Now That Virtual Reality Is a Reality, What’s Next for the Tech Format? (Guest Blog)

Get ready, consumers: VR is no longer the stuff of sci-fi movies

Last Updated: June 21, 2016 @ 10:41 PM

Contributed By LEKTechnological advancements along with price-point drops are setting the stage for virtual reality (VR) to take off for some applications. But what is the status of VR today?

When people think of VR, only one format comes to mind. In reality, there are three formats: super virtual reality, medium virtual reality and casual mobile virtual reality.

three types and formats of virtual reality including Super VR, Medium VR and Casual Mobile VR, along with some key brands in each categorySuper virtual reality is the format we hear about most. It has garnered the most attention because it offers the most realistic VR experience. Facebook Oculus Rift, Sony Project Morpheus and Microsoft HoloLens are three of the most prominent headsets for Super VR. These headsets provide several features that make this VR experience unique:

  • 360 degree head tracking, so viewers can look around as in the real world
  • Wide field of view (Oculus provides 110 degrees)
  • 3D positional audio (Morpheus)
  • Augmented reality (HoloLens lays holographic images over real-world scenery)

Although super VR offers hardcore immersive entertainment, the format is experiencing some growing pains:

  • The cost to develop content is still high; as such, only a few developers are churning out content for this format, and only a limited number of games are currently available
  • Fan favorites include VR updates to older hardcore gaming franchises such as “Elite,” “Half-Life” and “Minecraft,” but super VR might take off when games specifically for this format are created (think “Avatar” for VR)
  • The game play experience for many of the super VR headsets can be subpar for some players (for example, low frame rate can cause nausea), and 2.0 versions of these sets will undoubtedly make the experience better

Medium virtual reality headsets provide a lower-cost approach to super VR because a smartphone contains the VR power, which means less expensive glasses (for example, cardboard “glasses” with Google’s product).

a medium virtual reality headset and highlights Google's cardboard glassesKey elements of this format include:

  • An app to split the smartphone screen
  • Tracking of head orientation via built-in phone sensors (gyroscope, magnetic compass, gravity sensor)
  • Tracking of the head’s location via GPS accelerometers

The beauty of this format is that “virtually” anyone can use it, as it’s smartphone enabled:

  • Google Cardboard is the cheapest format (approximately $5-$60) and can be used with any phone with iOS or Jelly Bean 4.1 or later
  • Carl Zeiss VR One is approximately $100 and can be used with any iOS or Android with a 4.7-inch to 5.2-inch screen
  • Samsung Gear VR, at approximately $200, is the most expensive option in this format and is for use exclusively on Samsung smartphones (Note 4 or Galaxy 6S)

With relatively inexpensive headsets already on the market, along with the availability of open-source development kits and easily upgradeable software via any smartphone, developers are already churning out content for this VR format (fan favorites include rollercoaster rides enabling front seat riding, zombie shootouts and even a Volvo test drive).

While medium VR devices cost less than super VR headsets, the third VR format — casual mobile VR — is the cheapest alternative to VR that is accessible to a broad consumer base. The casual mobile VR approach is enabled by one’s smartphone and is the only way for the masses to view VR content without expensive glasses (or the dorky headset). This format is an optimal vehicle for music videos, movie trailers, film shorts and other forms of entertainment that people want to keep in their pockets.

If you’ve never seen casual mobile VR, you can try it right now. “American Express Unstaged: Taylor Swift Experience” allows fans to interact in Swift’s “Blank Space” music video. You can navigate through the video on your own. While the app required for this experience is a big download, there are new approaches on the horizon that will make these experiences easier and more seamless.

Virtual reality is an exciting technology, but those implementing it need to ask some tough questions:

  1. What consumer applications are the most appealing?
  2. Which application will be the tipping point for mass adoption?
  3. How should companies think about VR experiences for their own business?
  4. What is going to be the business model that works?

We will explore these and other questions over the next few weeks in our series on virtual reality.

This is Part 1 in a series on virtual reality trends by Dan Schechter, Gil Moran and Francesco Di Ianni from L.E.K. Consulting’s Media & Entertainment consulting practice.