“Virtual reality” has been with us as a term and a concept for over 80 years, originally referring to implied or imagined people and things in a theatre setting. Science fiction in the 1970s and 80s gave us our modern understanding of VR, one where users can viscerally experience digitally rendered situations and worlds with some, or all, of their senses. Cool.
Development of virtual reality technology goes back just as far, with 1939’s View-Master stereoscopic 3D “visual simulator”, which sold millions in the decades since, and an estimated 1.5 billion film discs (reels). There were even versions of the View-Master with analog 3D video and audio input.
Our modern VR headsets take advantage of incredible computing power, stunning graphic displays and digital audio to create realism that truly needs to be experienced to be believed. No, it’s not perfect yet, but if done well it is pretty damn good, and things will only get better.
There was a big surge in VR headsets and software in the past several years thanks to the release of the Oculus Rift headset in 2012 (subsequently bought by Facebook). Countless competitors followed, notably Sony’s PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive. The competition will drive more innovations and more affordable options in the years to come.
Looking back five years, the hype was really on for VR, particularly in gaming, and for immersive movies and other cool experiences. But unfortunately the content came slowly, was of mixed quality, and VR became a bit of a novelty, not the standard so many expected it to become. The wired headsets were also somewhat cumbersome and most games and applications were solitary experiences in what was becoming an increasingly social world online.
The latest headset from industry leader Oculus Rift
“Augmented” reality (AR) seems to have stolen a good deal of VR’s thunder lately, with new versions of “smartglasses” out in the last year and more coming, and the increasing availability of AR applications on everyday smartphones. This has attracted a myriad of attempts by the marketing world to use AR, mostly falling flat, on one hand and the super successful AR game Pokemon Go. Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others are working on AR applications that require little to no new hardware, so expect some exciting developments.
But this article is set to focus on where we’re heading with virtual reality, so we’ll leave discussing augmented reality trends in depth for another post. Here are a few key categories where VR will continue to expand this year and beyond.
The VR and AR headset market is set to grow to $9.7 billion in 2020, and much of this will be for the gaming crowd. The hardware is there, but the drag on the system is ramping up development of software to take advantage of increasing numbers of headsets and other VR feedback devices.
Gaming is a huge and lucrative market, and the upward spiral of more headsets and more games will continue. We’re just scratching the surface in terms of content and look forward to the new generation of VR-ready games that will be released in 2020. First person shooters and walking games are only two of many natural candidates for the VR treatment.
One massive market that will likely attract a lot of attention in the future is online casinos. Sites such as NetBet offer all the games you could want but virtual reality in the coming years could add the excitement of the sights and sounds, and even other patrons, that you would find in Vegas or Monte Carlo, or even in a futuristic alien world.
Entertainment and sports
Think of immersive cinematic experiences actually being in the movie as it happens. There is a clearly a need for more VR content, however, as with video games it’s not cheap to create quality content, but as more and more of the film industry targets audiences who would rather consume their video content at home, this has huge growth potential, especially with investments that companies such as Facebook and Google are putting into extended reality.
One of the best early uses of immersive VR may be to experience live or recorded music performances by your favourite artists, or even (virtually) being front row at an NBA game or boxing match. This can generate revenue for the musical artists and sporting industry so the money may drive these applications quicker than some others. FOX Sports is already a leader in offering this experience.
In our first ever issue of Faze Magazine, in 2000, we featured an article about e-learning and virtual classroom. Amazingly, after two decades little has changed. However, we may be looking at a turning point soon, as ridiculously expensive post-secondary education and housing are driving demand for more innovation options to deliver higher education to tech savvy students. Virtual, interactive classrooms and tutorials are perfect for modern VR headsets and applications, and we may start to see more development in this area this year and next.
Virtual reality is ideal for simulating working in dangerous or unusual environments, such as fighting virtual forest fires or virtual wars or life in space. As artificial intelligence advances the virtual experiences will become more realistic, including simulations that include interactions with virtual people. Training applications will continue to grow using VR in the years to come.
Medicine is one area where students, and experienced doctors, can practice complex surgeries without being at the operating table. A patient’s particular anatomy could be mapped out and the surgeon could do a few test runs before going in for real.
Conferences and Meetings
There are two groups of people, those who hate meetings and conferences, and those who can’t wait for the next one, particularly conferences in other cities that come with a nice hotel room and a group of interesting, and hopefully fun, colleagues. We are already seeing a major shift towards video conferencing in the last couple of years, and virtual reality can only take that experience to the next level.
Travel and Tourism
Want to see the world but on a tight budget, or no budget. Or have a bunch of cash but want to pick your ideal travel destination to spend it? Take a virtual trip to that South Pacific island, or walk through the Louvre, or fly through the Himalayan mountains.
Many tourist boards, cities, museums and art galleries are in the process of creating wonderful virtual renditions for virtual travelers, and much of this content will be completely free. It’s a great way to experience new places and new culture from the comfort of your home, saving both money, time and lots of green gasses simultaneously. The next level will be virtual destinations where you will be able to see and interact with the avatars of hosts and other visitors, even friends and family!
This is also going to a be a big market for those unable to travel due to physical disabilities, or other restrictions, allowing these people a chance to see the world or experience things they never would have dreamed of doing, like sky diving, scuba diving, going on safari or driving a Ferrari along the Italian coast.
As we start a brand new decade (the 20’s!) we look forward to an exciting year in virtual reality on the device, software and content fronts. And if you haven’t tried this technology yet 2020 is a great time to start. It’s an amazing experience, and if you don’t, you’ll “virtually” be missing out!