7 Surprising things that will hold VR back – At least today

I’ve been spending a bit of time in LA recently, and you can’t turn around without someone gushing about how VR is going to save the entertainment industry. Out at SXSW this year it was all anyone could talk about. And up here in Silicon Valley/San Francisco where I live, the technology companies behind VR churn out pronouncement after pronouncement touting their silicon and software breakthroughs. But what’s really going on? I’ve been testing and analyzing products since 1991 at PC Week, PC Magazine and TechTV, while more recently I’ve talked to lots of early-stage VR companies with my work at venture firm Social Starts. It’s a complex and quickly shifting landscape. To that end here are 7 things to keep in mind as you think about where VR is today – and where it’s going:

  1. It’s Not Going to be Smooth Sailing: Virtual Reality has been through the hype-curve before, and it’s now climbing to the top of the charts again. And just like before, there will be a slide into the trough of despair. Why? First, the expectations for virtual reality’s acceptance by consumers will be far than expected. Sure millions have played around with cardboard and other rudimentary viewers, but none of them are good enough for more than an occasional, short session. The new devices from HTC, Oculus and Sony are certainly a step up, but still lack the effective full resolution of the screens we’re used to consuming content on today. For now, most will see VR as a curiosity, not a crucial purchase.
  2. Headset Issues: Today’s headsets are clunky, heavy and uncomfortable to wear for a long time. Plus, they’re super expensive. But the hype is strong, which means those who spend a thousand dollars or more will be disappointed, and vocal about their distress. Except for mobile-phone based systems, which are more gimmick than genuine, these headsets are tethered as well. That leads to some uncomfortable cord tangles, which will also detract from the immersive experience. This will change over time, as technology advances lead to wireless, high resolution and lightweight headsets. But that’s still probably a few years out. By the way, as an aside, there’s going to be a big market for swivel chairs – especially those comfortable enough for extended gaming sessions.


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