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Opinion: what impact will VR and AR have on AV integration?

With Hololens' developer edition available soon, what will be the impact of virtual reality and augmented reality on AV integration?

With Hololens’ developer edition available soon, what will be the impact of virtual reality and augmented reality on AV integration, asks our columnist Rob Lane?

According to a report from market intelligence expert Tractica, consumer spending on virtual reality hardware and software could reach an eye-watering $21.8 billion by the year 2020. Tractica focuses on human interaction with technology. How much of this spend (or how much additional spend) will be generated by AV integrators isn’t clear, but it’s fairly obvious that VR –and its cousin, augmented reality – will have increasingly wide role to play in installations: both experiential and corporate collaboration.

Indeed, if you buy into TechCrunch’s assertion that “VR will enable the future of remote work”, it’s easy to see how the corporate market in particular could look to exploit VR – especially given the imminent market arrival of a variety of different VR formats. And when you consider the projected spend of corporate AV for 2016 ($34 billion worldwide, $7 billion in EMEA according to InfoComm/Acclaro MDSS), VR might expect a sizeable slice of this particular pie as early as the next quarter.

While integrators have using Oculus Rift for a while now – mainly for experiential installations, admittedly – there’s increasing excitement surrounding Microsoft’s HoloLens, especially as its availability draws ever closer. The developer edition of HoloLens is said to cost around £1,900, with a limited roll-out in the next few months ahead of a 2017 release of the consumer version. Interestingly, Microsoft has been keen to promote HoloLens as a business tool as well as a consumer toy.

In development for more than three years, HoloLens is part of Microsoft’s One Windows strategy, intended to unify the different strands of Windows. (Whether such unification includes Microsoft Surface Hub remains to be seen.) It differs from much of the competition because the headset’s viewable objects are interactive, as opposed to merely being environmental overlays, allowing users to ‘do’ things rather than only being able to observe things (although Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg might argue that Oculus Touch allows the Rift to do something similar). So, if a room full of business executives were all wearing headsets they’d each be able to interact with and alter the HoloLens-enabled reality. And, of course, there’s no reason why said executives would need to be in the same room, or even on the same continent.

Up until now we’ve not seen any corporate integration uses for VR/AR glasses, but that’s set to change. Of course, experiential uses have been widespread, and we’re now beginning to see the technology utilised in retail and hospitality.

Following the success of its 4D ‘teleporter’ virtual travel experience last year, the Marriott hotel chain recently began testing a ‘VRoom Service’ at its New York Marquis and London Park Lane locations, allowing guests to choose Samsung Gear VR experiences. A collaboration with Samsung Electronics America, VRoom Service has been launched alongside ‘VR Postcards’, a 360º travel content platform. Each postcard ‘story’ immerses viewers in a destination, with audio from travellers. Marriott worked with Framestore’s VR Studio on VR Postcards (and the teleporter).

Meanwhile, Tommy Hilfiger has introduced its VR shopping headset to New York shoppers. Also utilising a Samsung Gear VR, shoppers at its Fifth Avenue store were given a front row view of Tommy Hilfiger’s autumn fashion show. The fashion giant worked with Netherlands-based start-up WeMakeVR, which filmed the show using a 3D camera fitted with 14 special lenses, allowing the camera to capture video in 360º, vertically and horizontally, with no blind spots. Given that the retail industry is keen to hook its own label on VR – v-commerce – we can expect to see increased usage of Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HoloLens, Sony’s Project Morpheus and the Google-backed Magic Leap in stores: a great opportunity for integrators involved in retail fit-outs.

But it’s in the corporate market where – in my opinion – VR and AR could have the most radical impact, changing the way in which we interact in the workplace and function day to day. For those working in corporate AV, with Microsoft Surface and other collaboration solutions, this both represents a challenge and an opportunity. As Zuckerberg stated following the $2billion purchase of what was then a VR start-up, in March 2014: “Oculus has the chance to… change the way we work”. HoloLens and Microsoft may have something to say about that, but the VR/AR market as a whole has a chance to revolutionise the corporate world while merely enhancing the retail, hospitality and entertainment industries.