CES 2016: Virtual reality is here (almost)

Virtual reality was widely expected to dominate the buzz at CES this week. With much-anticipated product launches from Playstation, HTC and Oculus, how could it not? But it hasn’t panned out quite as expected. Here’s what you need to know, and what VR actually means for consumers and brands.


1. Virtual reality is for gamers right now – and that’s okay.

Oculus’ headset is now available to pre-order. Priced at $599, it requires a very high-powered computer to run on, which takes the cost to around $1499. The headset comes with sensor wristbands that act as controllers, and a couple of games bundled in. Playstation’s VR headset similarly comes with light-up wireless joysticks, and is expected to cost upwards of $400. The prices, the hardware and the experiences that are available all point towards one thing: these virtual reality headsets are aimed at gamers. If you’re not a gamer, you probably won’t buy one this year. You’ll stick to your smartphone-connected headset instead. But that’s fine: this is the year where we start to work out what virtual reality means when it goes beyond gaming.


2. You’ll be trying out some ‘movie goggles’ soon, but you probably won’t buy them either.

While we’re in this interim stage where virtual reality is new, and nobody knows exactly how we’ll use it or what people will buy it for, there are some interesting products testing out the waters. A handful of CES exhibitors are showing VR headsets that simply play a film, as if you’re in a tiny movie theatre with space for one person. There are also 3D glasses on show that bring gaming to life in a way that is a bit like VR but not really.


3. Brand experiences are still going to be very cool in VR

Even if you don’t buy a VR headset at all, you will experience it – because brands are building experiences in virtual reality, and they’re pretty amazing. At CES, the BMW Innovation Experience features an interactive virtual reality video that explores future scenarios for drivers, including a tour of the smart home and how you’ll be using your car interface to control it, and a virtual test drive of BMW’s latest model. It brings its concepts to life in a whole new way, and it shows that for brands, virtual reality is an arena with very clear potential.

WANT MORE? Design Futures report The Virtual Reality Experience explores how VR is impacting industries from gaming to travel to fashion.


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