Intel’s Vision For the Future Takes VR to the Next Level

At its CES press conference in Las Vegas, Intel used virtual reality to show off its vision for the world. Attendees had Oculus Rift headsets at their seats to explore new experiences in travel, work, entertainment and gaming. The company also discussed its plans for its Project Alloy headset.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said Intel wanted to focus on “merged reality,” with Projcet Alloy, using wireless headsets to mix the real world with the virtual one. Intel showed off a fully-functional Alloy headset for the first time at the show. Everything’s in the headset, no computer required. It has two RealSense cameras, a battery, vision accelerators and on-board computing all in one package.

Krzanich said you can expect Project Alloy headsets from hardware partners in late 2017. The prototype looked comfortable and powerful, though no specs or further details were revealed during the press conference.

Project Alloy scans a room, and then gets rid of furniture. In a demo, tables, bookcases and shelves disappeared and became bunkers, the sky and enemy ships. Hiding behind the couch made a company rep duck behind a bunker — the room was the level in the video game.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich talked about travel before leading attendees through a landscape in Utah. Audiences flew over the Moab valley in a helicopter before jumping out and looking around in freefall before soaring in wingsuits. Many press and analysts looked around in wonder, while others grabbed each other's handsets. Finally, they launched parachutes for a safe landing.

Krzanich then discussed walking through video in virtual reality. He called this “volumetric video technology.” Intel brought in Hype VR founder Ted Schilowitz to discuss the company’s latest tech. In what they called the first walk-around VR experience, users navigated around a 360-degree video of a waterfall in Vietnam. You could see the water behind barrels and animals like a water buffalo. Every pixel was mapped in the space, showing off the place as it was when the video was captured. Krzanich said Intel and Hype VR will deliver this kind of VR content in partnership with Hype VR more widely in 2017.

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Next, Krzanich turned his focus to VR and work. A demo made everyone in the audience into a solar panel inspector. But it wasn’t just recorded footage; it was a live demo showing 360-degree video off of a drone camera. You could see in the vast distance as the drones flew through a power plant. Krzanich suggested you could use infrared cameras to show extreme heat and multiple cameras to show various angles, all without anyone ever stepping out in the field. This could keep people out of dangerous situations, while still keeping humans in charge of the work.

Sports and entertainment were the next big topic, and Krzanich said those fields always have huge impacts on technology. Intel demonstrated technology from Voke, a VR acquisition, that uses multiple cameras with wide fields of view so you can choose from different angles of a sporting event. For instance, you could switch between being overhead and courtside at a basketball game.

The sports demo was scheduled to take place during the show, but the match between Butler and Villanova was at half time during the keynote. When viewers looked up, they saw the scoreboard and other areas of the court. Hovering over a camera view instantly transports you to the spot you want to be in, but the halftime show caused Krzanich to cut the demo short. Voke VR sports content will launch in earnest later this year.

Of course, you can’t talk VR without gaming.  Krzanich showed attendees a brief VR trailer for the video game Arizona Sunshine. Zombies walked past deserted cars on a desert highway, hissing and moaning as they stumbled. It was a little more jerky than the other demos, which is probably why there were some barf bags at attendees’ seats.

These demos were wide-ranging and impressive so we can't wait to see Project Alloy headsets in action.

Andrew E. Freedman

Andrew E. Freedman is an editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming as well as keeping up with the latest news. He holds a M.S. in Journalism (Digital Media) from Columbia University. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Kotaku, PCMag, Complex, Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag among others.