Is America Ready for VR?

Is the US ready for virtual reality? Some people believe that augmented reality (AR) is easier to adopt so it’ll take precedence over virtual reality (VR). Briefly, AR is adding graphics to the world around us (Pokemon Go is a perfect viral example); whereas VR involves stepping into another world. You play AR with your mobile device but you needn’t wear an HMD (head-mounted display) like Rift, Vive, or Gear. Others like myself believe that consumers are going to prefer fully immersive VR experiences over AR and thus VR will dominate the market.

After spending some time exploring the different apps on both the Rift and the Vive, I’ve come across some immediate hurdles that threaten to postpone the world’s adoption of virtual reality technology. If you don’t know, the amount of rendering required for HD 360 video and VR movie/game experiences requires a top-notch gaming computer with the latest graphics card and best RAM available. Typical consumers have been given other options like purchasing a Samsung phone or buying the newest PlayStation, but that still involves several hundred dollars investment in an emerging technology. You can see the numbers start to add up since you not only need to invest in a quality HMD that runs between $100–700, you must also buy the latest gaming system, which costs between $500 to $2,000. This down-payment is the first hurdle for consumer adoption. Making people crave VR experiences will probably be the key to compelling them to finance or outright buy the new technology.

Okay, so you have your HMD and gaming system ready to go. After setting it up, you face the next major hurdle. (The setup process was a tad tedious for me not knowing the different connections involved, but to an avid gamer it should be quite simple; hence a niche market with perhaps a steep learning curve for average consumers.) You have two options: stream or download. Downloading is preferable because the content plays without glitches. However, then you need to think about time and storage space. With consumers accustomed to instantaneous gratification, downloading is not the preference here. People would prefer to browse and watch, or browse and experience, without any delay. But given the incredible amount of rendering involved in 360 video and VR experiences, typical internet plans will lag in the streaming option. I experienced this with vrideo, discovery VR, within, and oculus video. None of the streaming options played smoothly. It wasn’t a problem with the app but rather my internet (which works great with Netlfix), since my internet plan isn’t setup to render such immersive video experiences.

So if you get people to invest in an appropriate system and then upgrade their internet plans, it’s easy to imagine a sizable portion of modern America using HMDs as another entertainment system in their households. Virtual reality has the promise to appeal to all demographics, which its gold rush of content definitely encourages. Although America isn’t quite VR-ready, it’ll take less than seven years before the wave pulls a good amount of people into it. VR is already incredible in its infancy and the possibilities are becoming better with each new release. It’ll soon become the preferred entertainment platform in the home; it’s only a matter of time.