On January 4th, 2016, BBC published an article declaring that 'less than 1% of of the PCs expected to be in use globally in 2016 will be powerful enough to run the best virtual reality technology.' Their source was no less than NVidia, leading manufacturers of consumer graphics chips.
Gizmag estimates that a high end virtual reality system will set you back $900-$1000 USD, not including the headset itself; much more than the average household spends on their home computer. Costhelper recommends $300-$600 for a basic home computer, which wouldn't be able to support the higher graphics requirements needed to process 3D video with head tracking.
So, it will be a while before we're all hooked in behind headsets and visiting each other in virtual worlds. But in the meantime, mobile VR is here, it's affordable, and it's finding it's way onto mainstream apps like Youtube in amazingly accessible ways.
Simple VR 'goggles' like Google Cardboard cost a fraction of the price of high resolution, head tracking, wired headsets like Oculus and HTC Vive, and while the experience isn't nearly as immersive, it's affordable as heck. And there's already a ton of cool content to check out.
Here's how it works - if you have an Android phone, you can order a goofy cardboard set of glasses that slide over your phone, and go straight to Youtube.com/360 and click the little cardboard icon. If you don't have Google Cardboard, you can still find amazing 360 degree videos that allow you to explore the entire environment just by moving your phone.
On iPhone, apps like Discovery VR have a whole host of videos that you can watch as 360 degree videos, or view through Google Cardboard. Including this Superbowl tradition- the Puppy Bowl. Because who wouldn't want to be surrounded on all sides by adorable puppies in a mini football field?
Despite the fact that these experiences haven't caught on with mainstream audiences quite yet, brands are hedging their bets that 2016 is the year 360 video and VR becomes as natural a viewing option as watching things in colour, or with sound. It's hard to imagine, but at one point, most tv owners couldn't see colour broadcasts; they hadn't made the switch to colour tv yet.
So what will drive average media consumers towards VR? Producers believe an abundance of content will do the trick. In the same way that black and white television owners knew they were missing out on a technicolor rainbow of awesome, mobile phone users will quickly come to realize that they could be strapping videos to their faces and standing in the midst of their favourite Youtube video.
Wearing a cardboard box on your face looks pretty goofy, and the experience is difficult to share, but there's no denying the magic. With major brands and events scrambling to launch fun, interesting VR videos, Youtube supporting them, and low cost options like Google Cardboard (around $30) and Samsung's Gear VR ($99) to act as a gateway drug, it's only a matter of time before virtual reality starts seriously competing with traditional screen entertainment.