The Khronos Group recently launched an initiative to standardise the way VR applications access the many available hardware platforms that have arrived on the scene over the last couple of years. On its website Khronos identifies industry demand as driving the initiative and judging by the number of companies that have added their names to the announcement and the industry leaders who have supplied quotes, that is no exaggeration. Khronos supplies a graphic to show the extent of support:
And a selection of quotes will give a flavor of just how enthusiastic the industry is for this standard to come into being.
“With VR on the verge of rapid growth across all of the major platform families, this new Khronos open standards initiative is very timely. We at Epic Games will wholeheartedly contribute to the effort, and we'll adopt and support the resulting API in Unreal Engine,” Tim Sweeney, founder & CEO, Epic Games.
“Khronos’ open APIs have been immensely valuable to the industry, balancing the forces of differentiation and innovation against gratuitous vendor incompatibility. As virtual reality matures and the essential capabilities become clear in practice, a cooperatively developed open standard API is a natural and important milestone. Oculus is happy to contribute to this effort,” John Carmack, CTO, Oculus VR.
“Open standards which allow developers to more easily create compelling, cross platform experiences will help bring the magic of VR to everyone. We look forward to working with our industry colleagues on this initiative,” Mike Jazayeri, director product management, Google VR.
There are more (and you can see them in full on the announcement page) but just those three cover a huge chunk of the industry, and include three companies that are critically important to the success of this move.
2017 is being billed as a crucial year for the VR industry, with headsets and software at last coming together in a way that might just provide a breakthrough - although in my opinion the jury hasn't even left the room yet. There are rumours of new headsets, new technologies including eye tracking with foveated rendering and optical navigation systems which require new sensor technologies and new software to make use of them so standardisation can only help. A second graphic from Khronos helps to explain the problem and their proposed solution:
Their basic point is that the market is fragmented wth multiple proprietary runtimes and driver interfaces and that this impedes the creation of widespread VR experiences that can easily run across multiple platforms. Developers can only afford to support a limited number of platforms so fragmentation leads to less content choice for consumers, and slower VR market growth. Khronos’ proposed standard will include cross-platform APIs for the various sensors, tracking devices, controllers and displays that go into a VR system, solving that problem and stimulating growth of a VR software ecosystem.
This is not the first time that Khronos has moved quickly to head off market fragmentation in the face of rapid innovation; the timely introduction of the Vulkan graphics API last year and the swift move to provide API and file format support for deployment of deep learning based vision systems are two other recent examples of this responsiveness.
This is unusual in a collaborative industry body of this type and is a testament to the organisation and its members. A standard like this can only help, and if the adoption is anything like as widespread as Vulkan, it could turn out to be one of the crucial factors in making this market work.