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Time to Invest in Virtual Reality?

Should I deploy the latest virtual reality (VR) technology if I know that the customer experience will still be lacking? That's the question that telecom and entertainment companies are asking right now.

With the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) now securely in the rear view mirror, one thing is clear: Virtual reality (VR) is, well, a reality. And you'll find it difficult to read anything about the overall theme of the show that doesn't have VR right in the middle of the discussion. We've long known that the gaming community and Hollywood have an obvious interest in VR and are getting in on the action quickly. NBC (through its partnership with Samsung) even dipped its virtual toes in the water just last summer by broadcasting delayed recordings of events at the Brazil Summer Olympic Games in VR.

Is it perfect? No. But it works.

Issues around hardware (many reporting that the headgear is just plain uncomfortable), supporting infrastructure and content remain -- all negatively impacting the overall customer experience (CX). But as Variety notes, Hollywood players are clearly hedging their bets. During CES last month, the Fox Innovation Lab even demonstrated a first exploration of augmented reality (AR) that made use of Osterhout Design Group-s (ODG) glasses, which let users explore short video snippets based on the upcoming Alien: Covenant movie in an AR setting. So VR is definitely happening. (See CES Preview: The Service Provider Edition and A Photo Tour of CES 2017.)

Early adopters, as you may have noticed, tend to see beyond initial limitations to the potential of a technology. Just look at the evolution of VCRs to DVDs to HD streaming; or the brick phone to the flip phone to the smartphone, as examples. You might think of the NBC/Samsung Summer Olympics effort as the VCR of VR.

Moore's Law will march us toward new, better, wearable VR and AR devices, giving companies an increasing opportunity to innovate around content and customer experience. Many VR ventures are overcoming the challenges of device exclusivity and increasing mobility by offering mobile applications that do not require headgear. It's not just Fox: Disney, Lionsgate and Lucasfilm have also expressed interest in implementing VR to attract an early adopter audience of thrill-seekers and adventurers beyond gaming platforms -- as have Netflix and The New York Times, too.

As a result, many industry observers project that VR revenue will grow exponentially in the coming years. Tim Merel, managing director at Digi Capital, forecasts that the AR and VR markets will hit $150 billion in combined revenue by 2020, bringing in about $120 billion and $30 billion, respectively.

Companies are already getting creative in their attempts to leverage VR. Universities are using it for campus visits for students that can't travel. Retailers can provide in-home "dressing rooms." Broadcasters can put you courtside, ringside, fieldside at sporting events. Moviemakers and advertisers can put the audience in the middle of a video experience.

Success in leveraging VR's positive impact on customer experience, now and down the road, will require significant investment and commitment from the content producers, as well as partnerships with device makers like Oculus Rift and its Samsung Gear VR, PlayStation VR, HTC Vive or Google Cardboard, to name just a few. Not to mention the need for much faster Internet speeds, better battery life, smaller, better headsets (or no headsets), and better 360-degree camera equipment with higher resolution picture quality.

The decision to pursue VR now or later is an important one. What is your business case? Is it a first-mover advantage to get the kinks out while early adopters are still forgiving? Can you increase advertising "stickiness" by a factor large enough to entice new advertisers? Does the C-suite simply want to be on the front lines of VR technology implementation? Whatever the reason, a business case supported by both money and talent is needed to create the best customer experience.

— P. Tracy Currie, CEO and Co-Founder, Capto Consulting

Mitch Wagner 2/13/2017 | 5:19:16 PM
Color me skeptical I'm skeptical VR has a future beyond a niche market in high-end gaming and training. It's Second Life for 2017. 
mendyk 2/14/2017 | 11:04:35 AM
Re: Color me skeptical But Mitch -- as actual reality drifts more deeply into a dark, depressing, dystopian morass, won't we all want some rose-colored VR glasses to feel like life is still worth the effort?
Mitch Wagner 2/14/2017 | 11:12:00 AM
Re: Color me skeptical Jack Daniels works for that. 
mendyk 2/14/2017 | 11:13:30 AM
Re: Color me skeptical Sure -- for those of us who prefer the analog world. But think of the kids.
Cary McDonald 2/16/2017 | 1:09:59 AM
Re: Color me skeptical EVERYTHING from 'radio' to 'Apples' started with a 'niche' market.

Sony is ramping up in a very controlled and AFFORDABLE direction IMHO. However, you're correct in the application being 'different' enough that it is NOT a direct replacement to 2D.

If the camera action moves even slightly 'too much' then dramamine is REQUIRED. It is very easy to 'forget' you are in VR, and 'react' badly. In a 'stand-up' simple action of a shuffle-puck game for example, I've obsrved very intelligent individuals reaching out as they would if a table top were actually in front of them, only to then fall on the floor. Futrure games will probably remain in the 'feet not moving' standing position, or in a seated position for example. A steady-cam method of recording is absolutely required.

Just about every first-time male user gets through trying on a headset, they ask: so when is porn going to be available?!   (So that's a BIG niche market on the horizon, kids aside!)
Mitch Wagner 2/16/2017 | 2:32:31 PM
Re: Color me skeptical What applications, other than gaming and some professional and training simulation apps, will VR be useful for? Why would the average person want to use it?

I was a Second Life addict. I remember trying to evangelize it to friends and colleagues, who said, "Second Life? I don't have time for my first life!" I see the same obstacle for VR. 

Even with regard to porn, there are already plenty of channels for that. Porn won't sell much VR.

kq4ym 2/22/2017 | 8:29:28 AM
Re: Color me skeptical I also would guess VR is going to be a niche market for many years to come maybe in the line of 3D TV which is cool, but just not up to mass market appeal considering the investment that's mandated in expensive hardware and those objects one must put over their eyes to enjoy the effects. If it weren't for the glasses and googles, it would surely be a fantastic frenzy everyone would buy into.
SimoneCormack 3/3/2017 | 7:27:17 AM
Amazing technology I don't know about you but I am extremely hyped about VR. I am thankful that I am young enough to be able to see how it starts and what it will bring. Just give VR a few more years and I bet it will be amazing!
kq4ym 3/20/2017 | 9:03:04 AM
Re: Amazing technology VR will certainly be big in a few years as the technology for disply improves and better applications become commonplace. The trick may be to predict just when the huge surge in demand and use will occur.
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