Innovation

A non-gaming guide to getting ready for 'year one' of virtual reality

With the recent announcement of Oculus' consumer version, we now have a mostly complete, timeline for when to expect new hardware. For businesses, there's still a lot to do in the meantime.

Image: Oculus

It's been a long wait for consumer virtual reality.

With headmounted displays from Samsung, Valve/HTC, Sony, and Oculus (which announced plans for a consumer version in Q1) all with official release windows starting this year and running into the second quarter of 2016, those with plans for using virtual reality in their businesses are finally starting to get a more concrete picture of the hardware they'll eventually be using, and when.

"It certainly seems like Oculus is now the final piece in the triad, in the competition potentially between Valve, Sony, and Oculus," said Gartner analyst Brian Blau. In one sense, 2016 will be something like a year one for virtual reality.

So, what happens in the next few months?

Getting ready will be a balance between the known and the unknown.

Make a plan

For some, hardware announcements don't change much because they've created business plans that don't depend on hardware. Jared Eden is the founder of Holoplex VR, a company bringing real estate to virtual reality. He said they're hardware agnostic and have been working with the 2016 timeframe in mind anyway. Mostly, for Holoplex VR, having these devices could mean better experiences and the ability to have longer sessions with clients.

Along those lines, Stefan Pernar, founder of Melbourne-based Virtual Reality Ventures, a company that makes virtual reality experiences for various corporate uses, said their focus is on content and looking at the hardware that best suits the client's needs.

Their strategy ranges from using Google Cardboard for low-cost applications, or even as a marketing gimmick, to the Samsung Gear VR for mobile, and the HTC Vive as a tethered solution that has "has heaps of promise with their ability to daisy chain their lighthouse tracking system into essentially boundless tracking volumes as sub millimeter accuracy," he said.

Bigger picture, Blau advises to be thinking about how or if VR could benefit your business.

"Maybe you want to augment some sort of existing behavior, you may want to add to capabilities of a particular work task or you want to provide customers with some type of different way of looking at your business or providing content in a different way. You have to have a plan to start with," he said.

From there, you can figure out who else to bring in on the process, be it an agency, marketing partners, or developers, said ABR analyst Eric Abbruzzese.

Keep an eye out for specs, learn as much as possible

A crucial piece of the planning process is "investing in the technology, getting your hands on the equipment, going through multiple iterations of design and testing, working with qualified developers that can build these experiences," Blau said.

From here out, expect a gradual trickle of information.

Oculus has hinted that more details will be available at E3 in June.

Those details will hopefully include which platforms will be supported — PCs, Mac, or which specific gaming consoles, as well as processors and graphics cards. Those specifics could narrow down the audience and the ability of anyone from lighter gadget geeks to professionals at less resourced businesses to adopt.

Be prepared for bugs

With as much anticipation as there's been surrounding VR, it's important to remember that when these first consumer products hit the market, they'll be the first of generations to come. The launch of these products isn't an endpoint or goal.

That means when bringing VR into your business, you're going to have to have some patience and mindfulness for things like hardware/software updates, and quick iterations.

"They're going to improve things, they're going to change things, you're going to see hybrids come out, you're going to see mashups come out," Blau said. "You're probably going to go through your own maturation process just in terms of how your business is using that."

Be prepared for the process of iterate, refine, and repeat.

"Not everything is going to work like we think," Eden said.

What Oculus needs to do

Abbruzzese emphasized the need to have strong content available for the consumer version of Oculus, and really, that's true across the board in terms of VR offerings. He equated it to an experience several years back, becoming disillusioned with the Wii. After a year, and not a whole lot of content beyond Wii Sports, there ceased to be a reason to keep the platform around.

"The VR experiences are going to have to be good," Blau said. "You look at the apps stores, and... all but few are apps that people don't really use that much."

If that happens with VR, he said that could mean more trouble because unlike phones or other devices, VR is not general use.

"Valve has a big leg up on Facebook's contender with their Steam platform. Facebook on the other hand is not to be dismissed," Pernar said.

The consumer version will also have to be more user friendly than the developer kit 2 (DK2) in terms of set up. Even for us, a tech publication with access to help from IT and what not, it's been a challenge to find a computer that works with the DK2, even a high end gaming laptop like the HP Omen.

Also, Oculus and the others in the field will have to be aware that the competition is going to be fast and serious.

"These early adopters are going to have a choice and that is going to cause these companies to compete fiercely with each other," Blau said.

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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