The Real Reason Virtual Reality (VR) Has Never Taken Off

Recently, the BBC published an article titled Why we’ve never fallen in love with virtual reality in which they discuss virtual realities lack of mainstream consumer adoption.

The article then goes on to talk about one VR segment that is thriving: group entertainment. Specifically, virtual reality arcades, theme parks leveraging virtual reality in rides and offering an affordable means of immersing yourself without getting into debt.

Truly immersive virtual reality experiences in 2020 are amazing. In countries like Tokyo, they have numerous public places where VR is employed for fun experiences. Disneyland has been showcasing the power of virtual reality for some time now.

One of VR’s biggest problems in the consumer home entertainment space is the cost. The technology is on the high-end of the spectrum, often requiring the headset, sensors and a computer to power it.

While the cost of the headsets themselves have gone down over the last few years, building a PC powerful enough to provide a low-latency, immersive and smooth experience requires top-shelf components (the most expensive being one or two graphics cards).

The Oculus Quest which is an attempt to not rely on external hardware and provide an all-in-one virtual reality solution is a step in the right direction towards mainstream adoption. Still, the cost puts in way above a gaming console and the Quest is considered low-end VR.

It goes a step above those horrendous standalone headsets like the failed Google Daydream which has been shut down by Google and requires you to put your phone inside of it.

Virtual reality isn’t dying, it’s just considerably behind optimistic estimates of where it was heading. 2016 was allegedly meant to be the year of virtual reality, really, we are still 3 to 5 years away from mainstream VR adoption. The latest, we won’t see VR truly take off until 2025.

Estimates of mainstream VR adoption were about ten years behind if you ask me. However, we cannot discount companies like Oculus and Sony who took the plunge and invested in early generation headsets.

I believe headsets like the Quest which do not require expensive water-cooled gaming PC’s with $1500 graphics cards in them are the beginning of a new era of VR. Screen technology is getting quite good, refresh rates are increasing and experiences are also getting better.

The one thing VR is also missing is a killer app. Something synonymous with VR like Facebook, Google and Twitter are with the internet, there is no one killer app that springs to mind for people when they think of VR. However, I think that will eventually change.

We also cannot discount the fact that VR will never appeal to some people. For some, VR is an uncomfortable nauseous and disorienting experience. I think the future of VR is a hybrid of both virtual reality and augmented reality, not one over the other.

Once the cost of VR comes down to a level that is comparable with a gaming console like the Playstation or Xbox, we are going to see considerable adoption and a new industry that will start a gold rush. It hasn’t started yet, but it is coming.

The real problem to VR adoption right now is the cost. It’s a problem other industries like the electric vehicle industry are experiencing, but once the economy of scale kicks in, that’s when the adoption truly begins.

2016: The Year Of Virtual Reality

The VR space has been ramping up for a while now, thanks in part to Oculus Rift and the fact that Facebook bought them for a VERY large sum of money a little while ago.

Since Oculus originally debuted on Kickstarter and then were subsequently purchased, a VR arms race was started. Everyone is rushing to get their solution out there, evident by the fact Oculus have been working on their headset for years, the problem of creating a decent functional headset is harder than it appears.

The reason it has taken so long is when Oculus development started, the screen technology was not there yet. A crucial key aspect of VR is low latency. When the latency goes beyond a certain level, when you turn your head fast and there is any kind of noticeable lag: it is a recipe for VR induced motion sickness.

Fortunately Oculus and other manufacturers thanks in part to great screens from JDI and Samsung’s own high resolution AMOLED screens, have been able to produce high resolution and low latency headsets (as witnessed by anyone who has an Oculus DK2 headset or has tried Project Morpheus).

Companies working on VR headsets include (and these are the ones we know about):

  • Oculus Rift
  • Sony’s Project Morpheus
  • Microsoft HoloLens
  • Valve Software’s HTC Vive headset (a collaboration between Valve Software and HTC)
  • Samsung Gear VR
  • Magic Leap (unannounced VR headset)

Most of these headsets have one thing in common: most of them have not released a consumer release product just yet, with exception of Gear VR.

Not only are major companies working on virtual reality headsets, but tonnes of Kickstarter campaigns and smaller indie upstarts are taking their shot at the VR crown as well.

Even though you can buy an Oculus Rift developer kit headset, they have yet to release a consumer-focused version of the headset aimed at the gamer or general PC user. Meaning you need a beefy PC with decent graphics card and GPU power to even run it.

Microsoft only just announced HoloLens, but it has been in development for years. It takes a different approach in adopting stereoscopic 3D and augmenting reality, not replacing it. We will most likely see HoloLens in 2016, although no release date has been announced.

While we’re not really going to see any VR headset make its debut in 2015, Oculus and Project Morpheus in particular are slated for release in the first half of 2016. I think it is safe to say the technology is definitely ready, but the content is not quite there yet.

It will be interesting to see what the virtual reality landscape looks like in 2016. Will we see fragmentation or perhaps a combined effort to produce content that works on every commercial available headset? Who knows.

Every company will want to lock consumers into their monetised ecosystem, but without the content, it would be a chicken and egg scenario where consumers would only buy the headset if it has the content and companies only producing content if the consumer numbers are there.

I am excited about the potential of virtual reality, it has been a long time coming and I am definitely ready. While initial releases will undoubtedly be great, it probably won’t be until 2018 when we see headsets really come into their own (leaps in screen tech and tracking).