For those folks who attended the recent Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, no one could have escaped the major theme that permeated the show. Almost everywhere you turned, there was some VR demonstration or someone talking about VR and its potential impact on the game industry.
A few of us got to have meetings with some of the major tech enablers to see what is on their technology roadmaps as well as hear about their visions for VR’s future in gaming and beyond.
Over the years, I have learned that, if you want to peer into the future, you need to look at technology roadmaps. I have used this to guide all of my futuristic thinking and predictions. In 1982, I got to see the desktop-sized laser engine from Canon they were developing. That fall, I wrote I could “imagine publishing documents on a desktop.” Three years later, Apple tied the Mac, a laser printer, and Pagemaker together and birthed desktop publishing. In 1986, I saw the first CD ROMs in a lab and wrote we would soon be using them to integrate images, video and text into our computer since they held more space for data. In 1989, multimedia computing hit the scene and changed personal computing forever.
Over the last two years, I have had a chance to look at tech in labs and view tech developments behind the scenes that are just now starting to bring VR to the gaming world. Given what I have seen in the past six months regarding semiconductor and VR related designs, I am convinced VR will become one of the most disruptive technologies of our time. Although VR is going to redefine how we play computer games, I believe it is poised to disrupt many industries over the next five years.
In past columns, I have written about VR’s impact on travel, cruise lines and real estate. In the case of the cruise lines, the idea is to put prospective customers in the cabin they might want to book or to virtually explore the ship they are interested in cruising on. VR goggles could also be used to deliver VR-based armchair travel experiences. As for real estate, they want to be able to let a person interested in a house walk through it via a VR experience regardless of where they are in the world and use it to shorten the buying cycle.
The ad world sees it as a whole new storytelling medium. Last summer, the folks from Patron Tequila came to my office to show me a VR ad. It started by allowing me to walk the fields in Mexico where they cut the agave plants. It then transported me to their distilling facility to see how their tequila is made. And finally, they highlighted all three of their tequilas, discussing their flavor profiles. All in about 2 minutes. But the experience of viewing this in VR made the ad so memorable, I can still envision the whole thing today as if I had just seen it.
And we know that sports teams and broadcasters are looking at ways to use VR to make it possible to seem as if a person is in the front row at a game. Also, the entertainment industry is starting to embrace VR for future content.
It is within the entertainment world I see the most potential for serious disruption and it could change how moviemakers and TV producers deliver their content in the future.
The first area it could disrupt is the movie theater experience. Although most films quickly make it to cable TV, many still have theatrical releases first. However, if VR headsets can deliver high quality, 3D and 360 degree VR views of a movie, why not just stream that directly to a VR headset? If VR headsets get into consumer pricing ranges, you could even have a shared VR movie experience with people in the home or around the world. If this takes off, it could significantly impact physical theaters in the future.
A VR headset could also be the TV of the future. Today I watch all of my Netflix content on the Samsung Gear VR headset. If Netflix streams to a VR headset now, it is not hard to imagine HBO, Showtime, NBC, CBS, ABC, ESPN and all TV content streams being watched on a VR headset if it delivers a more immersive experience. Yes, we have many hurdles to jump through to get to this point but if ESPN lets me watch a sports event and it puts me courtside at a basketball game, why would I want to use a TV to watch that game? Or if movies and TV shows are shot in VR formats, watching them on a VR headset will be the only way to get this experience.
While this won’t happen anytime soon, I do think VR headsets could eventually replace the TV for many consumers in the future.
The other industry it could really disrupt is the consumer PC business.Consumers more and more use their PCs or tablets for consumption rather than creation tools. They watch streaming media like YouTube and Netflix. They use social media and read news and gossip blogs and they browse to find content of their liking. If we have advances in voice recognition, voice dictation, eye tracking and voice commands via Siri or Cortana and a lot of the content and apps are VR enabled, why would consumers buy a PC in the future? The VR headset would deliver an immersive experience and make personal computing even more personal. While I believe VR in business settings will be used to augment business applications such as the ones I mentioned, I can see a VR headset with a VR ecosystem of consumer content and services being highly disruptive and becoming the consumer PC of the future.
The more I look at VR as a disruptive force, the more I can see how it could impact just about any industry in dramatic ways in the future.
We have a lot of technical hurdles to get through but VR in various forms applied to all types of applications and services could change the face of business and consumer markets in ways we can’t even imagine today. This is a technology with broad reach and it will make personal computing exciting again.