Virtual Reality’s Disappearing Act?

When was the last time you used a Virtual Reality better known as VR? Mine was in a digital strategy class back in October. I experienced Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport terminals sitting in a room at New Haven. The VR allowed me to walk towards duty-free shops and boarding gates. All good and exciting! So why is VR putting in a disappearing act?

I agree with much of the recent article in the Economist titled, “Game over for virtual reality?”. I have actually developed a virtual reality video of a brewery, museum and a research lab this past summer. We used 360 degree cameras to capture the images. While it was challenging to get the setting right, it was one of the best projects I had done in a long time. We even managed to draw attention from people passing throughout the video shoot. I was told that editing was the toughest process. Images taken with the 360 degree camera had to be ‘stitched’ together to form the VR experience. It was a time consuming process. The cost was extremely high too. Each minute of video ended up costing us around $10,000. The video was intended for customer education and advocacy, where a sales person would use the VR as a tool to capture the buyer’s imagination. Used in a targeted fashion, VR could carve out a niche for itself.

Let’s analyze a few aspects of VR. First of all, the user has to put on a HUGE eye ware. In most cases one would need to insert a smartphone in that eye ware. The smartphone needs special apps that can play the VR. Each step is adding friction point to the user. On top of that, once the user wears the VR device, there is no visibility of the outside world. Remaining stationary in a safe environment is probably the best way to use VR. There is of coures the cost aspect of VR. An eye ware could cost anywhere between $15 to $1000.

There isn’t all doom and gloom with VR usage. Apps are easy to find. Dedicated VR videos allow users to experience any environment in 3D. It’s a great way to educate about products and services. Gaming can be fun with VR. Sony’s Playstation has a dedicated VR eye ware. Microsoft’s X Box uses a similar platform named “Mixed Reality.”

What would it take for VR to be really popular and mainstream? Perhaps the first step is for the eye ware to be smaller - just like our sunglasses. Even better if it can be transparent and good for everyday usage with technology to convert it into VR mode when desired. I think it should not cost more than a pair of Oakley. There should be a conversion capability for existing videos to VR. I believe sports is one avenue VR could work wonders in. Imagine watching your favorite Football game on a VR set where you get the view from a Quarterback position. Let’s take it a step further. What if you could switch views to the Linebacker, Coach or even the Referee? Wouldn’t your experience be so much richer?

Are these more wishful thinking than practical solutions? Perhaps for now! There needs to be a higher integration of existing technologies and new ones. Further, our interaction with technology in our daily lives needs to convert to VR. Sadly, the direction VR is heading in doesn’t look like it’s on the path to further innovation. Rather it seems VR is facing the same fate as 3D glasses.

It’s too bad for VR to have captured our imaginations but didn’t manage to gain economies of scale on time. As a result, it got beat by other technologies that were simpler to develop and use. Will VR make a comeback in the next decade? Let’s wait and see!