Reality is about to get some serious competition.
Consumer virtual- and augmented-reality products are nearly upon us, and developers and consumers are ready for them, according to the latest report from VB Insight — the research division of VentureBeat. We’ve had false starts at virtual reality before, but the signs for this go around suggest that the hardware and software will support a viable market that could grow into a massive industry worth millions, if not billions, of dollars.
The 5,000-word Insight report is live, and you can pick it for $100.
“There are developers right now that are focused completely on new VR and AR titles,” VB Insight analyst Stewart Rogers said. “In development terms, the effort to move a 3D world from TV to VR is relatively small. AR, however, is a different beast altogether; it requires much more processing power and a different mindset to VR, so may take longer to come to fruition.”
Virtual reality’s consumer products are taking form. The HTC Vive, based on Valve’s Steam VR platform, is launching before Christmas. Oculus Rift, from Facebook’s Oculus VR, will debut in the first quarter of 2016. Sony plans to launch its Morpheus headset for the PlayStation 4 in the first half of 2016.
For augmented reality, Microsoft has already established itself as the leader with the HoloLens headset, which may launch before the end of the year.
With these devices coming in fast, the question isn’t when will we get these things — it’s whether VR and AR catch on with mainstream audiences.
“It depends at what level you consider something to be mainstream,” said Rogers. “VR will reach gamers faster than AR, and many of the big vendors in that space will undoubtedly sell millions of units. AR is a harder sell at present thanks to the power needed to make it work, and the cost of AR hardware is likely to be too high in the early days. But the hardware needs to be supported by amazing experiences, or it will be short-lived.”
The VB Insight report is already finding a large number of developers are at least experimenting with VR. We’re likely going to see the result of all that labor at the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show next month. But even without a ton of finished software, people are getting hyped about the possibilities.
“Gamers are definitely excited by VR and AR,” said Rogers. “Beyond that, consumers are also excited about both technologies — although it appears that many confuse VR with AR (VR is the more prevalent term, even when talking about an AR solution). AR will gain more attention outside of gaming thanks to its ability to turn everything in your surrounding world into an app — every surface into a screen.”
We’ve been excited about strapping screens to our faces for a few years now. We’ve had to wait while companies like Valve and Oculus solve problems like the motion sickness that many people experience when testing out prototype versions of the hardware. But the various companies have solved many of those problems that might have posed a hurdle to the success of the technology.
“I don’t think much will hold VR back,” said Rogers. “Even if it is a permanently cabled solution — wireless would be better — VR is better suited to the controlled environment of the living room. AR needs to be cable-free — or as close as possible — to be a picked up in any real numbers. But the biggest barrier will be the software. If the experiences aren’t awesome, we’ll end up with a lot more landfill than we have right now.”