Virtual reality feels like one of those technologies that companies and innovators keep trying to make push to the masses even though there hasn’t been a significant demand for it. There’s obviously a lot of promise seen in the Virtual Reality market–there’s a reason why Facebook bought the Oculus’ VR technology for $2 billion, after all. Still, there’s a reason why last year’s Oculus Rift still doesn’t even have a release date set yet for 2015. When you need to sell 50-100 million units to become viable, and you have to court a market beyond the conventional console or computer gaming fan to reach that goal, you have quite a mountain-climb ahead of you. Particularly when the average consumer doesn’t have VR Headset on his radar for 2015’s must have purchases.
You could perhaps chalk that lack of demand or mass public interest up to unrealistic expectations from the average person. For decades we’ve been exposed to movies, television shows and books that make us think that virtual reality is, you know, real, even though it’s simulated. For many people, virtual reality means living in The Matrix–where the experience is genuine enough to be indistinguishable from what is “actual” reality. That means that some people are frankly frightened of what “virtual reality” may entail, while others want something that simply doesn’t yet exist. Realistically, the current state of VR means giving the user a visual and audio experience that completely encapsulates all that they see and hear. Some people want that
The latest VR headset to be announced is HTC’s RE Vive, which was announced at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The RE Vive runs on game developer Valve’s SteamVR technology, and HTC has announced partnerships with Google and HBO for content development. From the official RE Vive website, HTC asks you to imagine “standing on the bridge of a starship” or “strolling through the streets of ancient Rome,” then tells you that their headset will pull those images off your screen and “into your home.” Translation: HTC is giving you wearable screen and surround sound that simulates a 360-degree viewing experience, unlike the screen you currently have (already “in your home,” presumably), which you should not try to wear on your head under any circumstances.
The promo video above does a better job of selling the experience than words can hope to. If I may, I’d like to say that the RE Vive sounds cool–an upgrade over already impressive, existing VR headsets. The problem it may run into is the common person’s expectation of “Virtual Reality.” What’s really being delivered would be more appropriately classified as “Surround Vision,” or “Surround Cinema,” or some other soon to be trademarked phrasing featuring the word surround, or a synonym. And I’m honestly excited for the possibilities of what a big budget, talent-laden film, television show, news program, or video game could look like and feature if built distinctly for a VR headset. But we’ll need tens of millions of people to buy in to the product first before we see that, and those masses of people may not buy in for several years to come unless companies like HTC find a way to re-brand “virtual reality,” and reset the expectation.