What is holding Virtual Reality back?

Two letters are creating a buzz in the technology world at the moment. Those two letters? VR.

Seeing an Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard headset is becoming more than a common sight, and even Barack Obama has tested out what it’s like to be in a virtual world.

Yet experts predict that its period of hyper growth is still four years away. In 2020, the VR industry will skyrocket to $40bn. At the end of this year, it’s due to make up just a fraction of that at just $3bn. So what’s holding it back?

More than just a gimmick
One of VR’s most pressing needs is for businesses and the wider public to take it seriously and understand that it’s more than just a gimmick. Gamers have welcomed VR with open arms and it’s been encouraging to have such an eager audience to test the technology as it transitions from beta to commercial availability. Recent figures from CONTEXT show that gamers are getting ready for VR, with sales of high-end GFX cards rapidly accelerating after the required system specifications for the main VR HMDs were announced last year.

With painful memories of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy back in the 1990s, companies like Oculus have been open about the high price-point of the first generation retail technology. They want to excite the marketplace with an amazing user experience, rather than saturate it with a cheaper second-rate product. This is also why the development versions released by Oculus have so far been open-source, allowing game developers, universities, and businesses to adopt the technology and foster an exciting ecosystem to nurture increased adoption.

To become a worldwide phenomenon however, VR must ensure it’s not perceived as just a toy. Instead, it must move into other industries and prove its worth. Imagine the possibilities open to retailers able to let its customers envision how a paint colour would look on their walls, or how their newly designed kitchen layout would work. Put very simply, VR must show its commercial benefits to achieve commercial success.

Is it available in VR?
The second hurdle in VR’s way is the availability of content. Think about when you discover a new series on Netflix. It starts one Friday evening, and suddenly you’ve watched five seasons and it’s Sunday lunchtime.

When we get excited about something, we seek out all the content we can get until we’re up to date. VR’s content bank is not yet developed enough for a ‘Netflix binge’ and the companies at the forefront of VR are acutely aware of this.

VR needs to develop enough rich content to keep consumers hooked in these coming years. There should be enough VR content available so that when the growth rate starts to spike, it keeps us entertained and hungry for more. Hollywood is waking up to VR’s potential, remembering how James Cameron’s Avatar created a 3D film revolution, with Nokia recently announcing a partnership with Disney to produce VR content for future picture releases.

Is it just a matter of time?
Patience is not a virtue often demonstrated in the technology world (think of the frantic shoppers queuing days in advance to get their hands on the latest iPhone). But it may be needed in the case of VR. According to the 2016 VR industry report from Greenlight VR and Road to VR, it’s still six to eight years away from achieving a tipping point.

With this long period of time in which to develop, we should instead appreciate that in a couple of years, the technology will have overcome hundreds of stumbling blocks, be more developed, have a wider content bank, and ultimately offer consumers a better user experience. Perhaps the first big test for VR will be the launch of Playstation VR for the 2016 Christmas market, with Sony hoping to avoid Nintendo’s earlier woes.

Taking that in mind, perhaps we shouldn’t be asking “what’s holding VR back?”, but instead “how exciting will the VR of 2020 be?”

by JW

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Filed under Connectivity, virtual reality

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