Exclusive Byline: 2017 Brought VR Cameras to Everyone — and in 2018 They Might Just Use Them
By Jim Malcolm, President of Imaging Alliance and General Manager of North America, Humaneyes Technologies
It’s been an exciting decade for video and still photography cameras, but if we were to sum 2017 up as anything, it would be the year that virtual reality (VR) cameras became accessible to a much broader prosumer and consumer market. Previously, the ability to film footage in full 3D 360-degree VR was limited exclusively to those with deep pockets. VR cameras were the domain of movie studios and Silicon Valley startups hoping to define the new media. It required the funds of the super-rich, remaining wildly out of reach for office and home users.
But 2017 saw some significant changes on this front. Facebook introduced Surround 360, a family of VR cameras not for sale, but for licensing to partners to help get this technology into the hands of average Facebook users. At Humaneyes Technologies, we launched the Vuze VR Camera, the first consumer-focused VR video camera with a price tag below $1,000. The industry also saw the introduction of a middle tier, with Insta360 Pro hovering around $3,500 that allows for live streaming in full VR.
Despite this move towards consumer friendliness though, 2017 was not a healthy year for consumer adoption. There were several reasons for this, but one of the biggest that we’ve observed is continued consumer confusion between VR 360-degree video, VR 180-degree video, and 2D 360 video. There are cameras on the market that support all of these options, and it’s nothing short of overwhelming for end users struggling to understand this new market. Even worse, some companies are lending to this confusion by marketing 2D 360 degree cameras as “virtual reality” cameras. With new technology, keeping things crystal clear for consumers is essential if we’re to see adoption. As an industry, we’re failing to maintain the standards that ensure that.
We also saw the exit of a major company from the space. Nokia discontinued the OZO unexpectedly in October, and in doing so, seemingly exited the VR camera market completely. While this wasn’t a consumer-level device (originally retailing at $60,000), their exit can be interpreted as resulting from the most prominent struggle faced by the VR industry at large: the slow adoption of VR technology and specifically headsets.
While VR experiences can be mind-blowing, getting consumers to try them — and then commit to the investment in their own homes — has proven more challenging than anyone had expected. This problem has only been compounded by the varying quality of VR experiences available, with some hardware offering fully immersive adventures, but others are offering headsets that won’t even allow menu selections without taking the headset off. This fragmentation of the market provides for a wide variety of price points to entice consumers into a purchase but ultimately means that lower-priced experiences will pale in comparison to their higher-priced counterparts.
It’s possible that soon — even in 2018 — we’ll see a more level mid-tier emerge in VR headsets with the release of Oculus Santa Cruz and similar standalone devices. But even then, we’ll have to overcome the other challenge we face as an industry: quality content. If the market for true VR cameras can overcome its current obstacles, that of limited headset utilization, the level of consumer-created quality content will grow with it. VR video is still waiting for its YouTube revolution, but as long as consumer adoption can increase to support it, such a revolution isn’t a question of “if” but “when.”
Fortunately, things seem to be on track for more consumers to have their first experiences with VR than ever in 2018. The uses of VR in training and education are multiplying, and as a result, giving many people their first real VR moments. The more the public encounters VR outside of their homes, the more they’re likely to welcome it in.
We are also seeing growth in the 180 VR camera market, which is excellent for introducing users to exploring their creativity in VR, and will only lead to an interest in more immersive 360-degree experiences as the industry grows.
Consumer behavior has changed in recent years, shifting from still photographs to videos thanks to services like SnapChat, YouTube, and live streaming video. We firmly believe that the next evolution — the apparent evolution — is immersive videos created in VR. As an industry, we’re shaping consumer habits to empower anyone to relive moments as close to real life as possible. And we’re on track to do just that, as long as we focus on removing barriers to consumer adoption in the year ahead.