VR's The Next 3D, Right?

How long are we going to talk about VR as being the next big thing? For those who say it has to happen because it brings people closer to content and truly immerses them, I have one word -- 3D.

Tune in to Sky and two things hit you. Sky 3D is no longer working, there just was not the demand. Then secondly, you remember you didn't have to unsubscribe, it was free. How often does Sky give away a free channel? The fact is, Sky couldn't monetise it, nor make a serious attempt to, tells you everything you need to know about 3D. Don't know about you, but my sets of 3D glasses have long been put away in the cupboard and memories of watching Avatar with the family or an occasional Premier League game are now long distant memories.

Yet, here's the thing. When you go to see the latest blockbuster on an IMAX screen, it's a tempting upgrade, isn't it? When you visit a museum or a tourist attraction the 3D show, often called 4D if the chairs rumbled too, always has a queue.

Could this be the future of VR? Certainly in the short to medium term it would appear so. The equipment is expensive, so too is the computing power to run it and there are very few applications other than an occasional computer game. Then there's motion sickness.

So as yet another columnist suggests in Campaign this morning that the opportunities for advertisers are limitless, we just need to figure out what they are, I'm left wondering whether The New York Times might have had the best steer here. Its VR guys presented at Dmexco last Autumn and the general gist was this is great technology, but please don't allow advertisers to jump all over it from the start. The uses it believes are apt for VR are editorial, such as, say, placing the reader turned viewer in to a crime scene or sitting them in a boat packed with desperate refugees. Advertisers have been asking to sponsor content and get involved in its creation but the paper has so far resisted, its team says, because the inclusion of logos and the like would only detract from the power of the medium.

I know a lot of brands are tempted to do something fun and snazzy at a conference or event with Google Cardboard. My advice -- don't. It is to wonderful immersive experiences what WAP was to surfing the mobile internet. If VR's going to enter the home, it's surely not going to be through a cardboard box but rather a gaming headset. Their prices are coming down but I haven't once had any pestering from the kids to get one, they don't know a single person who has one, they have no yearning to be the first to find out.

Even so PwC reckons VR is set to be the UK's fastest growing sector in media and entertainment between 2016 and 2021, showing a CAGR of 76% to become worth GBP801m at the end of the period when there will be 16m VR units in use. We'll see if the optimism is borne out, personally, I'm not feeling it.

I rather think, then, VR is headed the direction of 3D. Even when 3D specs became cheap and the tv channel pumped out content for free, it still didn't take off. But, take anyone to a planetarium with a 3D dome and we're all queuing up for tickets. People don't like wearing odd-looking eyewear -- just ask Google Glass or Snap -- but when it's part of the theatre of an experience, we're there.

The advantage 3D has is the expensive stuff is done by the exhibitor and we get free glasses, the tickets cost a bit more than a 2D presentation but as a one-off experience, we'll take the hit. VR is the other way round. The equipment the user needs is hugely expensive and so it's hard to see it making a massive impact where it isn't supported by a brand selling an amazing laser quest or virtual fun fair experience. If a big set of goggles adds to the excitement, we'll queue, when it represents you as the only one with a helmet on your head, we'll probably give it a miss.

Who knows what advances will be made in ten years time but for now the endless slew of VR being the next big thing leave me as unimpressed as my stack of 3D glasses gathering dust in a seldom-opened cupboard.

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