Virtual reality tech is nothing new. It has been in existence for more than a decade now. It has already been widely commercialized for some years now. Top examples of VR systems include the Oculus Rift, the Samsung Gear VR, the PlayStation VR, and the many cheap VR headsets that can be used with smartphones to create a virtual reality experience.
The question: Will virtual reality eventually dominate visual entertainment? It certainly appeals to many consumer electronics users. It is easy for anyone to enjoy VR entertainment that it hardly becomes an option watching shows or movies on TV or in theaters. Can VR lead traditional visual entertainment to obsolescence?
What Is VR Entertainment?
Before answering these questions, it’s important to clearly define what VR is when it comes to entertainment. This post will not be discussing VR tech in general, but will focus on the ways VR technology is employed in the field of entertainment.
Basically, VR entertainment means the use of virtual reality technology for video games, cinema, and home or personal entertainment. These include the watching TV shows or movies and enjoying a virtual tour of a simulated world.
In virtual reality, a user’s sight or vision is almost completely filled by the VR picture. Peripheral vision is either blocked or filled by VR images. Essentially, what happens is that the user only sees what the VR system is showing. This leads to a more immersive entertainment. If offers a completely different visual experience.
Not even the best TVs you can find in a 40” TVs review, for instance, can compare to what VR can offer. A VR screen may be diminutive as compared to large LCD, LED, or OLED TV screens but it offers something not even the biggest TVs can provide.
The Technologies Behind VR Entertainment
Virtual Reality entertainment is more than just using a headgear that puts a display right before your eyes. Aside from the high quality screen on the VR headset, it’s also necessary to have a control system to be able to interact with what you are seeing on the screen. This can be a wired or wireless setup you can operate with your hands. Obviously, you can’t control the screen with your fingers since the screen cannot be accessed by your fingers. Advanced systems, however, may employ eye-tracking tech to let you interact with on-screen elements with your eyes. There are also those that let you control the screen with your head movements.
Additionally, the VR system has to have accelerometer and motion control components. These are necessary to create a sense of being in the virtual world shown on the VR screen. For example, if you turn your head to the right, the picture you see is not fixed. Instead, you see an image similar to what you would visually perceive when you turn your head or move it in other directions.
Moreover, VR systems come with haptic systems that deliver tactile information or “force feedback” to the user, creating a more immersive VR experience. They may also enable communication with other VR users and the ability to sense other nearby VR, which is particularly useful in multiplayer games.
Different Types of VR Systems Used for Entertainment
VR systems come in various forms, variants, types, and brands. Unlike smartphones that are limited to basically a common form factor and range of features, VR systems used in entertainment appear in three general variants:
- Standalone Systems. These are VR systems that can be used on their own. They come with their own screen, processor, software, and a full range of connectivity and control options. Examples of which are the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive Focus VR.
- Tethered Systems. As the name implies, these are VR systems that need to be connected to another device, a gaming console for example. Top examples are the VR systems for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
- Smartphone-Powered Systems. Also referred to as “phone holsters,” these are cheap devices that don’t have their own screens, computing hardware, and software. Essentially, they just serve as wearable smartphone holders. You need to install certain software on the smartphone to set up the VR system. Examples of this are Samsung’s VR Gear, Google Cardboard, and the numerous cheap generic VR boxes you can easily buy online.
VR Sales on the Rise
The prospects for VR systems, especially when used for personal or home entertainment, haven’t been all too rosy. As a consumer electronics product, VR systems remotely compare to the expected boom of smartphones or even tablets. However, VR sales have slowly risen in recent months.
Based on a report from market analysis firm Canalys, the global shipment of VR systems (not including cheap “phone holsters”) have exceeded 1 million in the 3rd quarter of 2017. Accordingly, Sony’s PlayStation VR leads the sales numbers with a majority market share after shipping an estimated 490,000 units. Oculus Rift is a distant second with 210,000 shipments while Oculus Rift and HTC Vive shipped 160,000 and 140,000 units respectively.
As mentioned, the prospects for commercial success of VR systems don’t compare to those of smartphones, tablets, as well as gaming consoles. It’s worth noting that gaming consoles PS4 and Xbox One achieved more than a million sales on their first day of availability alone. The 1 million shipment figure, however, is encouraging for a consumer tech that was hardly predicted to become a hit.
Will It Make Traditional Visual Entertainment Useless?
Finally, it’s time to answer the question posited on this post’s title. Do virtual reality systems really have the potential to make traditional visual entertainment systems useless? The unequivocal answer is a “no.”
VR systems definitely have their appeal. They enable more immersive media consumption and gaming. They easily make tech enthusiasts curious. However, there’s no way they would end up sending traditional visual entertainment options to futility.
The reasons can be summed up as follows:
- VR systems lessen or remove the social aspect of entertainment. People go to theaters even when they can enjoy movies through online streaming with their smart TVs or mobile devices. People want to enjoy certain things with other people and using VR systems are not the ideal way for “social entertaining.”
- Not everyone is comfortable wearing a headset to enjoy media content or play games. VR headsets have been designed to be light and be as comfortable as possible but there are still those who prefer watching movies or shows on TV.
- Smartphones didn’t send traditional visual entertainment to extinction. How can the less popular VR systems wipe out TVs when smartphones failed to do it?
- People have varying preferences and want options. It’s simply impossible for VR systems to supplant the traditional ways people consume media and use devices for entertainment because people are different in their wants.
- Traditional visual entertainment tech serves other purposes VR systems can’t serve. The TV, in particular, is not just an entertainment appliance but is something also used as an accent for a living room, a “status symbol”, a bigger display for a computer, and the display for gaming consoles (that are unlikely to be replaced by VR systems).
VR systems may be gaining sales recently but they certainly don’t pose any threat to traditional visual entertainment options. They are a welcome invention or innovation but they don’t have what it takes to be a disruptive tech for visual entertainment. If ever they do slowly supplant traditional visual entertainment, you can find updates and insights about it on my blog Techi Signals.