For a long time, the concept of Virtual Reality has been a pipe dream for tech enthusiasts and the industry alike. It was something only found in sci-fi movies and TV. However, with the tremendous advances in hardware technology, VR has gone mainstream in the past year. Both the industry and user-base heralded VR as the next big revolution in media consumption, but so far it has been a bumpy ride.
Let us have a look at the state of VR in 2017, and whether it is here to stay.
The Start Of The VR Revolution
A large portion of users got their first taste of VR with the launch of the Google Cardboard in 2014. The Cardboard was a cheap but rudimentary “proof of concept” device that utilised the user’s smartphone and put the idea of VR in the public conscious. Media content for the Cardboard was limited, and its functionality even more so. However, it succeeded in its mission of igniting people’s interest and imagination.
The first popular high-quality VR headset on the market was released by Samsung in 2015. Dubbed as the “Gear VR”, it was a high-quality mobile VR experience that showed off what VR technology was capable of. The Gear VR was a success, selling more than 5 million units as of January 2017. Samsung also revealed that the most popular use case of the Gear VR was video playback, with a total of 10 million hours of video played so far.
The seminal moment, however, in the VR revolution was the launch of the Desktop VR headset Oculus Rift in 2016. This was swiftly followed by the launch of the first room-scale VR headset, the HTC Vive and Sony announcing their own plans for a VR gaming headset. Many believed that 2016 was going to be the “year of VR”, but the public response to VR has not been quite as enthusiastic as many had hoped.
Current State of VR Headsets
A report by SuperData reveals that Oculus shipped a mere 250,000 units of the Rift headsets in 2016. HTC shipped 420,000 units of Vives and Sony shipped 750,000 units of the PlayStation VR headsets. These numbers fall significantly short of the forecasts predicted previously by Statista. The predicted sales were 3.6 million units for the Oculus Rift, 2.1 million for the HTC Vive and 1.4 million for the PlayStation VR. In fact, the only headset to meet its forecast was the Samsung Gear VR with 5 million units sold.
So why has the consumer response to VR been so lacklustre? Let’s explore that in the section below.
Challenges Faced By VR
- High Cost Of Entry – Considering the fact that VR Headsets and technology is still in its infancy, their costs are still quite high. This is especially the case with desktop VR. This is coupled with the requirement of powerful hardware required to power these headsets. This means that the VR experience entails a big investment for the average user. Mobile VR, while cheaper, suffers from its own pitfalls. It is not a match for desktop VR when it comes to quality. It also requires powerful smartphones with high-resolution screens for proper functioning. However, the lower barrier to entry might explain why the Gear VR remains the most successful VR headset.
- VR Hardware and Software Design – The design of VR headset is not optimal at the moment. Most suffer from comfort and convenience issues. As the technology matures, we can expect headset design to get better. There is a similar situation on the software side, with most developers new to creating VR-based media. This means that quality VR content is still not common.
- Controversy and Infighting In The Industry – Oculus’ decision to close off their hardware and software offerings from other competitors has not gone down well with consumers. Oculus has found themselves in the middle of a PR debacle with increasing consumer hostility. This has no doubt put the brakes on further development.
- Health Effects – Considering the extremely immersive nature of VR, it is increasingly common to for users to suffer from headaches, blurred vision, motion sickness and more. This is a serious issue which can hurt adoption of VR.
The Future Of VR Remains Bright
Despite the multitude of problems plaguing it, the consensus is that VR is here to stay. The industry continues to invest heavily in VR, with more than $2 billion invested in 2016. A report by Flurry also predicts steady growth in VR headsets sales from 14.9 million in 2016 to 38.8 million in 2018.
VR provides an immersive experience like no other. It can have tremendous value to many industries. It is touted by many to be the future of digital entertainment, with VR games and videos/movies expected to be stable in the future. VR also has many uses outside of the entertainment industry. The education industry can benefit hugely from VR technology, and it can be extremely helpful for professional training and home automation purposes.
With Google also having entered the VR arena with their Daydream headset, it appears that the VR industry will achieve critical mass in the near future. If this happens, we are about to enter the golden age of VR.