Was 2016 really the year of VR and what’s to come in 2017?

2016 was dubbed as the year it was all going to come together for virtual reality. Thankfully, this time round, expectations were met.

VR has gone mainstream

In an explosive year for the fledgling industry we’ve had major hardware releases from some of the largest and most influential companies in the tech world; a VR presence at all the major tech and creative expos; virtual reality head-mounted displays (HMDs) being sold on the highstreet, advertised in magazines and on cereal box promotions; appearances on TV shows – including The Apprentice; and there’s even a Donald Trump VR sim! Virtual reality has never before enjoyed such mainstream acceptance and awareness.

Beyond a gimmick

One of the reasons for this is the increase in the number of well-known and trusted brands creating compelling VR content, and at the same time helping to drive awareness of the medium. From high-end large scale installations and record-breaking social VR experiences, like the launch of the new Jaguar I-PACE concept car, to the simple yet incredibly poignant and powerful 360 degree videos filmed in Syria and Sierra Leone, the public is suddenly gaining access to a huge spectrum of high quality content. Without great content this industry will fail. It’s therefore important that we’ve already surpassed the gimmick status with VR and now brands and marketers are adopting the medium with serious intent to create quality content that utilises the powerful, transportive medium to truly engage, educate and entertain.

Just as importantly, there is now an audience for this content. The most recent sales estimates for the “big three” headset manufacturers are around 350,000 (Oculus), 450,000 (HTC) and 750,000 (Sony). It’s hard to believe that 12 months ago these HMDs were just available to developers. Now hundreds of thousands of consumers have access to these portals to the metaverse in their own homes.

What’s missing?

Despite all the hardware launches and hype, what we haven’t seen this year is a killer VR app which will do to VR what Pokémon Go did to AR. Resident Evil VII: Biohazard coming out in January on PlayStation VR may well change that.

2017 and beyond

We’ve also seen a bit of a VR goldrush this year, with all the ancillary industries – accessory manufacturers and other third parties – jumping on the bandwagon eager to make the most of the growing industry. Will the enthusiasm hold as we move into 2017, or is this just the start?

One of the major areas where I expect to see growth next year is in eye-tracking technology. Palmer Luckey has said it’s a “critical part” of the future of VR technology and I couldn’t agree more. It will fundamentally improve the user experience through intuitive user input, secure authentication, improved graphics, and expressive social interaction.

Take for example, Project Falcon, a AAA quality launch day demo we created for the FOVE 0 headset. This on-the-rails shooter takes full advantage of the smoothness of the eye-tracking software in the HMD while using ‘foveated rendering’; a technique that will become increasingly important for creating impressive VR content that runs efficiently. Aside from simply allowing users to shoot rockets and lasers out their eyes – which is awesome whichever way you look at it! – eye-tracking technology will be used to bring new levels of immersion to VR experiences. By implementing this, developers can add new depths to AI characters and NPCs (non-playable characters) in their content. Imagine a character who can respond to you based on where your eyes are looking. This will be an incredibly powerful addition to a developer’s toolkit!

Continuing with additions that will enhance the Virtual Reality experience, we’re also going to see a huge increase in new peripherals for existing VR hardware. Valve opened up their Vive tracking technology to developers in 2016, and this will certainly lead to third party controllers, headsets and other add-ons coming to market. Soon we’ll be able to buy controllers that track our fingers, provide a realistic feel for various weapons, and even allow us to track our lower limbs for a completely immersive experience!

On top of all this, here’s my top five predictions for 2017 and beyond:

  1. We will either hear rumors or get a reveal about the next generation of PC VR hardware including higher per-eye resolution and expanded field of view
  2. Built-in headphones will become the norm
  3. We will see prominent mobile devices with 4K screens making for very high resolution mobile VR
  4. APPLE changing the game…bringing a robust AR/VR/MR proposition to the market
  5. Within entertainment, we’ll see announcements of lots of VR add ons, rather than whole games/TV shows/films being made in VR

 

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