The tipping point for VR won’t happen at the same time for everyone. Of course it won’t.
For me, it was when my son came home from school and saw my latest tool from work, saying: “that’s cool dad, a VR”. I knew then that VR has currency in the playground. Or as we can also call it – the future.
A bit like when I praised my dad, 35 years ago, on his first purchase – or should I say rental, of a VHS video recorder… complete with 50p meter. It’ll never catch on? Yeah, right.
But how does this initial enthusiasm for VR translate into the mainstream? How does VR force its way into the wider public consciousness?
In many ways, such as in the playground, it’s already there. But we also need to remember that VR has its place. Or strengths, you could say.
We’ve talked about travel before, of course, and how companies like Expedia are using VR to promote the benefits of far-away destinations. This is a key area of expansion.
Many smaller travel firms, such as Butlins, are also getting in on the act. Famous for their Red Coats, Butlins has invested heavily in 360 video on its website, covering huge swathes of each park.
This is a step beyond traditional 2D photos and shows how VR can eventually fill roles throughout the travel market. Imagine not just being able see each chalet, but then being able to interact, opening doors or exploring entertainment venues. This is the ‘killer’ addition that VR can offer.
Another strength is, of course, in gaming. This is a niche that VR already owns. And by owns, I mean it completely dominates the sector. They were made for each other, it seems.
Gaming doesn’t take VR into the mainstream any more than a PS4, but it does act as a gateway. The predictions of the early 2000s, when everyone thought consoles would become the centre of entertainment in every home, haven’t quite materialised.
But as my nine-year-old son (who has forgotten more about gaming than I’ll ever know) constantly shows me, consoles have allowed VR to creep into the consciousness. This is absolutely key to the future of VR.
So what are those other strengths? What of those people who aren’t down with the latest gaming technology?
As human beings it is likely we will all, at some point, need a form of surgery – however minor. Imagine a life or death situation, perhaps where a relative’s life has been saved by a detailed operation. VR can train surgeons in those minute details without risk to life.
An example can be found in our work with Edwards Life Sciences. Our production crew began by filming a patient to show the difficulties of living with a heart valve problem before undertaking surgery.
After filming the surgery, we retired to Ohio to film recovery time. The VR film showed that in two short weeks the patient had resumed a normal, active lifestyle, including driving his farm tractor and playing with his grandkids.
The resulting seven-minute video was seen by hundreds of heart surgeons, who benefitted from a unique insight into one of the world’s most complex medical procedures. All thanks to VR.
But it doesn’t stop there.
How about applications for training pilots? Or even builders and architects, trying to work out the best way to apply blueprints? VR can take a prospective buyer into a home before work has even started. Anyone who has ever bought a new-build house will appreciate the benefits of that.
Further afield, military personnel can be taken deeper into a war zone before they even hop on an Airbus from Brize Norton. VR offers a crucial extension to photo-based views sent in by reconnaissance crews.
Then there’s cost, of course. Devices such as the Oculus Rift and HTV Vive remain within the £300 to £600 price range, although the Samsung Gear takes that down to around £99. Mobile phone not included. And finally, the Google Cardboard headset can cost as little as £1, again requiring the use of a mobile phone.
It is worth remembering that while VHS eventually became the dominant format force in home video, Betamax always offered greater image quality. But why did VHS win the format war? Price… oh, and see below.
You know what could make the biggest difference in VR’s quest for the mainstream? The cool factor. Google Glass, perhaps, was a touch too ‘techie’ for the mass market, showing that even a fabulous product can fall at the final hurdle. Take note, Betamax fans.
So how can VR finally go mainstream?
Application. Practicality. Cost. Oh, and cool factor. Whatever happens, don’t forget the cool factor.
It’ll never catch on? Watch this space.
By James Shaw