The fact that this is my fifth Oculus conference is an indicator that this technology has a significant future and that the future is looking better. The market for headsets will likely take a decade to approach 10% of the market currently enjoyed by TVs or mobile phones but Facebook seems committed to a long haul. While the Rift is still the highest fidelity device Oculus makes, the Quest is the most advanced because it can be tetherless (or tethered for higher fidelity).
One thing we need to get out of the way is that VR is not VR anymore, at least not all the time. The Oculus Quest is an XR device. What does this mean? It means that an array of cameras bring “the real world” into view at times when you are using this headset. This can be experienced in many ways. Right now, the most important aspect is an indicator for when you leave the “play zone” or movement safety boundaries in virtual reality. When you do, the real-world environment comes into view. The enabling array of cameras for this feature makes it possible to not view any CGI whatsoever and completely view RR (real reality). I define CGI in XR, as environmental elements that are not there in real life, or real-world objects that have been retextured or “re-skinned.” VR and AR are “states” of XR. VR occurs when the whole field of view is not real. AR is when RR is “enhanced” with CGI. XR is all of the above.
An important benefit of XR is that the user can accomplish small tasks without removing the headset. To see RR when they need it, like to grab a beer, flipping a light switch, check for messages, etc.. When needed, the user’s FOV (field of view) can be set to complete RR, PIP (picture in picture) of RR, or some kind of “blend” with semi-transparency, all via the cameras on the front of the headset. The headset can and will use the cameras and sounds around the user to switch to or blend RR into the experience based on the situation.
|Oculus virtual 2D content viewing room. (Source: medium.com)
The market for applications based on exclusive VR state is limited and is primarily made up of games. The market for XR is limitless. Ironically, the state that is likely the key to a mass-market installed base is traditional 2D video. It can be viewed in a partial VR environment like sitting in a room that is not there in RR; however, the video image is film, television, and streaming content. Alternatively, the user can view the video content using their whole field of view.
The tipping point for the market will be when the “screen door effect” (visible delineation of pixels) is appreciably reduced or eliminated and/or when perceived resolution matches mass-market TV resolution. When this occurs, people in large numbers will use these devices for private viewing of traditional content in an environment that is arguably superior to most people’s TV. I am not an expert in microdisplays but based on the advancements I have observed over the years we are not too far away. Let’s keep this in perspective though. Large hi-res traditional displays will remain superior for comfort, social aspects, and other factors. But when privacy, money, and portability are key factors, XR headsets will be a superior solution.
To conclude, a mass-market installed base, which I believe hinges on personal video, will cause a chain reaction of content creation. Major game studios will not just release a VR game here and there but will include the platform on their regular release schedule.