If you have been sitting out of the Virtual Reality evolution, and most of you have, here is a breakdown on what has transpired over the past four years. In one word, “Facebook.” Although VR has been around for decades, it was the evolution of computing power in both smart phones and PCs and Facebook’s involvement that jump started the technology. If you think Facebook is a powerhouse today, you’ll shudder as I explain where it’s pushing VR.
Here is a quick historical overview. In 2014, Facebook bought the world’s largest VR company, Oculus, for 2 billion dollars. What Facebook has spent since is anyone’s guess but the impact is now substantial. For 2016 and 2017 Facebook leased out it’s VR tech to companies like Samsung who included Oculus branding in their cell phone driven VR headsets (insert photo). Five generations of headgear have been released by Samsung as of fall of 2017. While the screen resolution of the smart phone dictates the resolution, the headgear have typically gotten lighter, contain a wider frame of view, and contained a controller in Gen 4 and 5. All of this was just biding time for what was to come.
Last month, Facebook announced two new offerings. The first was the Go. The Go is a stand-alone VR headgear meaning no smart phone or tethered computer is needed. The price starts at $199 for a 32 gig model and moves to $249 for the 64 gig model. One should think of present day VR headgear much like the high definition televisions from 2010, they are bulky, have weird picture resolution qualities, and generally have quirks to be worked out.
During mid-2017, Facebook launched a VR product titled Spaces. Spaces, via a VR headgear (Rift or Vive) that is tethered to a computer, allowed people via their avatars, to socially interact in a virtual space. Essentially, all of this looked like a medium resolution video game. This was an interesting concept but the approximate $2000 cost of the of the computer and VR headgear components likely swayed a lot of consumers from participation. There was the additional question of why a consumer would participate as Facetime, texting, and a host of other modern communication methods, satisfied a lot of that social need. Enter the other recent Facebook VR offering, Venue. Venue is a virtual, social media space in which people, via avatars, come to interact over a concert of sporting event. The event is captured in traditional 2D space so it merely looks like a flat screen television inserted into VR (360 degree space). However, the avatars can move around in the grandstands to interact with other avatars whether they be friends or strangers. The expensive cost of a 2K computer is now negated as the consumer only needs a WiFi connection and a $200 Go VR headgear.
In summary, friends, families, companies, teams, or any other group, can now interact in a VR space anywhere there is WiFi. People can be interacting with each other solely or can also do so while watching a speaker (Ted Talk), a company lecture, a concert, a sport event, or anything else that is televised, recorded, or broadcast. As the headgear become lighter and have a higher resolution, think of reading glasses but with screens, the societal impact will be significant.