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VR Reality Check: Challenges to Widespread Consumer Adoption

VR remains a niche market at this writing, but it's a growing one with huge potential. Here are the latest developments and what it means to adoption in the live production and streaming world.

Desktop Hardware: Still Expensive

Right now, the prohibitive cost of hardware is preventing wider consumer adoption of VR. For optimum VR performance, you need a powerful PC, such as an Intel Core i5-4590 equivalent or greater with a high-end graphics card such as the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970, AMD Radeon 290, or AMD Radeon R9 280. In addition, you need to purchase a VR headset, which costs at least $599.

Fortunately, NVIDIA has launched a new line of graphics processing units (GPUs) based on the company’s Pascal architecture, which can handle VR at a reasonable cost. These VR-ready GPUs include the GeForce GTX 1080 ($599) and GeForce GTX 1070 ($279–$449). AMD has announced the Radeon RX-480 line of VR-capable cards based on its Polaris architecture, with pricing starting at $199. Soon we’ll reach the point where reduced hardware costs will make VR much more affordable for the average buyer.

Mobile VR’s Heyday: Coming Soon

Even as future VR headsets integrate more powerful CPUs and GPUs, they may well be overtaken by more powerful mobile phones. Currently, mobile VR has some disadvantages when compared with the Rift, Vive, and PlayStation VR, such as limited battery life, lack of positional tracking, and limited graphics and resolution.

Mobile VR does have its advantages, such as lower cost, accessibility, and portability, since you don’t have to be tethered to an expensive and unwieldy desktop system. Samsung is even giving away headsets with its mobile phones, which is a win for the consumers and conveniently introduces them to what VR has to offer.

Ultimately, I suspect, mobile VR will supersede desktop VR as a consumer platform when the advancement of mobile hardware and software closes the gap between the desktop and mobile.

Apple Needs to Get Into the Game

We have yet to see any VR hardware or software from Apple, but it’s only a matter of time before the company throws its hat into the ring. It is rumored that Apple is developing a complete ecosystem for iOS. An Apple VR headset is on the horizon, with a prospective release date of 2017.

In its current state, iOS is not as robust as Android, since Apple is not attempting to support VR video, especially in the browser. Safari has not been updated and has little or no support of 360° video playback, although Chrome can handle VR video on iOS. Until Apple fully embraces VR, its large mobile userbase will have limited opportunities to participate in the growth of VR.

Easy-to-Use Cameras for Creators, Low-Cost Cameras for Consumers

There are several new cameras available that make VR video easier to create for professionals and consumers alike. Creating 360° video is difficult, but many manufacturers are coming out of the woodwork and presenting their own solutions.

On the pro level, Facebook is releasing the Surround 360, an open source 3D-360°, 17-camera circular video capture rig that supports 4K, 6K, and 8K per eye. It includes a web-based interface that gives pros the full camera control. The built-in stitching software will make creating final, high-quality images easier.

VideoStitch is another contender with its Orah 4i (Figure 3, below), now available for preorder at $1,995. The Orah 4i is a prosumer VR camera that allows for real¬-time capture and streaming of full spherical 360° video in 4K.

Figure 3. The VideoStitch Orah 4i Live VR Camera

Consumers now have more choices for low-cost spherical cameras, such as Lucid VR’s LucidCam (Figure 4, below), which is available for preorder at $399; Ricoh’s Theta S ($350); Bublcam ($499); 360fly ($499); Vuze ($799); and the Kodak PixPro SP360-4K Action Cam at $499.

Figure 4. The forthcoming Lucid VR LucidCam

Consumers are an important market for VR, and getting them involved in creating videos is the key to growing the industry. More commercial and user-generated content will substantially generate more interest and increase audience size.

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