Virtual reality has become a mainstay of today’s technology and entertainment industry in recent years. In the short span of a decade, VR devices (and their augmented reality cousins) have become smaller, more powerful, and more affordable, allowing them to finally penetrate the consumer market and prompt manufacturers and content creators to focus on the platform. Fortunately, the versatile computing resources of data centers have been able to facilitate the growth of mobile-based VR and helped companies to deliver unique online experiences with minimal latency.
Clearly, the future of VR technology is quite bright. In 2018, the global VR market was valued at $7.9 billion, with gaming applications taking up a sizable majority of the market. While the technical hurdles associated with VR once posed a number of challenges, innovations in graphics processors and memory have led to significant progress in recent years and fueled virtual reality popularity. As more companies invest in various VR use cases, the primary challenge going forward will be reducing costs for consumers. Retail VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or the Playstation VR offer immersive and powerful experiences for only a few hundred dollars (in addition to the costs of the computer or game console, of course), but headsets designed to work with smartphones are much more affordable. As competition heats up, prices are sure to continue to fall. This growth will clearly have an impact on the demands of virtual reality data, which will likely prompt the greater use of edge computing in virtual reality strategies to help minimize latency and address data storage concerns.
Speaking of gaming, video gaming will continue to represent a huge portion of the VR market in coming years, with total sales revenue expected to exceed $15 billion in 2019. The gaming industry has been trying to develop an affordable and effective VR experience for decades, even when the technology wasn’t yet up to the task. Sony recently announced it has sold 4.2 million PlayStation VR units and continues to support the platform with new releases. Despite all the potential uses of mobile-based VR experiences, gaming remains a key influence on virtual reality popularity for many app developers. While the technology continues to face some challenges in terms of interface when it comes to certain types of games, virtual reality statistics show the market is clearly gaining strength and will continue to be a driving force in VR development for the foreseeable future.
While VR has yet to push the boundaries of what’s possible with video content, YouTube already offers an official channel dedicated to showcasing the best VR-ready videos available. Viewers can watch completely immersive videos that provide controllable 360° perspectives of footage. Established in 2015, the channel has grown to more than three million subscribers and is well positioned to take advantage of mobile-based VR hardware. As VR video techniques become more widespread in the coming years, YouTube will likely continue to be most viewers’ preferred destination for video content. Virtual reality and edge computing will be ideally suited for one another as the demands for streaming VR video content become more intense.
As more consumers gain access to VR platforms, the technology has the potential to significantly transform the shopping experience. Fully immersive VR will create new ways to research information about products and services. It also presents possibilities for completely rethinking the way consumers interact with retailers. Some companies, such as IKEA and Lowes, are relying on virtual reality popularity to help their customers make purchasing decisions, providing them with 360° VR views of products and allowing them to see what different customized options will look like in three-dimensional space. Travel agencies are also using VR as a way to draw in potential travelers, giving them a brief taste of exotic destinations from the comfort of their homes. As more VR-oriented content is accessed, companies will need to implement new solutions for managing all that virtual reality data.
While VR is in some ways an isolating experience due to the nature of the technology, consumers are looking to share that experience with other people. Current VR devices are used far less than smartphones, with only 28 percent of owners using them daily. Part of this is due to their physical constraints. Most VR devices involve multiple wires and controllers, which take time and effort to set up prior to use. But many people, especially younger users, also want to be able to interact with others when they do use their devices. As VR technology improves, the social engagement features consumers have come to expect from social media platforms and online gaming will undoubtedly facilitate more of this interaction.
Virtual reality technology is still very much in its infancy. Even as VR devices become more commonplace and new innovations offer improved performance, it will take some time before the true potential of the medium takes shape. Many of the current applications are just a small step beyond existing two-dimensional media. Improvements in computing and network connectivity will soon make it possible for VR to offer experiences that would have seemed impossible (or even unthinkable) just a few decades ago.