Is Virtual Reality a Mainstream or Niche Category?

    A few years ago, some cable television industry companies made a big bet on 3D TV. They lost, as the expensive sets and subscribers’ reluctance to wear glasses doomed the programming format.

    The question on the table now is whether or not virtual reality (VR) can escape the same fate. There is, of course, the overt similarity of the need for special headgear. On a more subtle level, the issue is whether VR can carve out a significant niche in a landscape in which consumers have almost limitless entertainment choices.

    It is too extreme to call 2017 a make or break year, simply because VR seems destined to control niches of some sort. It is great for gaming and training, for instance. What is up in the air is whether it will go beyond that status. At Network World, Keith Shaw said a lot of nice things about the technology itself. He professed uncertainty about the VR category’s future, however, and suggested that VR indeed is at a critical juncture:

    But after having tried several different VR headsets and offerings, I’m starting to have doubts about whether the technology can make the jump from a niche audience and market (mainly gamers) into the larger space held by the rest of the world. The rest of this year (and possibly 2018) could determine whether VR becomes as prevalent as the smartphone, or whether it becomes another gadget that gets placed in the recycling bin labeled “fads.”

    At Forbes, Kalev Leetaru offers an insightful piece that looks at why VR did not make substantial progress last year. It turns out that there are a few reasons. A key is that the press and pundits who suggested such great things for VR are professional media technology people and operate in a sort of echo chamber in which things can be hyped beyond their real prospects.

    Beyond that, there was not enough content and the technology was too expensive. Finally, the technology has not evolved and still has limitations, such as causing some people to feel ill. In the final analysis, it may be that the category will not catch fire until new presentation technology emerges.

    One step in the right direction is being taken by Molson Canadian and Rogers Media’s Sportsnet. The companies said this month that they are providing VR versions of NHL hockey games. 360 Virtual Reality, scheduled to premiere on Feb. 18, will be available for six Saturday night games during the season. The viewers can be seen in a video embedded in the story. They are available in cases of Molson being sold across Canada.

    There is less doubt in some quarters about VR. iGATE Research, for instance, predicts that the VR market could surpass $40 billion in value by 2020. That assumes, of course, that the challenges are met. At this point, whether that will happen is unclear.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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