Virtual reality headsets growing in mainstream appeal

  • AFP
  • Updated: Feb 26, 2015 10:37 IST

By the end of the decade as many as 55 million virtual reality and augmented reality headsets will be shipping annually -- and not just to video game obsessives either.

Devices like the Samsung Gear VR and of course, Google's Project Cardboard are giving more consumers both an affordable and effective sneak peek of virtual reality's potential.

And while both may be limited by their performance capabilities -- they're powered by a smartphone -- their practicality and mobility are already proving attractive. Google claims that over 500,000 cardboard headsets have already been ordered.

But as well as Samsung and Google, LG has launched phablet-compatible VR headset the LG VR for 3G, and Carl Zeiss, renowned for its camera lenses, has also launched a VR headset, the VR One, which also uses a phone but will accept any handset -- Android or Apple -- with a screen size between 4.7 and 5.3 inches.

"There is a lot of excitement and hype focused on getting consumers to try out virtual reality," said Michael Inouye, a Senior Analyst at ABI Research. "These early experiences will be like any new toy -- novel for a while and then fall off in use, with new content potentially driving periodic re-engagement. For true breakthrough products to be embraced, technology, usability, and content must meet at the critical time."

Despite this novelty value, ABI Research forecasts augmented reality and virtual reality headset shipments of 3 million units for 2015.

However, the real explosion in use will come when devices like the Oculus Rift are ready for the public. The Oculus Rift headset needs to be connected directly to a seriously fast gaming PC but the results will be enough to make serious gamers invest. ABI Research projects sales and demand really starting to take off in 2016.

"Devices like the Samsung Gear VR will see the most success early, while tethered devices like the Oculus Rift and standalone devices like those manufactured by ODG for industrial applications will need more time to mature before establishing a large user base," comments Eric Abbruzzese, Research Analyst. However, by 2020, 55 million units could be shipping annually.

There is clearly a huge buzz within the gaming community about the coming of Virtual Reality. As well as the Oculus Rift, game developer and distribution company Valve has confirmed that it's also building a VR headset for its Steam platform of PC games which will be unveiled at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 2.

As for augmented reality devices, made infamous by Google Glass, ABI expects shipments of AR headsets to jump 150% over the next 12 months but predicts that 90% of devices that do ship will be intended for business use.

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