Digital and linear content producers alike are increasingly experimenting with virtual reality, creating narrative shorts, documentaries and even musical content available in 360 degrees. And though the first consumer headsets for VR are just hitting the market this year, research firm Tractica estimates that the industry will be worth more than US$22 billion by 2020.
Tractica’s study, published January 15, looked at sales data (examining the sales of headsets, accessories and app downloads) from previous years, while also consulting with experts in the retail, electronics and content industries to create a global market forecast for the future of VR.
According to its findings, the value of the VR industry is set to skyrocket from its current state of just over US$4 billion, thanks mainly to the increased sales of high-end devices, such as the Samsung Gear VR headset, the HTC Vive and the upcoming Oculus Rift headset. (Tractica predicts 76.7 million headsets will be shipped worldwide by 2020, bringing the total units sold by that year to 200 million).
The report states that the VR industry will get a boost from three areas: Viewing devices, accessories (such as VR-specific controllers and remotes, locomotion devices and hand-tracking devices) and content.
The value of headsets and accessories is predicted to increase gradually over the next four years, according to the study. Content value, meanwhile, will see exponential growth. Currently, it is estimated that VR content makes up less than 20% of of the US$4-billion pie. By 2020, content will represent approximately 68% of the industry’s market value.
Many publishers have already delved in to high-profile content creation across all genres. For example, Lionsgate teamed with Samsung to offer an extra VR experience to accompany the release of the latest The Hunger Games installment.
Despite its optimism, the report highlighted several big challenges that could potentially stand in the way of VR’s mass adoption, and these kinks will have to be ironed out for the technology can realize its potential.
Primarily, the industry will need to free its devices from a computer or gaming console. Currently, most VR devices rely on a powerful computer or console. But users will get more out of the experience if they have the freedom to roam, according to the study.
For that reason, the study predicted that mobile-based VR (through headsets such as the Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR) will become more popular, and more smartphone makers will invest in creating devices that can offer higher-quality video and sound, creating more seamless VR experiences.
Overall, Tractica expects that mobile VR devices and accessories will make up more than 96.4 million of the units shipped worldwide by 2020.
The report also identified 360-degree sound as a new “must-have” for VR, stating that many technology companies that create VR headsets report increased investment in surround sound technology optimized for VR headset viewing.
Tractica’s study falls in line with other data-backed predictions on the large-scale impact of consumer VR. Last month, for example, online research firm Touchstone Research and American business intelligence firm Greenlight VR launched a comprehensive VR Consumer Report, which found that today’s tech-savvy kids and teens are most likely to embrace virtual reality when it becomes readily available, with 79% of those surveyed saying they “love/like” VR.