Will the VR industry grow up in 2017?
By Ajith Ram December 27, 2016
- Wireless, cheaper hardware will attract mainstream consumers
- Many activities like sports and social media will be transformed
THIS year was a morning of great promise for the VR industry. According to industry analysts, around two million VR units will be sold this year. But that is still just a few drops compared to the feverish predictions by the same analysts last year.
This is also the year that the nascent industry showed the first signs of standardisation. A consortium of companies including Acer Starbreeze, Google, HTC VIVE, Facebook's Oculus, Samsung, and Sony Interactive Entertainment, recently announced the creation of a non-profit organisation of international headset manufacturers to promote the growth of the VR industry. The Global Virtual Reality Association (GVRA) has the remit to develop and share best practices for industry and foster dialogue between public and private stakeholders around the world.
The group is intended to be a resource for consumers, policymakers, and industry interested in VR. VR has the potential to be the next great computing platform, improve sectors ranging from education to healthcare, and contribute significantly to the global economy in the coming years. But this is not going to happen if there is a lack of standards.
This announcement comes at the same time as a restructuring of one of the main players. Facebook’s Oculus will split into two separate divisions - one focusing on PC VR and the other on mobile VR. As a result of the reshuffling, Brendan Iribe will step down from the role of CEO to lead the PC division and Jon Thomason, who joined the Oculus team this year, will head mobile.
It is unusual for the CEO of a company to demote himself. Iribe, with his background in software development, is a good choice to lead the company's PC VR efforts. But the key takeaway is that Oculus now values PC and mobile VR equally.
Oculus does already have a mobile VR headset in the form of the Gear VR from Samsung. But there is a huge quality gap between the PC and mobile VR headsets.
While PC VR provides high quality experiences, mobile VR feels mostly like a toy for casual users. But it is mobile VR that has the highest potential due to the sheer number of powerful smartphones available. Mobile VR also has the advantage of having no wires - a major irritant for the users.
It seems certain now that 2017 will be the year of 'wireless' VR. Oculus has already announced its plans for such a headset. It will also be the year that Microsoft and Google make their VR stage entrances. Intel might also make an appearance with its Project Alloy headset.
The introduction of these new headsets will also come alongside price reductions. Today, both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are like the Ferrari and Rolls Royce of the automobile market. They are far too expensive to attract the mainstream consumer. Once the headset prices fall below US$300 (RM1,340), VR will start to ride a tidal wave of popularity.
At the moment, there are almost no original AAA quality games available on VR. Those that do exist are ports from the PC Windows platform. This might start to change in 2017. While the finished product may not ship in 2017, we should get at least a preview of an original AAA VR game.
Since the VR industry is projected to grow rapidly, venture capital investments should also continue to increase. It is not just home entertainment that will be fundamentally changed by the emergence of VR.
VR will leave an impact on other activities like sports, shopping, theme parks and....social media. Facebook has already shown their vision for social VR in 2016 - a reminder of why they paid US$2 billion (RM8.95 billion) for Oculus. See the video below for a preview of Facebook's social media VR plans.
Although thehype around VR has decreased a bit now, 2017 might just prove to be the year that VR grows up to be a major player in the consumer market.