Virtual reality is heading towards a “hockey stick” moment, the moment the tech takes a sharp turn upwards in sales and truly becomes mass market in the same way TV, mobile phones and gaming consoles have done during their life-cycles. Whilst 2018 saw some big leaps forward in VR, most notably the announcement of the Oculus Quest in September, there are still milestones that need to be overcome before VR truly goes mainstream.
Ease Of Use
VR needs to be easy to pick up and play. The current generation of high-end VR headsets often require extensive set up, other equipment (e.g. PCs and PlayStation) to run the games and are tethered, which don’t allow for maximum freedom and immersion. The display is a big issue holding back mass adoption; current headsets are big, bulky and not great to wear in public. The Oculus Quest is, in my view, the most exciting headset on the horizon and pushes forward the envelope in terms of ease of use. It provides six degrees of freedom, inside out tracking (no-external sensors), doesn’t require a PC, phone or console, and the Quest is wireless with fully accurate hand tracking, meaning the user is untethered and truly free to immerse themselves in the virtual world. It is the first proper step towards VR glasses and mass adoption.
VR & AR Convergence
When VR and AR converge, consumers will see the commercial saving of having one device rather than two. AR Glasses share a huge amount of technology with VR and are effectively VR headsets with transparency. The convergence of VR and AR is being driven by industry leaders, such as Michael Abrash, and Facebook have aligned their VR and AR divisions across both hardware and software, giving another insight into where the major technology companies are heading.
The ultimate dream is a glasses-sized headset, which uses 5G to do rendering and processing in the cloud on ‘edge networks’, and delivers ultra-low-latency visuals to the glasses. The ideal version of this headset would provide full hand and eye tracking, 6DOF tracking, and switch instantly between AR and VR applications, in high-resolution and with a full field of view. Since all the rendering is done in the cloud, the headset can be incredibly light but deliver better-than-console visuals on the move. And given the lack of expensive CPUs and GPUs, it should cost less than $200 and require no additional hardware. In our view, when this can be achieved technically, VR will become a bonafide mainstream product.
“The ultimate dream is a glasses-sized headset, which uses 5G to do rendering and processing in the cloud on ‘edge networks’, and delivers ultra-low-latency visuals to the glasses.”
The Importance of Killer Content
All of this tech still requires incredible content to compel users to buy into VR. Rich, interactive VR content that fully exploits the high agency motion control and free movement that the new technology allows. What’s more, users need to experience this content first-hand to get on board – VR arcades play a key part in this by allowing potential consumers to try out the tech before purchasing. Another requisite for the widespread adoption of VR is related to figuring out how to efficiently get large amounts of people to experience the technology in a relatively inexpensive way; VR arcades allow this but there is still more work to be done.
There is ample evidence that all the above will happen over the course of the next few years, meaning VR it on track to have its hockey stick moment within the next five years. The Oculus Quest launch later this year marks the first true high end, untethered headset. There are rumours that Apple will be the first to market with a combined VR/AR headset in 2020 and many patents have been filed which would enable lighter VR/AR glasses (Oculus and WaveOptics are also known to be working on the issue). Add to this the fact that killer content is starting to be created for the headsets (2018 saw some fantastic VR games with long form becoming more prominent) and 2019 looks set to continue this trend. Finally, the increase in VR arcades and large free-roaming LBE centres opening across the globe is opening up the tech to a whole new audience. VR is well on the way to mass adoption, but we’re going to need patience!