Since when virtual reality became such a hot trend?

Disney announces a $67 million investment on the virtual reality studio Jaunt, CNN says you will be able to watch the upcoming Democrats debate in virtual reality and a VR-based execution experience wins an Emmy Award. All of this happened in the last 10 days.

Virtual reality is raising so much attention in some many frontiers these days that is hard to remember that only over a year ago that virtual reality started to build its reputation as the next tech revolution.

Maria Korolov, the editor in chief of Hypergrid Business, began covering virtual reality in 2009 after attending a virtual conference held by IBM in Second Life. She pinpoints the time and date when general perception of virtual reality shifted: March 25, 2014.

“Facebook’s $2 billion investment in Oculus woke people up and signaled the arrival of virtual reality as a serious thing, and jump started a bit of land rush in virtual reality investments”, says Korolov.
Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR was a game changer for VR. (Photo: Twitter)

Some big names in the tech and media industries have since joined Facebook in the competition for the public and early developers attention. By searching the term “virtual reality” in Google Trends we get a nice little graphic showcasing the rise of interest in searches with the term "virtual reality", starting at the beginning of 2014.

And with the aid of Topsy to ask Twitter what were the significant events causing the peaks seen in Google Trend's graphic, we can complete a timeline with the episodes that helped increase in 164% the search for virtual reality within the last 19 months.

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From what Google Trends show us we can also infer that since January 2015 the interest around virtual reality has not returned to the same baseline of the previous year. Who is responsible for that? We are looking at you Sundance Film Festival! This 2015 edition showcased Nonny de la Pena's immersive journalism Project Syria and where VICE News debuted the first virtual reality newscast.

From a storyteller's perspective it is satisfying to relate the increased interest in virtual reality with the chance provided by the Sundance Festival for the public to get in touch with high quality VR content. Maria Korolov also chimed in on the possibilities for immersive journalism citing Project Syria as an example. "By putting people into the middle of an event, virtual reality can really connect viewers to events on a deeper, emotional level", the expert said.

Of course it's pointless to dissociate the big investments on VR technology and the fame of virtual reality. Because of the role that big tech companies announcements seem to have played in the increasing hype for virtual reality, I asked Google Trends to show me how the devices compare in terms of search interest during the same 19 months, starting in January 2014 until September 25, 2015. And here it is:

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Facebook's Oculus leads the searches when compared to Google Cardboard, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear and Playstation VR (formerly known as Project Morpheus). But in the real world, the only device currently in the market is Google Cardboard.

"There are now a couple of million Google Cardboard-compatible devices in user hands. The two big Chinese shopping sites — Taobao and AliBaba — are selling 300,000 headsets every month. There are Google Cardboard give-aways everywhere you look — they’re even showing up in cereal boxes", indicates Maria Korolov.

According to the expert, "console and PC-based headsets like Oculus, Vive and Playstation VR are going to be a niche market by comparison, dominated by hard-core gamers and early adopters".

"I think that mobile-based headsets are going to dominate because of the lower costs and ease of use and greater variety of content. In addition, mobile hardware is replaced more quickly by users and so evolves more quickly. Console and PC-based headsets like Oculus, Vive and Playstation VR are going to be a niche market by comparison, dominated by hard-core gamers and early adopters", projects Maria Korolov for the next 2 years for the industry virtual reality.
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