The company showed off advances in volumetric capture, VR live streaming, and “merged reality.”

On the official media day at CES, Intel stood out from the crowd with a different kind of press conference. Over 250 people gathered together in one room to experience advances in virtual reality, each with individual headsets and equipment. “This is the most unique and technically complex event we’ve ever held,” CEO Brian Krzanich admitted.

After last year’s CES, buzz about virtual reality had reached such a crescendo that there was bound to be something of a letdown once flagship products like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive finally reached consumers. While VR isn’t the head-turning buzzword it was last year, Intel showed applications in travel, industry and entertainment that amounted to compelling content that could drive future VR adoption.

One VR clip highlighted advances in volumetric 3D image capturing. Viewers witnessed a pastoral scene recorded in the Vietnamese countryside, with a water buffalo happily grazing near a waterfall. Unlike standard 360-degree video, which keeps viewers in a static location, this video allowed viewers to peer around, underneath and above various objects, creating an uncanny level of realism.

While volumetric experiences generated by computers are not uncommon in VR, the ability to capture real-world environments as volumetric experiences suggests new possibilities. Krzanich emphasized that the process requires such enormous amounts of data that it wouldn’t have been possible until very recently.

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CEO Brian Krzanich.
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Live-streaming 360-degree video was another area of focus for Intel. Guests were able to watch a live basketball game being broadcast from Indianapolis, Indiana, choosing from multiple points of view as the action moved up and down the court. Intel “will be among the first technology providers to enable the live sports experience on multiple VR devices,” the company stated.

In another live-streaming demonstration, viewers were transported above a solar power array in the desert as a drone scanned it for potential maintenance issues. Krzanich said that a similar setup could also be used in search and rescue operations, scanning more territory at a lower cost compared to conventional methods.

Finally, Intel and computer vision company HypeVR offered more details about Project Alloy, a “merged reality” technology. In an example demonstrated on stage, game players wore cordless VR headsets as they moved around a living room. After taking a 3D scan of the room, Project Alloy can substitute virtual objects where physical objects stand. For example, in an alien invasion simulation, sofas and coffee tables were transformed into futuristic industrial equipment, with players able to duck behind them to hide from virtual laser fire. The technique could transform everyday environments into convincing virtual terrain, allowing players to move around virtual worlds without being tethered to their chairs.

The diverse experiences on display hinted at vast, still-unexplored uses for virtual reality and positioned Intel as a major force in the field. Brands shouldn’t conclude that VR has peaked.

Check back for continuing coverage of CES 2017.