Opinion

Virtual reality is a game changer for British businesses

6 min read

28 November 2016

Virtual reality is a hot topic right now. Sales of headsets have been steadily rising and although that trend levelled out over recent months, it looks like the introduction of PlayStation VR is set to change that.

PlayStation has made virtual reality suddenly much more affordable for the average consumer, so no wonder that it looks on track to outsell the combined sales of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

Of course, gaming is massive and obvious area for virtual reality, with gamers keen to make the experience much more immersive. We will likely also see some content providers beginning to deliver virtual reality video content to consumers, but many consumers will have limited patience for watching a film whilst wearing a headset and it will be some time before this really takes off – if it ever does.

However, what is much more exciting right now is the opportunity virtual reality presents for business and this is an area where I think we will see some amazing innovation and use cases.

The opportunity

Some businesses are already tapping into the benefits of virtual reality technology. For example, I happen to know that one of the leading architect firms regularly uses it to let customers look around a building and make decisions before the building is constructed, and sometimes before the CAD designs have been finalised.

This same scenario could be invaluable in many other industries, enabling customers to properly visualise the end result of a project, rather than just staring at a drawing.

The possibilities are almost endless. Imagine wanting to buy a house in another country. Instead of having to travel all the way there, you can just pop on a headset and see every detail.

Equally, auction houses could use virtual reality to allow customers to look around at all the available lots, rather than having to scroll through static images on a website.

Virtual reality has also already had a huge impact on training, especially in the medical field where trainee doctors are able to “operate” without actually operating. I see virtual reality as being a useful training tool in other, maybe not quite so critical areas.

For example, it could be used to train satellite equipment installers or civil engineers, who could look at bridge constructions in great detail using a virtual reality headset. In fact, it would certainly be more cost-effective training engineers in any number of disciplines in this way.

The other distinct advantage of course is geographically. With businesses spread across the globe and often with global customer bases, it doesn’t matter where those people are located, with virtual reality you can still collaborate, share, and train.

The challenge

Virtual reality is not without its challenges, however. The biggest one is the total lack of standardisation. There are multiple vendors offering different software, headsets, and technologies and the lack of standard means that very often they are not interoperable.

It is not insurmountable, but it does mean businesses wanting to share virtual reality content with customers or partners in other areas of the globe will likely need to ensure they have the same technology in order to view that content effectively.

Over the coming months, as virtual reality becomes more and more popular across a range of sectors and applications, we may well see a shift. If consumer demand is such that standardisation becomes a necessity this will force the issue and we may see interoperability emerge.

Virtual reality is also a big investment. Businesses need to have a PC capable of operating with complex models in real-time and then an additional headset, such as Oculus Rift, which will set you back around £500 or HTC Vive at around £700.

However, that is mostly insignificant, especially for big businesses, and especially compared with the cost of developing virtual reality software and the time which will needed to be invested by staff – it does not come cheap.

Tapping into the virtual reality opportunity

Despite the challenges, virtual reality clearly offers a huge opportunity for businesses. Whilst it does require investment, it often could be more cost-effective than traditional methods of training, customer viewing and collaboration.

It is easy to see why businesses are beginning to adopt this technology when you consider being able to search, explore and share 3D models in a media asset management system, drag and dropping them into a virtual world and using the assets to design and plan.

The media asset management systems, used to house and manage video, will need to be flexible and adapt to support this new type of content and most probably very different workflows.

I believe over the coming months, we will see this technology become mainstream, not just for the largest vendors, but for the smaller firms too and across a wide cross-section of industries.

Tim Child is CCO and co-founder at Cantemo

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