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Virtual reality (VR) is like The Little Engine That Could. It keeps chugging along and pushing, despite adoption obstacles and uphill-like momentum. But every year, VR pushes closer to becoming mainstream tech. And if you know the story of The Little Engine That Could, you know that he eventually succeeds. Will 2019 be the year VR finally reaches the top of the gaming mountain, becoming a broadly accepted, realistic and coveted platform?
Let’s gaze into our crystal ball for some predictions about the reality of VR in 2019.
No, VR won’t die. The market will grow, but consumer growth will be slow.
Analysts generally agree that the VR market will continue growing throughout 2019. But while business use expands rapidly, consumer VR will continue growing slowly, thanks to barriers-to-entry, like price, space requirements and many headsets requiring a well-specced gaming PC.
Analysts peg the market as growing at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 50 percent, give or take, depending on whom you ask. A September 2018 report notes that the global VR market represented $4.5 billion in 2017. Signs also point to growth for VR gaming specifically. Grand View Research says the global VR gaming market will surpass $45 billion by 2025. And in 2017, gaming, as well as media and entertainment represented over 30 percent of VR revenue, according to P&S Market Research.
So even though we’re expecting slow consumer growth, we expect that as VR grows overall, so too will VR gaming-related sales, primarily from VR headsets. VR headset prices are continuously dropping—partially due to component prices falling—and, therefore, accessibility is growing.
Standalone headsets will come into their own in 2019. We’ll all have our eyes on Oculus Quest in 2019, because It could potentially tear down many of those VR barriers. At $400, the standalone headset can offer a similar experience to the Oculus Rift without requiring IR sensors or connection to a gaming PC or smartphone.
While its mobile CPU may not be as powerful as a modern Intel or AMD processor, its wireless functionality, 6-degrees of freedom (6-DOF, for 360-degree movement) and bundled controllers are also important steps in making VR gaming more appealing.
Already-released standalone head-mounted displays (HMDs) will get a boost. Google is working on a 6-DoF controller for the Google Daydream, and HTC is also working on a 6-DoF controller for the Vive Focus, which we predict will finally hit the consumer market in 2019.
VR headsets will get more powerful.
Outside of Oculus Quest, there are many other reasons to watch HMDs in 2019, as fields of view (FOVs), displays, eye tracking and wireless capabilities continue to advance.
The rumored Valve headset is expected to have an impressive 135-degree FOV. And by 2019, Pimax should be done shipping out its 8K, with a dual-resolution of 3840x2160 and 200-degree FOV, and 5K Plus, with dual-resolution of 2560x1440 and 200-degree FOV, headsets. Consider that the HTC Vive Pro has dual 1440x1600 resolution and a 110-degree FOV.
Pimax is also supposed to release an eye-tracking module in Q1 2019. The brand overall can make an influential splash in 2019. We reviewed a pre-production version of their 5K+ and found it may offer a peek into mainstream VR’s future.
Speaking of eye-tracking, the tech is also on track to improve in 2019, thanks to components vendor developments—although it’ll probably take longer to reach consumers. Take Synaptics, which in August released a new display driver claiming to be the first dual-display 2K resolution combined with foveal transport support, which keeps images in the direct line of sight.
Visual Camp tech, meanwhile, promises the power to navigate and make menu selections with the eyes and foveated rendering for better performance. The company claims to have developed a VR game that offers “gaze and object targeting.”
Finally, Oculus Quest isn’t the only one cutting the cord. HTC brought wireless experiences in 2018 with the HTC Vive wireless adapter. And that’s a feature too helpful for other vendors to ignore.
VR accessories will keep flooding in.
In 2018, many VR accessories emerged touting their ability to make VR more immersive. There’s Mudra Inspire, a wristband-turned-VR controller, the HoloSuit, a full-body VR suit, to start. Next year, expect to see even more, whether it’s VR shoes, VR treadmills, VR backpacks or newfound ways to virtualize hands beyond joystick controllers.
Valve’s next Knuckles controllers will likely debut in 2019—our best guess is after GDC (Game Developer Conference) in March. Afterwards, you’ll probably hear of development of games that use the unique inputs Knuckles bring to the table.
PlayStation VR and smartphones will play a bigger role.
PSVR has proven it has a place in VR. Not only had it sold over 3,000,000 PSVR consoles and 21.9 million games and “experiences” as of August, but it also has popular exclusive VR titles, like Tetris Effect, Borderlands 2 VR and Resident Evil 7. Gamers are already anticipating PSVR’s 2019 titles and more exclusives.
As far as Xbox VR goes, Microsoft scrapped its original plans. But some people still have their fingers crossed. Evidence, as cited by UploadVR, includes Microsoft buying inXile Entertainment, developer of VR game The Mage’s Tale. And at E3 2018, Microsoft announced its acquisition of Ninja Theory, maker of VR games Dexed and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice VR Edition. Microsoft is likely playing VR safe for now, so we’re not holding our breath for Xbox VR in 2019.
According to P&S Market Research, smartphones are contributing to a “stable platform” for VR. Mobile VR circumnavigates some roadblocks by letting users tie the experience to something they’re more likely to have than a powerful gaming rig—a smartphone. AMD this month announced AMD Radeon ReLive for VR, which lets you stream VR games to mobile VR headsets. While the offering has some limitations, as noted in our hands-on, it does point to vendor interest in smartphone-based VR.
More VR games...and maybe an update on those Valve VR titles.
All that being said, if you’ve already bought into VR, there’s perhaps nothing more exciting (or guaranteed) than new games set in 2019. Lone Echo 2 for Oculus Rift, Population: One for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality and Stormland for Oculus Rift are some of the most anticipated VR games for 2019.
We’re also still waiting for those three Valve VR games CEO Gabe Newell promised back in 2017. Valve released its first game in five years, Artifact, in November. So we’re hopeful 2019 will bring news of Valve’s pending VR games, especially if the Knuckles controllers arrive. If Valve doesn’t actually release the VR titles next year, we’d at least take an update (please!).
MORE: Virtual Reality Basics