Virtual reality (VR) was talked about by science fiction writers such as Isaac Asimov, several decades ago. While it was purely a figment of imagination then, VR became an actual tech innovation, first making inroads in the gaming industry.
In due course, VR based games or entertainment options became commonplace in shopping mall arcades. But it did not quite find domestic applications, where VR devices could be used in homes or workplaces.
State of the industry
The VR industry accounted for USD1.8 billion in total revenues, in 2020. This marked a 31.7% increase from 2019 levels. And going forward, this segment is only estimated to make stronger gains. VR acceptance and evolution will be driven by increasing purchases of VR headsets, with growth expected to triple by 2025. In context to headsets, there is a wide array of options available — spanning basic ones that require a smart phone to be attached to its front, to more sophisticated ones that are offered by Oculus and HTC.
Currently, the most popular VR headset is the Oculus Rift. The Oculus Quest ranks second, followed by the HTC Vive.
The adoption of VR headsets has increased primarily on account of immersive experiences and better affordability. Earlier, VR consoles or headsets were priced closer to $2,000; this made them more a high-end product that was well beyond reach for the majority.
However, more affordable options are now available. Oculus headsets are currently priced at USD299. In India, they are available for an estimated INR30,000 on both the Oculus store and Amazon. Oculus, meanwhile, is a Meta company.
Facebook is going to drive VR uptake
In October 2020, Facebook made an announcement. It is a clear indication of what lies in store — that disruption is in the offing. The social media behemoth announced that it would rechristen its holding company as Meta.
This change, the company felt, would better reflect its focus on the metaverse. In simple terms, the metaverse is the virtual equivalent of the physical universe. VR users can interact in this virtual universe just as they would in the physical one.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said, “In the metaverse, you’ll be able to do almost anything you can imagine — get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create — as well as completely new experiences that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today.” Underpinning these ‘virtual pursuits’ will be 5G networks.
The news of Facebook’s focus on the metaverse sent the prices of several digital tokens, issued by blockchain firms, soaring. One example was Decentraland; it spiked by as much as 400% in less than a day. Decentraland has an expansive metaverse that, among various applications, allows users to trade virtual real estate. Other blockchain firms, with a focus on the metaverse, include Sandbox, Enjin and Illuvium.
VR uptake is on the back of 5G networks
A VR firm called KAT VR is taking immersion to a whole new level. For example, current VR devices, that are built for personal gaming usage, do not allow users to walk around beyond a few steps at best. But KAT VR’s device permits mobility and gives the user a sense of walking in the ‘game world’, or in the metaverse.
Aside from the availability of affordable VR devices, this sector’s growth is also being accelerated by the rolling out of 5G networks. These networks offer two key enablers for VR use — high bandwidth and low latency. While VR applications usually bring gaming to mind, its use cases are far wider. Teaching and training, for example, are going to see higher engagement levels once VR devices are used as classroom aids. British Telecom built the first 5G enabled immersive classroom in the UK. Additionally, daily activities such as working, learning, entertainment and even shopping will all be possible in the metaverse.
Imagine studying about the solar system in VR, where your headset ‘transports’ you into space and you are standing in Saturn’s orbit. More importantly, the level of detailing will leave you awestruck!