PCs May Not Be Ready for VR’s Breakout Year

Will 2016 be a breakaway year for virtual reality technology?

Exhibitors at CES 2016 this week seem to think so. More than three dozen of them will be flogging their VR wares at the show, more than double the number from last year.

“2016 will be the year of VR,” said Brian Blau, a research director atGartner.

“That’s pretty clear with all the hardware that’s going to be coming on the market and the push by developers and content producers into VR,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “It will be a real awakening year for VR.”

Still a Niche

Other analysts are being cautious.

“It will remain a niche, but 2016 will set the stage for the future,” said Cliff Raskind, a senior director atStrategy Analytics.

“It could be a breakout year, but it will by no means cross the chasm into the mainstream,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The jump to the mainstream is at least three years away, according to a Strategy Analytics report authored by Steven Waltzer and released in October.

“The virtual reality (VR) market is expected to remain niche among hard core gamers and tech enthusiasts for at least the next three years,” he wrote, “but as technology allows for a higher quality user experience at a lower price point, it will eventually emerge as an exciting new mainstream content consumption medium.”

Sixfold Jump

Whether VR is a niche or not, vendors should see demand for their products climb to heights they haven’t seen before.

VR headset shipments will reach 1.2 million units in 2016 — six times what they were last year, predicts theConsumer Technology Association, which sponsors CES.

IHS Technology pegs headset shipment numbers even higher than that: 7 million.

Those numbers include all forms of headsets, from the most expensive to thecardboard models Google peddles.

“High-end integrated display headsets coming to market in 2016, which include PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, will sell well within a relatively narrow audience of enthusiast gamers that are very keen to try out the latest technology at any price point,” said Piers Harding-Rolls, a director at IHS.

“I’m not a VR skeptic,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “I think the technology has significant potential, but I also think we have to be realistic about how strongly it will be adopted in the short term.”

Cool but Clumsy

One barrier to mainstream adoption may be the clumsiness of VR hardware.

“It’s a bit of a cumbersome experience,” said Glenn Hower, an analyst withParks Associates.

“It’s cool and there’s a novelty aspect to it, but right now it’s a tough sell for the mainstream markets,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“There’s still some work to do with user experience,” Hower added. “2016 may see some more significant implementations, but I’m hesitant to say it will make the jump from novelty to mainstream.”

More Muscle Needed

Another barrier to VR adoption may be a lack of horsepower in the existing base of personal computers.

Less than 1 percent of the 1.43 billion PCs in the world have the muscle to run VR, according to anNvidia estimate.

For gamers, who are some of the most enthusiastic fans of VR, that means shelling out US$300 for a new graphics card — in addition to $350 to $450 for the VR hardware.

“As such, I forecast only a minority of PC gamers will have access to the necessary source hardware to drive a successful VR experience when the headsets are launched in Q1 2016, which reduces the addressable market for PC-based headsets significantly,” IHS’ Harding-Roll noted.

At the same time Nvidia was appraising the ability of the installed base of PCs to run VR, it also was launching a marketing campaign — called “VR Ready” — to inform consumers about which of the company’s graphics cards can handle VR.

“I think we’re seeing a heavy marketing play here,” Gartner’s Blau observed.

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.

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