Interview: Acer talks redefining gaming with 3D, sustainability, and more
Acer just held its [email protected] conference, which is its hero event where the company announces new products from its entire range. That includes Swift, Spin, ConceptD, Predator, Vero, and more.
As usual, there was a lot of cool stuff. Interestingly, about half of the 45-minute event was focused on Vero, Acer’s portfolio of eco-friendly products. There were also some really cool developments around the firm’s SpatialLabs technology, and it’s coming to gaming.
I got to talk to Acer the evening of the event, and we discussed mostly the announcements, along with some broader questions about Acer’s product plans. I sat down with Jerry Kao, Co-COO and President of IT Product, James K Lin, General Manager of the Notebook Products Business, and Jane Hsu, Director of Business Development overseeing SpatialLabs 3D.
The clear message at [email protected] was that Acer cares about the environment
The first thing I asked about was something that I originally hadn’t intended to talk much about, but that was Vero. After all, with so many products being announced, Vero taking up half of the presentation meant that sustainability and eco-friendly products are super-important to Acer.
Rich: Interesting event today. The real theme seemed to be sustainability instead of technology. The entire first half of the event was focused on Vero. Are you finding that this is resonating with customers, is it important to Acer, or both? Where are you headed with that? Are a lot of people asking for this?
Jerry Kao: Let me put it this way. At Acer, business has always been most important. It hasn’t been anything to do with sustainability, eco-friendly, or those kinds of things. We also started to think that there are things that are really important. Not just me, like an executive at Acer, but a lot of employees too. We face investors, but normal employees don’t. A lot of employees would ask, why does Acer not care about environmental protection? This was maybe five or six years ago. Internally, we started to cook up a program called Earthion. It’s a combination of two words: Earth and mission. So, we wanted to start to do something where we feel like we can influence the world. We started using plastic bottles, try to save energy by turning off lights when you’re not using it, and after one or two years, we think a lot of employees feel like Acer also cares about the environment.
Then there’s the second step. We started to bring it to our product. That’s the reason we have the Vero line. Back to your question, about whether it’s for the customer or for business success. I’ll put it this way, it’s both important. There are three stages. The first stage of ESG is just goodwill. Goodwill means that we want to do something good, but don’t ask me anything about return. That’s goodwill. The second stage is investment. That means that I want to do good things, but I also want things in return, maybe not even now, but later. With the Vero launch last year – and we’re going to have more Vero product launches this year – then we entered the third stage of ESG as a business. With every Vero product, we do not earn more money than with regular products. That’s why we think that our company has come to a stage where business is important, but make some effort to improve the world.
With the first Vero launch, we started to see many customers thinking the same thing. They are willing to pay a little premium, not because we earn more, but because it costs more to make.
James K Lin: If you go back seven or eight years ago, when we started using post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials in a PC, that’s a long history. PCR material has a challenge with durability, so we try to optimize the formula. With those kinds of experiences, that triggered the Earthion program at Acer. We’ve been doing things like this for five or six years, but people didn’t know that. So, why not make a more clear message? We made this product so it can be easily upgraded with the RAM and storage, it’s easy to repair, and we can work with a vendor to overcome durability issues. What’s most weak is in the hinge area, so we enhance the structure to make sure the reliability is sustainable. When you are using this product, remember we can do something for the Earth.
Rich: The Vero products we’ve seen so far are from the Aspire brand. Is that going to expand to other lineups? Are we going to see a Vero Swift or something more premium? Aspire is more mainstream.
Jerry: Yesterday, we launched several devices. Two notebooks, the Veriton all-in-one, two displays, a projector, a mouse, and a keyboard. Let me start by saying that just because we have Vero, that doesn’t mean that other products have nothing to do with sustainability. For example, our TravelMates, displays, and other products are still using PCR. Maybe on terms of percentage, it’s not at a level where we’d claim it as Vero. Second is that a lot of people still associate environmental protection and sustainability to cost, meaning you’re ready to pay more, and that limits distribution because some people can’t buy it. Starting from day one, we wanted to increase the installation base, meaning affordability is important. That’s why we started with Aspire.
Also, all of this material is more expensive. So, with Aspire, the base is a little bit lower, so with this cost being added, it’s still affordable. That’s a major reason why we made it Aspire, because we wanted to make an impact.
Naked-eye 3D gaming? Yup, Acer is going there
SpatialLabs was the thing that I was super-excited about. I’ve had hands-on time with the technology before, and it’s really cool. But now, it seems like it’s coming together more. Instead of just focusing on creators, now SpatialLabs 3D is coming to a gaming laptop, as well as portable monitors. Acer showed off Forza Horizon 5, and I was sold.
For reference, here’s the full list of games supported for SpatialLabs 3D at launch (more will be added over time):
- AMID EVIL
- Anno: Mutationem
- BioShock Infinite
- Black Mesa
- Borderlands 2
- Borderlands Game of the Year Enhanced
- Bright Memory: Infinite
- Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition
- Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
- Darksiders III
- Dying Light
- Elite Dangerous
- Forza Horizon 4
- Forza Horizon 5
- God of War
- Injustice 2
- Kena Bridge of Spirits
- Max Payne 3
- Metro 2033 Redux
- Metro: Last Light Redux
- My Friend Pedro
- Need for Speed Heat
- NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…
- No Man’s Sky
- Psychonauts 2
- Raji: An Ancient Epic
- Remnant: From the Ashes
- Serious Sam 4
- Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider
- Shadow Warrior 2
- SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated
- Spyro Reignited Trilogy
- The Forgotten City
- The Surge 2
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- Tiny Tina’s Wonderland
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2
- Trine 2
- Trine 3
- Trine Enchanted Edition
Rich: Let’s talk about SpatialLabs, because this is definitely something that’s being invested in, and it’s the thing I’m excited about. First we learned about the technology, then we saw it in a ConceptD 7, now it’s coming to a Predator and monitors, and it’s getting support from games like Forza Horizon 5. The use cases for the technology are clearly expanding. Would you want to share further plans? Where does it go next?
Jane Hsu: We’re also very excited. SpatialLabs, I think we can do back to why naked eye 3D. We launched as proof that designers, and more importantly, developers are using that technology to showcase their works, or medical use cases, or something else, and it actually added a lot of value. The most important thing is that because it’s technology that’s finally come together – the higher resolution with the eye tracking, the processing power, the real-time rendering. For gaming, with the current game ecosystem, we see a lot of 3D games that weren’t there before. Games are all developed with a lot of 3D information, but it gets squished onto a 2D screen. So we see that, hey, we can leverage that information and bring it back the way that game developers designed the world they want you to see. I think from our side, it’s a journey to start it, and we’re starting to see developers adopting the new technology. We’re not stopping here with the technology we have for gaming.
Rich: In the livestream, they made a comment about it being 60Hz, and that that was a sort of starting point for this new technology. Are there plans in development for a higher refresh rate?
Jane: I think that’s definitely our goal. One of the things for gamers is that they feel that it makes a difference. I’d also say that 3D gaming, at the moment, is not for all kinds of games. It’s not for all gamers. Definitely not for competitive gaming, because that’s more about straegy, socializing, and winning. 3D gaming gets you more immersed and puts you into that world. So it’s more about adventures and platformers, and even sandboxed gaming that puts you there. So we hear that. We also know that for better experience, better frame rate, but we also have to balance the system requirements for that kind of experience. So it’s a balance to find the right pace to go to market. For the moment, it’s 60Hz, but it’s great for games like Tomb Raider, Resident Evil-
Rich: Forza Horizon 5!
Jane: For Forza, the producer was so happy, because she was like, this is exactly how I wanted gamers to experience this game, and then you guys helped us to show it. I can put more depth into it.
Rich: It really is such a beautiful game. The thing about competitive gaming is that, to me, it’s ugly. What I mean by that is that when you game competitively, you tend to sacrifice everything beautiful about the game in favor of things that give you a competitive advantage, such as a higher refresh rate. I think this is really cool. So, they also talked about the ability to turn 2D content into 3D, and when you start talking about user-generated 3D content, I think of RED and the Hydrogen One smartphone. One of the problems I always saw with that was that they never had a plan to allow that kind of content to be played anywhere else in that format. Are there any plans to license the SpatialLabs technology? For example, so it can be played on other kinds of 3D viewers, or even so other hardware-makers could make SpatialLabs hardware with different features and at different price points?
Jane: With AI, it’s a very interesting experience, but it’s not perfect. So when we’re converting 2D content to 3D, it’s simulating the experience. If we have a stereo camera where we can use that information, we can make it an awesome experience. It’s en ecosystem, and we just started. We’d love to work with these guys and see how we can work together. Some have camera technology, some have player technology, and all together we wanted to say, I think with 3D, it’s about the time that we can bring it with a very sharp, crystal clear high resolution. Not like 3D TVs before.
Anyway, you just spoke about my pain point because that’s what Jerry told me.
Jerry: Normally we don’t reveal our future plans because they’re reserved for our [email protected] press conference, but you actually read off our minds. As Jane mentioned, we try to offer a total experience, from how a user feels and how a user sees, how a user can generate content, and how many users we can approach. Another thing to consider is if people are willing to pay for this. How do we empower more people to have this kind of experience? It takes time. We are pushing ourselves in the next few years to not just be the leader, but to enable partners to join the jurney with us, to let more end users enjoy this, so we are not just limiting this to our devices only.
Where’s the hero laptop?
I also wanted to ask about the broader Acer lineup. Acer’s laptops always amaze me in a number of ways. They’re fantastic, and I always love the designs, particularly when it comes to ConceptD. I wanted to know why there’s no hero Acer laptop. HP has Spectre, Dell has XPS, and I wanted to ask when Acer will have that one product that I can recommend to all of my friends.
Rich: I also wanted to ask about the broader Acer lineup. Acer doesn’t have a flagship laptop. For example, Steve Jobs famously asked which Mac he should tell his friends to buy, and then chopped down the lineup into four products. A laptop, a desktop, and for each one, a pro and a non-pro. For a flagship, HP has Spectre, Dell has XPS, Lenovo has 9i, etc. Which Acer laptop do I tell my friends to buy?
James K: You might remember that we had a 21-inch curved notebook before. We continue to generate a lot of different products that we sell at a premium. Innovation is what we remember and recognize, and we make amazing technology like SpatialLabs. Continued innovation is happening and in the coming years, we’ll continue to grace our premium hero devices in different segments. We had a sub-9mm notebook before, so we’ll continue to make those kinds of innovations and technologies, and push ourselves year-by-year.
Rich: You mentioned a sub-9mm notebook, and I actually wanted to ask about the Swift 7. I always felt like that was the kind of hero device, but we haven’t seen one of those since CES 2019, and it had Intel 8th-gen Y-series processors, which weren’t very good. There have been some solid strides from Intel in the hardware that could be used in a new model. Will there be a new one?
James K: We reached a milestone, and then we created a boundary for ourselves. I have to say the Swift 7 was created five years ago, and it’s too much boundary to overcome. We’re still thinking of a way to come up with another Swift 7-like product. But by now, it’s not achieved yet because there are some limitations. One is the processor, another is features. Even in a thinner product, we don’t want to sacrifice features. Plus, we’d want to make it thinner.
Rich: Even thinner than it was before?
James K: Yes. I’m happy you still remember the S7. You’ve encouraged me. I’ll try to make another one.
Jerry: Have you ever owned a Swift 7?
Rich: I reviewed it when it came out.
Jerry: We set a lot of records, and it’s still the thinnest notebook in the world. The x-y is still less than A4 paper. A lot of people asking, with 3D naked eye happening 20 years ago, why is Acer doing SpatialLabs today? Because 20 years ago, it was with limitations. When we had the 8.9mm Swift 7, you want to minimize limitations, but you’re still bound by physics. For example, the keyboard is too shallow. A lot of people love it when they see it, but complain later on. We don’t want a product that everyone talks about, but no one loves it when they use it, so that’s something we have to think about. If we can do that, where people will love the whole experience, we’ll name it Swift 7.
That question about third-party software
Rich: Now that we’ve talked about the fun stuff, I have to ask about third-party software on Acer products. This is not something that OEMs do anymore, other than AV software. Acer’s products come with software that competes with software that comes with Windows, like Evernote, Firefox, Solitaire games, and stuff like that. I think just about everyone dings these products for this in their reviews. I always kind of thought that this would go away at this point, so are there any plans to stop doing that?
Jerry: I won’t say stop. Let me put it this way. The original purpose for us to do that, a lot of people think it’s because we want more money. Of course. A lot of people that are Acer’s target customers, they want affordability. And then in terms of technology, they might not be too good. They are asking for something that you might think they could go out and get themselves. We try to offer users something that they may need. So, the original intention is to help those less knowledgeable users. So, there might be some applications that no one needs, and we review them from time to time. We can see what gets used and what gets uninstalled. This is our reference, and for some applications, if we find that end users don’t appreciate it and they uninstall immediately, then we’ll get rid of it.
I had 30 minutes with the trio, and I have to say, it flew by. I only got to focus on the two big things from the show, which were Vero and SpatialLabs 3D. I didn’t even get to talk about one of my favorite lines of PCs that exists, ConceptD, or other great things like Swift and Spin.
The highlight for me was SpatialLabs. I cannot wait to play Forza Horizon 5 in 3D, and I appreciate the fact that it’s about being immersive rather than being competitive. It’s about making beautiful games even prettier.