Don’t Feed the FUD: VR Sales Won’t Flatline. Here are 4 Reasons Why.

The Evolution of Cinema: Peripheral Immersion

A big clue as to why VR won’t die, is in the subheading above. But we’ll get to it in a bit. First, let’s look at a curious phenomenon taking place in world of movie theaters: the need for greater immersion.

Some readers will notice the cheeky header composite image, above. One image of the composite, is of a new method aimed at getting immersion into conventional Cinemas and Cinema multiplexes. The other image is an Imax®-in-your-pocket like offering; a VR head mounted display.

That first image in the composite is of a movie presentation format: Barco Escape.

What is Barco Escape?

The video intro explains it, and co-incidentally uses terminology that’s familiar to anyone who’s experienced today’s Virtual Reality. From Barco’s own website:

Imagine looking around during key movie scenes and actually seeing what it would feel like to view the story all around you.

Barco even chose to introduce the concept via a VR headset — the Samsung GearVR, to drive the point home about the future of immersive movie viewing. So there you have it: Reason Number One*

VR headset sales won’t flatline as some news outlets would quickly have you believe. In fact, the very survey quoted in that article is not an accurate indicator, as Palmer Luckey pointed out in a series of tweets:

Reason #2: The Existence of “VR Sleeper Cells”

Yes, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are the only two high-end VR HMDs out there at this moment, and their price tags of between $600–800 won’t have customers making a beeline to get one, considering a beefy PC is also needed to run these VR HMDs. However, we carry a large number of “VR sleeper cells(phones)” in our pockets, ready to be activated at short notice. The cheap Google Cardboard can be called upon in a crunch, but even Samsung’s GearVR is only a $99 investment and is being given free with the Note 7 phones.

And now that China is getting into the VR (hardware and software) game, costs will come down. Which brings us to…

Reason #3: China

During his recent 50-minute keynote speech at the annual B20 (Business 20) summit, China’s President, Xi Jinping highlighted the need to establish an innovative world economy and he sees the growth of VR being an integral part of that initiative.

“…First, we need to build an innovative world economy to generate new drivers of growth. Innovation holds the key to fundamentally unleashing the growth potential. The new round of scientific and industrial revolution with Internet at its core is gathering momentum, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality are developing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “The combination of the virtual economy and the real economy will bring revolutionary changes to our way of work and way of life…”

Let’s not be naive. We know one of the big reasons Hollywood has gone formulaic with the need for a few scenes to be shot in China or Calcutta or to have Chinese or Indian actors in tentpole productions, is: these countries have huge populations and therein is the market. This same market has huge mobile/cellular penetration. They are the emerging market for VR.

Before we go on to the next reason, let’s re-read that last line of the President’s speech “…combination of the virtual economy…” you see what he did there? That’s the key!

Reason #4: Virtual Economy

Yes, literally, we will be building a Virtual economy. Did anyone really think Facebook would be investing 2 billion solely for a gaming headset? Facebook had already digitized “socializing” and that was much before Zuckerberg had tried on a VR headset. Today, through the Oculus Store you can rent and watch a blockbuster movie and for the price of a single ticket, you can “invite” up to 5 “VR guests” to view at no extra charge. Now while there are arguments that quickly pop up about how going to the movies is a “social event with family and friends”, we have to realize that family and friends who are far apart can now spend time with us, in Virtual Reality. That, is why Facebook invested in VR.

At a recent VR workshop for Google’s partner agencies at Google Dubai, I spoke to heads from JWT (the agency) on how VR content creation goes far beyond 360 video adverts and we delved into understanding the far reaching implications of China’s Alibaba brand, venturing into VR.

The point is, much like being able to visit a supermarket in VR and turn on a “gluten free” filter to quickly navigate a whole supermarket aisle, audiences are ready for the next level of engagement, be it entertainment or e-commerce, and VR is making it possible. FUD propagators will have you believe VR is a fad, and they’ll bring in the old 3DTV argument. In my mind there was no doubt 3DTV would fail. I’d said it back in 2010: There’s just no immersion in a 42-inch display.

* Rather than pontificating on why VR and VR sales won’t flatline, let’s give content creators a solid avenue to work on — formatting legacy content for VR. We don’t strictly need 360 video or a 360 field of view to enjoy the benefits of an Imax® like screen that a VR headset offers. Even NetFlix or downloaded movies, are an enjoyable experience on a huge VR screen, when there are a few hours to kill at waiting lounges or on long journeys. How do we convert content to Barco Escape format? Luckily, there’s Mov2Escape, on Github

Clyde DeSouza is a Creative Tech evangelist and VR filmmaker. He is invited to speak on topics including VR, though not often enough, ironically, due to his geographic location.

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