Sales of smartphone VR devices such as Google’s Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR headset will reach 14.5m this year, according to a forecast by CCS Insight.
There will also be some 2 million dedicated VR headsets, like the Oculus Rift (pictured) and HTC Vive sold this year, the research firm said.
CCS Insight chief of research Ben Wood said: “Virtual reality has clearly captured consumers’ imagination, particularly those that have had a chance to try it.
“The affordability of basic cardboard headsets makes virtual reality easily accessible to smartphone owners, and the explosion of 360-degree content is taking awareness to new levels.”
CCS Insight said that in May, Google revealed that its Cardboard application has been installed over 50 million times, up from 25 million installs in January 2016.
In July, Oculus VR disclosed there were more than 1 million monthly active users of the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR, and this month it was announced that more than 250,000 360-degree videos have been uploaded to Facebook.
“The momentum of 360-degree content is palpable and that’s driving sales of VR headsets,” added Wood.
“All major content providers are piling into this area, and user-generated content is poised to explode as more affordable 360-degree cameras come to market.
“We envision a world where ‘surroundie’ photos and videos become the next big thing, especially as 360-degree content can be so easily shared with more than 1.7 billion Facebook and YouTube users.
“Although it’s early days for dedicated virtual reality, it’s a promising market. HTC and Oculus VR struggled to meet demand when they launched their products and we expect a further wave of sales when Sony launches the PlayStation VR headset.”
CCS Insight estimates that the total VR device market will be worth $1.5 billion in 2016, rising to $11 billion by 2020.
CCS said the market for augmented reality devices is progressing more slowly than expected, with sales of 200,000 units forecast for 2016. It expects the figure to rise to 7 million unit sales in 2020.
Wood said: “We expect augmented reality technology to evolve quickly and the experience to improve dramatically.
“It’s little surprise that companies such as Microsoft and Google are placing such big bets in this area.
“The added dimension of the Pokemon Go craze has undoubtedly raised awareness of the potential for augmented reality. That can only be positive for the technology.”