Facebook released the first Oculus Rift in 2016, along with a promise that Virtual Reality (VR) would not only radically redefine entertainment, but also the way we share content, learn, and communicate.
In 2017, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated his company’s goal was to have a billion people eventually using VR. Fast forward to 2019, and 171 million people use VR worldwide.
In 2016, only a handful of VR headsets were available; currently, you can choose between a multitude of models with varying price range and different features. Some +14 million of these Head Mounted Displays (HMDs), including augmented reality ones, are expected to be sold this year, and the market is projected to boom from $6.1 billion in 2016 to $160 billion in 2023, with an expected five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 78.3%, according to IDC.
IDC expects much of the growth will be driven by accelerating investments from the commercial and public sectors. The strongest spending growth over the 2019-2023 forecast period will come from the financial (133.9% CAGR) and infrastructure (122.8%) sectors, followed closely by the manufacturing and public sectors. Consumer spending on AR/VR, meanwhile, is expected to deliver a five-year CAGR of 52.2%.
Adding to this positive trend, the industry’s heavy hitters have released several new headsets this year: Valve released the pricey Valve Index VR, and Oculus upgraded the Rift with two products: a new flagship, PC-tethered Oculus Rift Sfeaturing inside-out tracking, and an untethered, standalone variant Oculus Quest, the company’s first all-in-one gaming system for virtual reality. Vive Cosmos, a PC-tethered VR system by HTC, is scheduled to go on sale this quarter.
And let’s not forget Pimax, a company that in 2016 came out with world’s first commercially available 4k headset. Its latest headsets, Pimax 5k and Pimax 8k, although not as refined and user-friendly like Oculus or Valve flagships, differentiate themselves by supporting vastly superior field of view and higher display resolution than any other consumer headset currently available.
Since 2016, the market has grown by leaps and bounds, and VR headsets have advanced along with it in meaningful ways, improving on first-generation devices in every aspect:
• Display resolution has increased. For example, first generation Oculus Rift CV1 had 1080×1200, while Pimax 8K features 2560×1440 pixels per screen (upscaledto 3840×2160).
• Inside-out tracking, the latest feature coming to VR HMDs, means quick setup, no external sensors, and more freedom of movement for the player; you no longer need to be surrounded by or facing sensors, relying instead on an HMD’s internal cameras to track your movement.
• All-in-one headsets are now more powerful than ever. Oculus Quest has 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF), allowing player to freely move in virtual space. By comparison, its predecessor Oculus Go had only 3 DoF — users could turn their head in virtual space, but they couldn’t not move in any direction. Oculus Quest also has a more powerful CPU (Qualcom Snapdragon 835 vs 821 found in Oculus Go), making the device 27% faster, while consuming 40% less power.
As you can see, the device line-up looks solid. Research company SuperData predicts the highest demand this year will be for Oculus Quest, for which it forecasts sales of 1.3 million units, thanks to “high consumer interest” and its standalone nature.
More money is in games; they account for 43% of VR’s $1.2 billion software revenue. Some of the promising games expected this year are “Stormland,” by Insomniac games; “Lone Echo II,” by Ready at Dawn; and “Defector,” by Twisted Pixel.
Businesses are adopting VR (and XR) at an increased pace as well, which will cause enterprise VR hardware and software revenue to jump 587% to $5.5 billion in 2023, up from an estimated $800 million in 2018, according to Business Insider Intelligence estimates.
“A growing number of companies are turning to VR as a way to drive training, collaboration, design, sales, and numerous other use cases,” said Tom Mainelli, IDC’s group vice president for devices and consumer research.
Companies like Walmart, Renault SA, Audi (a unit of Volkswagen AG), and Airbus are investing in companies that develop business-oriented headsets. They use them for everything from training and simulation to design and architecture.
Since their demands are different from those of gaming community, business-oriented headsets have different specs. One such head mounted display, Varjo VR-1, costs $5,995 (plus a $995 yearly service fee) and provides razor-sharp, 4k human-eye image quality aimed at industrial designers, architects, and engineers. It also features eye tracking technology, which tells the headset where your gaze is directed, to offer the best visual fidelity at that spot, as well as allow you to interact with the software using just your eyes.
But Varjo VR-1 isn’t for everyone. It’s a heavy, PC-tethered headset (2.2 pounds) that requires a workstation-grade PC to render the visuals. However, for companies that usually buy this device, the price tag is more like a chump change, and the benefits it brings are well worth the investment.
As you can see, VR is here to stay. The initial appeal of VR devices – immersion and presence – was never really lost and is now amplified by the improved tech in the latest headset offering. If new games and software keep coming, the demand will stay up, increasing the chances that sales figures will hit the projected levels in coming years.