If you recall in 2014, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg bought virtual reality (VR) leader Oculus for $2 billion (€1.8 billion). At that point, buying Oculus seemed rather odd, given the disparate worlds of social media and VR. But Zuckerberg had a vision back then of making Oculus a platform for a host of nongaming experiences, like watching sports, studying, and consulting with doctors.
Zuckerberg’s vision seems to be coming to fruition. Already, there is an Oculus Education division, with The Verge reporting on its pilot programs in educational institutes in Seattle, Taiwan, and Japan. And Oculus just released three education-related VR experiences: Breaking Boundaries in Science, Titanic VR, and Hoover Dam: IndustrialVR.
Virtual reality has already been implemented across many industries. Oculus even streamed a selection of FIFA World Cup 2018 matches in VR for free last year. An article on the impact of technology on sports by Coral explains that so far VR is being used primarily to improve the fan experience and giving them the chance to get closer to the action. This technology allows fans to experience the same surroundings and feelings that their heroes experience every week. Oculus is also forging partnerships with sports channels worldwide, and notably, NextVR to stream Bundesliga matches in the future.
But Zuckerberg’s Oculus isn’t alone in pushing VR to the mainstream. Google is also bringing VR experiences to the market, primarily through partnerships with companies that aren’t necessarily into VR, but with material that people are sure to want. So far, Google VR has partnerships with Netflix (for immersive streaming), IMAX (for watching movies), and even Lionsgate (for VR game tie-ins).
VR is about Entertainment
For all the progress VR has made in other industries (i.e. in education, sports, etc.), the first thing that still comes to most people’s minds when they hear virtual reality is entertainment. VR, however, can potentially offer more as the technology can bring people to seemingly different worlds and make the impossible seem possible — all in a cost-effective way. VR, for example, is now used in theme parks, like at the Oriental Science Fiction Valley in China. Hailed as the world’s first VR theme park by VR Focus, the Oriental Science Fiction Valley includes over 30 VR attractions as well as a studio to produce VR movies.
Advancements in head-mounted displays (e.g., Google Daydream and Oculus Go) are also making it possible for people to use VR in a variety of ways and settings, like playing games or watching sporting events and movies. This means that when you’re watching a movie via platforms like Bigscreen and CineVR, the whole experience is improved. These VR platforms, along with new VR standalone headsets like the Oculus Quest, which allow for VR entertainment anywhere, can “transport” people to a virtual cinema as they watch movies on a big virtual screen. These headsets also enable you to “visit” tourist spots from the comfort of your own home, and enjoy interactive and immersive rides in a theme park.
More importantly, the development of the Oculus Quest will soon lead to mixed reality, the convergence of virtual reality and augmented reality. As Variety explains in its review of the Oculus Quest, VR and AR “have long proceeded on separate tracks,” though those tracks seem well on their way to converging. Oculus’s newest offering may have just laid the groundwork for that future with its innovative guardian system; integrated cameras show greyscale views of the physical world as a means for the user to track 3D space (to prevent bumping into something in the physical world). While mixed reality is still a concept, it can be a game-changer, one that will push both VR and AR into the mainstream.