Part Three: Virtual, Augmented or Mixed? Which Reality Will You Choose?

by Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

In the last blog in our alternative reality series, we explored the pros and cons of Augmented Reality (AR). In this post, we apply the same approach to Virtual Reality (VR).

Virtual Reality – An Immersive Experience

Virtual Reality (VR) is technology that creates a simulated three-dimensional world through visual and auditory sensory inputs. For a moment, your senses are disconnected from your present physical reality and you experience fantastic created worlds. 

Though most widely known for its use in gaming, VR presents a world of opportunity and invention for progressive marketers. In fact, if used correctly, VR has the potential to be an industry game-changer due to:

1.     An explosive growth trajectory. Deloitte Global predicts 2016 will be VR’s first billion-dollar year. There are currently 43 million VR users worldwide, and that number is expected to reach 171 million by 2018.

2.     Industry agnosticism. VR is not just a playground for video game developers anymore. It’s bringing frontline news reporting to living rooms across the globe. Architects are using VR to design and prototype homes and buildings. The medical profession can now leverage VR for training simulations and even patient therapy. Now think: What if consumers could shop at home in a virtual store or showroom? Suppose the movie industry placed viewers in the passenger seat of a Fast and Furious­-esque flick without ever leaving their couch? How would it revolutionize the tourism industry if travelers could see the beauty of exclusive destinations in their own backyard? These profound experiences can translate into as-yet-unheard-of consumer engagement for brands.

3.     An immeasurable landscape. The true beauty of VR is that it’s developed and presented in such a riveting way that participants feel compelled to sacrifice logic and accept it as an authentic environment. Some might dismiss it as a flash in the pan or a nifty parlor trick. But combine it with high-camera resolution, high-capacity networks and swift video telecommunication, and people can actually be in two places at the same time.

But as persuasive as the argument is for rapid VR adoption, there are a few hurdles left to overcome.

1.     The lonely hour. Currently non-gaming VR is a solitary experience. Participants strap a bulky device to their heads, sit alone and engage. It’s up to us (agencies, marketers and developers) to provide users with gripping experiences they can enjoy alone until we advance and transition into a communal VR world.

2.     Speaking of that bulky device… One reason why 3-D TVs are struggling is that consumers don’t want to be burdened by cumbersome glasses – possibly worn over their own glasses. That same feeling might extend to VR. Add to that its relatively high price point (the Oculus Rift sells for $599 – and that’s not including the computer needed to power it) and consumers might find it hard to justify functionality vs. price.

3.     PC requirements. To support VR, computers not only need to be packed with power; they also need to be upgradeable mere months down the line. Basic requirements for an Oculus Rift-optimized PC include: a dedicated graphics card, GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 or better; 8GB+ RM; CPU: Intel Core i5 4590 or greater; and 3D gaming capability at 1080p resolution at 75 frames per second (fps) or higher. To put that in perspective, most games today operate at 30fps, and the Oculus operates at three times that. Of course, there are other commercially available VR head-mounted displays (Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR – coming soon!) with varying levels of processing power and device requirements.

4.     Unsatisfied sensations. The challenge with engaging in a virtual world while living in the real one is that not every sense is satisfied, leaving an undeniable tether to reality. Developers haven’t discovered a way to meet the full complement of sensory needs simultaneously yet, which mitigates the ability to be entirely transported into VR experiences. This places even more importance on experience design and high-quality audio and video.

For marketers, perhaps the most significant of all hurdles to rolling out VR is encapsulated in a statement made by Mark Zuckerberg. He said that there will need to be at least 50 million VR headsets in use before it becomes an important platform. With such a high number to hit at such a high cost, the reality of truly explosive VR may be years down the road.

However, West Cary Group is getting in on the ground floor. We’re watching how graphics companies like Nvidia are pioneering technology to make swift VR adoption a reality. We’re taking note of companies like Samsung that are breaking down the barriers of smartphone capability by creating mobile devices compatible with the Gear VR.

Most importantly, we’re aligning ourselves with the best production companies so that we can bring our clients along for this thrilling ride. If you want to schedule a meeting to find out how VR can boost your business, we’d love to discuss the ways we can make it happen.  

Next: Mixed Reality – The Best of Both Worlds?

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