Unfolding Virtual Reality: Trends & Predictions
Virtual Reality (VR) has never ceased to surprise and amaze us. It is easy to get excited about this innovative technology — after all weren’t we all captivated by Neo in The Matrix or wanted to be a part of a video game like Spy Kids? VR has spiked the interest of millions of people and has caused a lot of buzz, because at long last, there seems to be a way to experience what we want without being physically present at that place or time.
This most imaginative technology was the word to watch out for at MWC -16 when the VR experience zone transformed the conference into a world out of this world at Barcelona. VR was the main stay at conferences like GDC — Game Developer’s Conference at San Francisco, The Virtual Reality NYC meetup at New York or the SVVR 2016 — a Virtual Reality Expo at the Silicon Valley, indicating a technology shaping up and promising a lot of excitement.
Unfolding the VR Industry
According to SuperData Research, the total market for VR is estimated to reach $40 billion by 2020, with a CAGR of 61.3%. Considering the growing interest in VR in 2016, VR is estimated to reach 195 million households by 2020, mirroring growth trends like television and computers. The United States is expected to dominate the global market for VR, accounting for more than 90% of the overall revenue. The introduction of smartphone integrated VR headsets, the increased appetite for this new technology, rapid growth of the gaming industry and the advent of new VR content & apps are major factors driving growth of this market.
Adoption of VR by mobile devices is estimated to be higher due to accessibility to hardware, lower price points and forced adoption, followed by console and PC-used primarily for gaming. In 2016, manufacturers expect to sell 17M mobile VR devices, 3M console devices and 2M devices for PC. The VR gaming market is expected to occupy three-quarters (~77%) of the VR software market, followed by adoption by other non-gaming content. The VR gaming market alone is estimated to grow to $6.9B by 2020. VR manufacturers may also see slow device adoption to start, but are expected to show quick linear growth by 2020.
This potential for growth in the VR space has interested many industry verticals. VR has been used by aviation simulation companies and the military for training, many decades before VR found applications in gaming. Although VR’s initial potential was expected to be in the gaming industry, other verticals like entertainment and interactive media are adopting this technology to provide more immersive and attractive experiences for their consumers.
A VR version of a movie will give the moviegoer a complete immersive experience, transporting the person to sunny beaches or magical worlds, enhancing the perception of being a part of the movie rather than just watching it or being an observer. It could be a surgeon training to perform a real surgery by polishing his skills virtually, students exploring ancient civilizations by a virtual walk around without disturbing precious artifacts in person or an athlete/sports person gearing up for a very important event in a simulated environment.
Many companies have already started using this innovative technology to improve user experience — HBO’s “Ascend the wall” allows the user to experience the climb of the larger than life wall from Game of Thrones, while the Charity: Water took people to third world countries through a VR documentary and showed them firsthand how their contributions can make a difference in people’s lives.
The Hardware, Tools & Platforms Driving VR
To immerse the user in a virtual world and make the interaction as natural as possible, VR relies on specialized Hardware, Tools & Platforms.
Virtual Reality Headsets
Of all the VR Hardware available in the market, VR headsets are the most popular. These are virtual systems powered by regular computers, using specialized head mounted displays (HMD) that transmit the images to the users through dedicated monitors catering to each eye. HMD’s have progressed from the traditional ones to mobile powered. There are three major categories:
Super VR headsets are equipped with advanced technology that will offer the user the most realistic VR experience.
Medium VR headsets can be powered by existing smartphones. The prices of these headsets are lower than super VR headsets and the VR software can be easily upgraded. Their simplicity and low cost has driven a big catalog of good VR content.
Casual Mobile VR is an accessible approach to VR that doesn’t require expensive glasses to view content. It is considered an optimal vehicle for music videos, movie trailers — any form of VR entertainment that the user wants to keep in their pocket.
Cave Automatic Virtual Environments (CAVE): Systems projecting images on floors, ceiling, walls and other surrounding surfaces. Wearing special glasses, users move around in a Cave Automatic Virtual environment, the illusionary world.
Tracking Systems: Calculate and analyze the orientation of the user, sending appropriate images to the visual display, keeping the bearings right for the users. These systems are extra specialized to track eye, hand and leg movements.
User Inputs: Input devices include controllers, special gloves, joysticks, voice recognition systems, treadmills or motion trackers capturing inputs from the users for the virtual environment. The wearables, haptics, motion simulators and controllers together control and co-ordinate the actions from the users with their outcomes in the virtual environment.
Platforms & Tools
Programming Languages & Development Tools: Collaborative Design Activity (COLLADA), 3DML, X3D and Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML) are all available to program the 3D virtual space in collaboration with 3D Engines and other 3D tools.
Reality Capture: 360 degree Video hardware, the related software and the photogrammetry tools all together capture and process the data from the real world, integrating it to the virtual one.
Distribution Apps & Platforms: Virtual Reality is a technology delivered through Apps and Video based platforms among which the most common is YouTube.
Movers & Shakers of the VR industry today
Facebook’s Oculus Rift is the first PC based VR headset available in the market today. It consists of a head mounted display to create a pseudo environment that enables interaction with digitally synthesized objects, people and avatars. The Oculus Rift borrows from the simplest of the techniques used in smartphones- the accelerometer to track movements and the mini displays.
The Samsung Gear VR Headset offers captivating experiences for movies and games and a richer mobile VR experience than anywhere else. The Samsung Gear, works with Samsung’s flagship products especially with the smartphones to enable immersive experiences.
HTC has also made heads turn at elite conferences this year with its HTC Vive VR. This is an expensive technology as compared to products like Oculus. Powered with sensors, front-facing camera and capable enough for full-body tracking, HTC & Valve have also setup chaperone system that allows the user stay connected with the surrounding world with the most amazing VR content on the block.
Google was one of the first companies to foray into VR with its Google Cardboard — a do it yourself cardboard kit that can be assembled into a VR headset that can then be used with a smartphone. It is an affordable way for anyone who wanted a taste of VR without the complicated and expensive VR gear. It had sold over a million units by the end of 2015.
There are many more notable companies entering the VR space with their latest offerings, like LG 360 VR, Sony PlayStation VR, WemakeVR and many more- all aiming to make Virtual Reality more real than ever.
Content for VR is one of the most important piece of the VR puzzle that has to be addressed for it to reach its full potential. Many important players in the industry now understand the importance of content for VR and VR headset manufacturers are some of the key drivers of content, investing technical and monetary resources in developers. Google — one of the main players in the VR space, has taking a step in this direction by launching a VR view tool along with its Cardboard developer kit, in the hope that VR will be more likely to be used on a regular basis if it is easily accessible through apps or the web.
So, where is the Industry Headed?
Virtual Reality started out as an enhancement to gaming/entertainment sectors and these industries have been the key drivers even today. Put to use for more realistic aspects of life, VR proves to be a game changer when it comes to applying technological advances in day to day applications.
You could attend a sold out concert from the comfort of your home, travel anywhere in the world and explore places at your own pace, take a tour of the home you would like to buy or even watch the game from the sidelines without actually being there.
Due to its high potential, various industries and domains are willing to adopt VR extensively for enhancing solutions and applications and having life-like user experiences.
Our Take on VR
Virtual Reality has been named as the one of the most promising technologies available today and some have branded 2016 as the year of VR. It has found many investors offering niche solutions and attempting to make Virtual Reality a regular part of people’s lives. From the time Facebook acquired Oculus Rift, many companies have followed suit and thrown their hat into the ring that is VR in the hopes of being a small part of this innovative technology. The anticipation that VR will be embraced by the masses is high and we find the hype and excitement surrounding VR growing day by day.
The VR industry has made great strides in developing the hardware needed to make VR a reality, but like Bill Gates famously said -“Content is King”. So, even though a ground breaking technology has been put to use and amazing hardware is available, the VR ecosystem misses out on relevant and diverse content to keep the users enticed.
There is very high potential for the VR industry — but the major challenge it has to overcome to be adopted by the masses is to develop the necessary and affordable content to accompany the amazing hardware available today. VR finds its applications almost everywhere, but without ingenuity and creativity in appropriate content offerings, it is not possible to sustain its growth in the long term.
Our Take on Virtual Reality to be Mainstream — Year2020.
“One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people” — Mark Zuckerberg