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US Senate committee debates bill to tame Big Tech’s power

Technology companies on the defensive as Congress takes up measures aimed at reshaping regulation

Facebook owner Meta dives into NFT digital collectibles craze

Social media group plans to enter hype-fuelled $40bn market for creating and selling non-fungible tokens

Andreessen Horowitz seeks $4.5bn for new crypto investments

Planned fundraising illustrates how Silicon Valley firms are fuelling boom in cryptocurrency start-ups

Endgadget

AR and VR hardware sales more than doubled in the US this holiday

Virtual (and augmented) reality appear poised to take off after years of modest demand. The NPD Group reports unit sales for AR and VR hardware more than doubled in the US during the 2021 holiday season (between Thanksgiving week and Christmas), jumping 180 percent compared to 2020. The growth wasn't quite so brisk for the full year at 'just' 163 percent, but there was clearly a lot of demand for immersive worlds.

Raw revenue also climbed 153 percent during the holidays and 137 percent for the year. That suggests people were buying lower-cost or discounted AR and VR devices.

NPD executive director Ben Arnold was quick to caution that AR and VR "likely benefitted" from console shortages — if you couldn't gift a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, a Meta Quest 2 might have served as a stand-in. He noted that people were still looking for "unique" entertainment, however. We'd add that the lingering pandemic may have encouraged people to stay inside and try virtual experiences at a time when in-person equivalents like gyms and nightclubs might be seen as too risky.

This doesn't mean buyers are embracing the metaverse or similar high-minded concepts. It does hint at a brighter future for AR and VR, though. NPD already expects a 32 percent jump in revenue in the first half of 2022, and upcoming headsets like Meta's Project Cambria could further fuel demand. Don't be surprised if headsets are in vogue next holiday season.

The first movie studio in space could be attached to the ISS in 2024

A module that hosts a film studio and sports arena could be connected to the International Space Station by December 2024. Space Entertainment Enterprise (SEE), which is co-producing a Tom Cruise movie that will partly be shot in space, is behind the project. If and when SEE-1 is up and running, it plans to host TV and film productions, as well as music events and some kind of sports, which can be filmed or livestreamed, according to Variety.

Axiom Space, which two years ago won a NASA contract to construct the first commercial ISS module, will build the station. All going well, SEE-1 will be connected to Axiom's arm of the ISS. Axiom Station is scheduled to split from the ISS in 2028 with SEE-1 still attached.

Whether SEE and Axiom can make good on their plan remains to be seen. SEE hasn't said how much the facility will cost, for one thing. It's currently planning a fundraising round.

Last year, a Russian crew shot a feature-length fiction film in space for the first time, beating Cruise and his director Doug Liman to the punch. That film, The Challenge, is expected to be released this year. Cruise and Liman, meanwhile, are expected to shoot their movie on the ISS later in 2022.

Google reportedly plans to release an AR headset in 2024

Google might have ditched its Daydream VR headset years ago, but that doesn't mean it gave up on headsets altogether. The Vergesources claim Google is developing an augmented reality headset, nicknamed Project Iris, that it wants to release in 2024. The standalone wearable would use a custom Google processor, outward-facing tracking cameras and run Android, although a custom OS is a possibility given job listings. It might also rely on cloud-based rendering to overcome the processing power limitations of a headset.

Clay Bavor, the manager for the Project Starline 3D telepresence booth (also said due for 2024), is understood to be overseeing the highly secretive project. The tipsters also said the AR headset team included Google Assistant creator Scott Huffman, ARCore manager Shahram Izadi and Mark Lucovsky, the former leader of Meta's in-house OS development. The Pixel division is also believed to be involved in some hardware work.

We've asked Google for comment, although CEO Sundar Pichai hinted in October that AR was a "major area of investment" for the company. The headset is supposedly very early in development without a clear market strategy, suggesting that the 2024 target isn't firm.

The headset might seem unexpected from a company burned by its initial take on an AR wearable. It's not a shock given the evolving landscape, however. Apple is widely rumored to be creating a mixed reality headset, while Meta hasn't been shy about wanting to both develop AR hardware and jumpstart the metaverse. Google risks ceding the field to competitors if it doesn't offer AR hardware or the platform to match, even if finished technology is still years away.

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