Universal Music Group – the label that boasts Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Madonna on its roster – has revealed it is teaming up with iHeartMedia to “virtualise” the gig experience, with the hardware now available for pre-order. Industry experts are in agreement: 2016 may be the year that “virtual reality” comes of age.
Buying into the concept, however, is pricey. At £499 for UK buyers, the Oculus Rift box includes headset, sensor, games and controller, while next month, for $1,499 (£1,030), a package will be available for pre-order that includes a computer – should your ancient laptop not be quite up to speed.
The price tags have caused consternation, with many taking to Twitter to express their dismay. But according to William McMaster, head of VR at the London-based company Visualise, the Oculus release is a pivotal moment. “It is a template for what VR headsets are going to be like in the future for everybody,” he says comparing it to the release of the first Macintosh computer. And VR-based media is already hitting the mainstream: beyond fuelling a new wave of games, artists such as Björk have been quick to embrace the technology for music videos – indeed, in September Taylor Swift and her team scooped an Emmy award for their offering AMEX Unstaged: The Taylor Swift Experience.
Virtual reality gigs are the next frontier. “It would be an awesome experience to be able to see a band you really love in China but you are in London, [or] vice versa,” says John Oswald, a director at design and innovation firm Fjord. McMaster, believes that it’s primarily likely to be early adopters who are willing to splash out. “Is the average person going to go out and spend £500 on a VR headset and £1000 on a gaming PC? Probably not,” he says. Piers Harding-Rolls, director of games at industry analyst IHS Technology, agrees. “The launch of these headsets this year is really not about the mass market,” he says, adding that he expects gamers and committed gadget-fiends to be the first to shell out. “I think we have to just be realistic about how quickly it is going to be adopted,” he adds. “For the high-end devices we expect, globally, less than three million to be sold this year across all the devices.”
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