What is virtual reality? Of the various forms of extended reality now available in the digital landscape, “virtual reality”, or “VR”, is one of the best understood. Virtual reality technology allows for the creation of “virtual” landscapes and environments which feel almost exactly the same as interacting with the real world.
Interest in virtual reality is currently growing at a significant rate, with a forecast 48.7% CAGR between the period of 2021 and 2026. Accelerated in part by the pandemic of 2020, virtual reality promises a way to bridge physical distances and create shared spaces which are fundamentally safe and often more flexible than the real world.
Currently, the market for VR is expected to grow from a value of only $6.3 billion in 2021, to $84.09 billion in 2028. That’s a pretty good insight into how compelling the marketplace really is.
Intrigued? Let’s learn more about VR.
What is VR? Virtual Reality Definition
Virtual Reality, or “VR” is the term used to refer to technology which enables interactions with virtual “digital” worlds. With virtual reality, developers and hardware creators build experiences in the real world which submerge us into a virtual world.
There’s a lot of hardware involved in the successful use of virtual reality. Unlike AR, which can be accessed through smartphones. Virtual reality relies on the use of headsets and controllers to enable interaction with the virtual world. The better the sensors, headsets, and hardware used in VR experiences, the more immersive it becomes.
The VR headset has evolved significantly over the years, from a clunky tool which requires constant connectivity to a computer system, to a standalone solution designed for more lightweight experiences.
However, there’s still room for growth, and many vendors are experimenting with what’s possible in the creation of higher-definition screens, better sensors, and AI computer vision.
Virtual reality solutions allow you to enter an immersive world built using computer software. When you turn your head, move your hand, or interact with something, your VR system can detect those movements.
Successful virtual reality requires the careful alignment of highly compelling software experiences and apps, matched with comfortable headsets and powerful hardware.
The History of VR: Where Did It Begin?
It’s difficult to say for certain where the first ideas around virtual reality began. However, for most people, the latest “resurgence” of the technology started with the earliest prototypes of the Oculus Rift – appearing during the E3 tradeshow in 2012.
Despite over a century of pondering and experimenting, it wasn’t until 2016 when we first began to see virtual reality as a true, consumer-ready product.
The first wave of VR headsets emerged in the form of the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift – connected to high-powered PCs. Even games consoles creators (like the PlayStation team) introduced their own “VR” headset. For many, the initial tools introduced for VR left much to be desired – but they also sparked a new wave of innovation.
In 2018, the first “standalone headsets” began pouring into the market, and by 2021, virtual reality had successfully transitioned from a position as a futuristic concept, to a mainstream technology.
Today’s tools are more impressive than ever, with more comfortable, lightweight headsets and incredible applications built for virtual exploration.
We’re beginning to see first-hand just how effective VR can be in the right environment. Now, endless consumers and companies are investing in VR, and innovation has never moved faster.
Achieving Virtual Reality: Use Cases
We’re still discovering how to create truly immersive “virtual reality” experiences. We know headsets and controllers are necessary, but innovation in the landscape has also paved the way to the use of things like artificial intelligence sensors, spatial audio, and computer vision.
Truly transformational virtual reality requires more than simply slipping on a headset and using it to walk around in a computer-generated environment.
Real “immersion” means allowing people to place themselves in an environment where they’re surrounded by and influenced by virtual sounds and sights. Virtual technology even needs to take our physiology into account.
For instance, human visual fields don’t look like the frame of a video. We have around 180-degrees of vision, which is why “field of view” in the VR world is constantly evolving.
If an implementation of virtual reality manages to get software, hardware, and sensory aspects right, then it can create a truly “immersive” experience for users.
With the right level of immersion, VR can support a range of use cases, including:
- Training and education: With VR, people can step into virtual environments where they can put their skills and knowledge to the test, without risk. This is extremely valuable in dangerous training situations, such as with the military and engineering.
- Customer experience: Virtual reality can deliver amazing customer experiences, allowing companies to create virtual shop floors or provide demonstrations of products. VR can even help with customer service interactions and showing clients how to use something.
- Entertainment: Many of the initial innovations in VR began with entertainment and the video game sector. Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a large number of companies experimenting with VR entertainment, in things like immersive games, movies and events.
- Collaboration: Particularly in the post-pandemic age, VR has excellent potential for collaboration and team work. With virtual reality, people can share a virtual space, work together on projects, and innovate without having to be face-to-face. This is an exciting step forward from video conferencing, as it enables a greater sense of presence.
- Travel and tourism: Travel companies began to invest in virtual reality during the pandemic as a way of helping customers to try visiting a destination before they booked a vacation. While virtual vacations may not replace real travel, they do open the door to an interesting way of seeing the world.
- Creation: In virtual reality innovators can experiment with digital twins of products, combine materials, and explore ideas, all without worrying about expense or waste. It’s extremely easy to create prototypes and new products using virtual reality.
What’s Next for Virtual Reality? The Future of VR
Virtual reality, like much of the extended reality landscape, is moving through a rapid period of transformation and growth. As digital transformation accelerates, creators in the VR landscape are achieving incredible new things.
In the virtual reality “software” space, VR augmented with AI has helped to pave the way to a new generation of VR experiences. Bringing AI algorithms into virtual reality apps makes it easier for machines to understand the interactions people want to have with their virtual spaces, allowing for more realistic experiences.
Computer vision, for instance, can enable things like eye, hand, and motion tracking to ensure people can interact with items in a virtual reality space in real-time. The same technology can also help with mapping physical spaces and making them feel more realistic to VR users.
In the VR “hardware” space, companies are experimenting with more lightweight viewing technologies, designed to eliminate things like the “screen door effect”, and provide a more human range of vision.
All the while innovative companies are building more complementary technology to work alongside the VR landscape, like more powerful processing chips, ergonomic headset designs, and even haptic feedback technology to further immerse us into our surroundings.
Market leaders in the tech world are already experimenting with 8K screens and new headset designs which would take VR devices into the realm of smart glasses.
Combine that with the rise of more intelligent algorithms, smarter 5G connections, and better development environments for building apps, and it’s easy to see a future in VR.
As VR products get smaller, more mobile, and more affordable, virtual reality is becoming less of a novelty and more of a mainstream investment. Accenture bought 60,000 Oculus Quest 2 headsets in 2021 for training purposes, and it’s not the only company paying more attention to VR.
Exploring Opportunities in VR
It’s hard to predict exactly where the future of virtual reality might take us – particularly since the industry has begun moving at such a rapid pace.
Ultimately, Virtual Reality today is quickly gaining attention as a powerful tool not just for entertainment, but for enterprise purposes too. Beyond games and interactive entertainment, virtual reality tools are showing their potential for things like PTSD treatment, pain relief, education, and design.
What’s more, countless companies believe these tools will be a critical investment in the future of collaboration post-pandemic.
While we might not be at the stage where everyone has their own “virtual world” to explore quite yet, investment in virtual reality is certainly evolving. As we look to the future, every company seems to have their own distinct vision of what virtual reality could become.
If vendors learn how to create truly engaging VR experiences with the right level of comfort, without draining company budgets, we really could see a future where the “metaverse” is the new landscape for work and creativity.