2016 will be the year virtual reality (VR) goes mainstream. Although the technology has existed for decades it has gradually improved, refined and come down in price so that today it is a viable consumer product and one that now provides a real opportunity for businesses.
Your Ready Business brings you a dual perspective on VR from two experts in the field: Jason Lovell, senior product manager – VR and wearables at Samsung and Henry Stuart, CEO and co-founder at Visualise, an international production studio specialising in virtual reality content.
“VR in the 1990s was very different to what it is now,” explains Jason. “Look at developments in semi-conductor technology, display technology and the huge advancements in areas such as latency and head tracking and it’s probably only in the last year or so that the tech has really become something that’s ready for the mass market to experience and enjoy.”
In the last 12 months we’ve seen a number of consumer product launches; Google with the Cardboard viewer, Samsung partnering with Oculus to release Gear VR From Q2 this year we will see the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, The Sony PlayStation VR, LG 360 VR and quite possibly a hotly anticipated Apple release too.
It will be an explosion of VR technology that will send the industry into a spiral. Suddenly a full spectrum of VR applications is being made available to consumers and at affordable price points. It’s an exciting prospect.
“But thanks to mobile phones there has been a convergence of technology,” says Henry. “The huge production of phones means creating gyroscopes and high-res screens is cheap enough and powerful enough to make a consumer product at a price that encourages uptake.”
This doesn’t mean the consumer market will mature overnight but organisations should be prepared for some big changes in the next three-to-five years.
“It will take a big mind-shift in terms of how people consume their media,” says Jason. “Right now many consider VR to be quite an isolated experience, but its potential is huge in terms of being a connector and social enabler. VR’s beauty is that it will let you do all kinds of amazing things that you can’t do in the real world, and that’s really exciting.”
VR will facilitate the creation of virtual worlds, beginning with enormous leaps in the field of high-end gaming, where immersion in hyper-real environments will push gamers’ engagement in top titles to a whole new level.
However, soon the technology will roll out to entirely new sectors not directly linked to cutting-edge technology. In theory, soon teachers will be able to safely take a class of school children on a 30-minute excursion to the top of Mount Everest or on a Kenyan Safari.
Architects will be able to plan the most ambitious projects in real-world detail. They already use computer models to judge, for example, how much light a building is exposed to, but VR will actually put them in the room to see it for themselves.
Sticking with the property theme, real estate developers and estate agents will escort clients on virtual tours as if they were in the building, automotive firms will demo their cars on the best roads in the world – virtually, while healthcare professionals could monitor patients remotely.
The last of these examples will be truly revolutionary for under-pressure healthcare provision around the world. Linking VR to the Internet of things it’s conceivable that even complex surgical operations could happen remotely.
VR will be put to good use in military training, providing ‘live fire’ training cadets while keeping them safe and reducing the chances of accidents to zero. The list goes on.
VR developers are only limited by the parameters of their imagination: “Imagine a whiskey distillery in the Scottish Highlands that could offer VR tours of their business ending with a talk by the master distiller,” says Henry.
“Now imagine these tours are set up at airports or shopping malls in the US and on cue customers were handed different varieties of the whiskey to taste. I guarantee that experience would sell bucket-loads of product.”
While VR technology is currently causing ripples amongst high-end gamers and the sort of people who subscribe to Wired magazine, traditional companies are starting to look for ways to capitalise on the possibilities.
Visualise has completed numerous projects for organisations including immersive travel experiences for South African Tourism and for Thomas Cook (who saw a 180% uplift in their NYC excursions booked), test-driving new car models with Audi, Mercedes and Lamborghini, and even tours of fashionable boutiques with Refinery29.
“It’s important to focus on creating a unique experience; something that people cannot get from other forms of media. The danger is in creating VR just for the sake of creating VR,” explains Jason. “It’s key to invest in a good partner who really understands VR and can play to the technology’s key strengths. Customers must come away really wowed by what they have seen – make it memorable!
“The creation of VR is a very different competence than previous media formats, so do your research; judge a company based on their past portfolio, their recommendations, and most importantly have a good discussion with them to gauge their vision for what you’re trying to develop.”
Henry adds: “It’s such an intense experience that when you get things wrong it can make people feel uncomfortable, but if you get it right it can an incredibly powerful experience and they will love it. So make it stable and smooth and avoid fast cuts.
“Storytelling is important: people worry they are going to miss something so they manically look in every direction. Get the key storyline in the front 120 degrees of where they are looking to help them understand what is going on.”
Both experts agree that virtual reality will become mainstream very quickly and that countless organisations in a range of industries will benefit, from retail and tourism to education and healthcare.
The key advice to those hoping to take advantage is to understand the scope of what VR can do, pick your partner wisely and with them create an immersive experience that surprises, delights and adds value to the viewer.