VR reaching mass market is only a matter of time.

‘As a rule, people do not like what they already have and that is why VR is approaching.’

Everyone craves happiness. People strive to achieve this state and are convinced that happiness is to be found in things that surround them or in things they achieve. They get bored and used to the things they have very quickly. Once they fulfill their dream, it turns out that their happiness does not last long.

They want more and more, at the same time trusting that achieving another thing will finally bring lasting happiness. The more they possess, the more they worry about their possessions. They trust the illusion that resources are limited and soon there will not be enough for them.

Moreover, it happens that despite being happy where they are, they would like to try something new and check how would it be to be somewhere else and live a different life.

There are also those who are not complacent about their current not-cool-enough lives and would like to check how it would be to be somewhere else. People often find it difficult to risk and change their lives dramatically. A few people are capable of radical changes, e.g. emigration.

At the end of the day, it is all about unfulfilled dreams. If you are still not able to entirely fulfill them, you will certainly be able to experience them thanks to other people and their stories.

For centuries, people have been trying to relive experiences of different heroes. Back in the day, they were reading books and watching movies. Nowadays, people experience ‘a direct transfer of experiences’ as it was called by Jacek Dukaj in his collection of essay ‘After writing’ (Dukaj J., ‘Po piśmie’, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Cracow 2019) or play computer games. It’s a sense of being in the past what matters here: immersion.

During experiencing immersion you lose a contact with reality and a brain is tricked to such an extent that it is convinced that what it sees and hears is actually true.

Literature, theatre or cinema are not capable of deceiving your brain to such an extent. Future technologies, however, trick your brain naturally, automatically and for 100%, thus evoking emotions easily. Let’s start from the very beginning.

20% immersion.

At the beginning, there was a voice and all experiences were conveyed via speech. It all happened thanks to the FOXP2 gene about 200K years B.C. Then picture writing appeared about 30K years B.C. followed by alphabetic writing about 2000 years B.C.

However, despite of the fact that some people were great at storytelling, you cannot say that speech as such is able to ‘transfer’ you somewhere completely else. OK, maybe if you sit around a campfire at night and somebody tells some horror story, then out of a sudden you hear something cracking in a forest. Boo!

30% immersion.

The alphabetic writing (most probably invented by Phoenicians about 1300 years B.C.) gave an opportunity to write down experiences of other people.

However, it was not until 1445 when Gutenberg invented printing, that literature became one of the main media for experiencing stories of other people. Franz Kafka, William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, John Milton, Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov, Anton Chekhov, Marcel Proust, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Dante and so on.

These are the great writers that replaced simple verbal stories with epic stories about superheroes of their time. Undoubtedly, literature is a milestone in storytelling for all other media. However, experiencing immersion during reading is quite problematic.

On one hand, it’s 100% immersion as imagination takes no prisoners. On the other hand, however, reading does not deceive our consciousness the way theatre or cinema do.

40% immersion.

In the meantime, stories about superheroes started to be shown on theatre stages. Thespis put the first actor on a stage in 534 B.C. Later there was Aeschylus who put the second actor, and Sophocles who added the third one.

There exist two types of theatres. The first one resembles storytelling by a campfire, i.e. a very funny and joyful comedy with actors having stockings on their faces. The second one is completely different as it uses technology in order to introduce sophisticated multi-layered narratives with several tens of viewers who at the same time serve as actors as they are involved in a plot and thus become actors of a performance they are watching…

The first theatre performance is rather a cabaret, while the second one enables deep immersion in a story.

50% immersion.

The first industrial revolution took place in the 18th century leading to invention of the cinema, camera obscura, in 1830. The Brothers Lumieré patented the cinématographe on the 13th of July, 1895. The twenties of the 20th century brought another changes, i.e. adding sound and color to movies.

Cinema has become a mass medium and started to convey all those stories about superheroes that all people would like to become one day. A dark screening room, enormous screen, color and dolby stereo sound with or without additional special physical effects create or rather created (pandemic) a deep sense of immersion and thus experiencing someone’s else life.

Cinema won the first place in transferring people directly into someone’s else, preferably superheroes’, life or story. Over time, people started to watch movies at home and such platforms like Netflix changed a business model of the whole market which has been further sealed by the pandemic. To quote Olga Tokarczuk:

‘We should be very satisfied as nowadays we all witness forming of a new way of describing the world, which is enabled by TV series. Their underlying task, however, is to put us in a trance.

Clearly, this kind of storytelling existed already in myths and homeric stories with Hercules, Achilles and Odysseus being the first TV series heroes.

However, no other medium became so important nor influenced mass imagination so immensely ever before. The first two decades of the 19th century certainly belonged to TV series. Their influence on storytelling and thus understanding of the world is revolutionary.’

60% immersion.

A completely new branch was developing simultaneously with the cinema, i.e. computer games which enable players to be transformed into their favorite characters even to the greater extent. It started in the 1940’ and became more popular in the 1970’.

Then appeared ZX spectrum, Atari, Amiga, AT, XT and today’s quantum computers but I will not focus on them now. I will leave it for the next article on artificial intelligence.

In the words of chip.pl, in 1972 a tennis fever started in the USA thanks to an arcade video game called Pong. In 1978 Tomohiro Nishikado created Space Invaders which became the most popular arcade game ever. In 1980 Pac-Man was published and its hero became a pop-culture icon for the first time in a history of games.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is the longest-running PC video game as it has been sold and updated since its release in 1982.

In Tetris, players complete lines by moving differently shaped pieces. The game was created in 1984 in Russia. The real breakthrough, however, came with 1992 Dune which focused on economic issues and introduced real-time strategy.

Half-Life, a video game developed by Valve and published by Sierra Studios in 1998, was another breakthrough as their creators added a plot to a shooter video game for the first time in a history of the FPS genre.

Listing of CD Projekt Red on the Polish Stock Exchange, before the premiere of Cyberpunk 2077.

In 2019, the video games market was worth $149 billion. In times of pandemic it is certainly worth even more. The cinema market practically ceased to exist and has been replaced with TV series. Today, CD Projekt S.A., a Polish video game developer, is worth PLN 36.5 billion.

Both video games and cinema industries have always strived to achieve photorealism and thus deepening a sense of ‘being inside’ (immersion) in a game or movie. About 15 years ago we were testing image resolution in Se-ma-for Studios during making of an Oscar winning animation ‘Peter & the Wolf’

Even camera operators from the Leon Schiller National Film School experienced problems with determining whether they were looking at 2K or 4K images. It seems that a human eye is not able to tell the difference between them. It was in 2020 when we crossed this magical border of photorealism in motion.

A real-time rendering technology enabling creation of photorealistic graphics in 4K resolution already exists. I am thinking of The Unreal Engine. Interestingly enough, I feel that cinema, TV and smartphone screens cannot give us anything more in terms of image quality and thus immersion or storytelling.

This is why the Big Tech, along with other important players, have decided that the time has come for a new deal. The ones who shuffle cards certainly have the edge as they set the rules. I am thinking of immersive technologies like VR or AR, which create XR, Cross Reality.

100% immersion.

When you put a VR headset on, your brain instantly takes the projected image as a virtual reality. There is not much difference between CVR (Cinematic VR) or VR, i.e. an interactive experience that may or may not be a game. The level of realism is so high that a user with fear of heights is afraid to look down a skyscraper having the headset on.

Last year several hundred people tried VR headsets in our Multikino VR and VR City zones. They answered the following question: ‘will you come back to VR?’

26% of users answered ‘most probably yes’

70.6% ‘definitely yes’

The percentage was even higher among children of the age 10–15,

Children of the age 10–15 constituted more than 50% of respondents

People older than 30 years of age constituted 30%

People of the age 16–30 constituted 20% including 40% of women

Research conducted by Visual Narrative Laboratory / vnLab of the Leon Schiller National Film School clearly indicates that a sense of immersion while using VR headsets is incomparably higher than in cinema or behind a computer screen. The results clearly show that learning in headsets is far more effective than using regular books or even computers.

Taking the above into consideration, investments made by technological corporations are no surprise. In 2016 Facebook acquired Oculus for $3 billion. In 2017 during a conference in Oculus, Mark Zuckenberg stated that VR and AR would be ‘new computing platforms” that would replace smartphones, computer screens and other electronic devices in the future.

A change that is yet to come, i.e. replacing mobile technology with the XR one, will be bigger and experienced more profoundly than switching from PC to mobile technology that took place 10–12 years ago.

a Facebook 10 years roadmap

It is estimated that FB’s investments in immersive technologies amounted to as much as $10 billion.

Currently, Oculus employs several thousand people who build a new market and new technology on commercial, business, technological and narrative levels. Their aim is to gain a similar position as Apple has on a market of smartphones and laptops.

From a technological point of view, Oculus is also a leader of the market.

In late 2019, hand-tracking was introduced in a headset Quest 1 thanks to which users no longer have to use controllers for navigation. The level of image quality, accuracy of touch, and thus immersion itself amounted to 100% last year.

The second generation of headsets, Quest 2, has been sold since the 13th of October, 2020. Quest 2 is a successor of two other FB’s headset types: Rift S and Quest 1. The new headset works in two modes. The ‘standalone’ mode works independently while not requiring other devices to be plugged in. The set uses a built-in processor Snapdragon XR2 which was presented in 2019.

In the second mode, Q2 can be plugged into a computer via a cable which enables transfer 5Gb/sec. It is also clear that Quest 2 will be generally ‘better and faster’ than Q1. Undoubtedly, Q2 will become the hit of the sales just as Q1 before.

Interestingly enough, FB has already got a VR communication system. In the video you can see a test of photorealistic avatars whose face movements are generated via sound produced by people wearing headsets.

At the moment, Facebook is working on a system that will ‘sample’ brain waves what will enable the system to read commands directly from a human brain or thoughts. The system already works. Optimization and minimization are in progress.

HTC is the second biggest player on the VR market. In 2018, the company changed its strategy and management style by focusing on immersive technologies. Their technology is comparable to the one used in Oculus. However, it is not produced on such a massive scale.

One of the important content events took place during the Venice Film Festival’s Virtual Reality Section (the section was created 4 years ago and currently is the biggest one in Europe). HTC presented two VR experiences (episodes or parts), which were generated in real time and personalized for each viewer. I will provide more details in the next article.

In 2019, the Valve Corporation produced a headset VALVE INDEX and the first AAA video game in VR, the third episode of iconic Half-life called Half-life: Alyx. This is the same company that introduced a plot into FPS games back in 1998.

Valve Corporation made it absolutely clear that there was no possibility for Alyx to be a console or computer game as VR gives numerous innovative possibilities that cannot be provided via computer and TV screens.

Moreover, the company cannot imagine creating a groundbreaking game in other technology than VR. Possibilities given by VR technologies are what was missing since 2004 in order to publish the next episode of Half-life.

Microsoft should not be omitted as they created Windows Mixed Reality, i.e. an XR platform used by the majority of headset manufacturers, including HTC, Lenovo or Valve. Microsoft, however, focuses on producing AR headsets rather than VR ones. Their HoloLens are the best AR smartglasses on the market.

I’ve saved PlayStation VR for last. A manufacturer provides hard data that leaves no doubts as to the further development of the technology. PSVR started selling headsets in 2016.

These are the weakest headsets available on the market, taking into consideration their main competitors, namely Oculus and HTC. Until now, they have sold 5 million pieces creating a return of $1.75 billion.

Proceeds from the sale of VR games, however, amounted to $0.54 billion. Consequently, PSVR 2 headsets are of high priority in Sony and have a place right behind PS5.

I would also like to add that video games for PSVR or Oculus are produced by the biggest corporations in the world, with Disney at the helm. The first episode of Vader Immortal from 2019 is available on PSVR.

This year’s STAR WARS SQUADRONS is available on the following headsets: Index, Vive, WMR, Rift S, Rift, Quest via Link. Flying an Xwing has been a dream of several thousand, maybe million people over the world and now it can come true.

At the end of the day, it is all about unfulfilled dreams. If you are still not able to entirely fulfill them, you will certainly be able to experience them thanks to other people and their stories.

To conclude, I feel that VR technology reaching mass market is only a matter of time. Today’s teenagers grow up with headsets as I grew up with arcades next to an ice rink or with my own Atari 800XL game console later on.

That could be used almoste only for playing games, while today’s computers can do virtually everything. It seems that immersive technologies, including VR, will face a similar future. Obviously, VR will not reach mass market without other technologies.

It will happen in combination with them as a part of a greater platform. All in all, it’s the only technology providing 100% immersion.

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About the author:

Marcin Łunkiewicz is a founder of www.mimo.ooo, a VR pioneer in Europe responsible for manufacturing, production and distribution of XR/AI formats. He is responsible for creative automation and aims at creating tools based on AI algorithms that will automatically generate individualized contents for respective users as well as projecting them in XR formats.

He delivered lectures on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, XR/AI/5G markets and narratives in XR technology during festivals and events in Warsaw, Vienna, London, Paris, Brussels, Katowice, Tallinn, Poznań, Gdynia, Cracow, Yokohama, Kyoto, Osaka, Oslo and New York.

Founder of mimo.ooo, a VR pioneer in Europe. Producer and distributor of XR/AI formats.