A year into the world of consumer virtual reality, the start hasn’t been quite as meteoric a rise as some had hoped.
At the Vision VR/AR Summit this week in Hollywood, developers came together to discuss technology, software, and the future of systems like VR, augmented reality and mixed reality. As John Riccitiello, CEO of video game engine company Unity, put it in his keynote address, the jump in VR hasn’t quite been what some analysts predicted. The growth in XR, as all these new media are referred collectively, saw only about half the growth of what some had foreseen — resulting in an industry estimated to hit about $2.5 billion in business in 2017, instead of the predicted $5 billion.
As Riccitiello noted, $2.5 billion for an industry basically starting from zero is still impressive, but the gap is indicative of some of the issues XR faces. For one thing, technology in the consumer side is still expensive — headsets generally require powerful computers to run them, for instance, and total costs to adopt VR in the home can easily run over $1,000 and beyond.
In addressing the future of XR, though, Riccitiello spent his keynote talking about his vision of how huge the industry could be. He and others in XR see potential in the media that could make it as big and pervasive as the internet — eventually.
It’s hard not to get caught up in that enthusiasm, especially for people who’ve spent some time with cutting-edge VR and AR tech. The Vision summit featured speakers from Facebook and NFL on its first day, as well as reps from game makers. It also included companies working on the tech side of things, like Vuforia, an AR company that is powering new innovations such as one that lets computers map rooms for augmented reality without the requirement of a GPS to locate and center the user.
Unity, for its part, seems to be looking for that future both in video games and beyond. Unity’s software is used to make games, and gaming remains the forefront of virtual reality and augmented reality. It uses these technologies to create some incredible experiences, and gaming is a community and industry full of people excited to adopt new tech.
But as virtual reality and augmented reality are becoming more popular and more prominent, Unity is finding others who are finding uses for its game tech. VR for a start, are finding Unity’s real-time rendering technology — the stuff that makes video games possible — useful for adding computer-generated elements to real-time video.
Most notable among the industries adopting the tech outside of gaming might be marketing. Disney notably used 360-degree video, best enjoyed in virtual reality, to promote “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Movie studios have bridged gaming and promotion with efforts like “John Wick Chronicles,” to promote “John Wick 2,” and “Alien: Covenant In Utero,” a VR experience released just last week to promote the upcoming “Alien: Covenant.”
So though adoption of the technology that makes XR possible may seem slow among consumers, it’s creeping into a variety of areas much more quickly than many people realize. Augmented reality has been a major part of the mobile and smartphone spaces almost since their creation, and AR is quickly becoming a major part of sectors like toys and children’s books.
Virtual reality specifically and XR in general aren’t going anywhere, even if they’re not quite the breakout hits some expected in 2016. As the technology continues to advance and developers and creators continue to find new possibilities to explore those fields, they’re continuing to open up and become more pervasive. Everyone in America doesn’t own a VR headset or AR-enabled wearable tech just yet, but in fields like content creation and marketing, they’re more than worth paying attention to and exploring further in years to come. Just look at conferences such as the Summit VR/AR event to find plenty of things to be excited about.