Weighing up whether VR is really here to stay

Does Virtual Reality have the potential to reshape the media industry like never before? Or, and say this quietly, is it just another curious and diverting flash in the pan that we’ll look back on with amusement in the years to come?

Without doubt VR has the potential to have a huge impact on technology and our relationship with it.

But these are early days, and, perhaps inevitably, few content producers, platform providers and UX developers are yet focusing on what VR means for consumers in the real world.

For VR to succeed necessitates that we look beyond our small industry bubble of friends and colleagues and explore the impact of VR on us personally, on our family, friends and the wider world.

If you make it, they will come

We believe 10% of the target market will have a VR headset by 2019-2020.

And ever higher rates of adoption are predicted by 2025, with an estimated 50% market penetration. Whilst this seems a big step from where we are now, we expect the adoption curve to steepen.

Lighter, more comfortable technology will be accompanied by lower prices, which will flow from economies of mass production and which will in turn encourage consumer spend and adoption. An increasing line-up of content will of course be a huge stimulus to market growth.

But these are early days and there are some who say that the glitz and glamour of VR is already beginning to wane.

This is good, though, as it shows we are moving through hype and onto a steady growth trajectory. The Gartner Hype Cycle is taking its hold, and consumers are no longer quite so dazzled by the platform.

It’s becoming clear the usage of VR for film and video viewing isn’t going to stick until technology and content is produced which accommodates the limitations as well as the strengths of VR technology.

By way of example, if the headsets are heavy, and day to day interruptions (children, doorbells, telephones… the list goes on), which on average occur every twenty minutes, create too much of a jarring experience for the user, then the best option is shorter form content. Sport and music both have frequent breaks and hence are well suited to consumption in small chunks.

Being able to feel as if you are at the concert or game whilst sitting comfortably in the warmth and dry of your own home, with cold beer just a short walk away? Now that is an experience not many people will pass up.

The User Experience UX

A virtual reality UX is different from that of any other platform.

We think, in the world of video consumption in VR, it’s important to offer a different perspective – literally, as well as metaphorically.

What does the viewer want to see? There is no point giving the viewer access to the entire stadium at a concert. They want to be front and centre with the best view possible – in the thick of the action.

When designing for VR we need to be aware of the capabilities of the device. Our research shows the intimate immersion of VR introduces a reduced tolerance for performance degradation. We need to build highly performant platforms to ensure VR users keep those headsets on and keep loving VR.

More than ever, content producers, developers and UX designers need to work side-by-side to give the best meaningful experience to VR visitors.

The worlds and experiences we are creating need to look realistic and they need to feel true for the visitor. Designers and developers need to learn a whole set of new skills, such as 3D design, animation, architecture, interior decoration, sign-spacing, packaging, theatre scenography, cinema, and so on.

Being able to make a 2D world is the stuff of yesterday. We are slowly, but inexorably transitioning to a new design paradigm where we will create, and immerse ourselves in new (virtual) realities.

Looking to the Future of VR

We have recently worked with Telekom [Deutsche Telekom] to deliver live music concerts in VR, delivering live and non-live events to an international audience.

Two of the biggest drawbacks of live events are logistics (some people simply can’t get there) and a finite audience capacity. Traditional TV and OTT can solve these limitations, but only VR can do it with such an immersive viewer experience.

What we are learning is that, to be truly effective and desirable to the target market, we must ensure the user experience remains the focus of VR innovation.

I am excited to see how the industry evolves and look forward to reliving my youth at a virtual festival without needing to even think about a tent, a waterproof or a dubious and over-priced burger.