The hype surrounding virtual reality has reached deafening levels yet little brother augmented reality may have even bigger potential, according to experts.
Using VR technology transports the user to a fully virtual environment whereas AR enhances the real world by laying graphics or images over it.
In this connected world, does the nature of VR then limit its potential impact?
Peter Woodbridge is a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and has researched the convergence between film-making and immersive technologies.
“A lot of people forget that watching media is about socialness,” he told BusinessCloud. “Until VR cracks that, I’m not sure it’s going to be the big thing people are expecting.
“We’ve gone from watching cinema in a shared room, to the home, to the bedroom, to our pocket – and now a headset. It’s part of that same trajectory and quite isolating as an experience, but we’ve got a young generation coming through who expect participatory experiences – and AR has got the ability to do that a lot more.”
This view is shared by Dr Maria Stukoff, director of Maker Space, a £16m engineering innovation centre under development at Salford University which will house cutting-edge tech such as AR, VR and robotics and allow for rapid prototyping by businesses, researchers and students.
“VR, for me, is part of screen culture,” she told a packed audience at a breakfast event at Mills & Reeve in Manchester. “We aren’t yet at the stage where immersive technology is everywhere and touchable.
“Imagine if, instead of CCTV cameras all over a city, we had cameras that could project AR environments, which keep popping up. Wouldn’t that be a better world?”
Content is key to whether VR will become a success, according to Woodbridge.
“VR hasn’t yet found that killer piece of content. A lot of it on the entertainment side can be gimmicky,” he said.
“One hundred years ago, when film was first invented, it looked like theatre because that was the reference point for the filmmakers. It was only later that the innovators came in and realised you could do a close-up or direct the attention and rhythm of the audience.
“VR is going through that stage of experimentation at the moment.”
Woodbridge is involved in a VR healthcare project with the Liverpool School of Medicine.
“To be able to experience something through someone else’s eyes is massive,” he explained.
“A lot of the problems the NHS has are down to human error: you could be dealing with a family and write down a slightly wrong number, for example. We need to be able to focus.
“We’ve created these high-intensity scenarios in stereoscopic 360-degree video allowing medical students to experience what it’s like in a hospital. You don’t get that in a classroom.”
Stukoff – a former head of Sony’s PlayStationFirst game academy for aspiring PS4 and PSVR developers – acknowledges there is a market for VR.
“Learning and reading are also isolating experiences. We make a choice to use VR to escape,” she said.
“Human endeavour has always asked that question: how can we escape ourselves and experience something different?”