How Virtual Reality Will Be A Real Christmas Presence This Year

13/10/2016 11:49

Picture the scene: It's Christmas Eve and your self-driving car pulls into the driveway. You step out, greeted by the soft glow of your connected house lights and take a step to your front door - unlocked with the swipe of your smartwatch.

Inside, your AI assistant welcomes you home and streams music to match your mood, whilst your personal drone follows you to the living room, streaming your every move live to multiple social channels.

This isn't Christmas 2026 - it's 2016 and, although it may not all connect first time and the app-controlled kettle can't actually fill itself with water and the battery on your smartwatch has probably run out before you reach your door, it will all be available for the 'man, woman or child that has everything' this Christmas.

If you take a closer look, you'll find something sitting at the hub of this connected world - something new. It's not a slicker, faster, multi-platform version of something from 2015, it's genuinely, refreshingly new. It's Virtual Reality in a box, attached to another box, ready to surprise, delight and nauseate in equal measures.

With the launch of Sony's Playstation VR (or PSVR), the first high-level Virtual Reality headsets will enter the living room, where they'll expose a much wider audience to the VR experience, just in time for Christmas. No longer the solitary pursuit of bedroom gamers and early adopters, now anyone visiting a house with a headset this Christmas is likely to come in contact with high-end VR at the centre of the home.

Of course, Samsung's GearVR and Cardboard headsets have been around for a while but neither really looks like 'the future'. Sony's glowing blue and white headset and lightsaber-like Move controllers are pure sci-fi. The ability to mirror in-headset content on a TV screen is a real bonus as this draws a larger audience where everyone in the room can see what's going on in the virtual world and share the fun. Maybe it won't be such a solitary dystopian future after all.

Facebook's Oculus Rift and HTC's Vive both offer more extreme VR experiences but they require hi-end PCs and a willingness to configure and maintain the whole system. Sony's attraction lies in its plug-and-play simplicity and a platform ready-made not only for gaming but VR movies, virtual social networks, education and exploration.

However, the trending talking point this holiday season won't actually be the stunning content inside a VR headset, it will be the hours of socially-shared festive video footage of people recoiling in fear, randomly shouting, vomiting on the cat, falling into Christmas trees and inadvertently punching a family member in the face as they thrash about the living room.

It's a little unfair to say we've been wrong about when VR would become relevant. Three years ago, it was the next big thing for developers and filmmakers - time to get under the skin of the tech and hone new skills. Two years ago it was time for brands to plan their best PR - just to claim they were 'doing VR'. The last twelve months have been about building awareness of VR following the consumer launches of Oculus Rift and HTC's Vive and flooding the market with Google Cardboard.

Next Christmas we'll all be watching the John Lewis Christmas ad in VR and talking about Augmented Reality headsets that allow us to blast Santa's little helpers off the tree. But that's next year and something else you'll need to save for.

Virtual Reality has been the next big thing for the last three years. Good news, it's finally about to deliver on that virtual promise and this Christmas VR will be hotter than a Galaxy Note 7.

Dean Johnson is Head of Innovation at Brandwidth, a brand innovation agency.