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TECHNOLOGY

New Frontiers in VR

By Karina Masolova

As traditional linear entertainment falls by the wayside, new technologies emerge that make it possible for us to interact with brands. Thus, for example, Internet TV is making on-demand the norm for TV viewing. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality are also among the technologies changing the rules of engagement.

Know Your Headsets

Google Cardboard (2014): Literally a fold-out cardboard mount for a mobile phone. Low emersion, low price point (>$10).

Razer OSVR (Jun. 2015): Open source VR initiative. Developer kit from Razer allows for modifications ($199); compare to similar Oculus DK2 ($350).

Samsung Gear VR (Nov. 2015): Headset that works with the 2015 line of Samsung smartphones. Has separate gamepad ($99).

HTC Vive (Q4 2015): Higher-end PC-based headset developed by HTC and Valve, to support titles on the Steam VR gaming platform ($300–500).

Oculus Rift Crescent Bay (Q1 2016): PC-based headset with positional tracking and integrated audio. Developed by Oculus VR, acquired by Facebook FB. Ships with Microsoft’s Xbox One wireless gamepad, with more controllers to come ($200–400).

Project Morpheus/PlayStation VR (Q2 2016): Headset from Sony for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita game systems. Around 70 confirmed games, including franchises with robust licensing programs ($399).

As the technology behind VR emerges from its infancy and become more advanced, inexpensive and therefore accessible, major technology firms are finally releasing the types of consumer headsets that can support a thriving market. It’s no stretch to say that 2016 is the year of VR. Major players like Disney, Comcast, Time Warner and Legendary Entertainment are pulling out all the stops in an effort to be the first. The proving ground, and where consumer attention is largely directed, is video games—and while developers like Ubisoft are bullish and others like EA are holding back, it is generally accepted that a significant market will exist within 5 years. The technology has already expanded to films, live events and even product launches. According to Piper Jaffray, by 2025 the market for VR content (not including hardware) will reach $5.4 billion.

While augmented reality units are further off in the future, the promise of seeing your favorite characters or the latest products in your room is no less tantalizing for those seeking the latest ways to monetize more connected, tech-savvy consumers.

The biggest challenge is adoption, with hardware developers straining to slash prices and raise buzz. Google recently partnered with The New York Times, which sent out over a million free Cardboard units as it launched new VR content. The giant also partnered with YouTube to support VR, targeting the masses in a way high-end gaming units cannot. On the flip side, Google partnered with Mattel for a 21st century reboot of classic toy brand View-Master that hit retail this fall.

While the NFL became the first to broadcast a professional sporting event in VR last month, it’s expected to be joined by the NBA and European soccer leagues as early adopters. With content being developed by start-ups and big studios alike, the licensing industry will likely see new VR-based properties breaking into consumer products over the next five years.

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