What will it really take for VR to go mainstream?

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There is no doubting that consumers, especially the gaming variety, consider VR to be an exciting form of emerging technology. It offers unparalleled levels of immersion, but despite the availability of inexpensive devices like Google's Cardboard Viewer, the tech has yet to become mainstream.

As with many emerging technologies, it seems likely that the driving force behind VR’s popularity will be gaming and gamers, and both Sony and Microsoft have announced that they have VR compatible versions of their Playstation and Xbox consoles in the works.

According to a report by Statista.com, VR sales are set to reach more than $5bn (£3.7bn) in 2018, and they also expect the number of VR users to reach more than 170 million by the same year.

Deloitte predicts that 2016 will be the VR industry’s first billion dollar year, which shows that there has been marked growth; 2014 saw $90m (£67m) revenue for the industry.

It added that they expect the majority of sales to come from gamers initially, but that the biggest investment and earnings could eventually come from business and enterprise.

Availability

The availability of both hardware and software is important, and 2016 has already seen a number of significant entries into the VR hardware space. The HTC Vive and Oculus headsets currently lead the way, with Google's Cardboard Viewer providing to be a stepping stone for some buyers.

It is worth noting that Cardboard isn’t included in a lot of revenue and projected revenue sales, because it is not considered a fully-fledged VR headset.

Consumers will also want to see an increase in the availability of content. 3D take-up was, arguably, stunted by the lack of 3D content that was made available in the first few months and years.

Steam arguably leads the way in this respect, with a host of VR experiences available, but you can also find Android and iOS based VR content. More premium titles are needed in order to really ignite intrigue in consumers.

Affordability

The latest consumer model of the Oculus headset costs around $600 (£529) to buy, while the Cardboard Viewer costs just $20 (£15). The viewer does not offer anywhere near the same capabilities as the Oculus, but it certainly falls into the category of being affordable.

The Vive costs around $800 (£759). Consumers looking for a full VR experience not wanting to break the bank currently have to look to the Samsung Gear, with prices around the $100 (£80) mark.

it will take affordable and high quality headsets and exciting content to really push the technology to the forefront

The Gear could help propel sales, thanks to this level of affordability, and it should lead to other manufacturers producing affordable headset options.

Consoles

Console gaming could be the spark that ignites VR popularity. At CES, both Microsoft and Sony announced that they would be launching VR compatible consoles within the next 12 to 18 months.

The Playstation VR headset is due for release in October and Xbox are expected to release a headset themselves next year.

Until there are more details on capabilities, other accessories required to really enjoy the VR experience, and costs, it will prove difficult to get the kind of traction that the companies want.

Social

Following Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, Mark Zuckerberg has been touting the use of 360 degree content in social media. While Facebook has seen its share of failures, its $2bn (£1.5bn) acquisition of Oculus shows that it is, at the very least, serious about its commitment to the technology.

The company has announced that it is developing experiences that would allow friends to take and share 360 images, so they can look around and share the experience together.

Whether this would be enough to persuade Facebook users to make the transition to VR altogether and part with $600 for an Oculus headset remains to be seen, but it could be the beginning of what we can come to expect in the world of a Facebook driven VR experience.

VR now and in the future

For now, VR remains an intriguing prospect, although it is yet set to experience its first billion dollar year. Experts do agree that it will take off and go mainstream, albeit in a few years’ time and certainly not immediately.

Console manufacturers and Facebook, as well as hardware manufacturers and gaming platforms are throwing their hats into the VR ring, but it will take affordable and high quality headsets and exciting content to really push the technology to the forefront.

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Roy B
29 Jul 2017, 7:27 p.m.

Funny how no one ever mentions the one vital factor without which VR will always be a geek technology - the resolution problem. Reviewers talk about, for example, the Samsung S7/Gear combo as having a 2k screen, and thus a great full HD for each eye. But it's BALONEY, isn't it? Readers think of the HD they're seeing on their TVs, and think wow! This will be good. Then they get the Gear VR AND FIND THEY CAN SEE THE PIXELS. Because, of course, the lenses magnify the poor old 1K image to a vast VR arena spreading in front of them.
There needs to be a new way to describe the imaging power of a VR set, for example, the norminal resolution per eye devided by the lens magnification. The current resolution of the Gear VR is just barely useable, which it's why it's starting to take off. Everyone seems to be dodging the simple fact that the S8 should have had a 4K screen, and the S9 maybe an 8K one. If, for example, you dreamed of a courtside Wimbledom experience at the moment, then dream on! Those players, just over there, will be blurry, detailess figures, probably unrecognisable, and utterly unwatchable. A 4K screen (2K per eye) might make it just watchable, and finally, I would guess, an 8K screen (with maybe a new technology that let each eye view the whole screen with synced shutters) then maybe you'll start to sell a few million Wimbledon VR tickets.

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