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With HP’s entrance, the commercial VR market solidifies

August 1, 2017 | By Jan Ozer—Independent Technology Journalist @janozer

Some have dismissed VR as yet another overhyped technology category that will never achieve those prized hockey-stick sales projections. And let’s face it: Many consumers ignore it completely as solely for gamers. HPs recent entry into what it calls “commercial VR” may signal a new class of applications that could convince consumers to give VR another look. It should also inspire a raft of experimentation from a wide range of industries. At HP’s announcement at SIGGRAPH, HP’s partners used VR for applications as varied as creating immersive consumer and marketing experiences, to training and simulation, to curing PTSD.

HP’s announcement had three key elements. Most significant is the introduction of the HP Z VR Backpack, which is a battery powered, 10.25-pound backpack that’s driven by an Intel Core i7-7820HQ CPU, with an NVIDIA Quadro P5200 graphics card. Obviously, the main benefit of the wearable solution is the ability to move in a VR world untethered and without tripping over wires. Significantly, the unit features a dock, which allows developers to quickly transition back and forth between their desktop and wearable VR PC for virtual reality content design.

Beyond the backpack, HP is selling the HTC Vive Business Edition head mounted display (HMD). HP also plans to open 13 immersion centers around the globe to help companies experience HP VR technology and learn how to best develop and deploy VR.

Pole Position

An Audi prospect checking out the tires close-up in VR.

One early adopter of HP VR is Audi, which has developed two types of showroom-based systems. One allows potential buyers to walk around the car and peer inside all the nooks and crannies.

The other is a chair-based system that allows potential buyers to use a controller to navigate around and into the car. As they approach doors, trunks, or engine compartments in the VR world, hot spots appear to open and view inside, or sit.  Audi plans to rollout the chair-based system to all dealers in the third quarter of 2017.

Magdalena Maczkowski is the Product Owner of Audi’s VR Experience/Immersion. As she explained, most prospects come to the dealership knowing which car they want to buy. Working with a sales consultant, they can configure and visualize the car on a traditional large screen display. When it comes to choosing colors and final options, they may don the VR headset to get a feel for how the panoramic sunroof looks, or the high-end 18” rims, or how the colors look at night under a streetlight.  And, since Audi sells more than 50 vehicles, prospects can experience a car that isn’t on the lot.

Training and Entertainment Applications

Another early HP VR partner is Motion Reality, Inc, which develops real-time human motion capture and simulation technologies for the military, law enforcement, entertainment, and sports markets. The interface allows users of Motion Reality products to move within a virtual environment and interact with their fellow actors and surroundings by physically moving around a defined real-world environment equipped with motion capture technology.

Training and entertainment courtesy of VR.


VR for Pain Relief and Therapy

Using VR to help overcome PTSD.

A third company experimenting with HP’s technology is Firsthand Technologies, which uses VR for medical applications ranging from pain relief to helping reduce the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or phobias. Regarding PTSD, VR can provide controllable exposure to a fearful experience, allowing patient to process and ultimately overcome its impact. “People get stuck,” Firsthand CEO Howard Rose commented. “VR unsticks them with gradual, low stress challenges.” Rose also shared that Firsthand started using HP workstations in hospitals, in part, because of their whisper quiet operation.

Over the last 12-18 months, VR has evolved from a technology focused on a small number of use cases to a tool that can be used by any company that needs to market and sell its products, train its workers, or perform any number of other functions—including, of course, delivering information and entertainment. HP’s commitment to VR adds an exclamation point to that pivot. While VR has not yet captured widespread consumer use, the addition of more options and commercial implementations can only help build interest in virtual reality experiences as a whole.

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