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Virtual Reality Trends: Three Takeaways for 2021

Technology

Thomas Amilien

Virtual Reality consumer devices are leading the XR market in sales at $2.6bn vs $1.2 for enterprise devices. Driven by the gaming industry, its popularization is on the rise due to an increase in content and market awareness. 

Even pre-COVID, the VR market was stabilizing, with major acquisitions taking place in entertainment and enterprise markets such as Apple’s purchase of virtual reality event company NextVR and MelodyVR’s acquisition of Napster. 

Source: Artillery Intelligence

Driven by fundamental shifts in the types of devices available and their corresponding capabilities, the VR hardware market has undergone numerous changes in consumer and enterprise use cases.

Consumer Virtual Reality: Shifting Towards More Accessible and Mainstream Devices

Facebook as VR’s Growth Engine

This year pre-orders on the Oculus Quest 2 were 5 times higher than on the original model released last year, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed on Facebook’s earnings call (The Verge). 

Boasting an intuitive user interface with hand tracking and gesture recognition and a lower price tag of $299, the easy-to-use and more affordable Oculus Quest 2 has reignited sales, promoting consumer use with a healthy content store. 

In 2021 and the years to come, fledgling companies may have a greater opportunity to flourish as consumers show a greater interest in a range of high-quality VR headsets. Indicative of this is an Omdia forecast which details that Facebook’s share of global standalone VR headset sales will reduce from 48% in 2020 to 35% in 2025.

Next Level VR Gaming 

Price aside, the Valve Index headset at $999 is a superior device with an ultra-high-end display and knuckle controllers that can trace the movement of every finger. It’s a headset designed specifically for gaming and highly discerning users. As a result, it’s come out on top for audiences who want a next-level VR experience. 

In terms of mass-market, Sony’s PlayStation VR could dominate the market with its ease of use and $299 price tag. In 2021, this device maker will be focused on their PS5 console rather than a follow-up to their PSVR headsets, a potential indicator that there is still time before the consumer VR market really takes off. 

Enterprise VR Trends: Premium devices for highly immersive experiences

Premium VR Headset Features 

Enterprise VR has also begun to prosper in simulation, training, and research applications. To reach the level of performance and immersion required for these applications, more advanced features have been developed and become widely available in the market. 

This includes high-quality displays, wide FoVs (field-of-view), 6dof (degrees of freedom) tracking, a high display refresh rate, improved battery efficiency, and greater computing power. 

For example, Varjo, a Finnish startup, is offering enterprise headsets that have full retina vision. This means that when looking through a display, the clarity is as if looking around in real life. The trick? Using two displays for each eye. The idea is mixing the results of these two displays so that the visuals have perfect resolution only where needed. 

This is the opposite approach of foveated rendering, a technique that uses eye-tracking to ease the rendering workload by greatly reducing the image quality in the peripheral vision.

HTC and Pico: Versatile Devices for Virtual events, Training, Arcades, and Simulations

The Varjo headset comes with a price tag of $5,495 that match its sleek form factor, but for businesses looking for more affordable enterprise VR headset solutions, HTC and Pico offer great alternatives. 

HTC will be dropping support for the VIVE Pro, focusing on the VIVE Cosmos and Focus lines, with some speculation that they will be announcing a new HTC device in 2021. 

Pico advertises their headsets as an all-in-one device, built for performance and enterprise use cases that can range from VR arcades to high fidelity training. 

Clay AIR hand tracking on a Pico headset

Summary: What we Expect for 2021

Affordability and Quality

In both consumer and enterprise use cases, affordability and quality are beginning to meet expectations, creating grounds for a strong outlook in VR adoption trends in 2021. 

User Experience Matters Twice as Much as Cost

According to a 2019 report by Perkinscoie on the major obstacles in VR adoption, user experience ranks at nearly double that of cost. This could mean that for many users hand tracking and gesture recognition have made all the difference, bridging the gap between the real and virtual world and creating more plausible interactions and experiences in consumer and enterprise applications.  

Post- COVID Acceleration for Retail, Training, Virtual Events, and Education

With higher quality user experiences driven by intuitive user interfaces, virtual reality headset primary use cases will continue to trend in gaming, travel, retail, training, simulations, and education. 

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