Will 2016 Be A Big Year For Virtual Reality?

by Sohini Bagchi    Jan 04, 2016

virtual

Virtual reality (VR) is set to make a splash in 2016 and will continue to grow thereafter, believe experts. Virtual reality or VR, can be referred to as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, replicates an environment that simulates a physical presence in places in the real world or an imagined world, allowing the user to interact in that world. Virtual realities artificially create sensory experiences, which can include sight, hearing, touch, and smell (Wikipedia).

Even though VR is still far from mainstream, major companies like Facebook-owned Oculus, HTC, Samsung and Sony have already declared their emergence in the market with virtual-reality devices, typically headsets - and many of these products will get noticed from this year.

VR headsets immerse users in the three-dimensional (3D) world, letting them look around and feel as if they’re in another place. According to research firm Juniper, about 3 million VR headsets will be shipped in 2016. That’s not exactly record-breaking but it’s a significant start, and if things go as expected, it could rise to 30 million by 2020.

There are even, more optimistic estimates for sales in 2016. According to research firm TrendForce, the figure could be 14 million units in 2016, with 38 million shipped by 2020, providing a strong launch point for the category. Even though “few” will be sold this year, the firm expects sales to rise to 18 million units in 2017 and 22 million by the end of 2018. In 2020, sales could reach 38 million units worldwide, said TrendForce.

All in the race

In November, HTC marketing chief Jeff Gattis said that 2016 will be “critical” for the VR industry. HTC plans to have its own Vine virtual-reality headset on store shelves this year. The Vine is also expected to face a slew of competitors, as several other companies also plan to soon offer virtual-reality products.

In June 2015, Facebook-owned Oculus announced the launch of its first headset, Rift, and a pair of hand controllers, both of which it plans to release sometime in 2016. Oculus also teamed up with Samsung to create the Gear VR, a $99 headset that uses Samsung phones as screens, indicating how the two companies are getting serious about marrying virtual reality and mobile devices.

Read more: Facebook Plans To Change The World With AI, Drones

Microsoft is also not far behind. Microsoft’s HoloLens, more correctly referred to as augmented reality than virtual reality, blends 3D virtual visuals with the real world. Microsoft opened the HoloLens Developer Experience Showcase at its Manhattan HQ in December 2015 for software developers to try out the new HoloLens headsets, so they can build apps for the “first-ever, fully untethered holographic glasses, powered by Windows 10.”

The tech giant will begin shipping HoloLens to developers sometime in Q1 2016. According to Greg Oates, Senior Editor at Skift, “Microsoft’s HoloLens has the potential to impact the travel user experience by providing contextual information with immersive 3D holographic storytelling.”

Another company bullish about the VR space is Google. The company announced a new kind of camera for taking live-action 3-D virtual-reality videos at its I/O developer conference in June, partnered with action-cam maker GoPro to make Jump, which lets people create professional VR videos on smartphones, which much cheaper and less complicated.

 Google-owned YouTube launched a “Cardboard mode” for its Android app, which allows every video in YouTube’s massive library to be viewed through the headset. The idea is to get people comfortable with shooting in VR, a future that Google would very much like to provide. Sony’s Project Morpheus will also be among the VR devices hitting store shelves this year.

Beyond gaming

Initially, the key use for virtual reality is expected to be gaming. The relatively low costs and minimal time requirement thus will be strong incentives for game developers as they will become major content providers for VR hardware, believe TrendForce researchers.

But VR may still prove a ground-breaking technology in many areas of life and work, believe experts. For example, two London psychologists, Dr Ashley Conway and Dr Vanessa Ruspoli, have developed a system that uses Oculus’ Rift headset to treat patients with phobias.

Their company Virtual Exposure Therapy aims to give patients exposure in a virtual world to the thing they fear. “We filmed Helena, who’s always been scared of getting into lifts, being guided into a series of smaller and smaller spaces….” they said in an article published in The Nation (Jan 2016).

Dr Ruspoli kept on checking her anxiety levels as she entered each lift, and after a while the anxieties dropped. Researchers noticed VR had made a difference to Helena, was able to travel in a real lift after practicing in virtual reality. She would otherwise have opted to take the stairs just a few weeks earlier.

“It’s not the real world but a very visceral experience,” Dr Conway explained. “You get a physiological reaction. It’s a really good bridge between not being able to do something and doing it in the real world.” The psychologists hope to use the system to treat a range of phobias, from fear of flying to agoraphobia, where semi-realistic exposure to the feared environment might help.

Similarly, many businesses and public bodies may soon use VR as a way of interacting with consumers and employees, such as virtual conferencing, with its ability to be “anywhere, anytime” or virtual stores where customers can feel they are experiencing every item physically, while being in a virtual environment.

“The technology is now poised to transform the entertainment industry, including games and video, but Going forward, it will quickly expand into other markets such as industrial and healthcare,” according to a recent Juniper reportsectors such as automobile to industrial and from healthcare to hospitality, said the Juniper research. 

At the same time, experts also believe for VR to become mainstream, the price and feedback details of the respective devices would matter this year. We need to wait and watch out this space!