹤物體，在臉上的東西也略感累贅。而且因為顯示器裡放不下大量電池，可能玩幾個小時就沒電了。
But there’s a whole bunch of new titles coming. And in a couple weeks, I’m gonna be at Augmented World Expo, which is one of the big events in this space, and there’s a whole bunch of new headsets coming out.
但即將有一大堆新產品問世。該產業領域的一個大型展會Augmented World Expo就會展出一系列新型頭戴式顯示器。
But certainly the company that has invested most in the metaverse type of concept is Facebook. They’re selling the Oculus stuff pretty much at cost. So that’s both good news and bad news. It’s good because it gets a lot of headsets out to a lot of people at a reasonable price. But it’s bad because it’s difficult for anybody to compete with them, because it’s subsidized.
You know, Mark, Zuckerberg and Facebook are throwing billions of dollars at this thing. And so they’re underpricing it to try to get it to a large group of people. So it’s kind of a mixed bag there.
BRIAN SANTO: Yeah. So a part of the question, I guess, is what you actually use this stuff for. So you’ve got different applications, some of it’s gaming, we know that there’s some that’s industrial, but those tend to be really valuable, but also really low volume.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. And those have been around for a very, very long time. Augmented reality glasses for repair work, construction, that type of application. These types of glasses have been around for a long time, actually, for those applications, industrial.
BRIAN SANTO: Right, right. Those companies are doing okay, but their business model is kind of a low-volume thing. You know, Zuckerberg, Facebook, they’re talking about millions, maybe tens of millions. And then there are other companies in the industry that are interested in VR, or could have an interest in VR, they’re positioned to do it. But part of the question is, what is VR? I mean, it sounds like Zuckerberg is thinking about this, like this social universe. You know, you talk to Microsoft, they’re talking about maybe gaming for the Xbox. What’s the metaverse? And is it different from company to company?
Brian Santo：是啊，那些公司做得還不錯，但他們的商業模式算是小量。你知道，對於Zuckerberg以及Facebook而言，他們想要的是數以百萬計、甚至千萬計的規模。只要業界還有其他公司對VR感興趣或可能有興趣，他們就要去做這個生意。但有一個問題是，什麼是VR？我的意思是說，Zuckerberg似乎想將VR應用於社交網路。但如果你去問微軟，他們則是要將VR應用於 Xbox。那元宇宙呢？不同公司對元宇宙的定義會不會不同？
KEVIN KREWELL: Well, let me just clarify that Microsoft has yet to actually promote a VR solution for Xbox. Sony, though, has PlayStation VR. And they’ve been using that for gaming. Yeah, Microsoft has focused on the industrial applications, the visualization. They just announced Microsoft Mesh, which is a co-presence type of application. And this is actually very similar to what Nvidia has been talking about with their Omniverse, which is kind of a mix of 2D reality through flat screens and 3D using VR or AR headsets to allow people to cooperate on projects, if it’s a work project, or cohabitate spaces.
Kevin Krewell：關於這點我想澄清一下，微軟實際上並不推Xbox使用的VR方案，反而是Sony有PlayStation VR，他們一直有把VR用在遊戲機上。沒錯，微軟專注於工業應用，也就是視覺化方案。他們才剛發表Microsoft Mesh，一種「共在」(co-presence；EETT編按：即共享虛擬空間/協作)的應用。它實際上與Nvidia一直宣傳的「Omniverse」高度相似，Omniverse是2D和3D的結合，即平面顯示器與VR/AR頭戴顯示器搭配使用，人們可以進行專案協作，這是一種工作專案或共治(cohabitate)空間。
I mean, some of it is, you know, we’ve talking about Zoom fatigue. People are just tired of doing flat video conferencing. If you’ve got more of a presence through a holograph, or holo presence of some sort, maybe that’s more natural, and maybe that’s more interactive, and it feels more like you’re in touch with the other person and coexisting in a space of virtual rooms, I would say.
So there’s advantages there. Whereas Zuckerberg is definitely more social, although the lead application for VR has always been gaming in that regard. But Mark wants it to go beyond gaming. He wants this kind of co-presence in a VR world. And that’s pretty much “Ready Player One” type of environment, where you go into a virtual reality environment, you work with other people, they have their own avatars, you build stuff, you trade stuff, and it becomes its own virtual economy as well. And again, this is not completely new. I mean, if there’s anybody old enough to remember Second Life…
所以優勢就在於此，儘管Zuckerberg肯定更著重於社交網路應用，但VR的應用主要在遊戲上。Mark看重的不僅是遊戲，而是VR 世界裡的「共在」。就很像是《一級玩家》所描述的場景，你進入一個虛擬實境世界，與其他人一起工作，每個人都有各自的虛擬「分身」，在那裡打造東西、做交易，然後變成自己的虛擬經濟。再次強調，這不是一個新想法。我是說，年紀夠老的人可能還記得《第二人生》(Second Life)這款遊戲…
BRIAN SANTO: What do you mean old enough to remember? Second Life still exists, man!
KEVIN KREWELL: I know. It’s still around. And then there was a follow-on, Sensar, from the same guys, which was a better virtualization environment. But yeah, Second Life, which was really designed just for 2D screens, but a virtual place where you could build and trade and sell items in a virtual economy, as well as like, you know, companies like IBM would have virtual reality meetings in Second Life.
So we’ve been kicking this thing around for a while. And what’s getting better is the hardware. And the company that actually does most of the hardware for standalone VR and AR is Qualcomm. Qualcomm is positioning themselves as the lead in this area, and they’ve continued to invest in it. You know, Samsung had dabbled in it and then sort of lost interest. There are other companies that could do more work in this area, like MediaTech, Huawei, whatever. Those companies haven’t really stepped up yet to a volume platform, whereas Qualcomm has created their own version of the chips, specifically for AR or VR. They’ve invested more in this space than anybody else has, and keep building reference platforms and such.
BRIAN SANTO: In your estimation, is the set of skills you need for building a virtual reality platform unique? Or could someone like a Huawei or MediaTech or whoever just decide, okay, we’re committing to this. Bing! We’re in and we’re competitive. Or if somebody were to make that decision, they’d be playing catch up with Qualcomm?
KEVIN KREWELL: Well, they’re playing catch up with Qualcomm just because Qualcomm has done the most work so far. So you have to catch up with what they’ve already invested into developing reference platforms, understanding 6DOF type of tracking, all the tracking algorithms and the working with the vendors in terms of optics. The optics have to be tuned for VR and AR.
BRIAN SANTO: And that’s not insignificant.
KEVIN KREWELL: No, no, it’s not. But it’s not to say that nobody can’t do it. They’re just a matter of making the investment. And I think what is, everybody’s waiting for the market to really develop. There’s probably not enough market share for everybody to get involved. So all right, Qualcomm’s got it for now, if at some point in time the thing really takes off, it really starts selling tens of millions of units, then I expect other companies will step into this space.
And it’s not even to say that a company like Facebook or the other vendors in this area don’t build their own chip. Facebook has capability of doing chip designs. Google does. Right now Google I think has been there, done that. I think they’re holding off getting involved in the metaverse at this point in time. But you know, they could at some point in time say, This is too important. Facebook’s in it. Microsoft’s in it. We at Google need to be in it as well. So there’ll be another player I could see getting involved.
BRIAN SANTO: Yeah, It’s interesting that you brought up Second Life. I’m of the opinion, having seen a lot of different technologies develop, Second Life was a great idea that was maybe a little bit too early, a little bit before the technology could really deliver on the promise.
KEVIN KREWELL: Oh, yeah.
BRIAN SANTO: And socially too early. I mean, the notion of living in a virtual space wasn’t really there. And now I’m thinking that’s no longer the case. I haven’t actually played the Farmville games. Where you actually have digital economy and people are trading resources and interacting with each other. And it’s on a flat 2D screen. I can see where there is culturally a greater openness to jump into a virtual world because they’ve already kind of been there. It was 2D. Going 3D probably would not be that big of a jump.
Brian Santo：以社交層面來看也太早…我的意思是說，當時並沒有生活在虛擬空間的想法。不過現在我認為情況已經完全不同。其實我沒玩過像是Farmville (EETT編按：類似開心農場)那樣的遊戲，玩家在其中擁有數位經濟，可以交易資源、彼此互動，那是在2D螢幕上的世界。我可以預見那些玩家們在文化上對於進入虛擬世界的接受度更高，因為他們已經有類似體驗，只是從2D轉向3D，並不是麼大的跳躍。
KEVIN KREWELL: Yeah. You know, one of the things that’s sort of interesting about how 3D gaming has evolved. The original video game started off in arcades, and then it migrated to home consoles, and then PCs and home consoles became, and arcades have sort of withered. There’s a Dave and Busters around still, but you don’t see too many arcades as you used to.
Kevin Krewell：是的。你知道嗎，3D遊戲的進展很有趣，一開始視訊遊戲是在遊樂場裡才有，後來轉移到家用遊戲機，又到了PC上，遊樂場已經式微。雖然還是可以看到一些像是Dave and Busters的遊樂場(EETT編按：類似「湯姆熊」，在美國經營提供餐飲與遊戲機台娛樂的連鎖業者)，但這類場所不像以前那麼多了。
BRIAN SANTO: I was in Central Oregon last week, and they have a virtual reality arcade.
KEVIN KREWELL: Yes, that’s exactly the point I was gonna make. That there are now more virtual reality arcades. Now, because of the COVID vaccine, those guys had to shut down for a good part of the time, but they were developing arcades for real virtual reality type of experiences, multi-people experiences using VR headsets and such.
And there’s some interesting stuff that you can do with that environment, where you can actually make a space in virtual reality look bigger than it physically is, by actually changing your perception. And you can actually think you’re in a bigger space than you actually are wearing a VR headset.
But yeah, that’s sort of like we had the headsets first, and now we’re getting the arcades. So it’s a little bit backwards, but yeah, arcades are starting to show up.
BRIAN SANTO: Wow, cool. So what do you feel, as a guy who’s watched technology develop over the years? What are your expectations for this as a legitimate business? Is it still too early? Are the conditions right? What do you think?
KEVIN KREWELL: I don’t know it. It could be one of those situations where it sounds better in theory than in practice. And I think part of that is the hardware needs to get better. And then there’s going to be this mixed reality blending between VR headsets with pass-through cameras, so you can sort of see what’s around you, and they can make stuff that way. Versus AR headsets, which are sort of like glasses but will have projected images on the glasses in your eyes. Your field of view. So there’s a blending of those. And I think that’s what we’re waiting for.
One company that was very deep into the AR side was Magic Leap. And they’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars invested in them. And they just didn’t reach their potential, and they’ve taken a step back, rebooted the company, and are a little more focused, but they’re still having struggles there. The AR side is just waiting for the right technology, the right field of view, optics Everybody believes it’s going to come. But it’s gonna take some time. That’s definitely a situation where the technology needs to be better.
But I think most people are more excited about that idea — especially us who wear glasses. The people that don’t wear glasses, they may not be as thrilled to the idea of having to wear glasses, but I don’t mind. Where you can project images and see overlays in your eye. And that’s pure science fiction. And I think that could be really cool. And I’m more excited about that.
But that’s still five years out I think. The VR stuff is here now. Clunky as it may be. It can get better over time, lighter headsets. I think there’s a lot of work can be done to make the headsets lighter and more comfortable. But yet balancing battery life and performance. It’s a lot of engineering trade-offs there too. But those are here now, and you can get a feel for what’s possible by using those.
I’ve got the Oculus Quest, Quest 2. I had the original Oculus Rift. I still have that, actually. And so I’ve dabbled in it. But there’s some cool stuff. Cool games like Beat Saber’s a great game. There’s a bunch of really cool games in it as well. But I’m still waiting for the real wow thing that makes me want to put it on every day. And that hasn’t happened.
我有Oculus Quest系列的頭戴顯示器Quest 2，我也有一開始的Oculus Rift，現在還留著，實際上我也用過。還是有一些不錯的東西，以及像是《Beat Saber》(節奏光劍)那樣一些很酷的遊戲。不過我還在等待會讓我每天都想戴上VR頭盔、真正令人驚豔的東西問世。那還未發生。
BRIAN SANTO: Yeah. Yeah. Google Glasses are like what now? It’s like six,, seven years ago? Was it that long ago?
KEVIN KREWELL: Oh, yeah. Every else thought they were dorky.
BRIAN SANTO: Well, yeah. And some people were kind of hostile. I kind of got it. But it was also interesting, because Google glasses were coming out just as the communications companies were thinking about rolling out 5G, and their thing was, Oh, you don’t have to do heavy glasses. You just need to be able to connect into the ubiquitous 5g network. So much for ubiquitous 5G networks, but the idea being that if you had pervasive networks with the kind of bandwidth that you can bop, bop back and forth to, you could feed those glasses and make them lighter. And I’m wondering to what extent you hear anything about that.
KEVIN KREWELL: Well, Qualcomm is still pitching that idea. I think that’s it’s still part of the 5G thing. Now, Google glasses was the 4G LTE timeframe. So it was too early. The other thing is, especially with Google Glass, it had a very limited heads-up display on just one side of the glass. It wasn’t AR, it was really more of a heads-up display, as you might call it. And the amount of information that you could display in that could easily be handled by 4G LTE.
The other thing was that it could record video, and you could compress and stream that video back up to the cloud as well. But the video is what freaked everybody out. Because that’s like, You’re recording me? You’re looking at me? Where are you? And it what took a while for people to accept the idea that somebody was wearing glasses that recorded video that could be recording you.
And then Snapchat did their own glasses. So there are a number of glass solutions here with cameras in it. They still haven’t taken off because the biggest problem is battery. You try to make it light, where’s the battery? So one of the solutions, this is what Magic Leap did. And this is what they used to do with regular AR, augmented reality, glasses. They would wire down to a puck, more or less, a standalone little device that would have the batteries in it, it would have the processor, so it wasn’t heavy on the headset. The other thing is, people are going to get a little freaked out if you put a 5G headset or 5G radio right next to you.
BRIAN SANTO: Right next to your head.
KEVIN KREWELL: Yeah, right next to your temple. Having the radio removed from your head a little bit is not a bad idea. There are also — and this is also common right now — is tethered. So your phone is still used as your connectivity and for your compute. And then the glasses are just basically a dumb display in a sense. So that’s another way of getting around the cost/weight issue. But the idea is, you now have a tether. Maybe you could do it with Bluetooth 5.2 has maybe low power, you could stream it. It all depends on if you really want to do high resolution video on the displays, Bluetooth is not good at that. It’s thought to be really a WiFi solution. And then once you put WiFi there, you’ve got radio and batteries and stuff. So it’s a bit of a trade off.
BRIAN SANTO: Hmm, interesting. All right. Have we exhausted this subject for the moment?
KEVIN KREWELL: Like I said, this is going to be a developing story over the years. We’ve been watching it develop, it’s still not going away. I think the buzz has gotten bigger due to the Facebook event. And Microsoft talking about their Mesh for business applications and co-presence type of applications. It’s going to be a subject for years to come, and I think it’s going to evolve and it’ll get better and eventually maybe we’ll hit that tipping point.