i3 | September 06, 2018

VR Gains Momentum, with an Eye Toward 5G and 8K

Rick Kowalski

While the entertainment industry has been using virtual reality (VR) as inspiration for plotlines, consumers are bringing VR into their homes and getting a taste of what is possible with immersive entertainment. The excitement surrounding VR is building as new headsets, software and applications hit the market. These are the early years, but momentous sales are showing the potential for VR – and its cousin, augmented reality (AR).

Thus far, the market has been divided into two types of VR devices: those that are tethered to a PC and smartphone-based mobile headsets. A middle ground between the two is emerging, however. Standalone headsets, which are self-contained systems with a dedicated screen and processor, are entering the market in full force this year. This new form factor has the potential to attract new VR audiences that were originally deterred by the tethered set’s hardware requirements or found the smartphone-based experience lacking.

There are now seven million VR headsets in U.S. households, which equates to about six percent of homes according to CTA’s 20th Annual Consumer Technology Ownership and Market Potential Study. CTA estimates that 3.9 million VR/AR headsets shipped in 2017 and 4.9 million headsets will ship in 2018.

What are People Doing with VR?

There are thousands of games, 360-degree videos, live music and event experiences, and immersive movies available. HTC says there are more than 3,000 titles on its Vive headset; Sony has more than 100 titles for its VR headset; and Oculus just announced over 1,000 titles for its Oculus Go standalone headset.

For those without their own headset, there are opportunities to experience VR outside of the home. VR arcades have opened across the U.S., where people can pay for time with a headset. The Oriental Science Fiction Valley theme park in Guizhou, China offers 35 rides that are completely VR-driven. Museums are using VR to educate their visitors, and retailers are using it to engage customers.

There has been a large influx of capital raised that will help bring AR/VR hardware and software to the next level. Digi-Capital reported more than $3 billion in AR/VR investment in 2017, representing a 30 percent increase over 2016. Many in the industry look to emerging technologies like 5G cellular and 8K video displays to offer smoother, more seamless virtual and augmented experiences in the coming year.

Developers believe that 5G will allow higher-end headsets to be untethered from PCs completely for truly mobile VR and AR experiences. And 8K video is expected to improve image quality, especially reducing the “screen door” effect, a problem among lower-definition headset screens where you see the unlit space between pixels. On the software front, investors are putting resources toward solutions that allow developers to easily construct 3D environments and deploy their virtual worlds at scale.

It’s an exciting time for the AR/VR industry. With the approaching advancements in 5G, 8K and 3D, the possibilities look virtually limitless.

July/August 2018 i3 Cover Issue

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