Coronavirus could be catalyst to reinvigorate virtual reality headsetsMay 2, 2020
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., demonstrates an Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset and Oculus Touch controllers as the gives a demonstration during the Oculus Connect 3 event in San Jose, California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
For the more than 90% of Americans who have been cooped up in their homes for more than a month, reality is beginning to bite. There are only so many Netflix series you can watch consecutively, so many movies you can start and stop and so many video games you can replay before the torpid gloom descends. A change of pace is surely in order.
Tech companies are hoping this change will come in the form of virtual reality headsets, with some analysts saying the stay-at-home orders could finally be the Hail Mary pass they’ve been waiting for.
After all, it’s been six years since Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said virtual reality was “going to change the world.”
‘Crisis could jump-start interest’
“It’s a little early to tell if people are having more virtual reality experiences now, but I think this crisis could jump-start interest in it,” said Kirk Soderquist, a partner at Perkins Coie, a law firm focused on the interactive entertainment industry. “I think we may look back on this and see it as an inflection point for the sector.”
The truly immersive virtual reality experience transports people to other places — both reality-based and simulated. You can take walking tours of your favorite cities and visit national parks and cultural landmarks. You can climb Mount Everest with Everest VR, swim with whales with TheBlu, even explore the surface of Mars with Titans of Space.
While people aren’t racing to buy the expensive headsets and the consoles that are sometimes needed to go with them, they are enamored with the technology when they try it out. “I was blown away when I had my first experiences with it,” said Norm Rose, a senior technology analyst with Phocuswright, who tracks emerging technologies. He bought an Oculus Go VR headset two years ago. “It’s not always the best experience, but when it works, you feel like you’re someone else somewhere else.”
But VR is not only limited to travel. Industries like health care, automotive manufacturing and education have accounted for a bulk of the roughly $19 billion spent last year on virtual reality and augmented reality products, per estimates from consulting firm IDC. To date, gaming surprisingly has not been the most popular segment of the consumer VR market, but even there, VR games face stiff competition from traditional computer-based products.
The technology can be used for social media and business meetings as well. And the pandemic seems to be stirring this revival: Altspace, one of VR’s first social platforms, is suddenly being flooded with requests to host a variety of VR events, and Facebook is working on launching Horizon, an animated world of avatars for Oculus headsets. The tech giant will also likely…