Clearly, recent investments in virtual reality and augmented-reality technology from companies like Facebook, USA Today, The New York Times and Discovery are setting the stage for consumer adoption. But the question remains: What type of VR experience and sophistication will truly create the mainstream tipping point for this space?
After personally trying and touring devices and content, a truth became evident: The discrepancy between best and base does not matter to most people. Consumers are curious and frequently awed by this new immersive experience, but for most, passive viewing and gaming experiences are many steps back from satisfying a bleeding-edge need.
The technological innovation is definitely there: 4K 3D in-unit stitching cameras, often attached to drones that can perform tracking shots that would make Orson Wells proud. But there are also a number of low-cost small camera phone accessories that can capture and post content in minutes.
I experienced viewing hardware on the CES show floor from HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and the newest entry from Intel Project Alloy, which ditches the wires by putting the computer in the headset. All bring the ultimate processing power and video resolution VR has to offer.
Intel has unveiled HD photo-realistic interactive content and a number of gaming experiences that allow users to roam a world and feel each body blow through haptic feedback vests.
And while these technologies wow, I was most taken by the plethora of low-cost units that easily work with existing phones and have people swiveling heads in immersive 3D VR instantly, like what Samsung is doing with the Gear. It was the simpler control devices paired with mobile phones that still elicited squeals of delight from even veteran CES attendees.
Remove the exhibit-floor booth and bring high-end VR device into the home brings reality checks. But offer people a device that is affordable, simplistic, and works with their existing phone and they happily feel part of the VR zeitgeist.
For a tipping point in the year ahead, I say the best actually isn’t best. Easier, cheaper, faster democratized access to VR is good enough.