Virtual reality is becoming the new reality.

Staff Writer

I don’t know about you, but “dinner and a movie” has never been my thing; lucky for me, I’m getting married to a guy who feels exactly the same way. For us, a respectable date might be more along the lines of samurai sword fighting, playing trampoline dodgeball, or jumping out of a plane. We want a true experience. And over the years, like everything else, our dates have become increasingly more high tech.

For example. This past month, we had a “virtual reality” date after he spotted this little storefront full of VR equipment. We paid the folks $40, donned the goggles, and spent an hour playing a fairly terrifying and oh-so-realistic zombie war game. Because nothing says “I love you” more than coming together to defeat the undead.

This little afternoon experience made me realize that VR is now becoming a “thing.”

In fact, the biggest augmented and virtual reality expo in the world is taking place the week in Los Angeles, summoning every major player in the world to show off their latest developments. VRLA, which started as a meet-up, is now a full fledged official convention being held this year at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

While it certainly feels like virtual reality has been all the rage now for a few years, it hasn’t really broken into the mainstream public until recently. With the cost of headsets and platforms being what they are, the likes of Oculus Rift, Playstation VR and Microsoft’s Hololens are playthings very much relegated to the hands of tech savvy early adopters and developers.

However there are a number of signs that suggest 2017 might be the year we begin seeing virtual reality being used by more folks (not just those of us who engage in obscure dating activities).

One of the company’s setting up shop at the LA Convention Center this week is Europe’s leading augmented and virtual reality firm RE’FLEKT. With a number of household name clients, like Porsche, Audi, BMW and even Hyperloop, the company is attending for the first time this year launching their new platform REFLEKT360 which it hopes will expand the current VR content landscape.

I asked the company’s CEO Woflgang Steltze to lay out some reasons why this year might be the year virtual reality finally breaks out. Here’s what he had to say:

There will be content

Currently there is a real shortage of available content out there for existing hardware. Naturally, as more content is produced for the variety platforms out there the more value consumers will be able to receive from their investment. Brands are more and more looking to create immersive experiences for their audiences and virtual reality offers some creative opportunities to do so.

Hardware will continue to get cheaper

Right now a headset for a gaming console or Oculus is going to set you back a few to several hundred dollars, but you can pick up a Google cardboard for your phone for as little as $15 or a Samsung or Google Daydream headset for under $100. On the production side, 360 cameras are falling too with some quality versions less than $200 and cheaper.

Industry access

It used to be that in order for a studio or brand to create content even a simple interactive VR video could cost, at minimum $50,000. The barrier to storytellers, content creators and even most brands was a little steep to justify the cost. With newer innovations and platforms, content creators will be able to develop their own virtual experiences without the complicated programming and development that is currently required to do so. As more organizations gain access to tools like this, more content will be created and pushed out the masses.

Mobile

Your mobile phone’s ability to output high quality VR content is only going to get better with each passing year. Most new model Android and ios phones can run a VR app with ease. Seeing as how some developing nations now have easier access to smartphones than they do to clean drinking water, it’s a safe bet VR experiences will be mostly viewed on your phone. Conversely, more and more people will be able to create their own VR content simply using their phone with a 360 camera attachment. Imagine being able to live stream important moments in full immersive environments to folks and loved ones who can’t be with you on that vacation, graduation, wedding or other important life events.

Platform ubiquity

As listed previously, right now there are a multitude of virtual reality platforms out there and it isn’t exactly obvious which one to choose, most of them are too expensive anyway. But with more creators getting their hands on easy development tools, more consumers will be getting exposed to this content as it is pushed out and promoted.
In 2016 there were at least 230 companies developing virtual reality-related products so clearly there is a market for this industry. What remains to be seen is how big it can get and how successful it can be. With the above factors being any indication it is quite possible that virtual and augmented reality will become much more common throughout households and offices around the world. Virtually exciting times indeed.