THOUGHT | VR adoption remains slow

    Samsung Virtual Reality conferenceVirtual reality has continued to attract investment in the past year since we covered the topic last – click here to read that article. While the investment is high, recent surveys have discovered that uptake for VR technology is slow, just 4% of the UK population has access to a VR headset.

    With VR attempting to become a mainstream technology, these statistics challenge the technology and its usefulness to the mainstream. Research house IPSOS conducted a usability test this year, taking 16 individuals to gauge their reactions to VR content (LINK).

    VR and its 360° video sister technology has become a whole section on YouTube, with sports heavily investing in the technology. In recent weeks, Tata Communications announced that they would be trailing a live form of 360° video for Formula One. Integrated into the pitlane, the 360° video was available exclusively on the F1 app, as a second screen experience.

    One of the fundamental advantages for virtual reality over traditional forms of content consumption was the scale of content. On a flat 2D screen, scale can become distorted, but VR offers a greater sense of scale – including the size of dinosaurs in Attenborough and the Dinosaurs. The experience is positive for many trying out VR, putting users in breath-taking situations.

    However, it appears that virtual reality technology has developed too early and remains reliant on other technologies for the full experience. With far higher file sizes for content compared to HD video, buffering is a risk that could be a stumbling block for user experience in the virtual world. While the technology to deliver the content is available, local connections can limit the impact VR could have. Additionally, popular consumer hardware still struggles with VR – overheating mobile batteries, expensive and powerful hardware. These issues are a barrier for mass-adoption of the technology.

    VR Content is not drastically different from previous forms of media, offering new experiences for the senses. In an ever-increasing choice of media to consume, individuals can choose to avoid particular technology or formats. Just as TV has undergone a transformation to react to streaming, studies identify that VR experiences must be high-quality. One respondent summed up the challenge for VR:

    “At the moment it isn’t replacing any of my media habits. In a way, I feel like it’s not as easy to sit down with as you have to get your phone ready, slot it into the headset and then find something to watch. Whereas normally I can just flick on the TV and watch something instantly!”

    Perhaps the future of VR lies in special experiences and the gaming sector. PlayStation has developed its own VR headset, and other major companies in the sector are partnering with technology companies to develop rival headsets. Cinema chain Odeon and IMAX are teaming up to launch their first collaborative VR Experience Centre in Manchester, UK (LINK), but this has been delayed after originally slated to launch by the end of 2016. Elsewhere, VR uptake is higher, with over 3,000 VR arcades now open in China alone, with backing from HTC. Ultimately, we have to ask the question: is VR hitting a hurdle in the UK road?