It will be the year when virtual reality (VR) finally makes it real, applications will start to monetise the technology and VR technologies will become more mainstream.
In 2017, look out for the 360-degree selfie, Apple’s big leap into immersive technology and multi-sensory marketing.
At Inition, we regard any highly immersive experience as VR, while acknowledging that digital media generally is a form of virtual reality. I define VR as an experience that ‘fools all your senses’ – sight, sound, touch and smell.
So here are my predictions for major developments in VR in 2017 …
How we navigate in VR space will change
We will move toward voice, gesture and eye-gaze controls. Increasingly realistic avatars will enable people to feel more at home as they navigate through virtual space. Social concepts will become more embedded, allowing us to share with other people in the same environment.
Advances with haptic (touch-based) technology will bring greater realism and control, while progress in eye-tracking will lead to more sophisticated personalisation.
The appearance of wireless headsets from manufacturers such as HTC and possibly also Oculus will make intuitive human movement in virtual space easier, unhindered by being tied to a computer via cabling.
We will move away from VR as primarily a visual experience to one that is multisensory. Sound that can be recorded and reproduced in a precise spatial way will come to the fore in both the design and implementation of immersive experiences – and provide a strong narrative cue for storytelling. Other senses will be used to drive interaction, touch being the most obvious.
The VR space itself will become more knowing
Headsets and tracking will incorporate a growing number of sensors to collect data about user behaviour. For example, eye-tracking systems that feature technology for detecting facial expressions, emotions and which can trigger events.
ROI will be immediate because this data can be collected in real-time. This will in turn demand greater integration within current workflows for marketing, product positioning and training.
Wearable materials with embedded sensors are already used to monitor and drive performance in elite sport. These will start to filter down from advanced R&D labs and proprietary uses. Multisensory gaming applications sold as ‘hyper-reality’ are being rolled out now. AI applications will begin to build out off the back of such technologies.
Mixed reality solutions emerge in entertainment and leisure
The blurring of lines between physical and digital realities will drive new and interesting applications for sectors such as retail, music and sport. Platforms such as Sony PlayStation VR will become ‘home hubs’ to engage out-of-home activations.
Virtual will augment the physical experience, making it more personalised - so you can be ‘on stage’ and discover through VR what it is like to be a member of the band performing live.
The large datasets already being captured by elite sport can be converted to create real-time game augmentation via VR (Fantasy Football on steroids).
The enhanced connectivity of 5G networks will drive more data sharing and we may well see the computational power of the mobile being eclipsed by the instantaneous transfer of zettabytes of information from servers directly to headsets.
Industrial and research applications will continue to flourish
As B2B and B2C continue to merge, H2H (human-to-human) will take on new resonance for marketers, with multisensory approaches to engagement starting to filter through.
In business, lower-cost hardware will increase adoption, while innovations such as tiles or fabrics with OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes) will enable businesses to turn physical infrastructure into viewing and collaboration platforms.
Ultra-short throw projectors used to drive caves - immersive environments projected into a corner, for example - will allow viewers to walk through a virtual space and make VR presentations in boardrooms possible.
VR as a tool for collaboration will grow rapidly in areas such as design review. Teleconferencing will acquire new meaning.
Though many protocols and attempts at plug-and-play systems are emerging, there is still little conformity in the industry such that content, engines, viewing technologies and tracking systems can be mixed and matched.
While coalescing audiences around one or two systems would drive adoption, mainstreaming may curtail some of the more interesting niche developments that could take us further toward full immersion.
Consumer technologies will integrate VR and VR will become social
Mobile will remain the platform of choice for VR and we will see it embedded in more devices. Social VR will include not only online, but also multiple users in a single space.
While ‘pro’ versions of cameras will continue to increase in quality (and price), more consumer-grade cameras will come to market that can perform in 360 degrees and this will democratise immersive content creation further.
Network providers will promote heavily for people to download and upload 360-degree video and the moment of the 360-degree selfie will arrive.
Research into consumption and battery-saving will come to fruition so that AR and VR can be performed on mobile without a drastic reduction in quality or time to action.
New screen displays using OLEDs - thinner and lighter than liquid crystal - will assist with this. ‘Foveated rendering’ (rendering at very high resolution in the field of view and lower resolution outside of it) could decrease the bandwidth necessary to produce high-quality VR experiences on mobile platforms.
2017: when VR should make it real
In 2017, VR will offer brands richer, but also more complex opportunities. Creating one-off promotional content will give way to deeper exploration of VR applications for the longer term.
At Inition, we constantly research new technology and monitor developments. It is an ever-changing environment. In the end, I believe it is the content rather than the hardware that will take VR into the mainstream.
VR can live up to the excitement being generated around it, but only if brands look through the hype, apply expertise and make it real.
Adrian Leu, chief executive, Inition
Tel: +44 (0)20 7377 2949