Finding Vegas VR nirvana in the backseat of a ’67 DeVille at CES 2023 • TechCrunch

Driving through the gridlocked streets of Las Vegas during CES can be nauseating—at the best of times. But doing it with a virtual reality headset blocking your view? Sure, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I don’t have the strongest of stomachs; and I pack Dramamine wherever I go. So it was with more than a little trepidation that I agreed to experience morning traffic on The Strip in the back of a car with a VR headset during CES 2023.

But it wasn’t just any car, and it wasn’t just any VR system. The car was a 1967 Cadillac DeVille, remarkable in many ways, but remarkable in this context for its utter lack of technology. (Disturbingly, they also lacked seat belts, luckily they weren’t needed on this day.) The headset was an HTC VIVE Flow paired with the new Holoride retrofit kit, a $199 accessory that lets you get in-car VR experiences in literally any car.

Holoride DeVille CES 2023 demo

Thanks for the pictures: Tim Stevens

The initial launch of Holoride was in collaboration with Audi, which started integrating the company’s technology into its cars last year.

Holoride CEO Nils Wollny told me that while more OEM partnerships are in the works (“we can’t announce that yet”), this retrofit kit allows for an immediate, massive expansion of the product’s market reach. Wollny calls it “an easy way for people who want to go to Holoride to equip the car they have so they don’t need to have the latest Audi.”

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All you need is a place to mount the Holoride, a puck-shaped thing that includes an accelerometer, high-quality GPS, and a wireless module to connect to the HTC Vive Flow. Stick it on the windshield, turn it on and you’re good to go. Data from this module drives the various apps provided by Holoride, experiences that all include some visual cues to prevent motion sickness.

Holoride retrofit pack CES 2023

Thanks for the pictures: Tim Stevens

I got a taste of what the aftermarket kit had to offer while sitting in the Cadillac’s generous backseat, a wide swath of vinyl that likely had very different experiences.

I started with Pixel Ripped 1995: On the Road. This is a Holoride specific spin-off indie VR darling. Here you play a 2D platformer on a virtual handheld game system (“Gear Kid Color”), sitting in the virtual back seat of a virtual car while your virtual parents exchange idle banter from the front.

As you actually drive through traffic, the game simulates the world around you, an endless, idyllic neighborhood. It doesn’t look like a huge excess of Sin City. It follows the general layout of the street, so when the real car stops at the intersection, the virtual car will do the same. The game is basic but fun, miles better than looking at the grid.

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In Cloudbreakers: Leaving Haven, a roguelike shooter exclusive to Holoride, you pilot a giant robot through digital clouds and blast wave after wave of geometric opponents. Around and below you, vertical and horizontal sweeping lines provide a visual representation of the streets. As the car turns, the in-game action shifts left or right to match.

The good news is that I never felt the slightest bit nauseous while playing these and other experiences. In fact, 10 minutes in the back of a taxi on the way to my next appointment made me more carsick than the 30 minutes I spent in that Cadillac with the VR headset.

The bad news is that none of the titles right now seem compelling enough to justify $19.99 a month or $180 a year to get access to the Holoride service. Wollny says they are working with developers to add more titles to the library, with an expected rate of new content every two weeks.

More of these simple experiences may not be the answer. To my eye, the killer app here is media consumption. Quit the games and you can mirror your smartphone into VR and jump into any streaming app you like. Once again, Holoride software renders the virtual landscape, like a giant theater screen floating on a moving background, meaning you can enjoy your content without distractions or nausea.

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Next step? Wollny says they’re working on taking the smartphone out of the equation: “We’re currently planning to have a native movie app or a streaming app where you can also download the latest movies or TV shows and then just relax, sit on a virtual 180-inch screen.”

The retrofit kit is a great way to bring this technology to more people and give Holoride access to a much larger number of customers.

However, Wollny told me that adding OEM partnerships is still Holoride’s main goal to make the integration as smooth as possible.

As more and more cars include accelerometers and high-quality GPS, adding support often just requires some software.

“We lowered the barrier as much as we could for automakers to integrate our solution because for them it’s an attractive solution for their passengers,” Wollny told TechCrunch. “And it’s another source of revenue for the mobile data they have. They provide us with data that we share with them.”

More recurring revenue and happier stomachs in the backseat sounds like a right win.

Read more about CES 2023 on TechCrunch

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