Every few years or so, some new technology arrives on the market which changes our lifestyle forever. In recent years, Virtual Reality, better known as VR, has been touted to be the next big thing in technology, especially with regards to content consumption.
The technology surrounding VR has been hyped up so much. However, is it all it has been made out to be? Let’s take a look at the future of Virtual Reality, and whether VR is our future.
Short Intro about Virtual Reality
The best way to understand Virtual Reality is by thinking of it as a simulation that mixes our reality with the virtual world.
VR replaces the world around us in our field of view, with virtual content, giving us an immersive experience. Think of it like this – you are surrounded by nothing but screens displaying the virtual world, with which you can interact as if it were real.
Virtual Reality requires specialized hardware. Hence, the only way of getting into mainstream VR right now is to buy a VR headset. As of now, we have VR films/videos, games, and apps, which we also refer to as experiences.
Just like every new hardware-based technology, it is content that will determine the adaption rate, as well as the future of virtual reality.
Here’s a quick chart showing exactly how content is expected to develop:
That’s just consumer content. With regards to all content, we also see VR experiences being potentially game-changing. Especially in education, medicine, defense, architecture and design, marketing, and other indirect content consumption services.
Future of VR Gaming
With Virtual Reality, as of now, gaming seems to have the most significant lead. That’s a no-brainer, given the fact that gaming is virtual reality experience, to begin with.
To bring gaming to the realm of the conventionally defined VR, it requires the games to be programmed with the personal field of view in an even greater focus, and hardware designed to run and consume it.
Currently, we have several VR headsets available on the market. The most prominent of these are Oculus Rift, and its cheaper variant, Oculus Go, HTC Vive, Microsoft HoloLens, Playstation VR, and Samsung Gear VR.
There’s a sizable cost barrier to enter VR, as these headsets cost hundreds of dollars. Additionally, you need to have hardware that is capable enough of running the supported games in VR, which can cost up to thousands of dollars. The hardware end isn’t stagnant, however, and better hardware is slated to release soon, like the Oculus Rift 2, and PSVR 2.
On the content end, we already have hundreds of VR games available, with some big names like Fallout & Skyrim joining in. The content library while not huge, it is fast growing. To get gaming enthusiasts in on virtual reality, however, is tricky. It has been a long time since a new class of hardware has been accepted by the community. Virtual reality is far from perfect, so adaption rates are quite slow.
As of now, we have a decent roster of games and hardware available. However, unless the industry leaders tackle the barrier to entry, most importantly the high initial cost, it will not become mainstream.
A lot of people felt that since gamers were likely to be the first people to experience VR that gaming would be the largest segment of VR consumption, but so far other experiences are proving most compelling.— Jesse Joudrey, Chief Executive Officer at VRChat (Source: Arkanea)
The revenue, however, is on the rise, which means that VR gaming is here to stay. If the adaption starts picking pace, we could see VR gaming expanded beyond headsets, with hardware implementations that put more reality in virtual reality. Imagine playing a game in a room where the walls are all made of giant screens, populating the game’s environment around you. Wouldn’t it be cool to play a game like that?
Future of VR Movies
Again, with VR movies, we have a similar dilemma. The available content is limited and isn’t growing at an ideal pace. With VR movies, the scenario is different compared to VR gaming.
Going to the movies is a physically social activity most of the times, as compared to gaming, which has been virtually social at best. This probably is why VR movies have an even slower adoption rate. A few good titles are available to be watched on virtual reality headsets already, and even Netflix has begun its work towards a VR future.
However, when it comes to the future of virtual reality movies, it likely will rely on upgrading equipment in cinema halls. Virtual reality movie theatres have already started popping up in some locations. For obvious reasons, they aren’t quite the same as the normal cinema halls yet. However, this experience is expected to streamline in the future.
All these things should ideally mean that VR movies have a bright future, but there’s one big flaw:
Movies are story-driven, which means that there’s very little scope or need for virtual reality to step in. So instead the VR films we will have in the future will probably be not just films, but rather experiences.
I love VR. I’m not sure I love VR as a medium for telling a story but I do love VR […] I’m not yet certain how I could make a movie in VR because I don’t have as much control over where the audience is looking. I would have to really be clever to get them to pay attention to where I want them to pay attention, on what I want them to pay attention to, which is the story and the characters. They might be looking all around the world and taking their eye off the bouncing story ball.— Stephen Spielberg, Hollywood Director (Source: Haaretz)
The biggest advantage that the future of VR movies holds over the future of VR gaming is the cost barrier. VR film experiences are expected to be shared. This means one will not have to spend nearly as much to watch a VR film as one does to play a VR Game.
Not to forget, VR movies will be easily deployable to mobile phones, which means you can use cheap mobile phone VR headset converters, like Google Cardboard to watch VR movies on your phone.
Future of VR in Education
Virtual Reality has been pushed for entertainment mostly, but the future of VR is most likely to be with experiences and services, and this facade of the technology is shaping up.
The future of VR in education looks bright. Ever since the dawn of the age of the internet, there have been attempts to bring the classrooms up to speed.
With VR, learning can be made much more immersive. Educational institutions invest in computer systems as it is so it will not be too much of a stretch to invest in VR hardware. Edtech companies have already started developing educational content in VR:
Kids love to engage with [VR] lessons […] We see a direct correlation between VR usage and increased engagement by students. Added engagement boosts learning outcomes.— Guido Kovalskys, chief executive and co-founder of US-based ed-tech company Nearpod (Source: CNN)
In the same report by CNN, Jeremy Bailenson, a communications professor at Stanford University, and founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab commented that it is all about “stepping away from the mundane stuff and experiencing something.”
The future of VR in Education can be predicted by the same principle – it will be about supplementing available resources, rather than replacing them.
Future of VR in Medicine
When it comes to Medicine, we have VR being extensively used in psychiatry, helping people deal with emotional trauma, PTSD, and anxiety disorder, like the Medical Virtual Reality unit at USC Institute for Creative Technologies.
Virtual reality can be potentially used to better analyse a lot of medical situations. The future of VR in medicine is closely linked to education, as well.
Studying something as complex as the nervous system, the human heart, or practicing the process of surgery can be offloaded to a VR system. We already have VR educational/analytical medical content available, and the content library is growing every day.
As a paediatric cardiologist, you have to be able to visualize this organ, because people’s lives depend on it. But visualizing a complex three-dimensional organ on paper, really doesn’t give you the full picture, which is why we decided that there has to be a better way.— David Axelrod. Co-Lead, CVICU Simulation Training Program
The future of VR in medicine looks pretty solid as of now, and even without major revolutions stepping in, the technology will still continue to assist medicine and treatment.
So, is VR really the future?
Most definitely so. With the obvious advancements in fields like design and military, where the technology brings in a new level of simulation, VR has practical applications in fields that rely on more.
The entry barrier of cost is a major concern, but as more and more content releases and hardware manufacturers working to put out cheaper models, it seems like the VR industry is moving closer to minimizing its biggest hurdle. In addition, there are cheap applications available, like Google Cardboard, turning your smartphone into a VR headset in seconds.
VR might not become the hyped up replacement that we have been made to believe by sci-fi movies, but it sure will become an integral part of our lives as we move towards a more technological world.
Here’s another recent article I wrote on iPads:
Palash is a technology and entertainment journalist who loves to geek out over the latest gadgets, TV shows, and movies.