You know a technology has arrived when South by Southwest adds a new track celebrating it. By that measure, virtual reality has gone mainstream.
After years of broadly covering music, film, and tech, SXSW has gradually added tracks focusing on education, video games, and sports. This year, for the first time, VR has carved out its own part of the event, with three days of programming starting tomorrow. That's in addition to VR being everywhere you looked during SXSW Interactive, with companies like Samsung, McDonald's, IBM, and Google showing off various VR experiences to the masses.
Since the best and brightest usually make their way to Austin each year for SXSW, it would be fair to assume that the same would be true in the case of VR. You’d only be partly right.
Turns out SXSW isn’t the only major event hosting its first-ever virtual reality track this week. Back in San Francisco, the annual Game Developers Conference—the world’s largest gathering of video game makers—also introduced a brand-new VR track. For those interested in the technology, this may be disappointing, since VR companies had to split their resources or choose whether to invest more in SXSW or GDC.
The sessions at GDC focused more on developing VR, hosting talks that covered topics like "End-to-end cinematic VR production best practices" and "Going off the rails: The making of ‘Bullet Train.’"
Here in Austin, the VR sessions have involved more philosophical discussions of questions like "Can VR deliver more emotion than movies and games," or "Is virtual reality the ultimate brain hack?" (the latter of which is moderated by yours truly).
Some companies did manage to send executives and creatives to both events, so for the most part, it’s the attendees who were faced with a tough choice.
Still, it’s a testament to VR's upward trajectory that two major events decided, in the same year, to devote an entirely new track to the technology. As three major new VR platforms come to market—the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and Sony’s PlayStation VR—this year is just the beginning of the age of consumer VR. Analysts predict that the technology will be worth $30 billion in yearly revenue by 2020, with content alone generating more than $5 billion a year by 2025.