The most anticipated – and potentially radical and even revolutionary – change in the direction of video is likely to come from the mass adoption of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in the next few years. This could potentially dwarf all the other changes we discussed. However, there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts over the past 30 years at mass-market VR; and very recently the much hyped Google Glass (an AR gadget) failed commercially even with the backing of the mighty Google. There is no guarantee that VR and AR will be successfully adopted by the mass public in the near future.
There are some major differences between VR and AR. Virtual reality (VR) replaces the real world with a computer simulated one, and the user is completely immersed within the computer generated virtual environment. In contrast, augmented reality (AR) overlays 3D graphics onto our view of the real world, thereby enhancing one’s perception of the real world. Elements in the real world are augmented by computer generated objects in the forms of screens, menus and other information. Both AR and VR have the potential to transform gaming, entertainment, communication, healthcare and industry, and indeed the way we interact and share experiences with each other.
Several VR devices have been released, and more are set to be released very soon. Samsung’s Gear VR headset is already available for retail at $99/£80. Google is trying to get VR into the hands of as many people as it can, with the $20 Google Cardboard VR headset. HTC is planning to launch HTC Vive soon. Facebook invested $2billion to acquire the VR company, Oculus Rift, and its much hyped VR headset is due for release in early 2016 (with the developer’s version already available at $350). This is dubbed by Mark Zuckerberg as ‘the next major computing and communication platform that will come after mobile’. These VR devices are expected to introduce a new medium to integrate with popular social media platforms, video channels, and direct messaging. If successful, the implications could be very profound.
In AR, there are several companies developing new products, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens; but a new startup, Magic Leap, managed to secure a $540million investment involving Google and Qualcomm, and it released a video on YouTube in 2015 to demonstrate the enormous potential of its AR technology to incorporate objects and the real world environment, and the exciting new experiences it creates for the users.
Like Google Glass, it is still possible that VR and AR will not be taken up by the general public in the near future, but a growing number of firms and investors are betting billions of dollars on their success. Citi analysts forecast the total market for AR and VR will be around $674 billion by 2025, including $400 billion for AR commerce, $125 billion for the AR headset hardware and associated phone and video services; and $113 billion for VR products and services. Many commentators believe that 2016 is the year when AR and VR will begin to take off. However, due to the lack of content and applications, it may take a few more years before VR and AR actually become widely adopted, not only in games and entertainment, but also in healthcare, education, and public services, and in many other applications such as meetings via virtual presence in different business and social contexts.
With retail products such as Samsung’s Gear VR headset and Google’s Cardboard VR, anyone with a smartphone can already enjoy a 360 degree private virtual experience. With a range of new VR and AR products aimed at the retail market to be launched soon, video is on the verge of being transformed by VR and AR to create genuinely immersive, virtual or augmented experiences. Video VR, immersive video and VR film could become as big as cinema and television, with significant implications for entertainment, education, industry and commerce. Real world applications that stand to benefit from the use of these devices range from gaming and communication, to architecture and medicine. Although VR and AR have not hit the mainstream market yet, an exponential growth is highly likely judging by the huge bets placed by some of the biggest and most powerful technology companies in the world. When that happens, AR and VR will transform not only video, but also a wide range of industries.