In Depth

Virtual Reality: Hype trumps consumer concerns

One in three have tried a VR device, but top end headsets are still too expensive

A new report has found that 75 per cent of UK consumers believe virtual reality devices will have a positive impact on our lives - although two-thirds of respondents are concerned the technology could negatively affect family, sex life, and mental wellbeing.

The report, by Invest Bristol & Bath, surveyed 2,000 people and found that 70 per cent of respondents would consider buying a virtual reality headset when the technology becomes widely available, despite only one-third having tried out such a device.

The findings also throw up a couple of interesting insights into just what the public knows about VR and how they believe it should be used.

The most popular headset

Samsung's Gear VR headset is named as the most widely known VR device on the market, with 39 per cent of respondents having heard of it. It's also the headset people who have had a VR experience are most likely to be familiar with – 11 per cent have used one.

PlayStation VR, with its potentially huge user base of 40 million gamers, comes next, with 34 per cent. Strangely, nine per cent of respondents claimed to have tried one, despite the fact the headset doesn't actually launch until later this year.

A quarter are aware of the Facebook-backed Oculus Rift and almost half of those who have heard of Google's Cardboard have tested the budget device.

The most popular choices to buy are the most famous ones, with 33 per cent of respondents saying they would consider buying a Samsung Gear VR and 28 per cent thinking about its PlayStation peer.

Prices may have to tumble before mass uptake, though, as 81 per cent said they'd only spend up to £300 on a VR headset. PlayStation VR will go on sale for £350 this October, while headsets such as the Rift face an even smaller market – only three per cent said they would spend more than £500.

The upside of VR…

Entertainment is overwhelmingly the area where consumers believe VR technology will come into its own, with 48 per cent saying it would have a positive impact on gaming and watching films and TV. A little less than two-thirds believe gaming will be the industry most affected by VR.

However, there are other applications people are getting excited over. Slightly more than one in five think VR will positively benefit education and 19 per cent believe it will become a useful training tool, something which could drive businesses to adopt the tech in the future.

… and the downside

Sex life and family life are causes for concern, with the survey showing 23 per cent worry VR will have a negative impact on both and 20 per cent feeling that the experiences could cause psychological and mental problems.

The report claims that most of these worries have been bred from the pre-existing impact of video games, but that the increased immersion of VR heightens the "fear of obsession and addiction".

Despite these fears, some experts are confident that when virtual reality really begins to become a part of life, its more beneficial applications will come to the fore. According to Computer Business Review, Liz Falconer, a professor of technology enhanced learning at the University of the West of England, highlights "opportunities for people with disabilities to take part in activities and social events that will be restricted in the physical world".

The Guardian also finds positives amongst the potential pitfalls. Despite the headsets being liable to cause "social isolation of the millennials to the power of 10", the potential for the technology to do good is too high to dismiss.

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