The idea of virtual reality isn’t new to China: the topic has been a staple of high school English textbooks since the beginning of the century. But few students reading about virtual reality a decade ago would have imagined it has already arrived.
During the last year, VR experience shops and stations have sprung up throughout the capital. A 15-minute gaming session typically costs 90 yuan, and many customers stay for several sessions.
Players don a headset with special glasses, headphones and a controller that records their movements. The 3D effect is presented through visuals and acoustics.
Beyond gaming, VR is finding a home in other industries.
Using VR technology, it’s possible to construct a virtual human body and use touch-sensitive gloves and other devices to train surgeons to conduct an operation in virtual reality. For new doctors, the experience can help many to overcome the psychological barriers to surgery.
Western University of Health Sciences (Pomona) in the US has a virtual reality medical center with facilities to help students learn dentistry, orthopedics, physical therapy and medical care.
Covidien Centers of Innovation in Taiwan also has VR medical training center to provide doctors with vivid situation without using animals for dissection.
The first NBA game last October was aired using VR. Fans could wear their own VR devices at home and experience being on the scene. A kung fu competition at Xi’an, Shaanxi province in November was also presented in panorama to VR viewers at home.
The technology has also found use in travel, news reporting, education and real estate and construction.
VR’s Huge Market
Oculus Rift, one of the top consumer VR device producers, started taking orders on January 7. VR was quickly available to most of the world – even China.
Domestic brand HTC has held two conferences for VR products, and Mojing.cn, Pico, 3 Glasses and other device manufactures have also released VR hardware.
Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, announced on July 5 that the company would be releasing Buy+, a new shopping experience. Customers with wearable VR devices will be able to virtually examine the items. Ma said he expected the feature to be available within four months.
Even government is following the trend.
The China Electronics Standardization Institute of Ministry of Industry and Information Technology published its White Paper 5.0 on the Industry Development of Virtual Reality. The local government of Fuzhou, Fujian province announced 10 new programs to promote VR. Its move was seen to solidify the industrial base of Nanchang, Jiangxi province and Fuzhou, Fujian province as China’s VR research center.
A report on Chinese VR users’ behavior was released on March 18 by Mojing.cn, and the National Advertisement Research Institute and Zhimeng Counselling Organization predicted the number of VR users in China will reach 286 million.
A report by Goldman Sachs said that the market capacity of VR will reach $182 billion by 2025, including $110 billion in hardware sales and $72 billion in software.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, said at the 2016 China Development Forum that this will be the year VR arrives at the customer level. However, John Riccitiello, CEO of Unity, one of the most famous game development engines, said at the Samsung Developer Conference that Zuckerberg’s declaration may be premature.
Barriers of Development
Riccitiello said that beyond all the gimmicks and advertisements, VR faces a gap between idea and execution. The high cost of VR creates a barrier to its popularity, and beyond that there is also a shortage of good VR content.
Palmer Luckey, the co-founder of Oculus, said one of the biggest barriers is that few consumer PCs are powerful enough for VR applications, and VR along cannot justify the cost of an upgrade for many users.
Only 13 million computers in current use meet the basic requirements to power VR technology, Nvidia said in a market research report.
But Palmer said he expects VR to become available on most PCs as VR devices become more efficient.
As for VR content, Vrrb.cn wrote that the technology is still in its infancy, and the user base is too small to attract serious commercial game developers.
Technical troubles may also be another barrier to VR’s success.
Many customers say that VR games cause them to have sore eyes and feel disoriented. Others say the images are too blurry. Qixin Yiwei, a Chinese company that develops the eye tracing techniques used as the foundation of VR, said the best technology in the world can’t produce clearer images. The company is hoping for a solution by 2020.
Developers also need to improve the interactive elements, allowing VR users to communicate and track their movement with wearable devices.
Shigeru Miyamoto, one of Nintendo’s most famous game developers, said he worries that communication in a VR environment could put child users at risk.
Internet speeds and counterfeit products may also become problem as VR technology matures.