My prediction is that 2016 will be the year that virtual reality (VR) finally becomes a major industry. There are many factors at play, all of which will soon come together to make virtual reality ready for mass adoption:
1. In the next few months, Oculus Rift (now owned by Facebook) is expected to launch the long-awaited consumer version of their virtual reality headset. Much like when the iPhone came out in 2007 and totally changed the mobile phone market, Oculus Rift will enter the mainstream and forever change VR. VR headsets like Oculus Rift have actually been around for decades, and in 2015 Google launched Google Cardboard (a simple cardboard holder you stick your mobile phone into to make a VR device), but so far none of them have had widespread adoption. Google Glass (the futuristic looking glasses people walked around with) became available in 2013, but cost $1500, did not really do that much, and had to paired with your phone. Also, it was not really virtual reality; it was augmented reality, which means it just added extra info to whatever you were looking at.
2. The $99 Samsung Gear VR has given Samsung phone owners a glimpse at the potential of VR. Like with Google Cardboard, you stick your phone in it (it only works with Samsung phones), and it lets you experience virtual reality games, videos, and movies. But, it is made in partnership with the Oculus company, so it functions much better than Google Cardboard.
3. The problem with Oculus Rift is that it needs to hook up to a powerful PC, so it is not mobile. That means it is great for video games, but some other uses are limited because you need to have a PC with you. It is also expensive (the expected cost is around $500). Instead, you can buy a VR headset like the IncrediSonic VUE for $45 that works with any mobile phone. It even includes a remote, so you can control what is on the screen without having to keep taking your phone in and out of the device.
4. In the next year or two, HoloLens (from Microsoft) and Magic Leap will launch to compete with Oculus Rift. Each of these devices offers a very different experience than Oculus Rift (they are more augmented reality than virtual reality), but both will generate a huge amount of interest in the industry. Here’s a demo of Minecraft on Hololens:
5. In 2016, Sony is expected to launch PlayStation VR (previously known as Project Morpheus). This VR headset will work with PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, so it will open up virtual reality gaming to millions of existing Sony gamers. One of the most anticipated VR games on this platform is EVE: Valkyrie:
6. The technology to create virtual reality videos is getting much cheaper and easier. Matterport offers a specially designed camera for $4500 that shoots footage in virtual reality format, and companies such as Emergent are soon going to offer VR video capture using smartphones.
7. The real estate industry is starting to use VR tours. These are especially useful for out of town buyers, to give them the experience of a walk-through. It can also be used to convert the architectural plans of a commercial building or development into a virtual rendering potential buyers can “walk-through” so they will see what the finished product will look like.
8. Phobias – Virtual reality therapy (VRT) has been proven effective in treating anxiety disorders, phobias (fear of flying, claustrophobia, etc.), PTSD, pain, panic disorder, addictions, and other problems. For example, somebody with a fear of heights could use a specially designed immersive VR program to get used to the feel of being in high places. Or, somebody afraid of spiders could interact with virtual spiders to be more comfortable around them. Right now most VRT therapy takes place in specialized labs, but once consumers have VR devices in their homes, it opens the therapy up to a much larger market.
9. Movies – Some VR devices come with a movie theater app, which lets you watch Netflix or other movies like you are sitting in a real movie theater looking at a giant screen. The perspective even changes depending on where you choose to sit in the theater.
10. Porn – VR porn is predicted to grow into a $1 billion industry by 2020. The more realistic the experience, the more people will pay, so video producers are eager to get into this business. The adult industry has always been on the cutting edge of technology, leading the adaptation of formats such as DVD, Blu-ray, HD, mobile, and online videos.
All of this is just Virtual Reality 1.0. Soon to come is virtual reality dating, VR chat (think Skype in VR), VR trade shows/conferences, VR job interviews, VR medical care and research, VR gambling, VR military and space training, VR tourism, VR crime scene reconstruction, and VR advertising (paid ads within VR worlds). Consider that the Web was full of excitement and thriving for 10+ years before social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram came along. Now it is hard to picture life without them. After the first wave of VR hits the market, it will open up the floodgates to a whole new level of virtual reality innovation leading to products and services you can’t even imagine today. Unlike other complex and expensive technologies that are also poised to explode onto the scene, such as drones and 3D printing, virtual reality is something anybody (even people with little technical know-how) can get up and running in minutes for under $10. So, I suggest you give it a try so you can see what all the fuss is about.