What image does your mind conjure upon hearing Virtual Reality (VR)?
If you thought 20-something nerds in a basement with crazy goggles hooked into a computer, playing a souped up Sims or D&D game where they get to make believe they are someone much cooler … you may want to reconsider your characterizations.
Unlike standard PC gaming systems, VR truly immerses the participants in its make-believe environment. This aspects has gained VR some niche applications across a variety of disciplines: military, police, medical professionals, space researchers to name a few. This allows training in uncharted environments for threatening or dangerous experiences without any physical risks (mostly!).
From a marketing perspective, just how mainstream is the VR technology? It sure has its fair share of innovators and early adopters but is the technology ready to jump over ‘the chasm’ for adoption by majority of the masses?
Similar to other emerging technologies, mass-adoption of VR applications was initially hindered by the high price. When the Oculus Rift came out as a consumer product, it started at $600 with touch controllers costing $199. Pair that with a powerful enough PC needed and one could be forking out over $1500 for a fully functional gaming system … and still be wired to the PC. Other brands have since entered into this market – HTC (Vive), Playstation (headset), Samsung (Gear – from Oculus) and Google (Daydream and Cardboard), few of the big-brand names. Many of these are mobile; Google has just created the ability for their phones (itself priced at ~ $800) to be turned into VR headsets. It’s been 4 years since Rift was released as a development kit, and over the past 2 years they have been selling to a broader customer base.
The evolution of VR hardware is also benefiting from the growth of streaming media and introduction of 3D broadcasting – even NFL is broadcasting some football games in 3D. The movie and TV show streaming giant, Netflix is now providing content for VR in addition to games being created specifically for it. And now Oculus has the Go, a wireless system with a single controller. The target for this product is wireless gaming and media immersion. Imagine sitting in an airplane with your headset and fully immersing yourself into a movie instead of watching it on that tiny screen on the back of the seat that keeps leaning closer and yet not close enough to block out the stranger in the seat next to you. Accepted, similar to the initial reaction to a person talking with a Bluetooth headset, you may freak others around you for laughing and crying to yourself with a funky device over your eyes (and some are definitely worth watching!).
But is the customized personal experience worth it? I say, yes. I believe we are nearing a major turning point for VR technology. Wireless is one step in the right direction, ease of use for personal appeal and social comfort with watching the streaming media may be others. As Oculus moves past developers to targeting the wider market, who would be better to sell them to the masses than our favorite movie and music stars. All the stars are indeed closer in VR!
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