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Will Virtual Become Reality?

Posted On - 03/02/2017 08:30:02

There's a lot of talk about VR. Many think now's the time it'll get legs - really start becoming something. After all, Head Mounted Displays have been around since the 1960'sThere's a lot of talk about VR. Many think now's the time it'll get legs - really start becoming something.

After all, Head Mounted Displays have been around since the 1960's. It's been used for 3D images in gaming since the 1990's. And films like "Lawnmower Man" and "Matrix" with their completely indistinguishable from real virtual worlds have fired our imagination for it.

So what's happening? What's news? Like to find out? You're in the right place…


As we planned our 2016 Trade Show over last spring and summer we knew VR was generating buzz. The Rift and Vive were already on the shelves. Sony was planning release of Playstation VR for Christmas. [We now know Microsoft plan a new VR headset in Spring 2017.] It was clear something was going on.

So we made it a feature of our Open Day. We invited vendors like Gigabyte Motherboards, Gigabyte Graphics Cards and XFX to showcase the technology. And they put on VR demos including golf, space combat and a zombie-shooter. Those of you who came loved them. And what also went down a storm was a key seminar we staged...

The VR Summit

Jon Wagstaff: VR Expert
It's one thing to see, touch and use the tech. It's another to get expert insight into what's going on with VR. To get that we invited Jon Wagstaff, Head of the "Virtual Reality Research Group" at Context World, to speak.

Jon's passionate about VR and had recently completed the "Virtual reality Survey" across Europe (download a copy here). Who better could we get to come and talk!? You can see the session he did at our Trade Show - "The VR Summit" - here. And if you're interested for his what-to-watch tips for 2017, read on.

It's not just about games

There's really exciting developments with VR. More than just making games more exciting and real. In 2015 the University of Chicago published research showing students who experienced scientific concepts in virtual labs understood and learned them better. 2016 saw announcements about how VR can help paraplegics walk again and how it can help those suffering with PTSD and other anxiety disorders recover.

The uses of VR are clearly more than just showing things realistically in 3D. Sure, helping rescue crews practice difficult exercises realistically is clearly useful and important. But that's obvious. What's more profound is how this technology can work with our brains. So we heal and learn not just quicker, but better.

Rome wasn't built in a day

Apparently it took 6 years! Least that's how long Jon says it took Dr Matthew Nichols of Reading University UK to do it. His Virtual Rome project has recreated the city as it was in c. AD 315. And if you're interested you can learn more about him and his work here. It's remarkable stuff – the detail is breath-taking. And a real application of the technology for a genuinely meaningful purpose.

But be that as it may what are the key things Jon spoke about? What are the real nuggets in his survey? And what's to look out for in 2017?

2016: democratised VR, not mass adoption

Hype or not VR got a lot of coverage in 2016. It's clear a lot of people were talking about it and the launch of commercial VR headsets was eagerly anticipated. But how did it go down?

"If anything, 2016 was the year for early adopters", says Jon. So it sold, but in no-where near the volumes needed for anything remotely like a craze. Is he disappointed? Not really. "Sales of PC gaming and high end graphics cards remain strong" he says, "2016 was always going to be the year of democratised VR, not mass adoption. That's what I expected. That's how it's turned out."

And 2017?

"There are two roadblocks to VR right now", says Jon, "the biggest is content – there's just not enough decent stuff out there. Not enough to make it worth paying several £000's for a headset." He continues, "The other is price. As my survey shows headset prices in the £199 - £299 range is the sweetspot for consumers. At those sorts of prices, they'll start buying in volume."

But Jon sees far more than this for 2017. He sees real breakthroughts on the horizon. "The real space to watch is VR in books. Augmented reality for kids books and in education is one to watch." He points to China where there's real innovation taking place to create ‘scalable learning technologies'. Because it's thought soon there may we be more kids to teach than there are teachers to do it. And with VR proven to be so effective in learning, it could be a big part of the solution. 

Your opportunity

"People wouldn't buy a record player if they'd never heard a record", says Jon. He's pointing out the chicken-and-egg problem that can come with new things. And while it may be beyond the grasp of many small independent retailers there's much that can be learned from how John Lewis Oxford Street have approached things. Because their approach to retailing VR and Smart Home tackles this very issue.

At the end of 2015 John Lewis Oxford Street introduced a dedicated VR sales area including specially developed VR experiences. So space committed not just to showcasing the products, but to use and experience them.

By April 2016 they'd opened a 1,000 sq ft "Smart Home" department showcasing products in realistic situations - the space included a complete kitchen and living room set-up. So customers could really get a feel for how and why they might want to run their Nespresso from their iPhone.

"The key to selling these products lays in explaining – showing - how the tech works. It's not just about products on shelves. Demo's are essential." He's right. As the trusted expert in your locality these tech products fall right into your space. Customers choose you because of your expertise. Here's another opportunity to put it on show.

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