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Smartphone-centric enhanced headsets key to mass VR adoption in India

IANS | New Delhi |

The year gone by was touted as that of Virtual Reality (VR). In reality, with just $2.7 billion in revenue in 2016, it is yet to take off as consumer VR content still lacks the ability to ensure huge adoption globally, including in India.

When it comes to India, where the number of smartphone users is growing exponentially, mobile VR is definitely the future for the mass adoption of this immersive experience.

The promise of growth, however, comes with riders. Since VR is a highly individual experience where users are drawn into a virtual world — cut off from the rest of their surroundings — they need the right content, high-quality VR games and sophisticated headsets to stay hooked.

US-based SuperData, the leading provider of market intelligence on digital games, predicts VR hardware will earn $3.6 billion in 2017. It expects revenues from the VR market — including software and hardware — to hit $37.7 billion by 2020.

In India, the VR and augmented reality (AR) market are projected to register a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 55.3 per cent during 2016-2021.

"A rising number of consumer electronics applications such as gaming and entertainment are witnessing increasing adoption of AR and VR devices in the country," TechSci Research has said in its latest report.

The VR explosion is still some years away and, according to analysts and industry players, mobile-centric VR headsets or screenless viewer headsets — and not PlayStations or PC/Console-enabled VR gaming — will see greater adoption in the mass market.

With mobile-centric VR headsets, "the pricing is more affordable and does not require complicated set-up to use. The ease of usage with the right content will help to drive the mass adoption in India. Entertainment content like cricket games and local movies might help drive the market," Kenneth Liew, Senior Research Manager, Client Devices at International Data Corporation (IDC), said.

The Samsung Gear VR headset (Rs 7,290) emerged as clear winner in 2016, with the company shipping 4.5 million (71 per cent) of the total 6.3 million shipments in the year.

On the other hand, Sony PlayStation VR (priced above Rs 40,000) that launched its first consumer-grade VR headset in October, shipped nearly 750,000 units followed by Taiwanese HTC Vive (over Rs 90,000) with nearly 420,000 units, according to SuperData.

After witnessing Gear VR's success, several smartphone players are now bringing in VR-ready devices and the next generation of low-cost VR headsets will come from China that is now investing heavily in VR technology.

Launched in India earlier this month, Huawei's 'Honor 8 Pro' smartphone comes with a box that doubles up as a VR headset.

"VR-enabled smartphones are the future and 'Honor 8 Pro' is one such example where a user can log in to YouTube, search for VR videos and start watching. Going forward, we are planning more VR-centric features to give the technology a big push for our Indian consumers," P. Sanjeev, Vice President, Sales, Huawei India-Consumer Business Group, said.

According to Liew, in the commercial space, companies are innovating to bring games and marketing content on to the VR platform to grab attention.

"As more content is built up over time, this immersive technology will gain further traction in both the consumer and commercial space. It will be a new interface for users to consume content," Liew noted.

VR is all about experience and price is one of the barriers to adopting and expanding the VR ecosystem.

"We believe that entry-level VR headsets are not equipped to provide ideal experience for regular usage, leave aside other impacts. It is very critical for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to balance between offering and expectations; otherwise, the perceived value of VR is always going to exceed the actual experience," Pavel Naiya, Senior Analyst at Counterpoint Research, said.

This will lead to bad user experience and, subsequently, bad word of mouth for the category to expand its user base in future.

"We believe that an ideal VR experience in a market like India at a valuable price point is still a couple of quarters away," he added.

When it comes to VR-centric games, early-mover advantage will pay off in the long term.

"There are already skilled game developers in India. Many game developers are working as an outsource agency for well-established game companies in the US and UK. These firms have the knowledge base to create state-of-art VR games in future. They should start focusing on building next-generation games," Naiya added.

For the country, the potential lies in the mobile-centric VR headsets as the user base for both PC and console-based gaming is quite small and the headsets tend to be costly.

"Mass market adoption of VR in India will depend heavily on the content generated and, at this point in time, it is likely to be local entertainment content," Liew noted.

With technological advances in the field of VR, India — with a smartphone consumer base of over 300 million and growing — is set to become a key player in the global VR ecosystem, feel experts.