A few days ago, the BBC posted a piece stating that Virtual Reality went somehow wrong between the time people started to get hyped for it again and today. While I can agree that the crazy expectations some analysts had for the then nascent VR industry were over the top and unrealistic, I couldn’t disagree more with the BBC’s assessment, which seems to be an article designed to justify their closure of the BBC VR Hub more than anything else.
According to Eleanor Lawrie (the person who wrote the article that caught my attention), VR has somehow failed because of its high entry cost, something she justifies with a quote from James Gautrey, a portfolio manager at Schroder who states “…Take videogames – you need a very powerful PC, a good amount of space, sensors set up around it, and of course the VR helmet itself. The cost runs to thousands and for most it is completely impractical not to mention too expensive…” This statement doesn’t hold too much water when we consider that in the same article the writer mentions Sony’s PSVR headset, a piece of kit that retails for US$349.99 and only requires a PlayStation 4 to use it. If we start to think about the obvious option that for some reason has been omitted from the article (the Oculus Quest), then things get even weirder, as Oculus’ latest offering doesn’t even need another system in order to play games, browse the web or enjoy VR video content, as it’s a standalone device (with the option to use it as a PCVR headset through the Oculus Link).
That alone would be enough to dismiss the BBC’s claims as superfluous in my opinion, but the same article also claims that aside from “specialist video gamers” and a few specific job training scenarios, VR doesn’t have a place in today’s world, a statement that outright dismisses tons of other applications (such as virtual tourism, artistic applications, virtual cinema and so on). All of these applications are as mainstream as they come, yet someone who works for the BBC saw fit to publish a piece that outright says those don’t exist (despite the corporation’s previous work with the technology, which delved deep into VR cinema)
The other weird claim that caught my attention was the idea that somehow VR has definitely lost its relevance because it “received very little attention at CES”. That statement feels like yet another claim made by someone who isn’t really up to date on VR news, and expects new headsets to be released every year, just like mobile phones. Why wasn’t there any significant VR presence at CES? It should be obvious, as the technology’s biggest proponents have already launched their flagship products (Oculus launched the Rift S and the Quest in May 2019, while Valve did the same with the Index in June 2019 and HTC joined in the fun with the release of the Cosmos in October of the same year). As usual, context is important, and ignoring it will of course lead to imperfect conclusions.
So, dear reader, do you agree with our assessment of the situation, or do you think that the BBC’s got a point here? Is Valve betting on the wrong horse with their first Half-Life game in 13 years being a VR exclusive? Is VR dead and buried, despite both the Quest and the Index selling out over the holidays?