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'I'm dreaming of a VR Christmas': Why this year's holiday season will be a virtual one

Samsung's Gear VR Headset has sold out on pre-orders alone

A fight broke out in my house last night over a small set of glasses attached to an iPhone. Having had the privilege to try virtual reality now several times, I can tell you that it’s worth fighting over. It’s a truly life changing experience.

There is a divide between those who have tried VR and those who haven’t and once you cross over you will become a convert forever more. In my house the tussle was won by my two year old, so we watched him with trepidation spinning 360 degrees in the living room praying the iPhone didn’t fly out and smash.

Since then my husband has laid claim to this device and packed it into his work bag to show his team.

We are at the precipice of a VR revolution one that is already permeating the creative and media industries. Until now, however, the vast majority of every day consumers have yet to experience it, that will change as both content and devices are burgeoning at very low price access points.

This week signals that turning point. Besides the low cost cardboard experience already accessible in multiple versions. Samsung will be the first to launch its headset to consumers this week in time for Black Friday and the inevitable rush in the lead up to Christmas.

In fact it’s already sold out and taking pre orders within the first day. If you want to ensure Christmas stockings will contain a device or two this year, be sure to set your calendar reminders in time for future launches.

While HTC had planned to launch pre-Christmas they are likely to delay to Q1, along with multiple rivals including Sony who’s PlayStation integration will give it significant share. That alone should guarantee that 2016 will be the consumer turning point for virtual to go mainstream.

Some, myself included, will hold out for an Oculus device but its higher price point may be a driver for the mass market to not wait and instead embrace the immediate availability of multiple alternatives.

Clients are quickly dividing into the VR ready and the wait and sees. Like many technology revolutions some will be out in front and others will lag and play catch up. Consumer uptake is usually the catalyst for action for those organisations less driven by seemingly maverick strategies. Consumer realisation that virtual reality is not an isolating threatening experience for the gaming elite will be part of the inevitable client revolution.

The VR revolution is ultimately driven by the proliferation of smart phones and the opportunities that having a computing device in everyone’s pockets creates. Enhanced mobile processors, haptics, gyroscope optics and sensors has made it consumer ready. With 4K coming to mobiles next year, the rapid technology race we have seen on TV’s in the last decade will replicate across VR.

The focus on higher fidelity and smaller headset device will trigger the next technology space race.

However, while VR is attracting all the press coverage, augmented reality is actually anticipated to be a larger marketplace in the medium to long term. There is a mixed reality spectrum – from the real world on the one hand, through the real world with layers – augmented reality.

Augmented virtuality – a virtual environment but with a layer of the real world such as your hands being visible in an otherwise virtual space – is one level but the far extreme is a truly VR teleported experience. We anticipate that devices will have the capacity to switch between these modes in the long run.

This marketplace is now ready and hence the proliferation of devices and content players. VR is simply the entry point for most consumers into the future of mixed reality environments.

So what’s the lesson for this holiday season? Buy more than one device to avoid the inevitable battle for “my turn” and be the most popular present under the tree. VR is a gift for all ages and you can be part of this technology change over.

Hannah Mirza is head of global media partnerships at MediaCom

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