Virtual reality is one of the most talked-about new technologies in present time. This guide is an introduction to not only what VR is, but how it's relevant to businesses, with the intent to steer decision makers away from jumping on the bandwagon and toward finding value in its use.
- What is it? Virtual reality refers to an immersive environment, frequently generated by a computer, that fills most of a user's field of vision.
- Why does it matter? Beyond being an "it" technology for gaming and entertainment, VR has potential within a broad range of industries from healthcare to education.
- Who does this affect? In the business world, virtual reality mostly affects external-facing efforts—customers and clients. Think marketing and sales more so than internal tools for getting work done. So far.
- When is this happening? Businesses are already using virtual reality to make presentations, demo products, give tours, and the like. Interest will only increase in the months to come.
- How do I get it? It depends on your needs, but virtual reality devices span a spectrum, from the relatively-cheap Google Cardboard, which uses a smartphone as a display, to the higher-end VR rigs like the consumer Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, which will be available in the spring and summer of 2016, respectively.
What is virtual reality?
The concept of virtual reality has been around for decades. As far back as the 1960s, pioneers like Mort Heilig and Ivan Sutherland sought to combine the real world with an artificial one. Over the years, there have been waves and troughs in interest and feasibility. The underpinning, though, is a technology that lets users interact with an immersive, simulated world.
A lack of computing power, as well as sky-high costs for parts, have created massive barriers to the development of the technology. It's only recently that the tech is good enough to cut down on problems with lag, resolution, power, and more.
The turning point, or impetus for this new wave, is commonly thought to be Oculus founder Palmer Luckey's Kickstarter campaign for the Oculus Rift. For the first time in years, it seemed possible that VR could happen, and that it wouldn't cost tens of thousands of dollars.
- Why virtual reality could finally mend its broken promise (TechRepublic)
- Keep up with VR: 15 Twitter accounts to follow (TechRepublic)
- Virtual reality and augmented reality in the workplace: A primer for CIOs (TechRepublic)
- Mini-glossary: Virtual reality terms you should know (TechRepublic)
Why does virtual reality matter?
Virtual reality and hype have a long-standing relationship. However, at this point in time, there's a mad rush on to figure out the best hardware and software for VR. Everyone's interested, and everyone's looking for that killer use case.
For businesses, this matters because at some point, someone will raise the question: "Is there anything we can do with VR?"
VR matters because where there's interest, investment, and movement, there's potential. In fact, Goldman Sachs projects that virtual reality could be an $80 billion industry by 2025. That potential hinges on your specific business needs, but professionals in fields from medicine, to architecture, to sales, to education are finding creative uses that improve their practices and, sure, get some attention for using an innovative new technology.
- NASA shows the world its 20-year virtual reality experiment to train astronauts: The inside story (TechRepublic)
- Virtual reality gets new depth with Vivid Vision, an application to correct lazy eye (TechRepublic)
- VR doing good: How a non-profit wrecked an oil tanker in Vancouver without spilling a drop (TechRepublic)
- From privacy to productivity: A look at how virtual reality could change the way we work (TechRepublic)
Who does this affect?
VR is seeping into a variety of different industries. Many of the most visible areas are client or customer-facing. Businesses are finding ways to communicate the value of their products through VR with projects like product demos, 360 tours, presentations, and more.
- 10 things brands should know about virtual reality (TechRepublic)
- YouVisit brings brands and businesses into virtual reality (TechRepublic)
- Marriott Hotels use VR to connect consumers with tech and travel innovation (TechRepublic)
- BetterCloud's 360 video gives applicants and new employees an insider's view (TechRepublic)
- Gallery: 11 apps to help you introduce people to VR (TechRepublic)
When is this happening?
Now. Every week seems to bring more announcements regarding organizations and institutions jumping on the VR bandwagon. Google, for example, has shifted from the unassuming Google Cardboard first handed out two years ago to making moves toward a VR division and a standalone headset. The point here is not so much to blindly join in, but to be aware that a lot is changing very quickly, and right now.
- How Google Cardboard became the flag bearer for VR, and what's next (TechRepublic)
- Virtual reality in 2016: The 10 biggest trends to watch (TechRepublic)
- Oculus VR goggles could change the future. Or not (CNET)
How do I get it?
This depends on what your business needs. Your interests might be as simple as creating a short 360 video, uploading it to YouTube 360, and using Google Cardboard to view it. Or, the higher end might be more of use or interest and require consultation with an agency or studio.
- Ricoh Theta S: An easy investment in 360 video for businesses (TechRepublic)
- Hands on with the new HTC Vive Pre: Hardware improvements could keep you in VR longer (TechRepublic)
- Review: Oculus Rift: Welcome to the future (CNET)
- Immersive journalism: What virtual reality means for the future of storytelling and empathy-casting (TechRepublic)
- Augmented and virtual reality: An IT leader's introduction (TechRepublic)
- Five tips for creating virtual reality product demos (ZDNet)
- Virtual and augmented reality policy (Tech Pro Research)
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.