Virtual Reality 101: Know your Hardware

Everything you need to know about the virtual reality hardware available today

Virtual reality is here and it’s going to transform our world. Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and others are some of the most sought-after gadgets on the market, but while much of the attention has been in gaming, this is also a brave new world for marketing.

Every new digital platform from video to the internet and social media creates new ways for brands to connect with their markets and virtual reality is no different. From selling motorcars, to movies, buildings and much more, VR opens up new and exciting forms of storytelling which help imaginative brands to stand out from the crowd.

The top end

At the most expensive end of the market are the big beasts of the VR world: sophisticated headsets designed to transport you into another world. Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive are all vying for supremacy.

These link to another piece of hardware such as a console or a PC and deliver sophisticated motion sensors which create a realistic experience without the risk of motion sickness. State of the art graphics and advanced high definition displays create a smooth and realistic experience the like of which has never been seen before.


Middle of the road

Take a step down from the high-tech headsets and you come to the likes of Samsung Gear and Google’s Daydream. These will cost between $60 AUD and $120 AUD and offer a lightweight and more affordable alternative. However, they still need other equipment in the form of a smartphone. Although, with the majority of people now owning smartphones, the market is still pretty wide.

Social media apps such as VR Space allow people to delve into a digital world and interact with other avatars. For brands this is a new and exciting avenue of social marketing.

Brands can use the technology to expand their social marketing. The idea of being able to connect virtually with new people opens up an entirely new avenue to connect directly with customers. Irish Estate Agents Shelly FitzGerald, for example, uses VR to allow people to tour a property remotely.

Entry level

These are cheap and cheerful and can be made by anyone in a few minutes with a bit of cardboard. Indeed, that’s what the market leader, Google Cardboard is made out of. It is simply a smartphone case with ambition. It slots over the phone creating a viewer through which you can see VR enabled APPs.

Fashion magazines are developing VR friendly spreads in their magazines which can be viewed in 360 degrees using the carboard devices. McDonalds, even developed a successful promotion in which happy meals boxes could be turned into VR headsets.

The untethered future

The technology is evolving at a break neck pace and the next frontier is the world of untethered standalone devices. Devices such as Oculus Go, HTC Rift, Lenovo Mirage and Googles standalone version of DayDream offer the VR experience without the need to connect to either a computer, console or smartphone. It’s a best of both worlds solution and will enable people to experience the power of a top of the line headset and the mobility of less expensive mobile versions. With prices around $199 it also hopes to make itself more accessible.

It is what some people are calling Virtual reality 2.0 and will make the technology more accessible for everyone. Already Oculus is planning a second standalone headset called the Santa Cruz which promises advanced positional tracking allowing users to move within virtual environments.

This could be the next big leap in the technology moving it towards analysts’ predictions of a $30b US plus global industry by 2026. That will give it enough numbers to propel this from a niche form of customer engagement to the mainstream. Already hundreds of developers are working on apps for these platforms. Those that get their first will be the ones with the all-important advantage.

Rising demand

The rise of these headsets creates a fertile environment. Demand is high and existing platforms are evolving to match. Games designers are producing VR versions of their most popular titles such as Doom VR and Gran Turismo Sport VR which places you in the cockpit. Games like Gran Turismo VR create new ways for brands to engage. Manufacturers such Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes use it to promote their latest models as well as certain ‘vision’ concept cars.

Web apps are also adapting. YouTube and Facebook have both been quick to incorporate 360 videos into their offering. Facebook reports that more than 20,000 360 degree videos have already been uploaded with millions viewing them each day. YouTube also offers 360 degree and VR videos. Using a viewer with spatial audio you can experience multi-directional sounds. Movies which have already embraced 3D are also beginning to kit themselves out for VR mode. In 2017 Paramount Pictures launched the first ever VR movie theatre with Top Gun.

360 degree videos represent an exciting new avenue for brands who can create compelling new content. Nissan used the launch of Rogue One to create a video experience placing their car right in the middle of the action. Viewers could sit in the car and see storm troopers, X Wings and Tie Fighters doing battle all around them.

Story telling: the next frontier

With every new piece of digital technology, marketers are never far behind. Just as social media created an entirely new way to connect and interact with customers, VR creates its own new form of storytelling. In a world in which advertising messages are all too often crowded out, VR is something new and exciting that people haven’t seen before.

It’s a way to stand out from the crowd and create content which gets people talking. The most successful VR and 360 degree video campaigns attain that invaluable commodity: going viral. Due to it being new and because it’s different, it hits a chord with the viewer.

The sector is moving forward at breakneck pace which is both good and bad news. On the one hand technology will become more affordable, accessible and sophisticated. The viewing experience will progressively become even smoother and more realistic. But on the other hand, advanced devices today could soon be replaced by even more advanced follow ups. Keeping up with the pace of change will be a major challenge for marketers. Even so, VR is here to stay this time and the implications are fascinating.