Remember virtual reality? Its buzz has faded at CES 2019

NEW YORK (AP) — Just a few years ago, virtual reality was poised to take over the world. After decades of near misses, the revolution finally seemed imminent, with slick consumer headsets about to hit the market and industries from gaming and entertainment to social media ready to hop on the bandwagon.

But the buzz over VR has faded to a whisper. At the CES 2019 tech show in Las Vegas, Facebook’s Oculus unit isn’t holding any glitzy press events, just closed-door demos for its upcoming Oculus Quest, a $399 untethered headset due out in the spring. Other VR companies are similarly subdued. HTC announced two new headsets — one with only sketchy details — while Sony has some kiosks for its $300 PlayStation VR set in the main hall.

It’s a world away from the scene a few years ago, when VR products from Samsung, Oculus, HTC and Sony seemed omnipresent and unstoppable at CES. These days, VR is mostly a niche product for gaming and business training, held back by expensive, clunky headsets, a paucity of interesting software and other technological shortcomings.

“VR hasn’t escaped the early adopter, gamer-oriented segment,” said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder — himself an early adopter who chafed in 2016 at delays in shipping Facebook’s then-groundbreaking Oculus Rift system. Gownder said many existing VR setups are still too hard to use; even simpler mobile systems like Samsung’s Gear VR, he said, don’t offer “a clear reason for the average non-gamer to get involved.”

VR proponents are still dreaming big, although the challenges remain formidable. Shipments of VR headsets rose 8 percent in the third quarter compared to the previous year, to 1.9 million units, according to data research firm International Data Corp. — an uptick that followed four consecutive quarters of decline. Nearly a quarter of a million units of Facebook’s Oculus Go and Xiaomi’s Mi VR — the same stand-alone VR headset, sold under different names in different markets — shipped worldwide in the quarter, IDC said.

Those still aren’t huge numbers for a technology that seemed to hold such promise in 2012 when early demonstrations of the Oculus Rift wowed audiences — so much that Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion two years later. Despite large sums ploughed into the field by Facebook, Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and Google, VR hasn’t yet made much of a dent in the real world.

Some of the biggest consumer complaints involve expense, laggy or glitchy graphics and the fact that many systems still tether the headsets to gaming consoles or PCs. “Technology is still what’s holding VR back,” said eMarketer analyst Victoria Petrock. Upcoming stand-alone headsets like the Oculus Quest could solve some of those problems.

More alarming, though, VR still suffers from a lack of hit software. Many major game publishers have largely avoided the field so far, and venture funding for VR software development has nosedived this year.

SuperData, a digital games and VR market research company owned by Nielsen Holdings, estimates that consumer VR software investments dropped by a stunning 59 percent in 2018, to $173 million from $420 million the year before.

Software makers are retrenching. IMAX said in late December it was shutting down its VR unit. Jaunt, a startup focused on cinematic VR and once backed by Disney, restructured this year. Its new focus? VR’s cousin technology, “augmented reality,” which paints consumer-simulated objects into the real world, a la the cartoony monsters of “Pokemon Go.”

A few games have been modest hits. “Beat Saber” a VR game in which players move a lightsaber to music, sold over 100,000 copies in its first month and became the seventh highest-rated game on Steam, according to Forbes. But such titles are few and far between.

There’s one other problem: VR isn’t very social, Petrock said. There’s no easy way to share the experience with others on social media or within the games themselves, making a VR experience less likely to go viral the way, say, “Fortnite” has. “You have your headset strapped on and you’re in a virtual world but it is solitary,” she said.

Spirit Airlines passengers accusing airline of anti-Semitism, harassment

A Borough Park, N.Y., couple is accusing Spirit Airlines of turning a trip to Florida into an anti-Semitic “nightmare” from start to finish — calling them “r——d” as the plane took off, harassing them throughout the flight, and having cops escort them off the plane after landing.

Chana and Yisroel Beck arrived at Newark Airport on Tuesday along with their 6-week-old, 2-year-old and 3-year-old daughters, eager to embark on their weeklong trip to Fort Lauderdale.

“It was our first family trip, a nice, beautiful vacation that turned into a traumatic experience — a nightmare from the way we were treated and how we were escorted off without being told what we did wrong,” Chana, 25, told The Post on Thursday.

She said a gate agent allowed them to take their FAA-approved Doona baby carriage onto the aircraft, but that things took a wrong turn when two flight attendants at the plane entrance saw it.

“One of them said, ‘There is no way this is coming on. I don’t care who approved it at the gate. I’m the boss here and I’m going to decide if it comes on or not,’” Chana said about a flight attendant.

She said she and Yisroel, 28, complied and folded the carriage, which they initially were allowed to take to their seats because it can convert into a car seat.

A crew member then said, “’I’m not going to discuss this — this seat is going off the plane now,’” Chana said.

A fellow flier who witnessed the tumult said he overheard a steward utter “those r——d Jews” in conversation with a female flight attendant before the plane took off.

“It was clearly anti-Semitism, a personal thing,” said the 24-year-old passenger, who identified himself only as Binyamin, of Rockland County. He said he was so shocked by the repugnant comment that he came forward to tell the couple he was prepared to vouch for them.

Once the plane was airborne and the seat belt sign was turned off, Yisroel moved to his wife’s three-seat row and took their 2-year-old on his lap.

A male flight attendant ordered him back to his seat, saying regulations did not allow five people to be seated in a single row — adding that there weren’t enough oxygen masks in the event of an emergency.

“My husband didn’t argue and returned to his seat,” Chana said. “The steward, who is called Jose, told my husband ‘shut up’ when he asked him for his last name. He said, ‘You’re going to have law enforcement meeting you when the plane lands.’”

Once the plane landed, an announcement was made for all the passengers to remain seated as two police officers and two Spirit supervisors came aboard to escort the family off without explanation, she said.

“We had no idea what was happening and why they were escorting us off. We had no idea why they were making a big deal,” Chana said. “The supervisors said the (attendants) had notes on us, that we weren’t listening and that ‘just like you want us to believe your story, we have to believe what they wrote about you.’”

Adding insult to injury, Chana said, the airline supervisors said their return tickets for Jan. 15 would not be honored and that the family is no longer welcome on any Spirit flights.