Virtual reality lived and died over twenty years ago. Simply put, thing like the Virtual Boy didn't cut it. Now, after Oculus Rift was swiftly Purchased by Facebook for $2 billion dollars, suddenly virtual reality is making a comeback. Everyone and their grandmother is bringing out a VR headset, which begs the question:
"Will virtual reality replace television?"
The answer, as you can imagine, is complicated. Should VR succeed, it was most certainly take over. Then again, there's always the chance it will flop. Let's take a look at both sides of the coin and decide which device will rule your living room.
Goodbye 60-inch, Hello VR Headset!
There's most certainly a crowd that believes televisions will become a relic. Among them is the founder (and recently made very rich) owner of Oculus Rift: Palmer Luckey. While the price of his headset is astoundingly high, the fact that it has Facebook backing it up means it will have massive mainstream exposure.
Then you have Sony who is going all in on PlayStation VR which is a similar headset for the PS4. On top of that, Microsoft is slowly but surely perfecting their HoloLens augmented reality headset. Sprinkle in the HTC Vive which is being sponsored by Steam/Valve, and you have yourself a growing market of devices ready to do battle with one another.
Palmer Luckey, in an interview with Maximum PC said some interesting things on the subject: “Why in the world would you buy a 60-inch TV that, even if it were dirt cheap for that, it’s still going to cost a lot to ship it and make it from raw materials. A VR headset is going to be much better and much cheaper and you can take it anywhere.”
Luckey has some points, but his claims are clearly based on his infatuation with VR seeing as how he started a company about it. Like many other radical claims, the quote was met with plenty of scorn and a few attacks at Luckey himself. People tend to react drastically to major changes like this.
Palmer Luckey isn’t the first person to make a bold claim about his industry is going take over, and he won’t be the last. For someone who is just entering the industry, a major win like Facebook purchasing you is bound to go to your head, and it also adds a huge amount of pressure to convince the people you interact with that your product is the one and only option for the future.
Realistically, the future Palmer Luckey envisions won’t be here anytime soon. Nothing in the gaming/electronics industry is drastic. Sure, you have plenty of upgrades and iterations, but its very rare that a technology is swept under the rug overnight. It’s a gradual change, with HD-DVDs being the exception (sorry, but does anyone actually remember those?).
The issue that people have is they are comparing the Oculus Rift launch model with, say, a 4K TV that just hit the market. To put things in perspective, imagine how much someone would have complained thirty years ago if a guy went around saying that video games will be a multibillion dollar industry in thirty years. He would have been laughed off the stage.
A Polygon article by Ben Kuchera makes an excellent point when he says: “there have been more breakthroughs in the hardware and software of virtual reality in the past 24 months than there has been in the past 10 years.”
Right now it may seem like VR headsets looks bulky, but in several decades, if the technology takes off, it will become mainstream and they will find ways to make it smaller, more comfortable and more portable.
In reality, TV is already dying. If you stop to think about how much you watch your shows on a tablet or smartphone, you may be surprised how little you actually use your TV. That being said, hardcore gamers, for the time being, still use their televisions on a regular basis. Right now, the biggest obstacle VR faces is the fact that it’s very focused on a single person.
I for one typically play games with significant other, so VR wouldn’t be something we would choose over a full experience we can both enjoy. Even so, the entire world’s eyes are on Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and the HTC Vive to see what will happen next.
There’s certainly big plans in place. After Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook, announced the purchase of Oculus Rift he described how it could be used for things beyond gaming: “Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face, just by putting on goggles in your home. Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones.”
Of course, this TV-less future will be pretty hard to come by if virtual reality completely flops.
Devil’s Advocate: What if VR Completely Flops?
There have been plenty of new technologies that came and went like 3D which everyone insisted would be the new thing. For the record, I liked 3D stuff, but people didn’t want the experience to be complicated, they wanted to relax and watch their movie or play their game. They didn’t want to worry about battery powered glasses or a headache when it was over.
At the risk of sounding harsh, we’re lazy. Honestly though, in most cases it’s because we work hard and when it’s time to play games, we don’t want to do anything but sit on the couch and play games. Don’t worry, I’m in that boat too. Things like 3D, motion gaming, I used them sparingly but never as my entire focus.
I read very strongly worded article about why VR is going to flop and it said simply this: “People just want to play games.” To an extent, I have to agree. Do I want VR to flop? No, not really, I would like to try it on PS4 and I’d love to see it replace handheld systems as a more portable option.
That being said. If I had to choose between only VR or only my giant HD TV for gaming, I’d have to pick the TV. That’s the problem that VR faces. It gives people only one option and demands their full attention. To be fair, it’s also not going to be cheap.
The Oculus Rift announced a price point of $599 at launch, which immediately cut down the amount of people who would be interested in it, especially given the fact that you would need a PC that costs $1,500 just to use the thing.
It’s likely that we’ll have to spend close to the price of the PS4 itself just to get the PlayStation VR headset, which is a weird thing to think about as most people see it as an accessory seeing as how it only works with the PS4.
The last nail in VR’s coffin, if it does indeed flop, will be the games. New technologies like this have a horrible track record of attracting enough content to make them worthwhile. How many big titles did you hear about with the Kinect? With PlayStation Move? Do you even know what PlayStation Move is?
There are already a decent amount of PS4 VR games announced, but that momentum has to keep up if the tech wants to stick around. If we’re talking about the PS5, then VR needs to find a niche that doesn’t involve replacing TV. Instead, VR needs to become a portable device or something that we can use outside of traditional gaming. If its tied to our console, it’s competing with the TV, and that’s a war that’s lost before it’s begun.
I’ve said my piece, but what do you think? Will VR replace TV, will it find a new niche, or will it crash and burn? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Note: The thoughts expressed in this article are the opinions of the author (Bradley Ramsey) and do not yet represent facts or the opinions of Sony Computer Entertainment. Although it will probably be accurate, for now it is pure speculation. Thanks for reading!
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