Virtual reality has been exiled to the dreaded trough of disillusionment for years, but it is finally on the path to escape. Products such as Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are continuously wowing both users and investors, and these technologies will clearly play a significant role in the future of movies and gaming.
Despite this emergence, it is another related technology that has shown even more potential. The market for augmented reality will be worth 4x as much as the market for virtual reality in the coming years, according to AR/VR advisory firm Digi-Capital.
What’s the difference between the two?
Virtual reality offers a closed and fully immersive experience for users inside a virtual world.
Augmented reality offers an open and partly immersive experience that makes virtual elements visible in the real world.
While devices such as smartphones can offer some basic aspects of augmented or virtual reality, there are now several companies in both fields that are on the verge of bringing game-changing products to the mass market.
Facebook made an early bet buy purchasing Oculus Rift for $2 billion in 2014, which is now considered the leader in virtual reality. Phone and game console manufactures have also anted up with Sony, HTC, and Samsung all actively developing products in the ecosystem.
On the augmented side, it’s the Google-backed Magic Leap as well as the Microsoft’s HoloLens that are considered key players for hardware. Apple has also acquired AR software maker Metaio, but has kept plans under wraps.
Aside from the big companies involved, there are also plenty of smaller startups in virtual and augmented reality. CB Insights has created a list of venture capital investments, sorted by firm, in these technologies: (click to expand)
What’s Ahead in 2016?
This year is expected to be a big one for virtual and augmented reality technologies. The TED Conference in Vancouver, BC was littered with VR/AR experiences, and the technology has become the primary focus of the CES event in Las Vegas.
Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Sony are expected to bring early VR headsets to market. Meanwhile, the low-cost Google Cardboard will continue to whet everyone’s appetite for more immersive virtual reality experiences in the meantime.
The mystery surrounding Magic Leap will continue to grow, and many expect a reveal from the secretive Florida startup in 2016. The sleeping giants, Apple and Amazon, could also wake up this year after keeping their VR and AR efforts highly-veiled thus far.