Adoption of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets has doubled this year – albeit from a very low base (three per cent) to a slightly higher base (six per cent). This base comprises a massive span of devices, in terms of cost and capability, from free cardboard self-assembled VR kits that can be paired with any smartphone, to high-end headsets that work with powerful PCs and games consoles.
Looking at the base more closely: about two-fifths were budget versions, less than £50, or even given away in a promotion; a third were mid-range (specialised cases costing between £50 and £100, designed for pairing with high-end smartphones) and three-tenths were high-end (with the headset and controllers costing from £400, and the accompanying console or PC purchased separately).
VR headsets are used infrequently overall, with nine per cent of owners using VR daily, far lower than the usage frequency for smartphone (91 per cent), laptop computers (68 per cent), tablets large or small (63 and 52 per cent), eReaders (31 per cent) or even feature phones (51 per cent). Among all respondents, about half a per cent use a VR headset on a daily basis, and about 3 per cent use one monthly.
The UK ownership data fits in with global trends: awareness of VR is high, ownership is far lower. Deloitte estimates that, as of mid-2017, there were two-three million high-end VR headsets that had been sold worldwide. By comparison global smartphone sales average over four million every single day.
VR penetration may well rise in the short term: five per cent of respondents reported that they intend to purchase a headset over the coming year. VR’s success will depend on equipment costs as well as the range and quality of VR content available.
It may also be the case that 2017 and 2018 are investment years for VR, with the payback coming further down the road. There has certainly been significant investment in VR and AR (Augmented Reality) companies: in 2016, $2.3 billion (£1.8 billion) was invested in AR and VR start-ups.